Two individual book reviews Kris Kraus’ “I Love Dick” (1997) and Max Blecher’s “Adventures in Immediate Irreality” (1936). Two seemingly unrelated reviews aim to illustrate the normalisation of misogyny in mainstream culture. We suggest that “I Love Dick” , a work of great magnitude is not recognized because of its ‘feminine’ character as opposed to “Adventures in Immediate Irreality” ‘s reception as ‘ingenius’.

The concept of the genius, lad culture and mainstream misogyny

This blog is a literary reflective exercise. It consists of two individual reviews and a dialogue that connects them. In the first section we review two literary works: Kris Kraus’ ‘I Love Dick’ (a review by Theo Ioannou) and Max Blecher’s ‘Adventures in Immediate Irreality’ (a review by Despina Ioannou). The dialogue between the two authors which completes the piece draws thematic and conceptual links and further develops and refines our ideas about misogyny in the literary canon and the reception of alternative works.

Feminist Reflections

“I LOVE DICK”, a review by Theo Ioannou

I read this book in my first year of university as a theatre and performance undergraduate. At that time, I was way too deep into lad culture. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I was in love with Seth Rogan comedies and Family Guy (to be honest, I still find laddy humor pretty funny, irritating but, funny). As a fresher, I was also discovering the wonders of modern art, so my perception of cultural products was slowly changing. To be honest, I did not buy Kraus’ “I LOVE DICK” because of how fascinating an intellectual I knew her to be but because the sensational title caught my eye. Clearly, Kraus knew what she was doing, she was appealing to edgelords like myself.

I love dick by Chris Kraus
I love dick by Chris Kraus

But when I started reading it, I was absolutely fascinated. I had never before encountered this blend of fiction and journaling and it excited me as much as it confused me. In “I LOVE DICK”, Kraus recounts her obsession with a sociologist named Richard (or Dick). She initially pursuits Dick as an artistic project together with her partner, Sylvere Lotringer. When it becomes clear that she will always be seen as Lotringer’s assistant, she leaves him and starts to pursue Dick in real life. What makes her work incredibly powerful is that it is not a ‘feminist’ book, it is simply an account of her life. Inevitably, her life is shaped by the fact that others attach their prejudices on her. But as she accurately predicts in her book (in an almost prophetic manner) “I LOVE DICK”, a work of immense artistic value that deserves a place in every major category, always ends up in the ‘women’s category’ and in that category alone.

Kraus obsession with Dick comes to an end after he unsurprisingly ignores, mistreats and disregards her after they have sex. This is not a commentary on ‘hookup culture’ (the book is pretty sex positive as one can infer from the title). It is an introspection on the girl-who-has-an-imaginary-crush trope. A ‘girl’ who obsesses over a man has no salvation. Feminists can often belittle such obsessions and proclaim that you should rather focus on nobler causes like, a career or academic achievement. Society at large on the other hand, views all ‘feminine’ obsessions like One Direction, Twilight or Justin Bieber as frivolous and stupid while at the same time elevating ‘masculine’ obsessions like South Park or, Rick and Morty.

Kraus makes a deep dive into the unexplored territory of ‘feminine’ obsessions. They are so much more than just some frivolous fantasy of tricking some guy into a relationship. She reveals with the utmost sensitivity that such fantasies are a way of coping with the reality of a lifetime of humiliation and rejection on a professional and a romantic level. They are fantasies of respect and acceptance. A defence mechanism of sorts that counteracts the harsh reality of having to be the side-kick, the helper, the loving but silent subordinate. Kraus is never ashamed of her fantasies and she unapologetically chooses to be herself. This book inspired me to do the same.

And thus, she keeps on moving forward.

