The Porousness of a Delirious Body
an interview with Chris Kraus
by April Durham, PhD

January to March 2016
For two months in early 2016, Chris Kraus and April Durham met in cyberspace to share ideas on the thinking that arises in the telling and re-telling of histories of the self as documentation, fiction, doing-being, and appropriation. Along the way the two women encounter versions of selves, shared and vanished, speaking at once from the edges of the norm and the position of privileged cultural producers and critics, in the flows of passion, intellection, and longing through which they narrativize ideas, histories, and the act of relating. 
Chris Kraus  by Pablo Castaneda , 2015
10 January 2016 10:44 am
A Proposal 
Hi Chris,
Happy New Year!
I hope this email finds you well. I see your posts some times on Facebook but I stay off that network as much as possible and so feel like it's been ages since I've had news of you.
I am working on a new project that I'd like to invite you to participate in for the debut issue. Some years ago, I envisioned a curatorial/writing space that was collaborative, free form, and online. I made three issues of it ([com]motion) hosted by the arts organization I was working for at the time. Then I went back to school and tabled it for nearly five years. I want to renew the project but with a more classical format, within which a lot of experiment would occur. It will be an online journal with a five-part arrangement that features an ongoing creative research project, a creative writing component, a visual artwork/curatorial project, a work of scholarship, and an interview. The title of the journal is "Legend" (sort of like the things that decode maps for lost travelers). It will be a quarterly review with a specific topic for each edition. 
For our debut edition, the topic of which is "Phantom Limb," I would really love for you to be my interviewee. The idea is about materializing things that are not there by all scientific evidence but which seem, and perhaps are, very real to the one doing the perceiving. We are including a range of things that are oddly related to this topic and I have a strange idea for how your work and your legacy (one might say that now you know) will fit with this. I also think that as there will be an undercurrent of so-called liberatory politics, specifically feminist but not limited to gender-specific concerns, and discourse for the entire project. I feel you are a fantastic example of a "legendary" feminist -- I am hearing from my students, 19-22 year olds, who think you are a goddess of punk sensibility and very mysterious. So I do hope you will be interested and able to make some time over the next four or so weeks to write or meet in person. We can be very conservative with how much time it takes for you to be "interviewed." It is absolutely as you are able.
The first edition should come out at the end of March, so if you agree, it would be great to get started as soon as possible. The interview format could be a bit freeform in terms of the exchange where we don't necessarily predetermine all the questions or ideas that might come up but just write back and forth and let it flow but with the notion of the ghostly voice of the other speaking for the powerful (for example) as a thematic launch pad. Maybe the list of questions develops as we go, maybe the entire thing changes as we go. I am also thinking of this interview as a "thinking-Being" space, in other words, letting the aesthetic experience of exchange determine the form. I know that your work is very much guided by the process of the making, and as this is important to me creatively and ethically, I would love to foreground that and allow the actual final product be determined by the processes that we might build together.
I do hope you'll consider doing this with us. It would be really lovely to have your presence in our project as our first legend. I have been thinking for years how we might work together on something and I hope this sounds like an interesting proposal to you.
All the best and warmest wishes.

