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Chris Kraus

Chris Kraus is the author of the novels Aliens and Anorexia, I Love Dick, and Summer of Hate as well as Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness and Where Art Belongs, all published by Semiotext(e). A Professor of Writing at the European Graduate School, she writes for various magazines and lives in Los Angeles.

Titles by This Author

Sylvie wanted to believe that misery could simply be replaced with happiness. Time was a straight line, stretching out before you. If you could create a golden kind of time and lay it right beside the other time, the time of horror, Bad History could just recede into the distance without ever having to be resolved.
—from Torpor

Set at the dawn of the New World Order, Chris Kraus’s third novel, Torpor loops back to the beginning of the decade that was the basis of I Love Dick, her pseudo-confessional cult-classic debut. It’s summer, 1991, post-MTV, pre-AOL. Jerome Shafir and Sylvie Green, two former New Yorkers who can no longer afford an East Village apartment, set off on a journey across the entire former Soviet Bloc with the specious aim of adopting a Romanian orphan. Nirvana’s on the radio everywhere, and wars are erupting across Yugoslavia.

Unhappily married to Jerome, a 53-year-old Columbia University professor who loathes academe, Sylvie thinks only of happiness. There are only two things, Sylvie thinks, that will save them: a child of their own, and the success of The Anthropology of Unhappiness, her husband’s long-postponed book on the Holocaust. But as they move forward toward impoverished Romania, Jerome’s memories of his father’s extermination at Auschwitz and his own childhood survival impede them. Savagely ironic and deeply lyrical, Torpor is Kraus’s most personal novel to date.

First published in 2000, Chris Kraus’s second novel, Aliens & Anorexia, defined a female form of chance that is both emotional and radical. Unfolding like a set of Chinese boxes, with storytelling and philosophy informing each other, the novel weaves together the lives of earnest visionaries and failed artists. Its characters include Simone Weil, the first radical philosopher of sadness; the artist Paul Thek; Kraus herself; and “Africa,” Kraus’s virtual S&M partner, who is shooting a big-budget Hollywood film in Namibia while Kraus holes up in the Northwest woods to chronicle the failure of Gravity & Grace, her own low-budget independent film.

In Aliens & Anorexia, Kraus makes a case for empathy as the ultimate perceptive tool, and reclaims anorexia from the psychoanalytic girl-ghetto of poor “self-esteem.” Anorexia, Kraus writes, could be an attempt to leave the body altogether: a rejection of the cynicism that this culture hands us through its food. As Palle Yourgrau writes in the book’s new foreword, “Kraus’s rescue operation for aliens like Weil from behind enemy lines on planet Earth is a gift, if, in the end, like all good deeds, it remains—as Weil herself would be the first to insist—a fool’s errand.”

“In his journal, Paul liked to make lists: What he ordered from Commissary (shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant, the transistor radio he had for a week before the guards took it away). The books he picked off the cart (The Bible, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Codependent No More.) What phone calls he made and received; also, Bible Study certificates, letters and cards, his workout routines and his moods (Anxious, Nervous, Trusting in God, but mostly Depressed). Paul has a record of every push-up he did while he was in prison but he cannot remember shit about what happened before his arrest.” –Summer of Hate

Waking up from the chilling high of a near-death sex game, Catt Dunlop travels to Albuquerque in 2005 to reinvest some windfall real-estate gains and reengage with something approximating “real life.” Aware that the critical discourse she has used to build her career as a visiting professor and art critic is really a cipher for something else, she hopes that buying and fixing slum buildings will bring her more closely in touch with American life than the essays she writes.

In Albuquerque, she becomes romantically involved with Paul Garcia, a recently sober ex-con who has just served sixteen months in state prison for defrauding Halliburton Industries, his former employer, of $873. Almost forty years old, Paul is highly intelligent but has only been out of New Mexico twice. He has no information. With Catt’s help, he makes plans to attend UCLA, only to be arrested on a ten-year-old bench warrant en route.

Caught in the nightmarish Byzantine world of the legal system, Catt and Paul’s empathic attempts to save each other’s lives seems doomed to dissolve. Summer of Hate is a novel about flawed reciprocity and American justice, recording recent events through the prism of a beleaguered romance. As lucid and trenchant as ever, Kraus in her newest novel reminds us that the writer can be a first responder of sorts when power becomes invisible, or merely banal.

In Where Art Belongs, Chris Kraus examines artistic enterprises of the past decade that reclaim the use of lived time as a material in the creation of visual art. In four interlinked essays, Kraus expands the argument begun in her earlier book Video Green that “the art world is interesting only insofar as it reflects the larger world outside it.” Moving from New York to Berlin to Los Angeles to the Pueblo Nuevo barrio of Mexicali, Kraus addresses such subjects as the ubiquity of video, the legacy of the 1960s Amsterdam underground newspaper Suck, and the activities of the New York art collective Bernadette Corporation. She examines the uses of boredom, poetry, privatized prisons, community art, corporate philanthropy, vertically integrated manufacturing, and discarded utopias, revealing the surprising persistence of microcultures within the matrix.