“Adventures in Immediate Irreality”, a review by Despina Ioannou

In an attempt to read books that wouldn’t irritate me during lockdown I chose to read ‘Adventures in Immediate Irreality’. I fell for the idea of sinking in the dream-like ambience which the introduction had promised. Max Blecher, the author, provided an impressive description of the psychosomatic effects of his illness through the lens of sincere existential anguish. At the time of writing Blecher was suffering from spinal tuberculosis which had completely immobilised him and would eventually kill him. Under the threat of fast approaching death Blecher’s recollections of childhood and teenage memories were put together and formed this autobiographical novel.

Adventures in Immediate Irreality by Max Blecher
Adventures in Immediate Irreality by Max Blecher

One of the central themes of the novel is the exploration of the protagonist’s sexuality.The main character likes Clara, his friend’s sister. Every day he (should we say Blecher?) visits the shop where Clara works to hang out with her brother. The narrative arc could have developed to be a decent love (or lust) story but it takes an unexpected turn when Clara reveals that she would like to spend some alone time with him: “When Clara’s legs touched mine new hopes, vast new expectations were born in me”. Clara’s unintentional touch led to the character’s “first complete and normal sexual adventure” (where complete = penetrative sex and normal = heterosexual). After accusing Clara of having “a violent way of provoking (him) and taking a sordid joy in watching (him) suffer”, the writer feels justified to proceed to the climax of the chapter:

“I was at her in a flash. I grabbed her hand (…) She pulled away. ‘Let me go’ she said, annoyed. ‘Come on Clara please…’ I touched her feverishly all over (…) I pulled her off the chair by force. She let me drag her along the floor”. What is a context where someone would let you drag them along the floor? I wonder.

Oh well, I thought, this was in the 30s; and I proved to be naive enough to have believed that I could find at least one modern review that had spent one word to address this issue. Blecher was characterised as “a genius (who had) suggested a way that rediscovers life and radiates beauty from suffering”; he had created a “world open only to the genius of child wonder and adolescent desire”. As of his encounters with Clara: “He agonised over his insecurity” “he (was) (…) no different than most other adolescent boys”, “exploring the dark and mysterious depths of sexuality” a masterpiece of “sensibility” and “intelligence”.

Blecher’s exploration of his own sexuality was justified and romanticised by critics. It was seen as a standard and accurate representation of adolescent male sexuality. The representation not only is false (just like any other generalisation) but it also maintains and encourages violence. It is as if the concept of ‘the genius’ is itself part of a male culture where many of the characteristics of the newly re-emerged lad culture are present. A culture where women are seen as ‘fascinating’ but ‘incomprehensible’ and a place where interaction with women in any intellectual way is difficult to be found. Although the stylistic virtuosity and the uniqueness of the content go without question I can’t help but wonder; should something like this go unnoticed?

Afterthoughts; A Duologue.

Despina:
Should something like this go unnoticed?

Theo:
This is why almost everything irritates me.

Despina:
Tell me about it! Even reading Kris Kraus was upsetting for me.

Theo:
That upset you!? Why?

Despina:
I felt upset because Kris had to live off her husband’s success while her work was not recognised. I felt that I personally have to either endure or fight against this kind of inequality. I tortured myself with wondering whether the enduring undermining of women’s work is real or if it is just a way for me to justify my failures. I always end up being disappointed and confused as to what is going on around me, how I should perceive myself and others. Ironically, I feel the same type of alienation as Blecher.

Theo:
I get it. Kris can be ‘too real’ sometimes and when I’m in a bad headspace I don’t want to read and watch things that are too real either. Also the enduring undermining of women’s work is real and it’s not a ‘justification’ of personal failures it is a real problem! I mean it’s only recently that women have created their own cultures that are in the public sphere. Even stereotypically ‘feminine’ things like rom-coms and the like, had been exclusively created and marketed by men until recently at least.

Despina:
You are right, It could be that the contemporary (re)emergence of ‘lad culture’ is just a reaction to the appearance of public female presence…

Theo:
Wait what do you mean? Because I understand ‘lad culture’ as the ‘boys will be boys’ sentiment which was probably not around when Kris Kraus was writing and was definitely not around when Blecher was writing.

