PRINT Summer 1998




To the Editor:
A few observations prompted by Arthur Danto’s recent review of Florence Rubenfeld’s Clement Greenberg: A Life [March]: More noteworthy than my report of Greenberg’s observation about his power in the art world is the significance of the Bennington Seminars. Ms. Rubenfeld’s book weighs facts straightforwardly and with ease, but another book is needed to consider Greenberg’s critical thought that evolved from his practiced empiricism and his consolidation of the best thought of his forerunners. By the end of the ’60s Greenberg enthusiasts had codified his inquiry and had narrowed the richness of his discernment to a matter of “formal problems.”

At Bennington College we had witnessed his critiques as a commentator on senior art exhibitions, which expanded sensuously and conceptually the transaction between the visual realm and the viewer. I was aligned with Greenberg’s articulation of the art of art (i.e., art as art; the nature of that which is intrinsic to visuality in and of itself). It was to give Greenberg a platform to reopen his position, to further its fullness and specificity, that I proposed the Bennington Seminars in 1969. Kendall Landis, then director of development at Bennington, secured funding from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in Fine Art, and the series took place in the spring term of 1971. Peggy Schiffer Noland has freshly transcribed the original tapes of the seminars as part of her work at the Institute of Fine Arts.

I would suggest that, with a view toward sharpening our appraisal as we pick our way through the interpretation and theory of the last thirty years, we would do well to take along Greenberg’s spare exactitude of comment with its edge of outlook. It brings one right to the position of judgment, right to what it is that we choose in art and life, which is to choose becoming.

—Pat Adams
Bennington, Vermont


To the Editor:
Someone please tell me what was going on with David Rimanellivs review of Chris Kraus’ novel I Love Dick [Bookforum, Spring]. I like Rimanelli’s art criticism, which is often very sharp, but this was less a review of the book than a review of gossip about the book. It’s hard to tell if he even read it.

As I’d think you’d know by now, there is this whole tradition of novels—yes, novels—that seem to use “real life” characters and references, where the lead character has the same name as the author, and so forth. These are not diaries. Funny how your reviewers never seem to have a problem figuring this out when it comes to work by male writers like, say, Dennis Cooper. But with Kraus’ book, the reviewer ignores anything having to do with how the book is put together, with what it does, to take issue instead with whether certain events really “happened” and to pass some kind of strange moral judgment on the whole thing. Weird.

Whether the project was instigated by an encounter with Dick Hebdige or anyone else is, at this point, beside the point. After all, it soon becomes pretty clear that the whole thing ultimately has very little to do with “Dick.” But rather than an engagement with Kraus’ writing or the issues the book raises—which includes some of the best writing I’ve seen on the humiliations of being a woman in the art world—we get tidbits about how the supposed “subject” was unhappy about it. Gee, somehow I can’t imagine Gary Indiana’s next book getting this kind of treatment.

But hey, it doesn’t surprise me. Look at the March issue of Artforum, which seemingly had no female writers in it, except for a few tucked away in the reviews section. And damn few female artists, either, except for the piece on Elizabeth Murray—hey, those are some pretty risky choices you’re making, guys.

—Liz Kotz
New York

To the Editor:
In his review of Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick, David Rimanelli cleverly deflects attention from the content of the book by attempting to discredit Kraus herself. I find the language remarkably sexist, using terms like “head trip” and “major piece of work.” Rimanelli simply writes off Kraus’ essays as “feminist tirades” without any elaboration. Furthermore, he boosts Capote’s famous “typing” putdown of Kerouac’s work another notch, calling Kraus’ writing “psychic vomiting.” Vomiting implies a lack of control, so how can he later say her book is “arguably painstakingly crafted”? First he says the prose is “flat,” then he finds the book “riveting.” Hard to know what he thinks. Rimanelli sounds less like a critic and more like a pal of Dick’s rallying to the aid of his betrayed friend.

There arc two major subjects of I Love Dick: Kraus’ obsession with Dick (and where it leads her) and the difficulty of talking about it without the aid of fiction. Rimanelli dismisses the plausibility of this obsession, finding Kraus conniving and foolish. He doesn’t believe she was ever “in love”—a term that is extraordinarily difficult to define—because he argues that she didn’t know Dick well enough. How much time do you feel you need to feel attraction, Mr. Rimanelli? Obsession is not a state born out of logic, it is precipitated by a complex web of emotions, circumstances, and experiences. Kraus’ obsession was an escape from troubles with her marriage, career, and finances. Being “in love” represents her desire for a different life. The fact that Kraus “barely” knows Dick is one major point of the book. She pursues what she perceives to be a mutual flirtation to unbelievable lengths: “ ‘Even if everything between us was 80 percent in my own mind,’ I said, ‘20 had to come from you... .You disagreed.’ ” Did Dick flirt with a married woman thinking it was safe? Is she projecting or is he in denial? After Rimanelli deduces that the author never felt the way she says she did, he divines the “real” reason she wrote the book: “Kraus willed or pretended to will herself into this state of amour fou just so she would have the requisite raw materials for her writing experiment.”

Rimanelli says I Love Dick is “masquerading” as a novel for legal purposes. I agree. Kraus obviously has nothing to bide. Then he sarcastically deduces that it must be fiction because it is filled with “made up” stuff: “her imagination, her fantasies.” Is Rimanelli arguing that, because these elements may not be part of a factual reality, they are fictitious, thus rendering her book a novel? He continues to try to discredit her, claiming that her account of having sex with Dick “reads as both unlikely and unverifiable,” cagily implying she’s too crazy to have any appeal. Detective Rimanelli, correct me if I’m wrong, but where something can be read as “unlikely” surely it must be “unverifiable.”