12 January 2016 6:54 am
RE: A Proposal
Hi April,
Sorry for the reply-lag. Philip and I have been moving for the past week from a rented house in Tujunga back to our house downtown, near MacArthur Park. Was just reading stuff on my phone, not the best way to reply.
I'd love to do this conversation with you - I'm in Baja now, back working on my book - so we can just float back and forth over email about various things. Legacy's a little scary ... ongoing work seems more like it. But it would be a pleasure to do something like this together.
Send something my way when you feel like it, and I'll do my best to reply.
xo C
16 January 6:47 am
Interview Email 1
Dear Chris,
I'm thrilled you're willing and interested to do the interview for our debut issue of Legend. I remember seeing on FB that you and Philip were moving out of Tujunga. Was someone else renting MacArthur Park? I love that house! I remember a party you had there years ago and Matias was there with his charming boyfriend talking about their place in Frazier Park. They wanted to paint it with black tar which I thought outrageous at first but then I kind of liked it. Bryan and I were in the midst of all our troubles with that local newspaper in FP and feeling very sour about Mountain Living, so I'm sure I was in high sarcasm mode and not particularly kind about that little community. The problem with provincial places is there's nowhere to hide. LA can be its own sort of provincial, but at least you can disappear for a while and then when you reappear, the rancor, or the bad feelings have slipped away. Until next time.
Speaking of provincial rancor, I am thinking of that collection of essays you published in the early 2000s about art in LA that was very erudite and pointed, but also tender and vulnerable. Without checking for a citation immediately, I recall this sense of slipping into an overheated bath as the experience you expressed, and I had as well, of living the late 90s LA art/grad school "scene." But in this collection you sort of peer at it through the slats of cultural criticism.
For example there was one piece in Video Green on Christiana Glidden's work (" Deep Chaos "). I mainly remember this show as her fabricating a resin replica of her living body and posing it in a coffin that either awaited burial or the kiss of the delayed and impossible prince. I think there were also splats of paint and chips of other industrial materials. All of it seemed like it was about the impossibility of material life. (Since I have no idea where Christiana is these days -- maybe Germany -- she may have succumbed to her own questions). Christiana’s rendering of her body redundant seemed to me at the time, although my memory may be very faulty, to be a way of multiplying the self while questioning the repetition, making the personal so obvious that it becomes critical. Maybe it was just a literalization of the Freudian death wish.
Your approach was to locate the specific experience that might have connected Christiana, the girl, to her artwork, which was a more abstract and intellectual re-rendering of the material person, an involving of the personal and the public that multiplies and distributes the subject through the activity of being the artist, making the work, and then seeing the literal “self” as art object (in Glidden’s case it was the resin cast, in yours it is the character of Chris Kraus who plays the naïve, questing hero of the contemporary bildungsroman-cum-bourgois novel).
At the beginning of the essay you quote the ubiquitous art school "smart pretty girl" as saying "You will never succeed as an artist, your work's too personal!"  While you have shown this to be a naive falsehood, the question of "multiple subjectivities" is still an interesting one relative to your own work. Personal and material at the same time detached and theoretical, your work plays with the multiple as expressions of longing, loss, power, desire, and fleshy experiences had by Chris Kraus the character, CK the novelist pictured on the back of the book, and Kraus the Writer who commands the voice and experience of the other real-fictive characters in the novel. These layered selves eludes the singular body, the self-identified subject, so that the reader is constantly wondering “Did Sylvere really say that or is that Chris?” That is to say, your own work grapples with the codified realm of discourse and the real possibility of material life, although one you craft beyond the norm, and makes a very real effort to turn the contemporary situation of "information endlessly transmitted but never received" (Summer of Hate) into something that overwhelms but also informs and empowers the embodied "self," however glitchy the flow of the network and the construction of that self might be.
You use lyrical or blunt language, combined in a rich stew, to describe a life that is both lived-felt and thought-talked (In I Love Dick Sylvere tells you -- or you tell yourself perhaps I should say -- that you are one of the best read people he knows and as this is communicated from bed, the bodies lying in that bed are very much a part of the reading-talking-doing of that moment, a moment in time that has endless duration as I re-read I Love Dick for the fifth time in 15 years).
When you pair descriptions of your own body feeling awkward, intensely sexy, neglected, and desired with forays into the ideas of people like Simone Weil (whose own experience of the body comes through in her long and complicated discourse on violence, for example), I believe you are putting the material and the discursive into a troubled conversation that is never resolved and always, nomadically revisited. I wonder what you think of this question of material bodies and discursive ones through the filter of your life as a writer, educator, artist, and feminist. How does it feel to be the schizophrenic subject (more accurate than multiple subject perhaps as "multiple" removes the bite of exponentially increasing the self, and makes subjectivity into something more "productive" in terms of labor as it can speak for the feminine/masculine, queer/normal, poor/rich experience without missing a beat), especially as energy flags and art itself becomes sensation akin to sitting on the deck in the sunshine watching the play of dandelion fluff across the horizon?
16 January 8:44 am
RE: Interview Email 1
Dear April,
I was remembering that gathering too. When Philip and I moved back last week, we smudged the house with sage, with our friend Robbie Dewhurst who'd helped us move. There was smudging at that first gathering, too - I think led by Sherrie Rose. Different kinds of bad energies each time had to be dispelled. Matias and David never did buy that place in Frazier Park, I don't think - they did Fallen Fruit instead, a better move. I remember visiting you and Bryan there with Fred Dewey, and it seemed so, kind of, ideal - but these exurban mountain places around LA are no escape.
Christiana, last I heard, was living in Berlin, and has two children.
I don't know what to say about multiples. It's not a concept I'm involved with much any more. When I wrote I Love Dick, I didn't have much else to use, or offer, beyond my own experience. And since I was living in a milieu of high theory, with Sylvere, who was one of its chief exemplars, at a time when it held a glamour, juxtaposing my experience, observations, personal, and cultural history against some of its precepts and personalities felt like the obvious thing to do.
Since my work began to circulate in subsequent years, people have brought things to, expected things from, me and that's given me a different range. At a certain to point, I realized that the point for me now was to write about OTHER PEOPLE. But: not to betray your question: it seemed so obvious at the time that there was no separation between theory and experience, body/mind. I arrived in NY in the late 1970s, and even though my activities were obscure, I observed and was very influenced by radical art and ideas of that time - which, by the late 90s, had perhaps been forgotten. So a lot of I Love Dick involved bringing forward a history that wasn't exactly mine, but that deeply influenced me.
I'm working on a critical biography of Kathy Acker now. It's a way of revisiting that part of history without writing an autobiography, which doesn't interest me at all. I'm writing it through a combination of distance and proximity.
Hope this helps -
xo C.
17 January 2016 7:03 am
Interview Email 2
Dear Chris,
A critical biography of Kathy Acker sounds like a great project. She's a sort of ghostly companion for you. I think the first time I met you, you were talking about her as if we all were friends and she was coming a bit later for tea. By then of course she had been gone for some years, but I really appreciate that she's still haunting you as I think your history and hers are tangled in an important way. I'd love to hear more about that project. I wonder if you would be willing share a little taste, either a paragraph we could include in this text or a short clip of you reading a passage. Even if it was a draft... One of my fondest memories of working with you is of how we would go around and read a bit from whatever it was we were working on. We did it in class, in the botanical gardens, in bars, and at parties. That was so important to me both in terms of feedback but also just to hear my own voice speaking aloud my impressions of a world that always seemed so bewildering.
This style of "distance and proximity" is, I believe, a key aspect of all your work. That's where I get the "hot bath" sensation, where my eyes feel enflamed and I just float in both the words and the sensations evoked by your style of analytical story telling. This is the perplexing fun/torture of Aliens and Anorexia in my opinion, where I'm feeling one set of wretched emotions as I wait with the team for the flying saucer to arrive and another as I starve along with Simone Weil and I wonder why I'm not able to write like that when I'm hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Do you write them together, the distant and the proximal, or do you write them on their own and then weave them together later? You don't have to offer a prescription, and maybe that sort of mechanical thing isn't even that interesting to discuss, but I know I'm a very intuitive writer, following a thought until I'm done with it and then looping back to the idea that initiated it, but some people don't like that kind of "channelling" writing -- too Madame Blavatsky, I guess. So I was just wondering how you manage it as you've sort of perfected that model for storytelling -- one that is not anti-narrative, but that doesn't rely on the Aristotelian models particularly. I think that distance and proximity might be a style that allows for Chris as writer to become Chris as story's narrator of a range of experiences that are both personal and imagined or "theoretical" in the best sense of that word. It let's you speak in tongues.
This question of speaking in tongues of angels and animals (to sort of mis-quote the Bible) is one I wanted to raise with you. I also remember a writing seminar when we were reading Nadja and Sarah Matsuda and I were frustrated with how Breton spoke for Nadja; she never could speak for herself. It was always his perspective as possesser and perhaps possessed, but anyway, you just looked sort of wonderingly at us and said "why not just do that yourselves?" That is, go ahead and take on the voice of power and speak for the ones who usually speak for you. You did this so beautifully in I Love Dick because it was mysterious -- the reader is never sure if it’s Sylvere or you who says this thing or that, sends the fax or writes the email. But then your drive was not to invert the power, which I still would say you did however momentarily, but to equalize it a bit and at the same time give yourself a voice, a louder voice than you had before in New York, and to give others a chance to speak, people like Eileen Myles, Michelle Tea, and Ann Rower, alongside the "Big Names" like Deleuze and Lyotard and Foucault (I'm thinking of course of your Native Agents series with Semiotext(e)). This spreading the wealth, opening up multiple avenues inside the specific frame of "high theory with Sylvere" (which carries with it the histories of Columbia University, MIT Press, continental philosophy, etc.), was so balls-to-the-wall, in my opinion.
While I don't know the entire history of that aspect of your work (so much is speculation through my own imagination and many conversations with fellow artists like Pam Strugar about how you managed to do what you've done, what it took to accomplish all of this and in THAT particular context), but I feel like somehow this attitude that allowed you to assume Sylvere's and Dick's (Richard H and all Art Dicks) voices in that initial novel was a key force that moved you. Does that feel like your experience of your work as editor and publisher?
Saging the house is a good thing. Even when people are happy there, its maybe better not to be haunted by their lives, to have the freedom to live in the space on its own terms. I was staying at a place this last summer that was occupied by something rather ghoulish. It was in the bathroom of all places but it came in my dreams and scared the crap out of me. I woke up shouting, I'm not afraid of you, and it seemed to get a little weaker. Then I just got up, stood on the bed and screamed at it to get out, get out, get out, hissing like a huge cat. It left me alone after that, although it might be back to bother the women who normally live in the house. (Not sure if this was a dream or an illusion ---)
