RAD Book Club review: I Love Dick

21 Feb 2018

RAD Book Club met last Tuesday to discuss I love Dick, an epistolary novel at the intersection between fiction, essay and memoir, by American writer and filmmaker Chris Kraus.

After having dinner with Dick, married couple Chris Kraus and Sylvère Lotringer become infatuated with him and start to write him a number of letters. The refusal of Dick to engage with them prokoves a series of responses from Chris and Sylvére which forces them to question their personal and professional situations. The semi-autobiographical novel, which uses the real names of those individuals involved in the story, follows Chris’s obsession in pursuing the object of her desire: Dick, and records Chris’s personal development in asserting herself as a woman, a Jew, an artist, a writer, and more.

Kraus presents a complex text full of artistic, literary, philosophical and musical references. Popular 70s and 80s music, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Madame Bovary, Henry James, Proust, Mansfield, Eric Rohmer, Louise Bourgeois, Sophie Calle, Kitaj, Deleuze, Baudrillard, Virilio, Kierkegaard, Lacan, William Burroughs, and many, many more. Those references are used to explore the main characters lived experiences, although they also stand alone as an essay on intertextuality, narrative and art appreciation.

The book is divided in two parts. The first part, Scenes from a marriage, shows how Chris’ obsession for Dick develops by means of love letters. The second part leaves the letters behind and becomes more like a diary containing a series of reflections in which Chris explores her life story and her philosophical position in terms of human relationships and artistic interests.

We were quite divided in our appreciation of this book: some of us really hated it, a few of us really enjoyed it, the majority found in it more cons than pros. We were all in agreement that the intertextual narrative and the artistic and literary references that populate the book could potentially put many readers off since missing those references could feel quite alienating. We also agree that familiarity with some of the authors and artists presented in the book perhaps facilitated its appreciation.

The book was seen differently by the group –  as pretentious, snobbish and self-referential with Chris’s character as annoying, needy, self-obsessed and self-deprecating or as very cleverly written and produced by a woman who is not only very articulate but also very intelligent. For some, the text incorporated both these things, successfully presenting the complexities of an abject woman.

We also felt that despite the crude language and the honesty of the characters’ opinions, and in contrast with it, a lot of the characters’ interactions and the narrative of events were deliberately left in the abstract. We would have liked more time to discuss some of the topics and theories that run in parallel with the narration of Chris’s obsession for Dick, such as revolutionary politics, the power of language and storytelling, the creation of canons of art and literature, and especially schizophrenia and how women are defined.