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August 20, 2018 | by  | in Books |
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Spotlight of Chris Kraus: I Love Dick (1997) and After Kathy Acker (2017)

The obvious place to start when talking about I Love Dick is with the title, which is why the book is infamous for being hard to read in public. It alludes both to how its protagonist literally falls in love with a guy called Dick, who she writes (but doesn’t send) letters to throughout the course of the novel.
I Love Dick has achieved feminist cult classic status. In it, Kraus reflects on various women’s issues, and provides insight into her experiences with being a woman in NYC’s art scene, and the treatment that women artists receive in comparison to their male colleagues. But she particularly focuses on the idea of women’s sexuality – one of the main ideas of the book being about how our society “[presumes] that there’s something inherently grotesque, unspeakable, about femaleness, desire”. With I Love Dick, Kraus upends the expectation for women to be quiet and/or ashamed about their sexuality.
However, there’s an unfortunate issue, in that this book isn’t a total work of fiction but rather is based on Chris Kraus’ own real-life experiences with real people (including Dick), making a lot of it pretty inappropriate. It’s fascinating to read, and there’s a lot to learn through Kraus’ in-depth research about various subjects – from women artists/humanitarians to schizophrenia to critical art theory. But there’s probably feminist literature which is less morally questionable out there.
It’s also worth noting that the author went to Victoria University. Thus, there are often references made to our streets and other familiar things, and how these things influenced her work as a writer and filmmaker, something a lot of students here might relate to and/or find interesting.
With Kraus’ interest in issues concerning women’s sexuality and the experiences of women in the art world well established, it makes perfect sense that twenty years after I Love Dick she would publish a biography about fellow NYC writer/artist Kathy Acker.
After Kathy Acker describes the life of the artist, from childhood up until her death from cancer in 1997, with the focus being on her contributions to the NYC underground art scene, particularly in the 70s – 90s.

The book incorporates numerous excerpts of Acker’s writings, including from her personal letters and from her novels, while also making sure to clarify that Acker was a writer not because she was known for being particularly good at writing (Kraus quotes multiple scathing reviews of Acker’s works throughout the book), but because she wanted to be one.
The book argues that the important thing about Acker’s writings, and how she lived her life in general, is her contributions to postmodernism and feminist theory, particularly regarding sex-positivity and the use of language.
Again, there’s controversy surrounding this book, considering that since I Love Dick Kraus isn’t exactly known for making clear distinctions between fact and fiction. The book opens with her claim that it “may or may not be a biography of Kathy Acker”, with the uncertainty being due to the fact that Acker apparently “lied all the time”. So, basically, almost everything in it must be taken with a grain of salt.
Like I Love Dick, After Kathy Acker is often somewhat morally questionable, but the content is extremely interesting, especially for anyone fascinated in women artists from the underground art scene and/or interested in feminist writings, as both of Kraus’ books include detailed representation of and knowledge regarding both these subjects.

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