Happy Sunday,
17 January 2015 8:44 am
RE: Interview Email 2
Dear April,
It's good to hear from you.
I'm in Baja, drinking coffee Sunday morning in bed, and writing you back is going to replace my diary this morning. I still keep one.
Are you in touch with Sarah? Seeing her name was a little jolt, because I was thinking about her recently. Re: our old friends, I'm going out to see Sabina in early March - her mountain project will be installed, and I'll write something about it. She is amazing. And re: Art Center, and writing I Love Dick at that time and place -- coming to LA (via Sabina, actually) was such a great gift. After years of struggling in NY, it seemed so inconsequential, whatever I did in LA wouldn't matter, so I could do more. Truly the people around at that time weren't as scary and smart as the ones in NY. And I'd been at it a long time. I started Native Agents in 1990, and had that huge struggle with Sylvere about (not) putting my name on the masthead, because he thought his name would give it more legitimacy. About four books in, my name finally went there. But that was such a humiliation, any humiliation vis-a-vis Dick seemed mild - and really, there wasn't anything humiliating about it at all. It was more giddy and free. To talk back, or put Nadja's words in your mouth.
It's funny about Acker. I did all these interviews in 2000 with friends of hers, three years after her death. Definitely the right time to gather stuff, before memory turns elegaic and people get old, and their memories are really nostalgia for youth. But I couldn't work with them then. I didn't want perception of my work to be tied forever to I Love Dick (as it three-quarters has), and that bratty persona is so tied to Acker, and definitely my memory of reading her early work during my first years in NY was a huge influence. So the stuff sat, and I wrote other books. Various cultural products about the late 70s, early 80s in NYC began to appear in the last several years, and it was troubling how false they seemed. Hedi and I talked about this sometimes. There was the question of writing about my own experience of those years - but I was just arrived, didn't know many important people, and wasn't producing work in the arenas considered important. For that and other reasons, the idea of anything autobiographical seemed repugnant.
So instead, I'm using Acker as a marker to forage through that time. The book feeds on facts (not just about Acker herself, but the cultural histories involved) and I've gathered a lot, but I'm trying to do something more poetic than just reprise them. Eileen Myles told me once that was what I do anyway in my work - biography as autobiography - writing about Paul Thek and Simone Weil in Aliens, etc.  So yeah - to understand the person well enough to appreciate their victories and see through their bullshit and bluster. Kathy was annihilating of all female peers, and took huge pains to distance herself from the St. Mark's poets - though they'd been important to her early work.
To zero in on your question more specifically: I'm not looking for confluences with Acker, but they keep springing up. Well obviously we have in common Sylvere (she was his last serious girlfriend before he and I met) and we've slept with some of the same people so I guess there's blood kinship there but, as I write the book, the confluences are more surprising and mysterious. She did her first serious work, Politics, when she was 25; I did my first serious work, Disparate Action/Desperate Action (subtitled Emotional & Political Lives) when I was 25.  She found herself unemployable despite, perhaps because of, her renown, later on - I feel like I'm writing about myself when I write this stuff down. Martha Rosler said this amazing thing in our 2000 interview, after pretty much dishing K. for an hour –
17 January 2016
(the computer just sent that itself while I was searching for this) -
“We’re all the same, don’t you think?” the artist Martha Rosler remarked. We were talking about Acker, whom she’d known well in San Diego during the early 1970s. “Of course we’re competitive.  But that also means we can identify with her. I could’ve been Kathy, Kathy could’ve been me.  I don’t know.  I could’ve been you, you could’ve been me. We all could’ve been Eleanor Antin. It’s all the same. And by that I don’t mean we’re not who we are. But you know what I mean.”
So writing about K. is more about writing history, which is fascinating to me. At one point I started reading early histories, the "Chronicles," thinking about that as a model for writing.
hope this helps.
xo C
17 January 2016
RE: RE: Interview Email 2
Dear Chris,
I can't tell you how much pleasure it gives me to sit in bed with you on Sunday drinking coffee, or in my case oolong tea, and to write, however virtual the sitting and drinking and writing may be. I've been anticipating this moment for so long! I hope Baja is nice. We're a little chilly here and have dangerous surf conditions so I can't go near the beach with the dog and it's very strange to live so close and never go because one of us might die.
I'm not in touch with Sarah, not for many years. She joined a self-help guru type of "enterprise" and I think they convinced her I wasn't a good influence because she sent me a cryptic email one day and then I never could get her on the phone to talk about it. I was living in France then and it was in the middle of winter with very short, damp days and I felt like a medieval monk shuttered away in my uncomfortable cell writing and drawing and I thought it very hard to lose her as a friend. But then you do wonder if you ever really know people. Especially people you meet under the duress of Art School.
I have a funny thought about Martha Rosler and that piece " First Lady (Pat Nixon) " (1967-72) with Pat Nixon trying so hard to look like Babe Paley in a yellow gown and a yellow room and a great crown of yellow hair like a solid halo surrounding her little face and so clearly not feeling it, looking like she'd love to go the way of Betty Ford and just take her flask out of the potted plant and have a swig while they change the flash bulb. Well, I wonder if that awkwardness is actually a great gift for the proto-socialite/art star/brilliant public intellectual/feminist punk girl, especially if it means the expectations have to be of your own making since one will most certainly fail the expectations of others. She, Pat, was 28 when she married her Dick. I wonder if she felt like she knew what she was doing.
I'm going to write more tomorrow morning, before I start my workaday week, but I wanted to just touch tips with you and say bon courage on tracing history through the marker of Acker. I can't wait to talk more about love and history.
20 January 2016 7:37 am
RE: Continued
Dear Chris,
Wednesday morning. Listening to Portishead in honor of starting the new collection of email correspondence between K. and Ken Wark, I’m very into you, in the mail today. It seems appropriate that K., exhausted from traveling, in deep money straights and with the impossible situation of having received payment for work she'd done but unable to put it in her bank because the checks are from a different country, sinks into a scattered, torn up, muddled, sincere conversation with her lover/stuffed animals/the bath. It sounds so much like something you would do, maybe without the stuffed animals, unless it was a ratty fox fur. I mean delving into Aliens & Anorexia for the third (I think) time since its publication, I am struck by what a machine you were in those days, pushing yourself in ways that make me exhausted to think about now: writing, schleping, screening, teaching, reading with no food, no money, inadequate clothing, and no love/support -- or only the kind that seems patronizing or at least distanced enough that the giver won't get into trouble for giving it if it's noticed by "people." I guess I find this correspondence, this parallel description of Kathy's body and your body, Kathy's movements and your movements to speak to the quote you offer from your interview with Martha Rosler.
 "We're all the same, don't you think?" is such complicated observation, one that I'd like to reflect on a bit more, to get away from initial and elbow-jerk reaction that protests the flattening of individuals such a statement seems to make, to get at what's key about that observation. Hopefully it’s not too much of a blether.
Here are all of these women: brilliant, auto-didacts (meaning circulating beyond the "straight" institutional trajectories of Barnard to Yale to Gladstone Gallery, or as with some of my cohort in later years, Yale to Art Center/CalArts/UCLA to Blum and Poe), and concerned with bringing the conversation around from the focus on the meta-narratives of the "Meaning of Life" à la Norman Mailer/Matthew Barney to the micro-narratives of local desire. Some of these women (Kathy Acker) are scratchy, angry, snarky, using their minds and words as swords to slice and dice and decapitate the head of the various Cultural Dicks; some (like Martha) are ironic and clever, using visual images to speak to the cage women are held in by the normative demands of bourgeois life that pretends there is no class structure when it binds us so tightly; some of these women (like you Dear Chris) are a mash up of all of the above, playing with identity and presentation as you play with desire and love and geography and sex/text and mind and body, crafting an institution all your own where all your girls can play, fight, have a voice, and build.
So is there is a similar "line of flight" as some say for each of you away from the oppression of institutionalized ways of being expressive, successful, sexy, productive, and which tramps down the grass in the byways beyond the well-trodden paths that travel to the institution and away from it (in resistance). I think rather than the inter-changability that being "the same" implies, that you all form a sort of Deleuzian War Machine , which is hard to appropriate by the "State" or in our case by the "Institution" (of academia, of feminism, of contemporary art practice), because it's slippery and difficult to describe/replicate/make into a formula. I mean who would recommend rejection, alienation, failure, and illness/death by starvation/disease/neglect? Well, I might actually recommend rejection and failure just because it forces you to figure out something beyond the well-grooved paths of success that others prescribe. But on the whole, the formula is a bit dour. 
Of course, I must bring up the obvious which is that Martha Rosler taught at Rutgers for 30 years and has wonderful gallery representation around the world, is associated with the Whitney Museum education program for curators and artists, and is influential in a very "known" way. Kathy Acker continues to be published and has been the subject of theses and anthologies and collections of critical and creative reflection. You teach at prestigious schools although, like Kathy, always as a visitor but still it’s an institutional acceptance that is often the marker of legitimacy. So it's curious how everyone might start in the early 70s from the same spot and then the IChing is thrown, the affiliations made, the various forms of appeal brought into service, and ten or twenty years later some get shows at Patrick Painter and are featured on the cover of ArtForum and some slip away to Peru to surf and teach kids how to make jewelry and it doesn't matter if one was a "better" artist or more theoretical or a more complex, accomplished writer or a harder worker or wanted it more or whatever.
So the formula slips into error or imbalance and again, one must craft what it means to be successful for oneself, even if it takes a while for your name to appear on the masthead. I guess that's exactly what you and Martha intend when you say "But you know what I mean."
Sorry if I'm over-stating the obvious but I think that this kind of slippage from normal notions of success is so important for crafting the world differently, in relationship to the moment in which you live, and the networks in which you participate, and I am invested in the way that circulating beyond and beside the "normal" forces you to think and rethink your work, your way of living, teaching, relating, and producing. I hope that didn't end up being more about me than about you and your practice. I am just an endlessly fascinated by the rogue, especially when resistance is not necessarily about opposition.
Back to your use of the Chronicles as a model for writing. Are you making lists? I remember those list poems we used to write with you. I actually kept working with that and had several of those works published, and I often use lists as a pedagogical tool, especially when students are particularly stuck on a sort of undeveloped idea and need to let their unconscious minds interrupt the limits of conscious thinking. Those associative lists are wonderful. It could be interesting to do history this way, but I don't know if that's exactly what you mean.
I have an important meeting today at 10:30. Wish me luck.
20 January 2016 8:09 am
RE: RE: Continued
