Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a writing workshop run by Chris Kraus. I hadn’t applied for it but a last minute favour from my PhD supervisor (who owed me big after forgetting to turn up to my annual review) got me slipped in unnoticed and, without initially realising it, sitting across the table from the author of I Love Dick herself. As I’ve said on here before, I’m really interested in Kraus and the way she treads the fine line between fiction and autobiography. Not only that, Kraus had chosen to discuss an excerpt from Dorothy Richardson’s The Tunnel, the fourth volume of her thirteen-part Pilgrimage novel sequence which I’m writing my PhD on. The Tunnel contains my favourite one-line ode to procrastination, my own personal mantra, “there was something to be done before anything could be done.” In the workshop we discussed Richardson’s work for a while; a great experience for me as someone who works on an obscure text in a small community of readers and scholars to hear people less familiar with the writing talk about it. Then Kraus got us all to watch a strange short film of the Japanese dancer Min Tanaka performing in the grounds of the famous La Borde psychiatric clinic in France. The film is on YouTube in two parts, which you can watch here and here. After watching the film, we were all to write our immediate thoughts. Here is what I wrote:
I thought a lot about contradictions. At first I was concerned with the weightlessness of the dancer, how he seemed to barely connect with the ground that he danced upon. Just a moment before, however, he had been dragged down, almost painfully down, towards the hard surface, writhing like death was pulling him down. This was when the audience caught my attention. One audience member ran into view, perhaps as a joke if the laughter that accompanied him is any indication, but seemingly it was to aid what he thought was an injured dancer. Up until this point, and indeed throughout the remainder of the piece, the audience looked entirely nonplussed. Bored, almost. Yawning. This is contradicted, however, by the interviews they gave after the performance. Those who spoke seemed deeply moved by the dancer and his dance, noticing moments of “deep misery” from a protagonist “desperate to have flashes of joy.” Another gave an emotional account of how the piece reminded him of fellow patients at La Borde, “comrades,” who had passed away. It was then that I remembered that these critics were patients at a psychiatric facility, potentially not to be wholly trusted, particularly the man who claimed to be a member of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Institute and thus something of an expert on Japanese art and culture. Does it matter if an expert is truly an expert? Can we rely on feeling when discussing art, dismissing knowledge entirely?
Kraus then got a few of us to read our pieces out loud (I was too shy) and graciously hung about signing books and chatting for a while. Later in the day she gave a reading of her new work in progress, a biography of Kathy Acker, at the Glasgow School of Art and answered questions on French feminism and Acker’s star sign. She also, excitingly, confirmed the production of an I Love Dick TV show. I personally can’t wait.