Critics disregarded her 1997 work as art-world “gossip” and its debut made little more than a faint ripple in the literary sphere.
But now, I Love Dick has had a second coming, gaining a cult following among feminists in recent years and being reborn in director Jill Soloway and playwright Sarah Gubbins’s new TV series adaptation, released on Amazon last week.
And thank goodness too, because while the world was busy crashing out of the Nineties and into the new millennium, it very nearly missed one of the greatest writers of our time.
Kraus’s work is nothing short of genius – in the same vein as Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – and yet the author has never received the acclaim she deserves.
Yet, after binge-watching the series and pouring over subsequent reviews, I can’t help but ask myself: 20 years later, could it be that the world still isn't ready for Chris Kraus?
“Kevin Bacon stars in the new Amazon original I Love Dick,” the headline read. Elsewhere: “Kevin Bacon is happy to still be a sex symbol at 58”.
Of course, anyone who has read Kraus’s book will know why there’s a certain irony in the way the media has focused so heavily on Bacon’s part in the filmmaking process.
Blurring the lines between fiction and memoir, I Love Dick has been billed as an exploration of the writer’s psycho-sexual obsession with media theorist Dick Hebdige, who Kraus, a writer and filmmaker, meets through her husband, academic Sylvère Lotringer. But ultimately, this story is about much more than obsession.
The book is a stunning theoretical examination of the power dynamics in relationships between men and women. And, at the centre, a defining question: “Who gets to speak and why?”
“WHO GETS TO SPEAK AND WHY,” Kraus writes in all caps at one point, “IS THE ONLY QUESTION.” It’s one that Soloway and Gubbins’s TV adaptation spends as much time asking as it does answering.
The series largely sticks to the script of the book, with Kraus's infatuation with Hebdige leading her and her husband to start writing a series of letters to the media theorist. When they start actually sending the letters to him, things start to get more complicated. What results is a complex love triangle in which the two men seem to negotiate their own relationship and standing in society though Kraus.
From the onset, the show does an excellent job of conveying the casual sexism Kraus is up against when she decides to move with her husband to Marfa, Texas for his fellowship at the Marfa Institute.
“The institute fellows don't usually bring wives-slash-partners,” Kraus is told by one of her husband’s peers. “That would be a distraction.”
In her book, Kraus expertly breaks down the problem of sexism in the art world in just a handful of words: “Art supercedes what’s personal. It’s a philosophy that serves patriarchy well.”
Soloway and Gubbins’s adaptation has already been proclaimed as “TV’s most feminist show” for its intersectionality and sharp focus on the “female gaze”, a term coined by film critic Laura Mulvey in 1975 to address the way in which women in media representations are often portrayed – and objectified – through the “male gaze”.
But what Kraus tries to make clear in her book is that “Dick” – the object of her obsession – could be any male figure. As Joan Hawkins writes in the afterword, what this is really about is how “even in the most enlightened circles – women continue to function as an object of exchange”.
Amazon Prime original TV shows you should be watching
Amazon Prime original TV shows you should be watching
Amazon Studios' first big win, Transparent is Jill Soloway's acclaimed series following a family who discover that their father Mort (Jeffrey Tambor) is transgender. With two Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning seasons available to watch, a third is on the way.
A police procedural series led by literary character Harry Bosch (created by Michael Connelly), this series stars Titus Welliver, Annie Wersching and The Wire alumni Jamie Hector and Lance Reddick.
3/14 Hand of God
Taking part in Amazon's trial which saw two dramas debut on the service with the intention of allowing subscribers to reveal which they'd prefer to continue, Hand of God has impressively been renewed for a second season. The show follows Ron Perlman's corrupt judge, Pernell Harris, who believes God wants him to take the path of vigilante justice after suffering a breakdown.
4/14 Ripper Street
It's not just Netflix that saves TV shows from suffering that untimely axe - Amazon Studios breathed new life into BBC series Ripepr Street when it failed to get renewed for a fourth series. Thanks to Amazon, fans can keep up with DIs Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn).
5/14 The Man in the High Castle
With a ten-episode second season set to air this year, now's the time to catch up on the TV show set in an alternative history which saw a different outcome to WWII. Executive produced by Ridley Scott, the show stars Alexa Davalos and Rufus Sewell.
6/14 Mozart in the Jungle
Mozart in the Jungle demanded your attention after beating out comedy heavyweights to win big at this year's Golden Globes ceremony. Gael García Bernal stars in the lead role as a conductor named Rodrigo in a series based on oboist Blair Tindall's memoir.
7/14 Red Oaks
This 80s-set comedy stars Craig Roberts as young tennis player David who works at the prestigious and exclusive Red Oaks Country Club during the summer between his sophomore and junior years of college. Dirty Dancing's Jennifer Grey and Richard Kind co-star.
8/14 Sneaky Pete
Seth Gordon - director of Horrible Bosses and the upcoming Baywatch film - directed the pilot episode of this crime drama which has been given a full season order. Giovanni Ribisi stars as Marius, a former criminal who assumes the identity of his cellmate Pete when he finishes his prison sentence.
9/14 One Mississippi
Comedian Tig Notaro created this semi-autobiographical TV show which follows Notaro's return home after the death of her mother and her own cancer diagnosis. Juno's Diablo Cody co-writes while Louis CK executive produced the pilot.
10/14 Crisis in Six Scenes
The octogenarian is making his TV writing debut in a project he'll star in alongside Miley Cyrus and Elaine May. The show will be a standalone season taking place in the 1960s during turbulent times in the U.S. when a middle-class suburban family is visited by a guest who turns their household upside down.
11/14 Z: The Beginning of Everything
Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) has created this adaptation that follows the life of Zelda Fitzgerald before she meets her future husband, novelist husband F. Scott. Christina Ricci, Gavin Stenhouse and David Strathairn star.
12/14 Untitled Amazon motoring show
Former Top Gear trio Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have been snapped up by Amazon Prime for a new still untitled series in a three-year deal. A release date is yet to be announced.
13/14 The Last Tycoon
An adaptation of unfinished F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Love of the Last Tycoon has been passed from HBO to Amazon Studios with Matt Bomer and Lily Collins starring. Captain Phillips writer Billy Ray is on writing and directing duties for the series that follows an actor's rise to stardom in Hollywood.
14/14 Jack Ryan
Deadline confirmed that Carlton Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel) and Graham Roland are to work alongside Michael Bay to bring a new incarnation of CIA spy Jack Ryan - played by John Krasinski - to the small screen.
Reading through the slew of articles and interviews focusing on Kevin Bacon’s role in the show and exploring how he feels about being “a male sex object”, I couldn’t help but feel that Kraus’s message had been lost somewhere among some viewers. If the question is “who gets to speak?”, the answer still seems to be Kevin Bacon.
Tawdry advertisements for the series have done little to help; I was disappointed to see Kevin Bacon’s name appearing before Kathryn Hahn’s, with a lipstick line drawn from the name “Dick” to his own. Further disappointment came with the credits for the show, Bacon’s name again appearing before Hahn’s. Do I dare ask how much each actor has been paid? I’m afraid to know the answer.
Was it a mistake to cast such a big name to play a character that is ultimately meant to be a tabula rasa upon which Kraus could project her thoughts? In my opinion, we can’t blame Bacon for stealing the spotlight – but we media folk, creators and critics alike, can claim some responsibility for where we choose to shine it.
Ultimately, it is difficult to find fault with a series that accomplishes so much that the vast majority of visual art fails to achieve. But if you really want to send the message home, you have to go all in. After all, Chris Kraus did and it took 20 years for her message to fall on ears that were willing to listen.Reuse content