I Love Dick obviously has an incredible (and memorable!) title, but beyond that its contents were a bit of a mystery to me. According to the blurbs, it’s “an epistolary novel with autofiction elements“, “blurring the lines of fiction, essay, and memoir”. So, that’s about as clear as mud. I mean, is it true, or not?
It’s a weird one, folks, so I’ll do my best to break it down. Part One (“Scenes From A Marriage”) sets the stage. In December 1994, Chris Kraus and her husband, Sylvère Lotringer, have dinner with a rogue academic pseudonymously named Dick. All of these people are real, by the way (they have Wikipedia pages and everything: here, here, and here). Chris and Sylvere are forced by poor weather to spend the night at Dick’s place, and Chris starts feeling… something.
Based on almost no direct interaction, Chris convinces herself that she has fallen in love with Dick. Not only that, she makes the logical leap to conclude that he too has some feeling for her, and they have shared a “conceptual fuck”. Because she and Sylvère have one of Those types of marriages, she tells him immediately, and thus her (their) “affair” with Dick begins.
They both start writing letters to Dick, independently and together. At first, it’s a game, like married couple chicken – how far will we actually take this bizarre thing that we’re doing? How far can we stretch our ridiculous self-justifications? But then they start actually calling Dick, telling him about the letters, sending him some and asking him to help them turn the
eighty ninety hundred and twenty pages into some kind of art piece.
Dick is justifiably freaked out, and gives them a polite “huh, interesting, we’ll see”, which they interpret as “full steam ahead”.
Then, Part Two (“Every Letter Is A Love Letter”) gets even weirder. Dick becomes, in effect, a diary that Chris writes to daily. She veers away from merely expressing her deep love for him, and starts pontificating on feminism, schizophrenia, art, Judaism, and identity. It would almost read as a collection of essays, if not for the occasional “oh, yeah, and that’s how we fell in love, Dick, how’s that going for you by the way?” interjections.
I Love Dick comes to a crashing halt, in the end, when Chris gives Dick the complete collection of letters and he realises that polite deferral is no longer an option. He writes a letter to Sylvère, the tl;dr version of which is: “This whole thing has been weird as fuck, I hope we can still be friends but you lot need to calm down,”. Chris receives a letter too, and opens it with hope abounding – only to find it’s simply a photocopy of Dick’s letter to Sylvère, her (now semi-estranged)husband. An incredible final fuck-you from Dick, A+ for pettiness.
Look, I don’t like to judge. I err on being so open-minded my brain might fall out when it comes to other people’s marriages (and affairs, come to that). But given that Chris and Sylvère put all this out there in I Love Dick, I feel entitled to proffer an opinion. Here it is: these two are covered, head to toe, in red flags. If I were Dick, I would’ve set world records for how fast I’d run away from them.
It’s not just the interpersonal aspects of I Love Dick that bother me. It’s the hyper-intellectualisation of what is a demonstrably bonkers endeavour that skeeves me out. This is the ’90s academic version of being chronically online. Chris and Sylvère are so far up their own arses, they manage to position their entire existence as performance art. I’m not opposed to academic modes of thought or writing, but when you’re using art criticism and philosophy to impose an “affair” on a bloke who just offered you a sofa bed for the night after dinner? That doesn’t sit right with me.
The most interesting aspect of I Love Dick, for me, was barely mentioned in the book itself: privacy. Not only are Chris and Sylvere real people, Dick is too. They gave his identity the flimsiest obfuscation possible, just enough to technically avoid legal claims of defamation, but it’s abundantly obvious who the real Dick is (or, even if it isn’t, you can find out on Google in 0.60 seconds). I think this raises a lot of interesting questions about where the ethical line is between art and exploitation. I’m not sure I’m the right person to decide exactly where that line is, but I’m fairly confident that I Love Dick lands on the wrong side of it.
All that said, I Love Dick is still an interesting read (just… bloody weird). It brought to mind Maggie Nelson for me, and Patricia Lockwood. I’m not sure I can articulate exactly why, other than to say they all have a resonant Vibe. I think I’ll need to sleep on this one for many nights yet before I finally land on how I really feel about it, beyond simply weirded out.
My favourite Amazon reviews of I Love Dick:
- “This was like if s bored person got their dumb blog published. So trite and Gen xer. Very over white women voices.” – SeymoreSluts
- “Weird book. Well written but a labor to read. Far less salacious than I hoped. I give it a solid meh” – Larika Jones
- “Chris behaves like a middle schooler fixated on the quarterback. You want to shout at her, pull her aside, take her out for a few cocktails and tell her to smarten up.” – Orange Kitty