Good luck with your meeting!  Of course you're talking about Christie, and I think about her sometimes too. I only know what she's up to from her FB page, haven't talked or seen her in ages, so I don't know how she feels about what she's doing beyond FB expression. I think she got discouraged by the high art world too soon (if, in fact, she has any regrets about not pursuing that career) -- after grad school if she'd continued with her installations instead of sidetracking into jewelry etc, she quite likely could have prevailed. 
But I'm in awe of anyone without independent means of support who manages to establish a career. Each time someone does, it seems like a miracle. I could never have been an artist if I hadn't met (and been supported for years by) Sylvere. By the time I wrote Aliens and went to Germany, my life was much easier: I had my Art Center paycheck, Sylvere's Art Center paycheck, independence. I wasn’t worried about how to pay basic bills. It was a very good time. The worst time was in my mid-late 20s in NY, thinking about going to law school etc, because impossible to keep doing sex work, temp office work, etc. and there was no chance of ever being self-supporting as an artist. There still isn't. About 30% of my income comes from writing and teaching. The rest is from real estate.
I think what Martha Rosler meant by 'we're all the same' is ANYONE, well, women, who have some ambition and try and do something that means something, and establish it to some visible point. Martha worked away for years in relative obscurity, had the same career highs and lows as any artist, and I'm glad that her work hasn't just disappeared but is indisputably established now. She attended Brooklyn College, got a BA, had a kid, went to UCSD MFA in the 70s because she was stuck there with her kid anyway (cheaper than being in NYC) and I don't know her at all beyond our correspondence, but have great admiration for what she's achieved.
Kathy wasn't really that broke. She had a trust fund. She was a great self-mythologizer, and expert at tailoring her communications with what she assumed her listener would most like to hear.
Writing about these anomalies in K's self presentation isn't about calling her out as a liar, so much as a) creating a more realistic portrait of the person, and b) using one life to trace a larger history. This has always been an agenda of Semiotexte - bringing forward things that have been written out of the narrative. A more accurate version of history.
I don't make lists anymore, though that's always a good writing exercise. More like, take notes.
On the above subject/s ... I also really admire the way you've prevailed.
xx Cwo
21 January 2016
Histories and Lonesomeness
Dear Chris,
I am indeed thinking of Christie but I find her an interesting case. I have been so charmed by the way she expresses on FB her choice to live a precarious life but to do it as pure pleasure, filled with fun. I saw her last year before Christmas when Pam gave a party at her new place in Pasadena. Shirley Tse was there and Rebecca Ripple and Jessica Rath. It was curious because here was basically my cohort from art school. Some were kind of famous and some were kind of happy. It didn't seem like the two coincided. Christie was enthusiastic about Peru and how cheap it was to live there and her young surfer boyfriend and how much freedom she had. One could be skeptical, but I thought she was crafting the kind of life she wanted to have and then performing it and who cares if it is partly scripted -- that is to say not "real" -- because her self-mythology, her FB expression is joyful and spills into her material life and it makes me feel happy when I encounter it. Isn’t this a creative act in itself? Aren’t we making ourselves (or as Foucault would say “caring for the self”) all the time anyway? Why not leverage the networks, online and off, historical and futuristic, in which we move and have our being?
I've been thinking a lot about crafting identities via the internet in my work recently, but I the main thing I've come up with is that it's got to work for you. I mean there's the identity one crafts for students, and maybe even colleagues, about having it pulled together, about knowing what you're doing with your work and what next big thing you're going to tackle and how much recognition you're getting for it, and then the strain of keeping pace with that makes you attenuated and prickly, and a soft sort of violence gets committed against yourself and you enact it on others through arrogance or deflection or some such. Then there's the kind of crafting Dominant Realm does at the beginning of Summer of Hate that's just a con job, and while I hate to admit it, the right carney at the right time and we're all rubes. (I just started SoH so I'll probably have more to say on it as I go, but I found a great line I think I might like for a title for this interview: "The porousness of a delirious body.").
We moved a lot when I was growing up and the only way I could soothe myself over the horrible disruption of it was to tell myself I could be anyone I wanted in the new place. At the time it was a psychological palliative that my child-self made up to deal with precarity. Now I know Rosi Braidotti calls it Nomadic Subjectivity .
Being anchorless is cosmopolitan cool, as long (of course) as you go to the right schools while you're doing it (which of course I didn’t do until later). But with you, I've always been struck by your mobility in life and as a subject in your work. You're (practically simultaneously) in LA, San Bernardino, Albuquerque, Baja, Minnesota, New York, the Hamptons, Paris, Berlin, Bucharest, and Istanbul (right or am I imagining that last one?). For a long time you were making a lot of these cross-country trips in that beat up little truck with the camper shell over the bed. You'd emerge from that particular ride with some kind of sexy shoes and tight skirt and your hair up to here and big sunglasses. I'd think, "Man she's doing Something! And she’s having fun doing it." I guess that's why I've read your novels and essays so many times (and I'm definitely not autistic or a (literal) whore), trying to tap the roots of the persona you are continually spinning out, based on recuperating histories that have been told but then bear telling again, like the oral traditions of the pre-Roman celts.
This way of engaging or enacting or crafting history is one that fascinates me because it’s so raw but so impenetrable; it's frank and frankly constructed. Tracing a larger history you say... your work definitely multiplies histories that intersect or bear likeness to the previous tellings or the ones others have told but they are not the same, not "verifiable" in the way that something might be neatly wrapped up along one of those fancy timelines that you see in the front of an art history survey volume. After reading the entire trilogy (Dick, Aliens, Torpor) from the first phase of your work, I found myself seeing a ball rather than a line of history, a  messy, globe-like telling of the history of Chris Kraus, which was also the history of the 70s and Abjection and Resistance and Ambition and Love. Very situated, very specific but a way of crafting the self through the telling of experience and allowing that self to represent a larger moment that would be forgotten both by the passing fads of theoretical focus and by the dominant cultural discussions that necessarily seem to require the alienation of SOMEONE to find expression. So notetaking and citation and referencing and orchestrating seems like a much more thorough and dimensional way of writing history than a list that can eventually unfold into a line with an arrow pointing in one direction.
21 January 2016
RE: Histories and Lonesomeness
hi April,
What you say about the consolation of continual moving as a child - the chance to be someone completely new - really strikes a chord. And why not? I think the same about Christy Frield's adventures in Peru.
The mobility you mention in my work - well, during the years those books covered, I moved around a lot. At first, I was following Sylvere's nomadic trail - his family in Europe, his daughter in NY, part-time work in LA, and adventures in third world places whenever he could take them. That plus, a certain inability to turn down invitations, no matter how inconvenient and far flung. Later, when I wrote Torpor, I was retracing some of that trajectory, and went back alone to Romania and Paris twice.
In those books, I was trying to make sense of certain experiences, that happened while in motion; and Sylvere and I were still together in some way, on different coasts, so I was traveling a lot. That travel is different from the kind of travel (touring) I do now. Sylvere always said I'd regret the years when nothing much was happening, and in a way he was right. There's nothing much to be recovered from the time spent touring - it's a lot of energy put out, performing, people met and left, not much observing, home, collapse.
I agree with you philosophically about timelines, but practically - at this moment - I'm doing nothing except timelining, working on the Acker book.  I can't tell you how thrilled I was last night to find a passing reference to Tony Shafrazi's vandalism of Guernica - bang, that dated it: Feb 28, 1974 - and gave an anchor for a lot of other chronological ambiguities. Things do take place in time.  That's the seduction of narrative. Life has beginnings, middles, ends. The lie of narrative, of course, is in the arc, which life and time don't have.
I hope this speaks to your questions, at least a little bit. The biography I'm writing now is a different kind of work. Research, and not travel/life, is the base. I have to spend weeks and weeks reading and absorbing sources for each section before I can start to write, i.e., do something with it. Absorbing facets of someone else's history as if it were your own. The point isn't to make a definitive portrait of Kathy Acker or her work, or "bring her legacy to a new generation of readers," I'm ambivalent about it anyway - the point is to use this one life I have access to as a marker to move through time, bringing out as much as possible the banality, the real-life conflicting motivations, behind the myth. In this, I hope the book to be exemplary :)
xo Chris
24 January 2016
RE: RE: Histories and Lonesomeness
Dear Chris,
I'm sorry I'm over-long in getting back to you. I had a sort of hell end-of-week at work and was too tired to give our conversation the attention it deserves. But this Sunday morning I'm sitting in my big chair under a blanket made from old cashmere sweaters, drinking locally roasted coffee, and thinking of you. I'm actually totally immersed in Summer of Hate and as usual love being absorbed into your storytelling web and the complex problems you raise in your work, both directly in terms of relationships and indirectly in terms of power. I want to return to your distinction between the Kathy Acker project and Research and the kind of work/labor that goes into the creative work, but I would first like to raise the question of ghosts again.
My intention, which I will restate up front rather than try to imply and perhaps fail to convey in the end, is to tie our discussion into the thematic of "Phantom Limb," for which I thought you were a perfect interviewee because of your virtuosity in appropriating the voices of everyone powerful in your circles and using them like bullhorns tuned to various pitches to speak your own experience, with force and pathos, and a lot of complexity.
In SoH the specters from the earlier works are the anonymous BDSM lovers and Sylvere, in this novel called Michel. Here Sylvere or I'll say Michel, as the nearly or pseudo-ex husband, is supportive and kindly and Catt can consider him with nostalgia: "She still thinks of them as an oddly distinguished old couple" (​Summer 110). When Chris writes Catt having a conversation with Sylvere as Michel, he calls her chaton (kitten) and, without being too involved, supports her in the form of admonishments to take better care of herself or at least to avoid the real or paranoid chance that she'll be killed. Of course he's still not that reliable as a support system as he colludes with the zaniness that allows Catt to choose to give Tommy the "Accountant" access to all their finances in the first place, but he's definitely much more present for Catt (which is hardly at all) than he ever was for Chris (which was not at all) in the trilogy. The BDSM lover(s), at the end of Torpor are a source of liberation for Chris/ Sylvie as she lets go of her fantasy about the bourgeois family with pinecones burning in the fireplace and crafts a different, very queer type of family, for herself that includes her neurotic students, her art and writing world colleagues, her employees, her husband, her banker-lover, and her BDSM partners -- an act I found and still find quite triumphant by the way. But in SoH, maybe because Catt has exhausted that trajectory, the BDSM lover is just a scary threat, one that makes the skin go cold and the bowels ache. So Chris moves as Catt into a more "normal" life with a little cottage home with a fireplace (always a symbol for contentment and stability in your work) and a guy (Paul) who, despite his very different background, needs the same kind of anchoring as she does, largely for the same reasons. This, perhaps unnecessary, recap of a novel you wrote yourself is just to set the context for asking you a little more about this way of tracing a larger history, of a generation or of a creative collective consciousness, through histories of individuals by inhabiting their voices, if not their bodies, and speaking through those voices.
