August 26th, 2016
Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick, published in 1997, is a good description of the dissonance inherent to being a straight woman in the patriarchy: attraction to your own oppressor.
When I first read I Love Dick—a work of meta-fiction with a protagonist named “Chris Kraus” who becomes obsessed with an acquaintance of her husband’s, named Dick—I felt attracted to the Dick I’d constructed in my own mind.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m older, or because I’m not just not that into Kevin Bacon, who plays the eponymous Dick in Jill Soloway’s new Amazon TV adaptation, but I could never be attracted to someone who said, as Dick (Bacon) does to Kris (Kathryn Hahn): “Most films made by women aren’t that good.”
Actually, maybe I could. And that’s the problem.
In her book of essays Shrill, Lindy West writes: “in a certain light, feminism is just the long, slow realization that the stuff you love hates you.” Like Philip Roth. Or Woody Allen.
Rebecca Solnit writes: “…of course I believe everyone should read anything they want. I just think some books are instructions on why women are dirt or hardly exist at all except as accessories or are inherently evil and empty.”
What does it mean to want the approval of—or even to want to join the ranks of—men who despise you?
Kraus provided an alternative to simply internalizing the hate: becoming the subject. She writes: “Who gets to speak, and why, is the only question.”
In the book, Kraus turns her obsession with Dick into her own art project. With the TV show, Soloway returns to a subject she’s explored before: limerence, which a character mentions in her show Transparent.
The word was coined by the feminist author Dorothy Tennov in 1979 to describe a kind of self-involved, obsessive passion for another person. You might call it love addiction.
There’s a natural progression between this kind of narcissistic obsession, rooted in fantasizing about conversations, interactions and futures, and creating art. Making something tangible out of longing, as Chris does in the Amazon pilot by writing Dick a letter, is a way of reasserting power.
In Broadly, Lauren Oyler writes that I Love Dick “anticipated the rise of narcissism as a feminist virtue”—as seen in the writing of Sheila Heti, in Girls, and in Kristen Dombek’s new book The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism. But if “who gets to speak” is the only question, Soloway’s version feels less radical than the book. Some people are saying that’s due to the medium. But maybe it’s because we’re in an age when, to a much greater extent than ever before, privileged white women have been successful at getting to speak.