“Read this on the bus – we dare you,” it says on the back. No, I gasped in true British prudishness, as I turned away in shock at the bold DICK I could see before me. How could someone so explicitly share their love for something so private, I pondered. Without even reading the blurb, I walked away in shock and bought my Little Book of Hygge to recover and didn’t give this woman’s love for Dick another thought.
I couldn’t help myself, though. I loved that I was taken back by this book with the word DICK on the cover. I imagined Miranda Hart looking at the camera in her slapstick style saying, “ooh, naughty”. My reaction matched Miranda’s flawlessly, and I thought well this is clearly what’s wrong with us Brits; our judgemental prudishness. Get over it Blades and read about DICK.
Then the Auckland Writers Festival programme announces that this very woman Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick, a name that appeared to me then as just a name under the work DICK, was coming to the town that I lived in. Clearly a sign. I wanted to know why she needed to be so explicit about her love for Dick and was invited to the Writers Festival for it. I could write about Dick, with my experience in that field, and have a seat on that stage next year…
I returned to Unity Books with my intrigue in tow, but this book was no where to be seen – surely Aucklanders hadn’t all of a sudden taken an interest in a book that’s been in print since 1997? Well, as it goes, they had. Just like me.
I am forced to ask the young American man at the counter if he has a copy somewhere in the shop. I walk up to him, panic strikes, and in short sharp breaths I whisper, “I am looking for, erm, a book called I Love Dick?” With laughter creeping from the corners of his mouth he says, “it’s sold out, but we have some arriving on Thursday and I can put one aside for you”.
I walk up to the counter when it’s arrived the following Thursday and with my most innocent smile smothered on my face I say to the young handsome American, “my book has arrived,” sounding like an obnoxious creep as if he should remember the book I asked for on Monday. Clearly I have been over thinking the entire debacle, and he rightfully asks what book it is that I have ordered. “You know, the, erm… the one…the one…I Love…Love… I Love Dick?”
Well, my dear Sunday Edits reader, this is not a book about dick, or Dick, per se. Rather, it turns out, it is a refreshing, thought-changing critical theory on women and men in marriage raising the subject of promiscuity, sexual desire, and femininity all unravelled in an autobiographical, epistolary novel. It’s one of the best books I have ever read. It’s life-changing, actually.
This woman, Chris Kraus, has revolutionised how I think about writing, genre, plot, tone of voice, style, I mean, Jesus, this woman has made me think about everything. I Love Dick has changed the future of my writing reigniting this passion to do it more often, freer, explicitly, without trying to polish any turds.
Like Virginia Woolf to the Victorians, who paved the way for the Modernist era by breaking up the linear start, middle, and end plot that not many had dared to deviate from before, and put all sorts of punctuation marks in places the late-Victorians would never have dreamt of, Chris Kraus in 1997 disrupted the style of narrative in the era of contemporary literature and only now in 2017 are we ready to appreciate it. The explicit emotional content, the letters and poetry, the cuts to and from parts of history, the throw backs, the throw tos, the grammar that I would have only ever dreamed of using to style and create a sentence is all in this book.
Using her marriage to professor Sylvère and her sexual obsession with British cultural theorist, Dick Hebdige, for the book’s real life case studies, Kraus discusses her sexless marriage to Sylvère; her financial dependence on her husband; her failure to make something of herself in the shadow of her husband’s success; her sexual obsession with Dick; her schizophrenia; where she fits into a world of sex as the archetype of unconventional desire; and the games women must play if they want to be at the forefront of men’s sexual desire.
On top of that, through her letters to Dick and the detail into her marriage with Sylvère, and “the fuzzy one-time fucks she’s had with men who’re out the door before her eyes are open”, Kraus shows the reader how contemporary social standards raise desirable women to be intelligent but not intimidating, sexual but not a slut, committed but not desperate, reliant but not dependent, aspirational but not unpredictable, all while questioning the double standards of men.
I love the honesty in this book. Kraus has bravely put her whole self, laid-bare, in a book and risked the world judging her for her promiscuity, sexuality, and desire, which I find admirable. Although she was met in the first place with disdainful reviews, such as “I Love Dick [seemed] a book not so much written as excreted” from the Bookforum back in the day where people such as those at the Bookforum were too afraid to acknowledge that women are allowed a sexuality, she will, it turns out, be remembered for writing something seminal for all women.
Chris Kraus is no longer just a name I see under the word DICK, but a name that I will forever refer to as the woman who revolutionised the way I want to write, and the woman who wrote the book that inspired me to be a writer and be the writer I want to be.
The 90s were clearly not ready for this book with less than a hundred copies being sold per year after its publication in 1997, but in today’s contemporary age, it seems, we’re now ready to talk about Dick.
Chris Kraus is coming to Auckland May 20th – you can book your tickets here! She was born in New Zealand and lives in LA, and I Love Dick is, I have just read, now a TV pilot!