A book by Chris Kraus

I Love Dick was originally published in 1997, but is now, 20 years later, finally getting the praise it deserves. Sometimes, a writer is ahead of his or her time, and that is the case with Chris Kraus as well: the book is written in 1st person in letter form, with the main character being called Chris Kraus like the author herself. In a discussion between Kraus and fellow author Siri Hustvedt at the House of Literature in Oslo a couple months back, it was mentioned that we’ve seen the popularity of books written in the 1st person revived in recent years, and that authors like Knausgaard has received international praise for the honesty it brings to literature. However, what’s so special about I Love Dick, is not just that Chris Kraus wrote in this form years before the recent resurgence of its popularity, but also that she wrote in the female 1st person, which for most of history has been seen as less serious than its male equivalent. Absurd, I know, but the female 1st person has rather been seen as too personal, too gender specific and as not representing a universal experience. Therefore, 1st person books with a female voice written by a female author has, more often than not, received less than overwhelming support though the years.

 

However, the rise of feminism in popular culture may now have normalized female voices in literature to such an extent that the format of diary (or in this case, letters), can finally be viewed as a piece of art or an interpretation of the human experience in our culture, as it should be, rather than as just being brushed off as “women’s problems” or chick lit. In an interview with Dazed and Confused last year, Kraus phrased it like this:

"When I was writing the book it seemed very important to reclaim the ‘I’. Even now, when women use the first person, it’s perceived as a little sullied, compromised, not completely whole. No one blinks at the male ‘I’ because it is considered to be the universal."

The main character in Kraus’ book is not a stereotypical female main character, and a lot of the time, not a typical feminist either. Chris Kraus is a career woman, although in her own words, “a failed one”, who does not mind living off her academic husband’s income to support her art projects. However, this “failure,” only emphasizes the power of this book: it shows that women can be flawed and still lead massively interesting lives, on their own terms, and that even if you’re a feminist, it doesn’t mean that all your actions are, at least not by the most common definitions. Humans are imperfect, women are imperfect, and that’s the glory of it all. “I Love Dick” is a universal story because it’s written by an excellent writer who is honest about life, whether male or female, fictional or not. Chris Kraus is funny, intelligent, knowledgeable about art theory and literature, and manages to incorporate a solid cultural criticism into the format of love letters. What a Doyenne! We definitely recommend this book.