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PRINT December 2022

books

ALISSA BENNETT ON CONSTANCE DEBRÉ’S LOVE ME TENDER

Photo: Brian J. Green.

My friend Jarrett recently told me that the only way he can psychologically reconcile himself to the idea that I work in a gallery is to think of my job as a piece of durational performance art. My pantomime of professionalism is simply too at odds with the person he knows me to be, so he’s conjured a fantasy that can accommodate both his friend the writer and the stranger who shares her life. I like the idea of it, mostly because I also often wonder which version of myself is real and which the forgery. Maybe everyone feels like that and we just never bother to figure it out.

In 2015, Constance Debré decided that disambiguation could only be achieved via an act of subtraction. She abandoned a legal career, a twenty-year marriage, and the myth of her own heterosexuality. She left her belongings on a sidewalk and watched from her empty apartment as strangers collected and carted them away. She changed her clothes, cut off her hair, started dating women, and wrote a book that examined what it means to walk out on your own life.

Debré’s most recent autobiographical novel, Love Me Tender (Semiotext[e]), charts the aftermath of her transformation and the resulting avalanche of losses both intentional and collateral. While Love Me Tender pre-sents a series of complex befores and afters that address how easy it is to weaponize sexuality, class, and morality, its centrifugal force is the author’s reckoning with a kind of doubled alienation that positions her young son as the transitional object between the person she once was and the person she’d trimmed herself down to be.

Accused within the court system of incest, pedophilia, and neglect, Debré was forced to contend with two imaginary versions of herself: the one she’d eradicated and the specter of negation erected by an estranged husband too injured to contend with her rejection of conventional bourgeois life. Lingering behind the scrim of Debré’s stripped prose is the destabilizing suggestion that it is nearly impossible to know who we are, primarily because the accretion of symbolic identities and our lust for consumer detritus barricade us from ourselves.

Alissa Bennett is a writer and a director at Gladstone Gallery.