Rimanelli calls fiction “cake frosting,” leading me to believe that fictionalizing is just an obligatory act to protect others. Is this good or bad? Naming names in a book that does not neatly fall into the category of “diary” or “memoir” has plagued many writers, bringing up such loaded topics as ethics, privacy, responsibility, and gossip. Capote called Answered Prayers a “non-fiction novel.” Kerouac called his books “autobiographical novels.” Is “novel” being redefined from “a fictional prose narrative of considerable length” to simply “a prose narrative of considerable length”? When Marcel Proust, Anaïs Nin, and Sean Landers changed names, was it in an effort to be fair, to keep good relations, or to avoid legal battles? Fiction is often the equivalent of psychic rape. Friends know exactly who the book is about, whose life and words are being stolen without credit, and the author often gets a lot of grief. The difference is that the author is publicly blameless and often heralded. When an author does name names, s/he is utterly accountable for what s/he says. What's more, the “Dick” in I Love Dick doesn’t have a surname and—dare I say it?—it’s unlikely that readers outside of a very small art and academic world will have any idea who Dick—“if someone’s writing gets read only because it exploits a recognizable figure, then it really is despicable”—Hebdige is. Kraus never indicts Dick.

Kraus bravely named names, aware of the response it could generate: “it’s considered crass and amateurish not to fictionalize... When women try to pierce this false conceit by naming names ... we’re called bitches, libelers, pornographers and amateurs.” What you call “gall” and “hubris” I call courage. Kraus writes: “Art supersedes what’s personal.” After reading Rimanelli’s review, it seems that he might agree. Kraus continues: “It’s a philosophy that serves patriarchy well and I followed it more or less for 20 years.” With I Love Dick, Kraus asks us to think about who gets to speak and why.

—Jennifer Schlosberg
West Hollywood, California

David Rimanelli replies:
Re: Ms. Kotz. l am sorry that you did not like my review of Chris Kraus’ book I Love Dick—a review, by the way, which I regard as on balance favorable. Your argument against my reading, however, is poorly reasoned and lacking real historical depth. Yes, we all know that Marcel Proust wrote a very long novel whose narrator is named Marcel. Perhaps you were unaware that generations of literary critics—not to mention ladies who lunch and homosexuals who have literary affectations, or who perhaps simply read it as a 3,000-page supplement to W—have been trying to figure out who among the author’s contemporaries may have provided the prototypes for Oriane de Guermantes, Charles Swann, Albertine, etc. Many writers have created texts whose narrators or one of whose characters may bear the same name as the author, thereby creating a deliberate confusion—a tension—between autobiography and fiction. But writing a book in which you use not only your own full name but also that of your well-known husband and many other people whose names will be familiar to the members of certain demimondes—those people who form the audience, presumably, for this Semiotext(e) publication—well, that’s a little different.

As for the contemporary writers you mention, Dennis Cooper and Gary Indiana: Yes, Liz, Cooper has written books that feature a narrator or character named Dennis or resembling in some way our collective notion of who “Dennis Cooper” is; many of his other characters, by contrast, are often interchangeable elements of his fiction, rather like game board pieces that the author moves around, rearranges, restrategizes throughout the story. And as for Gary Indiana, even those books of his that display à clef elements do so in a consciously garbled, unreliable way; undigested data have been filtered through an archly literary Cuisinart. What 1 argued was that the undigested quality of I Love Dick is precisely what made it an interesting read. I admitted the possibility that the book was an extremely self-conscious post-modernist exercise; true, for all I know Kraus labored over every last sentence with the same maniacal attention to detail as Flaubert composing Madame Bovary. But the book doesn’t read that way. I don't believe it.

Dick Hebdige is a real person, one who outside of art schools and the cultural-studies crowd has yet to receive wide public fame. He’s not quite up there with Napoleon, Hitler, and Richard Nixon, among the many other world-historical eminences who have done walk-ons or more in any number of well-known novels. You know, Liz, it mattered to Hebdige that he was the subject/object of an unusual book. To admit as much doesn’t mean that I’m rifling through petty gossip and passing “strange moral judgment.” Furthermore, his actual response to Kraus’ project is woven into the narrative, indeed concludes it.

You can have your opinion, Liz, but I take offense at your implication that somehow I am insensitive to literary language, considering that my education was preponderantly literary and that to this day I read more novels and literary criticism than I do art books and magazines. You seem like the kind of person who more or less subscribes to the broadly inclusive (and by now thoroughly historicized, even dated) poststructuralist dispensation. And yet in your letter of complaint you turn on a dime because it suits you for a moment to come off as a ’50s epigone of New Criticism—the author’s life and intentions are irrelevant, the text is a tightly sealed system of purely internal relations, impermeable to other influences, etc. I call this volte-face bad faith. You know, Liz, I think you’ve probably spent too much time at Judith Butler University. You need to take the air.

Re: Ms. Schlosberg. The language I use in writing about Kraus is not sexist. These phrases are gender neutral. Schlosberg’s and Kotz’s letters remind me of a famous exchange that took place over a decade ago in Critical Inquiry. Anne McClintock and Rob Nixon had penned a long attack on a feuilleton on the subject of South Africa and apartheid that Jacques Derrida had originally written as a preface to the catalogue of an art exhibition and subsequently republished in Critical Inquiry. Derrida’s devastating response, “But, Beyond ...,” demonstrated the bad faith inherent in McClintock and Nixon’s critique—a critique loosely allied with “poststructuralism” and its progeny, “postcolonial discourse”—as they proceeded to ignore Derrida’s entire corpus, his thousands of pages of explication of his theories of the unlimited text, the supplement, etc. I refer Schlosberg and Kotz to this essay.