I Think I Got a C- in Critical Theory Class

There's a problem with finishing a book I really, really love: I have a hard time starting anything else. I stopped and started about four different books before I was able to get into Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer, which I picked up at the big Ithaca book sale in May. No idea why I bought that particular book there, since it's available in multitudes in every used book store everywhere. I'm odd. And yet, even after that, I was still stuck on I Love Dick.

This is long (for a blog post, but extremely brief for a real analysis), and I'm trying to twist my way through some theory that's new to me. It's probably nonsensical because I'm still trying to grasp so many things. Critical Theory has never been my strong suit, but I'm so intensely fascinated with it, after reading I Love Dick, that I can't help but try.

I love I Love Dick so much that I bought my own copy off Amazon, just so I could re-read and annotate it. I love I Love Dick so much that I tried, and failed, to find an email address for Chris Kraus so I could tell her how much that book meant to me. I Love Dick makes me want to read everything else Kraus has written, go back to school, and write a Master's thesis on her. And I love I Love Dick so much that I felt I had to come back and write more about it, since I basically just used it to introduce my thoughts on Russell Smith in a previous post. Yet writing this post, I know I still can't do it any justice. I really would need so much more space, and time, and education to even get close. What follows is what currently has my brain spinning.

Early on, Kraus writes about herself in the third person:
Chris was not a torture victim, not a peasant. She was an American artist, and for the first time it occurred to her that perhaps the only thing she had to offer was was her specificity. By writing Dick [the person, or the book?] she was offering her life as Case Study.
Throughout, Kraus introduces the reader to other case studies in love, but what these studies really are, and what they become, are introductions to the lives of individuals. Some of these people are artists, and thus possibly recognizable to people -- unlike me -- who know something about the art world. Some are activists, or writers. Some are "regular" people. It's possible, too, that some are entirely fictional. Because I Love Dick is memoir-as-fiction, it's purposely difficult, within the realm of this text only, to guess at the "authenticity" of the accounts, and it's possible that one shouldn't. In writing this book, Kraus brings into existence lives unknown to the reader, including her own. In other words, by writing to Dick, she writes herself into existence.

In the afterword, Joan Hawkins notes:
And while Kraus doesn't quote Guattari until late in the text, his presence is already felt in the first letter. In fact, what's interesting is Chris' idea that you can somehow use Baudillard's notion of the hyper-real, the simulacrum, to get to Delueze and Guattari's notion of intensification. And that perhaps is the theoretical drive behind the entire project, as the letters and the simulacrum of a passion which receives little encouragement emerge as the truest and best way outside the virtual gridlock and into Deleuzian rematerialization of experience.
Simulacrum is a new concept to me, but if my novice (and rusty theoretical) reading is correct, Kraus plays with the notion that "real" lives might not exist until they become a form of hyper-real, lived through life, through the author, then finally reader. The Wikipedia entry on Baudrillard's theory of Simulacra and Simulation states that "today there is no such thing as reality" Our world is one "in which the dominant simulacrum is the model, which by its nature already stands for endless reproducibility, and is itself already reproduced." When Kraus writes about a life, in a fictional way, it is a reproduction of a life lived, which is made more real with every reading, by a stranger, of each or every life. Each printing, or reproduction, of I Love Dick is an affirmation of these lives. While it is Baudrillard's opinion that hyper-reality renders experience meaningless, I feel that in working with a text like I Love Dick, simulacra can create an authentically meaningful experience for a reader who might not have had the opportunity otherwise.

There's an interesting typo that happens repeatedly -- but not consistently -- which I have to think is intentional: Kraus often confuses "it's" and "its." There is, I think, a purposeful mutability between "possessing" and "being" throughout I Love Dick. Dick is angry that he has become part of Chris' story ("I found the situation initially perplexing, then disturbing") but does Chris not own Dick, if she brings him into being (as postulated above)? Only through her authorial ownership, do Dick and the others exist.


* * *

Speaking of ownership, I tweeted the following, which some viewers found disturbing:
"I love cracking a spine so the book can lay flat for me to copy from it."
I get that some people like to keep their books more pristine, but as I said in my next tweet "I live with books. I mark them, I crease them, I use them and they look it. Dog-eared and underlined. LOVED."* I sometimes sleep with books beside me, and they get rolled on. I carry books with me, and they get banged up. It's interesting, the differences in how we treat our books, as book lovers. I don't think one approach is better than any other. The way we love books is as individual as the books we choose to love.

*I do want to note, as I did on Twitter, that I only do this to books in my personal collection; I try very hard to keep library books in the condition in which they were loaned to me.

7 comments:

Steven W. Beattie said...

"And while Kraus doesn't quote Guattari until late in the text, his presence is already felt in the first letter. In fact, what's interesting is Chris' idea that you can somehow use Baudillard's notion of the hyper-real, the simulacrum, to get to Delueze and Guattari's notion of intensification. And that perhaps is the theoretical drive behind the entire project, as the letters and the simulacrum of a passion which receives little encouragement emerge as the truest and best way outside the virtual gridlock and into Deleuzian rematerialization of experience."

Writing like this makes me want to throw stuff.

Panic said...

Heh, well that's one of the differences between you and I. I love that. It totally set my imagination on fire.

Ben said...

I love marking up books as well. I found your tweet disturbing more for how graphic it was, conjuring to mind a sense of malevolent glee as you intentionally break the book's spine, rendering it helpless before you, completely and utterly at your mercy. . . .

Sorry, I digress. It was the implication of intentionally cracking the spine that saddened me. Wear and tear, even spinal damage (which I find makes a book harder to read while holding as often as it makes a book lie flatter), come as part of the package of ownership and love, I agree. But to cut down a book in the prime of its life sounds like domestic abuse. :P

You're right, of course, that no one approach is superior. However, if this is purely for practical sakes, consider that many hardcovers, when properly opened, will lie flat on their own. (Paperbacks, I'm afraid, are asking for their abuse.)

Panic said...

Heh, yeah. It was a paperback. A brand new one, and I was pulling quotes. There was something satisfying about it, though. It made that same lovely noise that a hardback makes the first time you merely open it, to read. Maybe that was what made me tweet. :)

Panic said...

Note to self: stop beginning every response with "heh." You are not an evil villain.

Ben said...

You're not an evil villain?* But I thought the "heh" was a dead giveaway!

You should consider becoming one. Think of the benefits: supervillains totally get to dress in the most outrageous fashions without anyone looking askance. Plus, you've already got the evil comments down.

You could be "Panic, Torturer of Tomes, Bane of Books."

*Isn't "evil villain" redundant?

Panic said...

Nah, some of them are just misunderstood!