Jill Soloway, always to be counted on for her impressionistic stylings (see: any of those Berlin flashbacks in season two of Transparent), is perhaps the only screenwriter-director tailored enough to adapt Chris Kraus’ game-changing memoir, I Love Dick. A tale of obsession and unbridled desire, Soloway’s lasting muse, Kathryn Hahn, takes on the role of Chris Kraus in all her neurotic, self-doubting glory. And, speaking of muse, the very word automatically connotes that a woman is giving to and inspiring the male artist. Because the origins of what it means to be a muse has its roots in Greek mythology–the nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus, yes, Mnemosyne’s nephew–it’s so long been impossible for men to be, for all intents and purposes, objectified in the same way. While the pedestrian definition is intended to apply to both sexes (and even those sexes in between), the narrative of I Love Dick proves that what makes men more uncomfortable than anything is being “used” by women for their art.
As the eight-episode season commences with Sylvère Lotringe (Griffin Dunne) packing up to leave New York with his wife, Chris (Hahn), to head to Marfa, where he’s accepted a residency to work on his longstanding research project on the Holocaust, we immediately see the strain in the marriage. Chris, too, has her own pursuits, expecting to leave Marfa for the Venice Film Festival to see through a film she’s made, even though, as she tells Sylvère, “There’s nothing sadder than a single rider on a gondola.”
Her plans to attend, however, are thwarted when one of the musical artists she put on the soundtrack retaliates for her featuring their song without their consent by taking legal action against her. Thus, disqualified and with no other distractions on the horizon, Chris finds herself stranded in Marfa, doomed to fall prey to the archetypal masculine charms of Dick (Kevin Bacon), Sylvère’s fellowship sponsor and the man ultimately revealed to be sociologist and media theorist Dick Hebdige.
At first, Dick is able to cut to the quick of all Chris’ insecurities, telling her things like there’s never been a good female filmmaker. This, of course, sends her over the edge into a stream of consciousness about how she really only likes Kubrick and Scorsese, faintly directed at Devon (Roberta Colindrez), another woman living on the proverbial commune of trailers. Watching Chris’ self-loathing unfold, Devon becomes fascinated, and decides to write a play about her. One of many cases of art feeding off of art in I Love Dick.
And yet, the more he rejects her, the stronger and more vehement her letters to him become, a veritable barrage of impassioned declarations that state, in no uncertain terms, that she will not be silenced. Regardless of him telling her to “stop” or that he doesn’t find her “interesting.” His refusal to acknowledge her the way she wants him to, paired with his insistence to both her and Sylvère that she cease publicizing her letters and, therefore, Dick’s life, only fuels Chris all the more.
One of the excerpts of the letters from the book that doesn’t make it into the show expresses most clearly why Dick gets so irritated by Chris’ work: “Dear Dick, I’m wondering why every act that narrated female-lived experience in the 70s has been read only as ‘collaborative’ and ‘feminist.’ The Zurich Dadaists worked together too but they were geniuses and they had names.”
Women aren’t supposed to have a strong voice, least of all when using a man as a sexual object as her muse. She can talk about feeling depressed or her period or her children. But never men. Not without causing too much of a stir. Yet, as any girl worth her weight in alcohol consumption can tell you, “You cannot love somebody unless you’re willing to destroy yourself.” Ironically, this is claimed by Sylvère upon realizing that Chris has gone MIA after one of their arguments. The thing is, it’s always been deemed romantic or self-sacrificing when a man thinks in these terms. But when a woman does, she is consistently and without fail deemed batshit crazy. And should just move on to something or someone else. Not let obsession get the better of her. Well, fuck that. Chris Kraus and I Love Dick are the continued stepping stones toward offering females an exemplar of assurance that they’re not alone in repurposing their fixations into art. That a man can be objectified to the point of oblivion like any muse. Zelda, anyone?