Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
I Love Dick is a maddening memoir-epistolary novel-performance art hybrid that defies definition and doesn’t shy away from anything. Its publication in 1997 resulted in blazing controversies in the intellectual community, for good reason. (Fair warning: Chris Kraus is entirely too smart and well-read for you; get ready to have all your college art and philosophy texts and the Internet handy. You’re going to need all the resources you can get.)
Chris, a married independent filmmaker nearing her fortieth birthday, falls madly in love with a renowned art and culture critic — the titular Dick — after having dinner at his home one evening. Chris is married to a belligerently non-conformist French philosopher and professor named Sylvere. The pair are very much intellectual equals, but their marriage hasn’t been physical for many years. Chris writes Dick a love letter, and so does Sylvere… and things spiral from there; over the course of two weeks, the couple writes Dick a total of 98 pages, using the idea of this relative stranger to rekindle their own marriage. Their entire correspondence (including the part where they send this self-exploratory manifesto to Dick and then publish it for the world to see) is published in this book, completely blowing up any pretensions of privacy or “the personal.”
Chris Kraus tears through her own narcissism, greed, lust, generosity, kindness, insecurity, everything that makes her who she is, to arrive at a completely new conception of her self, her art, and her womanhood. The entire book is a wild, unpredictable, heady ride, and let me tell you right now that there’s no way you will ever be prepared for how much of a dick Dick is.
Even the act of publishing I Love Dick was like an act of war; Dick — whoever he really is — sued Chris Kraus for defamation after the text was released, a fact she includes in her appendix to the main text. Chris the character (and Chris the writer) challenges everyone to tear through the best and worst parts of themselves to arrive somewhere new, and her throwing of the gauntlet is no empty gesture; she just spent upwards of 200 pages tearing her own self apart — and putting herself back together. By publishing this book, she is looking you straight in the eye and saying, “Your turn.”
I Love Dick is not for the faint of heart. Prepare to be emotionally and mentally wrenched six ways to Sunday. You won’t ever look at yourself (or at others) in the same way again.