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Chris Kraus on mainstream success and literary misogyny


After years of being an art-world darling, Chris Kraus seems to be having her mainstream moment, thanks in part to the Amazon TV series based on her cult classic I Love Dick. At The Cut, Ann Friedman talks to Kraus about the ambiguities of this mainstream success, her continuing struggle to be taken seriously in the literary world, and her forthcoming book, After Kathy Acker: A Literary Biography, out in August from Semiotext(e). Read an excerpt from the interview below, of the full text here.

Ann: “Who gets to speak and why” feels very relevant to this moment, too.

Chris: I got into that question in a little more depth with a book called Video Green that I published in 2004. That book was written just before I was losing my job in this high-profile MFA program. But while I was there, I got a really inside view on how careers are made. And that doesn’t really have a lot to do with the work; it has a lot more to do with how these people relate to power, the friendships that they cultivate, the protectors that they find. You know, the girl who goes to the party in a bubble-wrap dress and sits on the lap of a 25-years-older successful male artist, this is the girl who’s going to have a good career. The girl who paints landscapes on Styrofoam cups and keeps to herself and looks a little bit dykey, maybe not so much. That was true when I was writing the book in the early 2000s and thank god it’s changed somewhat. It hasn’t changed enough.

Ann: One of the things that I love about your work is how you have both compassion for and a sense of humor about both the bubble-wrap-dress girl and the Styrofoam-cup-painting girl. Do you think that things have changed for better or for worse, for both of those types of girls?

Chris: I write about this a lot in the new book, in the Acker book, because I was lucky to talk to a lot of Kathy’s friends and contemporaries. Kathy’s generation found themselves stepping into a situation where second-wave feminism had kind of cleared the field, and they were told that they had this freedom, and how were they going to use it? It wasn’t clear. Constance DeJong, she’s a wonderful writer, she was a friend and then later enemy of Kathy. Kathy was very good at cultivating enemies. If anyone seemed too close to being a competitor she would turn them into an enemy and she did that with DeJong. But they were contemporaries and Constance DeJong wrote a book called Modern Love that’s just been republished this year by Ugly Duckling. It’s hilarious and DeJong talks about that right in the pages of the book. You know, “I have all this freedom. Here I am. What am I supposed to do with it?”

Ann: If the person who gets to speak is me, what am I going to say?

Chris: The change between that era and our era, I think, is on the plus side it’s so much more pluralistic and there are so many more channels that people can move through. And information about work and culture spreads so much faster, so something really can come out of nowhere. And a lot of important and smart people will be talking about it to each other. The access was much more controlled, I think, in Kathy Acker’s era. So the pluralism is a good thing. The downside of the pluralism is that everything cycles through so much more quickly and feels so much more expendable.