“Stick with it for the ride” – Aliens & Anorexia by Chris Kraus

ckaaaIf you’ve read Kraus before – or either/both of our accounts of her most recent UK publications, I Love Dick and Torpor (like Aliens & Anorexia, these are both reissues of earlier US publications) – you’ll find yourself in familiar territory: or, perhaps, in territory that’s familiar in its defamiliarising strategies. Kraus’s work is about as unclassifiable, genre-wise, as they come – it’s fiction and/or memoir and/or cultural criticism and/or erotica and/or personal essay and/or academic discourse (sub-genres: philosophy/feminism/art history/politics/etc) and she works really hard to disabuse her readers of the notion of completion or totality or success. To read Kraus, you’ve got to disengage from most prior ideas about what a bound volume of text is ordinarily supposed to do: this isn’t unitary or neat, but multiple and knotted and deliberately bewildering.  If Aliens & Anorexia is about anything, it’s about failure, and it’s a great success at that.

There are multiple narratives at play here: Krauss’s account of the making of her feature film, Gravity & Grace, is probably the one you’re most likely to cling to, if you’re hunting for a through-line: she’s talking about her time in Berlin trying to sell the completed film, and her various travails in New Zealand and New York trying to produce it. But just as the film’s in part a riff off philosopher Simone Weil’s book, Gravity and Grace, the book’s also substantially a re-presentation of Weil’s life and work, as Kraus argues against a number of prevailing readings of both; she talks sadness and despair and female embodiment and highlights the misogyny of many of Weil’s (more famous, more respected) detractors, using Weil’s (alleged) anorexia as a focal point – which then circles back to Kraus’s own life and her own issues with food, eating, the body, the social world and how women fit, or don’t fit, into it. Another strand explores her S/m phone relationship with another filmmaker, and the interplay of sex, control, abjection and pleasure; another looks at the life/death of Ulrike Meinhof, and another, similarly, at that of the artist Paul Thek.

It’s a structurally and thematically complex book; it demands the reader concentrate and think; it speaks to, and engenders, the reader’s outrage and empathy as it turns over and over the twin figures of the woman and the unfashionable artist/creator, ignored and mocked. While it’s intricate, though, it’s accessible: as ever, Kraus’s tone is both erudite and casual, and her address to the reader (direct, caustic, dirty, emotional) reflects tonally the arguments and situations she’s putting forth in the text – listen to women and stop being so fucking uptight.

Any Cop?: Even if you’re not sure you’re following it, stick with it for the ride.

 

Valerie O’Riordan

 

 

 

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