Chris Kraus attends a dinner with her husband, Sylvere, and meets a man there called Dick. Dick flirts with Chris and she responds. The next day, inexplicably, she finds she cannot stop thinking about him and is both invigorated and tormented by the infatuation. What follows is a love affair conducted almost entirely in Chris’s head. Sylvere (who also becomes complicit in his wife’s fantasy infidelity) participates in the ‘project’ – writing volumes of letters to Dick in which they discuss and analyse Chris’ desire and its effect on their lives. The correspondence is driven by Dick’s imagined responses to their un-sent letters. The project gathers such momentum Chris almost fears actual contact with Dick may end the affair (for isn’t proximity so often the enemy of desire?). Must it remain unconsummated?
”As soon as sex takes place, we fail,’ she wrote, thinking, knowing from experience, that sex short circuits all imaginative exchange.’
Dick is defined by his absence to the extent that there’s not actually room for him within the text. Or perhaps Chris fears he may not fit the shape she has cast for him within the story. Dick may be the object of fascination, but Chris is the one who has has taken possession of the story; she is the architect of the narrative. Their own sexless relationship is somewhat revived as Chris and Sylvere imaginatively fill the gap between themselves and their ‘imaginary friend’, analysing the minutiae of their slender interactions with him and speculating upon the meaning of his silence as if it is an elaborate message for them to decode.
I Love Dick is a novel about desire and its relationship with absence. Dick is the object of Chris’ desire, but desire often reveals much more about those subjected to it than those objectified by it. Dick doesn’t matter. We learn all we need to know about him by tracing the contours of his absence.
It’s also a study of relationships and how female identity is so often constructed/subsumed in relation to men. Chris, an unsuccessful artist, is economically dependant and tired of her status as the perpetual ‘plus one’ to her successful husband. Her correspondence with Dick gives her the opportunity to reimagine herself through the prism of his imagined gaze:
‘You’re aware there are things you once valued and were proud of in yourself, but they exist at a remove now, because they’re overwhelmed by the question of whether they would be good and acceptable to him. Morality, ambition, desire, pleasure all take a backseat to, ‘What would he think of this, and how shall I describe it to him?’ All you care about is maximizing his impression of you.’
I’ve never encountered a book that so lucidly explores the psychosexual componant of desire and crystallises the exquisite madness of new love. I Love Dick is a novel like no other I’ve ever read. It challenges the form of what a novel can contain – part fiction, part autobiography, part transript, part epistolary novel, it moves between a third-person narration and the real letters Chris Kraus and Sylvere Lotringer composed to the real Dick. It’s one of those rare books I read poised with a pencil in my hand to underline all the moments I knew I must return to.
The pilot episode of Jill Soloway’s adaptation of I Love Dick is available to watch now on Amazon Prime. The series premieres on May 12th 2017.