I know you are distinguishing the rigors of the work you are doing on Acker from the work you did with your own self as character, but I feel that, while you are upping the ante on the style or the approach to contending with and rendering the subject matter, the intention is very similar.
In your work where you are the narrator, as I've said, you do Breton's move and just inhabit the bodies of others to speak for them, but there's an odd sense that maybe they actually said those things and maybe they didn't. We never really know the "truth" of the situation and I have to say, it's a beautiful way of replaying the tension of the experience of a woman who doesn't have THE spot (be it in the art world, the writing world, or the relationship world) or who is continually contextualized as the "dirty joke" played to droolers and whores, presumably in dark, damp venues that always lack a fireplace. It's also telling of the way that the particularities of intellectual discussion and exchange (so valued for their precision, individuality, and obscure insight) might be generalized and pulled out like cue cards for repetition in whatever context in which they are required. Really this form of repetition, the one that has the most liberatory potential perhaps, carries with it the most fabulous sort of irony, whether or not it was the actual, heartbreaking experience of this woman or that, (back to the "we could all be each other" point Martha raised earlier) at a particular moment in history. It’s a collective expression that inhabits individual bodies, yet is not exactly unique to the person telling the tale – or maybe doesn’t need to be.
So anyway, I'm not really sure how to pose a question about this labor that involves appropriating the literary bodies[1] of everyone from Nan Golden to Felix Guattari, from Simone Weil to Jean Beaudrillard, and channeling them, just like Madame Blavatski, through the thin, painful, beautiful, energetic body of Chris Kraus as character, writer, historian, object of desire, teacher, and friend. I'm not sure how to ask about your phantom limb, the one that aches, the one you're startled to discover is not actually there even though you can feel the cool sheets as they fall over it, the one that is perhaps more psychic than physical, the one that maybe has already been rectified through the stability of a good income, respect, and a certain kind of fame and enduring influence on new generations of feminists. I'm not sure how to propose that your way of carving a place for yourself when no "legitimate" source would open doors directly for you -- without your connection to Sylvere -- is still an important action, a key labor, to consider as a phantom limb that aches and gestures even when/if you are so over its loss. 
And then back to thinking styles... I understand the difference between the kind of thinking that goes into creative writing and the vastly different kind of thinking that goes into scholarship. I struggled when I was writing my doctoral dissertation to keep "farming in rows" and my beautiful and very sympathetic advisor and friend, James Tobias, used to say, because I wanted to just take off and glide across the desert taking in the wonders of the landscapes all these ideas were unfolding. But connecting the objects and the ideas, the events and the things you want to assert about those events is a much different exercise than the act of making associations in creative work and leaving them there for the reader to unpack for herself. So I get the need to think a lot about things before you can ever figure out what you want to say about them when you're working in a scholarly context. I actually think of it as a really hard puzzle that I have to sort out while I move my body along a hiking trail, because if I sit to do it I end up peeling all the skin off my fingers.
I LOVE that puzzle and so I'm committed to doing that kind of work, even if its not as "natural" for me as the creative writing. But circling back to your move into that territory, its really exciting and I am so looking forward to see what you do with the history of an era and a place and a lifestyle of being creative in the brief window after Eisenhauer and Jackson Pollack and before Reagan and Jeff Koons. I do wonder though what comprises reality in this kind of project. Is there a phantom haunting this project as well? 
I do hope this doesn't sound like a one note drum and thanks for thinking through this with me. I've been coming at it in your work from various angles for nearly 20 years (if you can believe that!) and I still find it an interesting question that deserves rigorous attention and virtuosic, comprehensive discussion.
25 January 2016
RE: RE: RE: Histories and Lonesomeness
Dear April,
Your reading and understanding are totally awesome ... I'm blown away, and don't know if I can respond at the same pitch of articulation, but will try and speak to the question, at least.
In 1998, after I'd published I Love Dick and was working on Aliens & Anorexia, our mutual friend Giovanni read some probably crazily self-indulgent, and since discarded, pages and said: You can't really put yourself in that outsider position.  That's not where you are anymore.
It took awhile to really agree, probably not until after I'd published Torpor in 2005.  Anyway, by the time I started working on Summer of Hate and the pieces in Where Art Belongs, I realized that the art world had accorded me some kind of authority, and it would be disingenuous to decline.  (That's a problem with Acker's work I find fascinating - the way she became locked into her younger self, felt compelled to repeat, even when she was no longer poor, and quite famous.)  (The real challenge for people who write from, through, their lives is to remain faithful to all of it.)  I talked about this problem with Sylvere, and he said: You've written about yourself, now it's time to write about other people.  That's what I was trying to do in Summer of Hate.  To me, Paul Garcia - and the state of underclass amnesia; complete poverty of information - is the real subject of that book. I had to do the Catt Dunlop routine full-on as a hook - otherwise, especially at that pre-Occupy time, no one would have paid any attention to it.
When I was writing about Paul, I tried to use the indirect first person.   The narration adopting each person's mindset and psychic frame.  Really I wanted to write from that position of frustrated intelligence; feeling things but not being able to make connections ("feeling your head exploding/feeling your mind on the point of bursting to bits" - Ulrike Meinhof quoted in Aliens).  And it was easier to do because "Paul" of course was a real person, and someone I love/d.  I don't think I could do that with a completely fictional character - wouldn't care enough. 
In my early books there was a real struggle: I felt like there was something trapped inside that had to get out.  My own misery/loneliness a channel to empathy.  I don't feel that any more, but still want to write.  So I guess I'm leading more from the head, for better or worse.
Writing about Acker is very strange ... though we didn't know each other, and disliked each other to the extent that we did, there are enough similarities in our experiences & gene pool that I'll write something about her & suddenly realize I could say the same of myself.  The Phantom Limb is achieved differently now.  Research replacing experience.  It's a slow process, because I have to gather and then absorb so much research before I can do something with it. 
I was reading something online about empaths last night & felt pretty empathic with that.  Empathy = realism.  It could be you.  Only a different causality chain separates you from somebody else. 
ps I'll send you a section of the book when I go back on my writing computer.
4 February 2016
Selves and Others
Dear Chris,
I'm sorry I've been so long replying to our last thread. I had the most surreal couple of weeks, which one day may make an interesting story but for now is just a bit too down-the-rabbit-hole-ish to relay at this moment. But needless to say I have been thinking a lot about your last comment that after so long writing about yourself, Sylvere said it was time to write about other people. This is a very interesting idea for me as it kind of circles back to my very early question about multiple selves (or what I have been calling for some time now "trans-subjectivity").
When I was beginning my work for my PhD program, I knew I wanted to do something with collaboration. I think I had talked to you about this a bit as you were the one who turned me on to Bernadette Corporation, about whom I have now written fairly extensively. The question of what a subject can be in terms of narrative in the collaborative novel they did, Reena Spaulings  (which I searched quite diligently for evidence of your contribution), was startling and wrenching as Reena is the quintessential "chaos subject," around whom there are no hard boundaries and for whom destruction is a way of life. She is so porous that she becomes the Deleuzian "war machine," completely beyond the grasp of the mechanisms of capital while still operating inside it. While your work is not as pointedly a critique of the influence of capital on the subject, the way that you turn over all the stones and pebbles of power in all of your novels allows the subject who is the quasi-fictionalized Chris Kraus to relentlessly challenge those forces, as perhaps I've belabored a bit in other emails. I think that the more overt critique of class and power in Summer of Hate is actually a beautiful multiplication of subjects and subjectivity as the characters are thinly veiled repetitions of the "real" people in your life at the same time as they are complexly crafted to push the limits of identity in relation to love, desire, need, and money. This is a wonderful and difficult puzzle that allows you, in my estimation, to use yourself as the author and the character in a very layered examination of power both on a governmental/state level and on a personal level that goes beyond the complexities of the BDSM interaction and grapples with the kinds of power plays that inform and become necessary in the context of intimacy. I sort of spun that out in my last digression about SoH, but I feel that it leads me to this question of writing closely (about the self who is known) and writing with detachment or distance (about the multiple selves who only become known through the writing and thinking involved in narrating or theorizing a set of conditions and ideas). What is the phantom limb of the narrative self and what is the "real" embodiment of the authorial self? These are two things I don't believe are that different -- although I'm not one of those "In the Authority of the Author Lies the Extent of Meaning" people.
Going back to my initial comment about my work on collaboration, I find that though I wrote an entire book-length dissertation about subjectivity from several different approaches, including complex orders of time and precarious labor and power, I was always really writing about my own experience as a collaborator and how my individual subject-self was wittingly and unwittingly transformed by the trans-subjective processes that occur when intense engagements occur through intimacy, however and eternally fraught. To tie that into what you have said about your work on Acker and wanting to trace a larger history of a moment in a particular place with a specific set of people, I really believe that this is a way of multiplying the self such that you are always crafting (and caring for) The Self, even when writing about or with others. Its a kind of melding of selves without losing individuality, yours and Kathy's for example, that gives rise to a multiplied, complex set of subjectivizing processes that then become histories and narratives, theories and artworks. 
I find the ghost of the 1990s Chris Kraus haunts the pages of the Acker excerpt you provided me and yet she's transformed, scrupulously questioned, relentlessly examined, through the vehicle of Acker's neuroses, choices, and desires. I have more to say on this -- probably will have for a long time and hopefully in a longer essay on the topic -- but I do want to propose (reiterate) that I find writing the self and the writing of others a rigorous exercise in the same thing. If it interests you, I'd like to think about this more in terms of my theory of "trans-subjectivity." While I don't think you are trying to necessarily meld subjectivities, your's and Acker's, I do think that there is a certain kind of porosity you acknowledge above where Acker is perhaps a phantom limb, twitching in a history that you shared and jointly but quite separately puzzled over together.
More soon. And yes, let's do get together as soon as you're back.
With great anticipation,
6 February 2016
RE: Selves and Others
You got it, this is exactly what it feels like I'm doing. I'm not Kathy, I'm not becoming Kathy, but as I write these pieces there are these electrical jolts, where I feel like I'm dovetailing something, or a deep understanding based on similar histories.  Like a deep conversation.  I'm on my way back to LA, just finished a chapter, and going to try to work on this from our new house in LA now.
xx C
Books by Chris Kraus

