Chris Kraus
Aliens & Anorexia
Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)/Smart Art Press, 2000

Chris Kraus’s second novel, Aliens and Anorexia, is two things at once. First, it is a companionable book; you will be very glad to think along with Kraus, try on her comic, eloquent "reading" of contemporary culture and the meaning of storytelling. Second, it is a performance: Kraus becomes naked in public, and then more naked because she tells us about her own failure, that un-American condition. Aliens is a heterogeneous record of failure set in diverse locations, at once in the center and on the outskirts of the avant-garde. "A single moment of true sadness connects you instantly to all the suffering in the world." Taken together, these failures amount to a critical position and reveal a great longing for a true relation to the world. As alienation becomes more intense, the ways to establish connection become more extreme. This makes the novel a "case history," but the illness afflicts us all.

To elaborate her theme, Kraus meditates on the life and work of French philosopher Simone Weil: Weil’s "panic of altruism"; her sense that narrative is suppose to "to make things right"; and her anorexia, framed not as "woman’s manipulation" or even personal salvation, but as moral stance and critique––a state of decreation. "Female acts are always subject to interpretation," Kraus writes, "It’s inconceivable that the female subject might ever simply try to step outside her body, because the only thing that’s irreducible, still, in female life is gender."

Braided into this matter are Chris’s failure to market her film, Gravity and Grace; Ulrike Meinholf’s ghostly soliloquies: "’This is Ulrike Meinholf speaking to the inhabitants of Earth. You must make your death public. As the rope was tightening around my neck, an Alien made love with me…’"; the story of Kraus’s Scheherazade attempt to keep her e-mail-and-phone lover from the disconnect: "The story had an s/m moral: it isn’t chemistry or personality that counts, it’s what you do. This is a quantum leap beyond modernism’s ethos of transgression, in which eroticism arises from disgust. Disgust implies duality; requires content. But now that there’s no longer any meaning in the landscape, it is possible to fabricate desire anywhere. The technology of s/m transforms neutrality into content"; and the life and example of Paul Thek. Finally, we learn about a group that believes it will be carried off by a spaceship on a certain night (in fact, the plot of Kraus’s movie, Gravity and Grace).

This is true hybrid writing in which a whole genre can become autobiography by virtue of the author’s engagement.

– Robert Glück