Chronicling the sometimes doomed but persistently heroic efforts of small groups of artists to reclaim public space and time, Where Art Belongs describes the trend towards collectivity manifested in the visual art world during the past decade, and the small forms of resistance to digital disembodiment and the hegemony of the entertainment/media/culture industry. For all its faults, Kraus argues, the art world remains the last frontier for the desire to live differently.

In I Love Dick, published in 1997, Chris Kraus, author of Aliens & Anorexia, Torpor, and Video Green, boldly tore away the veil that separates fiction from reality and privacy from self-expression. It's no wonder that I Love Dick instantly elicited violent controversies and attracted a host of passionate admirers.

The story is gripping enough: in 1994 a married, failed independent filmmaker, turning forty, falls in love with a well-known theorist and endeavors to seduce him with the help of her husband. But when the theorist refuses to answer her letters, the husband and wife continue the correspondence for each other instead, imagining the fling the wife wishes to have with Dick. What follows is a breathless pursuit that takes the woman across America and away from her husband—and far beyond her original infatuation into a discovery of the transformative power of first person narrative.

I Love Dick is a manifesto for a new kind of feminist who isn't afraid to burn through her own narcissism in order to assume responsibility for herself and for all the injustice in world—and it's a book you won't put down until the author's final, heroic acts of self-revelation and transformation.

Sylvie wanted to believe that misery could simply be replaced with happiness. Time was a straight line, stretching out before you. If you could create a golden kind of time and lay it right beside the other time, the time of horror, Bad History could just recede into the distance without ever having to be resolved.
—from Torpor

Set at the dawn of the New World Order, Chris Kraus's third novel, Torpor loops back to the beginning of the decade that was the basis of I Love Dick, her pseudo-confessional cult-classic debut. It's summer, 1991, post-MTV, pre-AOL. Jerome Shafir and Sylvie Green, two former New Yorkers who can no longer afford an East Village apartment, set off on a journey across the entire former Soviet Bloc with the specious aim of adopting a Romanian orphan. Nirvana's on the radio everywhere, and wars are erupting across Yugoslavia.

Unhappily married to Jerome, a 53-year-old Columbia University professor who loathes academe, Sylvie thinks only of happiness. At 35, she dreams of stuffed bears and wonders why their lives lack the tremulous sincerity that pervades thirtysomething, that season's hot new TV show. There are only two things, Sylvie thinks, that will save them: a child of their own, and the success of The Anthropology of Unhappiness, her husband's long-postponed book on the Holocaust. But as they move forward toward impoverished Romania, Jerome's memories of his father's extermination at Auschwitz and his own childhood survival impede them.

Savagely ironic and deeply lyrical, Torpor explores the swirling mix of nationalisms, capital flows and negative entropy that define the present, haunted by the persistence of historical memory. Written in the third person, it is her most personal novel to date.

Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness

Video Green examines the explosion of late 1990s Los Angeles art driven by high-profile graduate programs. Probing the surface of art-critical buzzwords, Chris Kraus brilliantly chronicles how the City of Angels has suddenly become the epicenter of the international art world and a microcosm of the larger culture. Why is Los Angeles so completely divorced from other realities of the city? Shrewd, analytic and witty, Video Green is to the Los Angeles art world what Roland Barthes' Mythologies were to the society of the spectacle: the live autopsy of a ghost city.

As the rope was tightening around my neck, an Alien made love to me. Belief is a technology for softening the landscape. The world becomes more beautiful when God is in it. Here is what happens inside a person's body when they starve.

Written in the shadow of Georg Buchner's Lenz at razor pitch, Aliens & Anorexia, first published in 2000, defines a female form of chance that is both emotional and radical. The book unfolds like a set of Chinese boxes, using stories and polemics to travel through a maze that spirals back into itself. Its characters include Simone Weil, the first radical philosopher of sadness, the artist Paul Thek, Kraus herself, and "Africa," her virtual S&M partner who's shooting a big-budget Hollywood film in Namibia while Kraus holes up in the Northwest Woods for the winter to chronicle the failure of Gravity & Grace, her own low-budget independent film.

In Aliens & Anorexia, Kraus argues for empathy as the ultimate perceptive tool, and reclaims anorexia from the psychoanalytic girl-ghetto of poor "self-esteem." Anorexia, Kraus writes, could be an attempt to leave the body altogether: a rejection of the cynicism this culture hands us through its food.

Titles by This Editor

A Semiotext(e) Reader

Compiled in 2001 to commemorate the passing of an era, Hatred of Capitalism brings together highlights of Semiotext(e)'s most beloved and prescient works. Semiotext(e)'s three-decade history mirrors the history of American thought. Founded by French theorist and critic Sylvere Lotringer as a scholarly journal in 1974, Semiotext(e) quickly took on the mission of melding French theory with the American art world and punk underground. Its Foreign Agents, Native Agents, Active Agents and Double Agents imprints have brought together thinkers and writers as diverse as Gilles Deleuze, Assata Shakur, Bob Flanagan, Paul Virillio, Kate Millet, Jean Baudrillard, Michelle Tea, William S. Burroughs, Eileen Myles, Ulrike Meinhof, and Fanny Howe. In Hatred of Capitalism, editors Kraus and Lotringer bring these people together in the same volume for the first time.