I Love Dick, New York and Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 1997.

Aliens and Anorexia.  New York and Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2000.

Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness.  New York and Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004.

Torpor.  New York and Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2006.

Where Art Belongs. New York and Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011.

Summer of Hate. New York and Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012.
Books about Chris Kraus 

You Must Make Your Death Public: A collection of texts and media on the work of Chris Kraus. ed. Mira Mattar.   Mute Books , 2015. 
Chris and her dog, Blaze, in a motel room. Photo by Philip Valdez
On the Play of Porosity in the Delirious Body
a companion text to the interview and part of an ongoing inquiry in the topic of “feminist play.”

by April Durham

With titles like Aliens & Anorexia and Torpor, playful is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking of Chris Kraus’ work. Brilliant, sharp, savvy, driven, extremely serious are adjectives perhaps more apropos of Kraus’ layered fictional accounts of the Bourgeois-Boheme. Kraus’ focus, narratively and theoretically, on making the fictive version of herself an object of denegration and her range of declarative statements on the intentions and experiences of philosophers and artists she likes, evoke reader response that spans dismissal (“Dumb Cunt’s tale” -- although the phrase is her own not one cited in reviews of the work) to scorn (“maximum exposure …[with] minimal effort”). Yet, the relentlessness that drives Kraus (and ultimately us) in the “difficult task of knowing another person” (Aliens 44) does some extremely difficult labor that amounts to constructing a complex, chaotic subjectivity arising in a carefully crafted style of feminist play.
            The phrase “feminist play” feels oxymoronic or even belittling as play is supposed to be about freeform interaction, even when some kinds of rules are imposed, and feminism has always been about the hard work of reform. How can play and reform reconcile in something that amounts to a theory useful for feminist discourse? Futhermore, Marxist feminist Teresa Ebert asserted in her work from the mid-1990s, that what she called “ludic feminism,” was basically an exclusive, and perhaps unethical, focus on the unreliability of language and its construction of the social. This type of “play,” preoccupied with the discourse around gender, bodies, and power, Ebert believes ignores the material experiences of the body that must be the central focus if a revolution is to occur.[i] I am not interested in this kind of polarities for this discussion, as many brilliant contemporary material feminists are contending with how both the experiences of the body and the function of language as a system of signs work together to inscribe ontological systems that allow us to understand the movements of power and the making of knowledge in relational processes.[ii]
            Here, I choose to focus on a type of play that is more akin to orchestration: instrumentalizing experiences, histories, bodies, desires, and ideas in the making of what science philosopher Andrew Pickering calls “a mangle” of the affects that diagram new forms of subjectivity and give rise to cultural mythologies that are pure reflexive mash-up at the same time as they are earnest, sincere, and anything but ironic. In what follows, I offer a brief discussion of how Kraus designs a game that embraces chaos, works to use existing rules in alien contexts, and aligns a set of complex elements such that the relations open to one another and the game will perpetually remake itself, honoring originary rules at the same time that it defies them.
            Play in media studies has been largely focused on theorizing an array of on- and off-line, rule-based games and gaming practices, as they consider forms of action, including simple gestures. The concern is with the types of affect play evokes and the affordances that come from those affects as they relate to embodiment, social relations, psychologies, and economies of movement and community. While media studies analyses read games as texts, analyzing the effects of structure and rhetoric as well as gesture for their meaning-making production, I would like to posit in this analysis that Kraus uses the text to create a game, where affects and effects arise from the chaos of breaking down and re-working rules and boundaries of literature generally but of feminism more specifically.
            While historical descriptions of play have determined that it is rule-bound and exists in the realm of the “artificial,” play is also characterized as being unpredictable and subject to an “internal infinitude,” (Kwastek 74). Because Kraus work is firmly situated in the post-punk concerns of writers like Kathy Acker and Eileen Miles, her assumptions about reality and artificiality are far removed from the opposition that seems inherent to the terms. Furthermore, breaking rules, bending chance, and defying hierarchies are the bread and butter of this generation of writers and thus the games they play necessarily work hard to push on fixed ideas about canonicity, copyright, and even “proper” grammar. Still, Kraus is not a writer of anarchy, even if she participates in some forms of anarchic resistance. She likes structures and their exclusiveness; she just doesn’t want them to be so closed off and limited, so exclusionary.
            In keeping with this desire, Kraus plays with structures in order to force them open and enable them to receive the awkward, ungainly, elegant, starving, earnest, side-lined bodies and minds of those it routinely ignores. In so doing, she engenders a type of feminist play that, as psychologist Johan Huizinga argued of play more generally, has a "profound aesthetic quality" (Huizinga 2). It stimulates those involved in a way that opens minds to fantasy and bodies to indeterminacy during the time of the play, "resisting all logical interpretation" (3) and expanding what is possible for those bodies and minds. Kraus’ resistance to normative contexts and logics does not mean that her form of play cannot be interpreted, but it does mean that it puts play to work in service of nothing but pure joy.
            In her perhaps best-known novel, I Love Dick, Chris the character pursues a famous art Dick across the always-already post-modern landscape of Los Angeles and its adjacent deserts to the east and north. Chris and Sylvère, her husband, write letters and send faxes to this Dick who flirts and invites without committing or even acknowledging that Chris is part of the game. As Sylvère is a famous art theorist, the two men are perfectly happy to carry on with the job of being in power and orchestrating the entire affair, even it leaves Chris out in every way that’s meaningful. While we assume that Kraus is telling a true narrative and the actual Sylvère Lottringer never says otherwise, she is the only writer attributed to the novel and she has, in many interviews over the nearly 20 years since its initial publication, insisted that fact-telling is not the purpose of the work, as it is indeed literature.
            In I Love Dick, the letters, faxes, and voice messages Kraus composes, amasses, and lets loose on the literary/art world force the two men into both a narrative trajectory that must be ridden to a “fade to black” sort of end, and a dispersed commingling of subjectivities where whom might actually be speaking in any document is forever ambiguous.
            I Love Dick seems to slip between an archive and a fictional work, where it is possible that the author has just saved this correspondence and is presenting it to us as an exhibit. Despite the “fact” that the “the first love letter in the book was written not by Chris but by her husband” (Hawkins NP), the work is not collaboratively authored by Kraus and Lottringer, but by Kraus alone. Reading it as a memoir or an archive of the abject and abysmal state of the bourgeois-bohemian misses the playful way in which Kraus boldly takes the positions and abilities of Sylvère and Dick to speak freely in the world of the novel, and makes them speak for her.
            Well-cited in popular reviews of the novel are the ways Chris and Sylvère play with the third-party to facilitate their own intra-marital communication as they no longer have sex, a clever bourgeois game articulated in the novel is a sophisticated expression of the possibilities for enlivening a late 20th century relationship. But if we read all three of these characters and their expression as Kraus’ appropriation of the voices of the privileged “Other,” then she becomes a kind of puppet mistress, dictating the actions and articulations of the powerful, and in doing so she becomes a DJ of subjectivities as she empathically channels herself through the fictionalized bodies of actual people, using them as prosthetics for voicing her own experience.
            If that sounds too instrumental, or even pathological, consider how this activity energizes her as a character. The first many pages take place in bed that serves as an office, a place of ennui rather than intimacy. She leaves the domestic sphere in search of Dick’s desert bachelor pad and begins an ongoing race between LA and New York. As she speeds from one coast to another in her rattling little pickup truck with camper shell, to keep up with the banalities of everyday life, Chris is completely consumed with the game of working the relationship with/through these men. Exhilarated and, in many ways, liberated through her own expression, even though the way these guys treat her is often rather sickening, she demonstrates how breaking down the boundaries between herself and others and madly overtaking them with her unmitigated desire gives rise to a pure, unadulterated joy that then enables other brash, unconventional, even startling moves for Chris the character in ensuing novels and Kraus the writer in both novels and criticism. 
            Personally, I remember a moment in late 1997 at Art Center in Pasadena, just after the novel had come out, when Kraus and Lottringer performed a discussion of the French mental hospital, La Borde, and its experiments in the 1970s under the direction of Fèlix Guattari. Dressed in a tight mini skirt, bolero jacket, low-cut ruffled top, and platform shoes (all in camouflage print), she had the nerve to shrilly correct the famous (and French) Lottringer, who acted sort of abashed and apologetic. Knowing his academic “pedigree,” we students were shocked and watched eagerly to see if she would humiliate him further. She appeared to walk the halls of our fancy school like she owned the joint and didn’t seem to care if the other male, white, art Dicks approved or not. Her iconoclastic, take-no-prisoners attitude toward herself was energized by way she played with her role as wife of Lottringer/author of I Love Dick, generating as much disruption as possible and encouraging us to do the same. She came across as immensely powerful in an excited, electric, joyful feminist kind of way.
           The joy of which I speak here, exemplified in Kraus’ work, does not depend on a relief from suffering for its manifestation, but perhaps the inverse: in Kraus’ work, joy emerges as a condition of and coincidental with suffering, alienation, and chaos. It is not happiness, or the absence of depressions and it is the prime affect generated when agency is exercised as a freefall into the got-nothing-to-lose. Kraus engages in a frenetic style of movement in order to orchestrate bodies and histories in the multiple iterations of a life that resembles her own but also that of Kathy Acker, Ann Rower, and Michelle Tea. She grabs the bodies of men who have the power to grant or withhold the things she wants and needs like prestige, money, access, and projects her own voice over their vocal cords, makes their hands write her desires, and turns them into objects for her gaze, prey in her particular game of pursuit.
            In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kraus’ writing style exemplified a radical approach to genre, narrative, and even grammar, with its pseudo-memoir fiction-cum cultural theory compendium approach to storytelling. Now we recognize this style as iconically post-modern where personal and political, history and novel, story and theory comprise a fast-paced and cursory, but dizzing passage through a surreal landscape characterized by shared pain, alienation, and the struggle to be heard. In Kraus’ work this style has served across fiction and criticism such that it is easier to assume that everything she writes draws on her “real” experiences.
            Repetitive telling of the same story from different angles and at different moments attempt to account for a certain span of time (the 1970s to the 2000s) lived in one cosmopolitan center or another. Because first person narration, a self-named character, and actual contexts are included, we assume that the narrative is based upon the actual experiences of the author. But as I have argued above, she has already made the voice of those she seeks to challenge her own, to denigrate and be dominated by her in the same gesture. By way of framing Kraus’ work as a game with a certain set of openly rule-defying guides, I also offer the slightly outrageous statement that instead of truth-telling or even truth-seeking, Kraus layers appropriated experiences, voices, and identities, from her own life and the lives of others, to create a bad-ass feminist mythology from which she can re-define the rules of the games of family, career, literature, and even reality.
            There is no whimsy in this kind of play. The strategy of gathering and redistributing histories and bodies is a material-theoretical play that is not merely about the resistance to canonicity or authorial identity that creative appropriation has been for artists like Sherrie Levine or writers like Kathy Acker. In an interview with Lottringer from 1991, Acker states that she was interested in dissociation as a writing practice where “a split identity was a more viable way [than a central identity to be] in the world. I was splitting the I into false and true I’s and I just wanted to see if this false I was more or less real than the true I” (Acker 7). While Acker also plays a game, one with very defined rules, and while Kraus is also interested in emptying out subjectivity into the rule-bounded roles that define S/M interactions, Kraus’ style of crafting a character is much more fluid as it is characterized by mobility rather than comparison.
            The concern with shifting subject positions from the dualities of hierarchic structures continues as a chief concern for feminists for decades. Still, railing against the injustice of systems of power becomes a way of simply focusing the eye on a similar if opposite problem. In an essay from 2010, feminist scholar Elizabeth Grosz discusses adding to oppositional activism an approach to crafting subjectivity in processes that emphasize “immersion or permeation that generates a continuity between states or processes” (Grosz 101). Grosz argues that recognizing this state involves subjects more directly in the material processes of becoming what any given subject can be, but in relation to other subjects and all material objects.
             Trans-subjectivity draws on this process of material bodies engaging and infiltrating one another on the levels of desire, matter, historicity, and identity through a process of flow, movement, and play. The élan vital that Henri  Bergson names as processes of becoming in complex orders of time creates a generative, unpredictable movement among subjectivity such that experiences are never isolated or owned by one individual or another, especially in times of intense encounter. For Kraus, Chris becomes Sylvère-Dick in the first novel, then Sylvie in the third taking on the husband’s name as a way of layering the subjectivity of the masculine and the feminine, and then Catt in the fourth, which is kind of linguistically similar to Chris and materially like an independent, beautiful animal with sharp claws and a polyestrous mating cycle. Because trans-subjectivity is a process of commingling aspects of divers others when individual subjectivity becomes challenged, Kraus main character, who finally has “built an artistic career based mostly on nerve” (Summer of Hate 15), is never just Chris Kraus, the writer who lives in LA some of the year and Baja some of the year and then sometimes in Minnesota, who has a dog and a long-term lover/second husband while she remains married to the first, who makes a lot of money buying and selling rental properties in the Southwest, who teaches all over the world, and whose first novel is being made into a television series (all of which can be read about in great detail on numerous young feminist blogs, links to which are provided below). Instead Kraus and Chris and Kathy and Sylvie and Catt and April and Pam and Sarah and Christie and Martha forge this decades long, layered network of subjectivities which sometimes are intensely involved and sometimes quite distant, but whose affects and effects resonate along the webs of connection such that none are merely one and yet are always each herself.