Despina:
Frankly, that is what I meant. Although the term did not exist when the books were written, I believe that the sentiment did. I get the feeling that some elite intellectual circles had features which resemble university lad cultures. Although ‘Lad culture’ may appear to be a childish banter in its core it is a culture that excludes any group that is not perceived as white and male and unapologetically aims to maintain privilege over other groups.

Theo:
I guess it could be seen as progress to talk about a ‘lad culture’ coz it means that there are cultures and communities in the public eye that are not laddish. But then again is it really progress when the products of lad culture are seen as super intellectual? Like some people talk about Rick and Morty as if it is written and produced by an elect group of intellectuals who are deeply concerned about scientific enquiry, when it’s probably a bunch of guys who wanted to do fart jokes.

Despina:
It feels as if there is a thread connecting the culture of the 20th century ‘genius’ to the 21st century’s lad culture. It’s like Blecher, Silvere and Dick from ‘I love Dick’ belong exactly to that ‘elite lad circle’ which was licensed to decide whom to regard as a genius. For me, ‘Adventures in Immediate Irreality’ provided some kind of proof that the connection wasn’t just in my head.

Theo:
That connection is definitely not in your head. It’s almost like that label attaches itself on a very specific group of people. They don’t really need to do much more other than exist to be seen as geniuses.

Despina:
Just like the serial killer documentary; do you remember watching that?

Theo:
Ted Bundy! That guy could have very much just gone to the police and said “I have raped and murdered many many women some of which were also underaged girls” and the police would not bat an eye. I mean the guy was an idiot, he left a trail of evidence behind him and he was still seen as a genius somehow.

Despina:
Exactly… it is almost as if gender performance (in combination with other things: class, race etc) is a rather accurate predictor for perceived intelligence. This is why I always felt that my performance was not acceptable in ‘intellectual’ environments because (I assume) that it is more feminine than it ‘should be’.

Theo:
I think I’ve always been more ‘masculine’ or ‘laddish’ in performance than you but that’s not really accepted either. You know I realised one day that no matter how ‘masculine’ I performed everyone was still going to perceive me as a woman, so I just let myself perform however I wanted.

Despina:
You probably are right it is not about performed gender. It is rather perceived gender that enables us to ascribe intelligence. After all, misogyny is embedded in our culture is not something you encounter only when you feel like encountering it. It is in modernism, in banter, in having fun, it is in surrealism, it is in existentialism…

Theo:
So what are you supposed to do when things trigger you beyond recovery?

Despina:
I don’t think there is ‘beyond recovery’; there are times when identifying how a representation is problematic will permanently change your views on a given topic. I think we should just accept that sometimes it will be painful.

Theo:
Sometimes it’s really hard to forgive that something so established can be so blatantly sexist and even apologetic to rape and violence. I’m sure there was plenty of sexism in the 18th century but Groupchkaya was still the first ever female character I could actually identify with.

Despina:
We shouldn’t forgive any such representation; we should however understand such violence in its context. I agree that empowering female characters can be found in classic works and I don’t even consider it surprising. There may have existed non-misogynist writers who still functioned as part of patriarchal structures and were able to create empowering female representations.

Theo:
It’s not and it shouldn’t be because at the end of the day the truth is varied and complicated. We should find the balance between speaking truth to power while acknowledging that sometimes we might have become the power that truth needs to be spoken to.

Theo & Despina Pink Papayas
pinkpapayasblog@gmail.com
Theo and Despina Ioannou are two England based artists. Theo is creator and producer of theatre. Despina is a musician and a writer. They are both very much interested in literature, music, philosophy, theatre, the performing arts and creative writing. They also run their literary blog ‘Pink Papayas’ which was created as an attempt to connect and communicate with the world during lockdown. The ‘Pink Papayas blog’ functions as a platform for young artists and writers who wish to share their ideas. *Pink papayas blog: https://www.pinkpapayasblog.com/ *Tumblr: https://pinkpapayasus.tumblr.com/

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