Chris Kraus: Wildly Contradictory

June 01st, 2017 | Category: Interviews

We have a tendency to want to keep the objects of our admiration in their boxes, like collectors. When one refuses to fit or stay there, we struggle with how to perceive them. It’s rare and getting moreso, but Chris Kraus is one of those un-box-able entities. Mixing theory, fiction, and biography, her writing confounds as it captivates. She’s mostly known for her art writing, but she’s also done performance art, film, and teaches at the European Graduate School.

Through their work with the imprint Semiotext(e), Kraus and her partners, Sylvère Lotringer and Hedi El Kholti, have facilitated works by Jean Baudrillard, The Invisible Committee, Eileen Myles, Kathy Acker, Jarrett Kobek, Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Guy Debord, Julia Kristeva, Gerald Raunig, and Michel Foucault, as well as themselves and many others. As Rick Moody puts it, “Semiotext(e) has for a generation been the leading edge of the most incendiary and exciting intellectual revolution in the West.”

Kraus’s debut novel, I Love Dick (Semiotext(e)/Native Agents, 1997), has been adapted into a TV series for Amazon by Jill Soloway and Sarah Gubbins starring Katherine Hahn, Griffin Dunne, and Kevin Bacon. If that weren’t enough, her biography of Kathy Acker, After Kathy Acker (Semiotext(e)/Native Agents, 2017), is also coming out later this year.

Roy Christopher: For the uninitiated, what would you say your field of work is? Where do you fit? [This question feels like it should have a “check as many as apply” clause.]

Chris Kraus: Writing. Sub-categories — literary fiction; criticism.

RC: Is having your debut novel turned into a TV show more validating or terrifying?

CK: Definitely not validating — The real validation came early on, when these girls would show up at bookstore readings with their copies with hundreds of post-its and cracked spines.

It was initially terrifying, but then I realized — who cares? And they’re doing a really good job.

RC: Do you ever feel like a stunt person for your fiction?

CK: No. More like, the director.

RC: Some of us have the tendency to get ourselves into situations that might make good stories. In another interview, you called infatuation a “gateway drug for writing,” which strikes me as a similar, if unplanned, tactic.

CK: Yeah, the point is that nothing is planned, and what seems like a small incident can become huge. It’s all what you read into it.

RC: You wrote in Video Green (Verso, 2004), “I think stupidity is the unwillingness to absorb new information” (p. 101). This sentiment seems all the more germane now.

CK: Yes, unfortunately so. And there’s so much new information, it’s almost impossible to absorb.

RC: I was thinking about that quotation in the context of the current administration, and, more relevantly, the supporters thereof.

CK: Yes, and that would extend to “ourselves,” especially — the ones who didn’t see it coming.

RC: Finally, why isn’t there already a biography of Kathy Acker? I’m glad you’re the one who wrote this one, but doesn’t it seem like it should’ve already happened?

CK: Yes and no. It takes a long time to research and write a biography. Douglas Martin finished his doctoral dissertation on Acker’s work, When She Does What She Does, ten years after her death in 2007. Now there’s another Acker biography in the works by the Canadian journalist Jason McBride. I think the smoke of Acker’s image needed to clear for her work and life to be freshly considered.

RC: Yeah, there was definitely no box for Kathy Acker.

CK: No, she was wildly contradictory!

RC: Do you feel a kinship with her?

CK: Of course.

RC: Is there anything else you’d like to bring up here?

CK: Not yet. But thank you.

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