            Kraus’s first three novels comprise a trilogy that traces her actual and fictional life (already quite muddled and indecipherable) during a period of about thirty years, most of which is spent trying to situate herself in the bi-coastal American art worlds as a legitimate player (“A-List and blue chip” (Summer of Hate 76)), taken seriously by someone besides “Asperger’s boys, girls who’d been hospitalized for mental illness, assistant professors who wound not be receiving their tenure, lap dancers, cutters, and whores” (16). While it is arguable that this might be a more engaged audience than “philosophers who held endowed chairs at elite universities, and traveled the world” (16), it attests to the kinds of limits Kraus approaches, crashes against, and tries to redraw with her writing that commingles “feeling and thought, sex and philosophy” so indiscriminately.
            Kraus needs the multipled-but-singular self to drive the pathos of these works and to make the game of tending to subjectivity creatively something that can constantly be reactivated. The self is not destined for annihilation in Kraus’ game. Instead, subjectivity becomes something with which Kraus grapples as a master orchestration at the same time that it goes completely out of control. Acker layers on Kraus and becomes an historical filter through which Kraus can read Kathy and Chris and Nan Golden and Christiana Glidden as commingled players in a game of making woman-artist-lover-mogul-cultural producer. Compelled to live and relive a period of time in Kraus’ multiple iterations of these 30 years from the 1970s to the mid-2000s, sometimes these women make sense of events, sometimes resolving trauma, but mostly creating paths for stepping awkwardly and differently than before.             As chaos overtakes the subject, she transforms into something that can never again be contained by the woman Chris Kraus, the author Chris Kraus, or the protagonist Chris-Sylvie-Catt. She migrates among all the bodies she encounters as friend and foe, lover and rival, intended killer and victim of love.
While Kraus orchestrates her own set of stock characters, they typify something more embodied than the little forms that come with the Game of Life or Monopoly. She charts a game board whose context is Western bourgeois, urban, cultured life. Here being poor means drinking and eating at art openings and sleeping on the velvet couches of various friends in lively urban centers. The players are educated, beautifully dressed even when the articles are from the bin or the thrift shop, and they are always sexually and emotionally desirable, even when they’re not. The game pieces and the prizes are cars and farmhouses, credit cards and film fairs, spa hotels and academic institutions of the highest and most expensive caliber. Famous people, writers and drag queens, teachers and performers are dragged in off the streets for séances and to move furniture when Chris decides to shift homes in order to make one of her famous real estate deals. The scenes are razor-sharp, painful without intending to seriously wound, and yet tender and filled with a sort of sincerity that only the very self-conscious can afford. There is a meanness as play is executed that evokes both the painful experience of being rejected when someone, anyone, else gets the chance/prize/ spot you desire and that valiantly pushes back on that loss as it openly considers its own meagerness or nastiness alongside its good intentions.
            There is a fluidity in the literary form that gives a nod to traditions like epistolary novels and that works simultaneously to crash those traditions. There is a flexibility to the way time is presented where a scene told in the present tense can suddenly be interrupted by statements of what happens in the future, and then drift very quickly back to a past that informs or determines the present encounter.
            Finally, as bodies become layered, re-combinant forms of their “actual” selves, subjectivity becomes unmoored from its place within the bounded parameters of the individual and participates in a process of remaking itself across a series of individuals without conflating difference. This, in fact, renders them more sharply different, while at the same time it transforms them through the process of commingling.
            Commingling is an important characteristic of what material feminist and physicist Karen Barad calls “being-doing” where the ontological strategies of various material bodies (e.g., humans, machines, light), affect one another through their intra-action to such an extent that they temporarily determine the actualities of each participant. Barad goes as far as to say that the performance of intra-action is what forges reality, on a quantum scale, and thus re-contextualizes what we might even begin to identify as reality.
            For Kraus, the layered, repetitive commingling of subjectivities creates a world where women, can have existence beyond and beside the condition of their individuality as they compound being through the various maneuvers of appropriating, caring, and exercising shear nerve in the face of impossibility. The return of this kind of play, this oh-so-anguished and serious play, is that different kinds of stories can be told. Women can appear in unexpected guises and romance and resolution are neither automatic nor repudiated; power is necessary and distasteful; and outcomes are perpetually in flux.
            While she riffs on bourgeois ennui, Kraus is no Chantal Ackerman making us watch Jeanne Dielman clean and cook for three and a half hours. She runs roughshod over the boundaries of domestic life, even while she longs for it in Torpor; she rams various cars into the real and metaphorical walls of institutions while she longs to be accepted or at least acknowledged by them (Aliens and Dick); and she puts herself in the power position, as she has all the money and knows how to navigate any system, in the pragmatic tale of love and class (Summer of Hate). This running amok from the feminist reflections on domestic life serves to inter-weave of the punk sensibility in works by an author like Kathy Acker and the bourgeois yearnings of Marguerite Duras with her isolated protagonists falling in love inappropriately with their colonial and colonizing “others.” The domestic and the defiant, the acceptable and the abject are the sites where Kraus does the most playful maneuvering among subjectivities. In Aliens & Anorexia, she commingles the ailing but determined bodies of Chris, Simone Weil, and Paul Thek in a way that gives the voice of the abject the biggest broadcast and the most intensity.
            In Aliens & Anorexia Kraus fashions a careful dialog among many selves, across time, to connect with their values and perspectives, but also with the way their bodies of work and their physical bodies impact the body of the protagonist and the work that is being built by the writer, Kraus herself. Through the discussions of others’ practices she crafts a conversation among intimates, a grown girl’s tea party with her imaginary (dead) friends, and as a result unfolds the complex play of the self enacting itself anew through aesthetic “decreation.”
            In Aliens, the relatively linear narrative of I Love Dick is gone and Kraus no longer needs to “pirate” the voice of the men she both desires and despises. Rather she, dives in relentlessly to the telling of rejection, bodily discomfort, bad luck, and poor or naive choices in her own life in parallel to the work of Simone Weil and Paul Thek, iterating and reiterating versions of the self, through the encounter with and the description of their work.
            Weil’s mystic contemplation of the self, Gravity and Grace, which is also the title of the film Chris tries to market in the novel, is for Kraus a key text through which she can consider important feminist questions that include the “body as material… ‘a lever for salvation’” (Aliens 26); what it means to survivor trauma that is not personal but social “‘I have not been through such things. I know, however, that they exist, so what is the difference’” (Weil 166); and how to persevere when even your brother thinks if only you “had combed your hair, worn stockings, and high heels, the world might have taken [you] more seriously” (Aliens 28).
            Kraus relates Weil’s story and ideas along side and as interruptions to those of Chris at the film festival as a way for the protagonist to seek what she needs to make sense of her own situation at the same time that she draws others into the quest with a kind of blunt sympathy. This dual action forges subjectivity in multiples, without losing its ties to the “I” that is at once the fictional Chris Kraus and Kraus the writer, Simone Weil the mystic-philospher, and those of us who have loathed the same horrible experience of flaying yourself before an unreceptive, even superficially critical audience.
            Under similar pretext, Kraus draws the performance artist and sculptor Paul Thek, active in the 1960s through the early 1980s, into her game. Early in the novel, Chris discovers some texts in a box her friend Dan leaves in lieu of money he owes her. The box appears as a magic chest, with Weil’s Le Pesanteur et la grace and a Dada treatise by Hugo Ball. Untranslated and thus awkwardly ciphered with a French-English dictionary from a used bookstore, these texts open Chris to making the film, Gravity and Grace, which landed her in Berlin at the film festival, which was then so disappointing she leaves and goes to the art museum, where she discovers a exhibition catalog for a posthumous show of Thek’s work called “The Wonderful World that Almost Was” (1996), launched nearly a decade after his death. The causal and associative trail is important as a thread that ties the chaotic relating of history forward and backward and into the future. Rather than making sense of time, it demonstrates a kind of fateful encounter of souls on similar paths.
           Like Kraus/Chris, Thek does not care about heroic narratives or the loss of the individual in the face of the post-modern. He investigates the body, first as sections of viscera or truncated limbs removed from their overall narrative in the workings of the human form, and then as reproductions of himself as wax and resin corpse, swimming Christ, or artworld Giuseppe making his own real-fake boy. The quest in Thek’s work as in Chris’ and Weil’s is for a distance from the personal that offers the ability to “decreate” the self and thus rejoin the self as complexly other. This is the core principle guiding the freeform, material-discursive, eccentric, difficult labor of Kraus’ version of feminist play.
            Typically, when Kraus describes the Thek exhibition, Chris the character become Kraus the author/cultural critic, as the narrative voice turns to reportage in a visit to Thek’s gallery set in the future from the time of the novel, yet the list she makes when looking at Thek’s archive is important to the contemporary moment of Chris’ discovery of Thek in Berlin. Banal notation from the future of archives from decades in the past floats back to the present moment to reveal in six lines the game-time of Kraus’ material-discursive game with girls and dead boys and art and value and being.
Kraus spends many pages telling of Thek’s marginalization, the loss of his work through negligence and inattention, and ultimately his death from AIDS in 1988 at the age of 55.
            Kraus includes other artists’ readings of the work, like that of the most successful art world reject in history, Mike Kelley, and mentions how the work lingers in projects by ensuing generations of artists, like Christiana Glidden with “Hades” (1998), and by implication, the novel in which these descriptions and discussions appear, set in the early 1990s and published in 2000. Curious about what it means to have a body and to put it in dialogue, on it’s own material terms, with the conversations so heavily influencing art production at the time, Kraus takes great care with this less celebrated oeuvre in a testament to the kind of pointed, unromantic tenderness she would like to see directed at her own work. Again the real and the fictive commingle without conflating one into the other and the forms of desire and expression become ever more complicated by the ebb and flow between the two.
            The way Kraus describes the irreverence, for example, with which Thek treats the “several paintings by St. Vincent Van Gogh” from the museum’s collection in the piece he did with The Artist’s Co-Op at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, “The Procession” (1968), celebrates her own literary impertinence in assault on the Art Dicks in her first novel or the film festival in-crowd in Aliens. The artist’s book, which is “the only object still remaining from this show” (Aliens 53) is the source of Kraus’ banal list, and serves as a testament to a moment in time (ostensibly the late 1960s) when “you could do no wrong [as an artist], every move’s deliberate and hilarious, and everything you do is art” (54). The yearning expressed in this description provides perhaps more context than the previous dozens of pages that tell of Chris’ failure at the film festival. How can an artist make sense of the chaos of a dissolute time without nailing it permanently into place? As a “medieval book of hours recast…in a place where no one seems to be in charge” (54), Thek’s book reflects back to Kraus the labor of performing her role as documentarian of her character’s struggle to contend with the apocryphal millennial clock that counts down the end of days and puts the action of the book into play in the epigraph, and with the questions “waiting for signs” in the face of the derangement of contemporary life.
            A trans-gendering of multiple trans-subjects occurs as Kraus appropriates histories and bodies and collides them in a forward-backward kind of queer time, making her game complicated in the manner of those of chess or Go. Strategy and alliance, sacrifice and acquisition become ways to tend a self that is at once freed from the constraints of individuality and saddled with the weight of historical familial relationships forged through shared affect and experience. Without in any way becoming a Soviet model for the collective subject, Kraus tactically plays with male and female, healthy and sick, sane and deranged, as she overlays Thek and Weil, AIDS and lung disease, philosophy and art, on her fictive self, Chris the ailing, brilliant, rejected, but insistent that these milling, important, exclusionary people make a place for her body and her voice, a fit no one’s simple definition of art or literature or scholarship or desire will ever manage to adapt.
            Kraus’ work pays serious tribute to the impossible longing for a place and a voice among the histories of art and cultural theory, and a solemn, snarky respect for those who force a place for themselves. She tells the story of these other people, misread and disappeared (to use one of her favorite verbs), as a way to assess and evaluate her own work and thus, generate a voice that is no longer limited by the blind, careerist favoritism of the art and academic worlds. In doing so creates a layered, complex, subjectivity that is never wholly her own but fails simultaneously to eradicate a sense of an “I” striving to speak, seeking ways to connect without the artificiality of romanticism and to give voice to anyone who is working to articulate, to play along, in the game of “the difficult task of trying to understand another person” and thus the self.
Works Cited

​Acker, Kathy. Hannibal Lecter, My Father.  New York: Semiotext(e), 1991.

Barad, Karen. “Post-humanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Material Feminisms. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman, Eds. Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 2008.

Grosz, Elizabeth. “Differences Disturbing Identity: Deleuze and Feminism.” Working with Affect in Feminist Readings: Disturbing Differences. Marianne Liljeström and Susanna Paasonen, Eds. New York and London: Routledge, 2015.
Abingdon, Oxon: 2010. 101-111.

Hawkins, Joan. "Smart Art and Theoretical Fictions." Accessed 21 March 2016.
Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, Ltd., 1949. 

Kraus, Chris. I Love Dick. New York: Semiotext(e), 1998. Print.
---.  Aliens & Anorexia. New York: Semiotext(e) 2000. 
---. Summer of Hate. New York: Semiotext(e) 2012. 

Weil, Simone. Gravity and Grace. Tr. Arthur Wills. New York: Putnam and Sons, 1952.

[i] Ebert, Teresa. “(Untimely) Critiques for a Red Feminism.” Post-Ality, Marxism and Postmodernism. Mas’ud Zavarzadeh, Teresa Ebert, and Donald Morton eds. College Park, MD: Maisonneuve Press, 1995. On the web at
[ii] For a detailed discussion of the materiality of language, see Hekman, Susan. “Chapter 2: The Second Settlement.” The Material of Knowledge: Feminist Disclosures. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010. pp. 27-46.

Blogs about & Interviews with Chris Kraus
This Female Consciousness
Politics is Topical
The Novelist as Performer
I Love Poets
Where Art Belongs
Bludgeoned Subjectivity
Don't Say No
We Love Chris
Confessionals in Art

April Durham is a media scholar and visual artist. She holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of California, Riverside and an MFA in fine art from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Her fiction and poetry has been published in the journals Midway and Wicked Alice and she has exhibited widely in the US and Europe. Recent scholarly articles on Natalie Bookchin, collaboration, Anna Halprin and trans-subjectivity have appeared in Art Journal and ​Camera Obscura.