Chris Kraus (American writer)

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Chris Kraus
Chris Kraus, Royal College of Art, 2015.png
Born1955 (age 66–67)
New York City, U.S.
  • Writer
  • filmmaker
  • landlord
Alma materVictoria University of Wellington
Literary movementThe Artists Project

Chris Kraus (born 1955[1]) is an American writer and filmmaker. Her novels include I Love Dick, Aliens & Anorexia, Torpor, and Summer of Hate. Video Green, Kraus' first non-fiction book, examines the explosion of late 1990s art by high-profile graduate programs that catapulted Los Angeles into the center of the international art world.[according to whom?] Her films include Gravity & Grace, How To Shoot A Crime, and The Golden Bowl, or, Repression.


Kraus was born in New York City[2] and spent her childhood in Connecticut and New Zealand. After obtaining a BA at a young age from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, Kraus worked as a journalist for five years, and then moved to New York City. Kraus was aged 21 when she arrived in New York and began studying with actor Ruth Maleczech and director Lee Breuer, whose studio in the East Village was called ReCherChez.[3] Kraus made films and video art and staged performances and plays at many venues. In the late 1970s she was a member of The Artists Project, a City-funded public service venture of painters, poets, writers, filmmakers and dancers.

Her work as a performance and video artist satirized the Downtown scene's gender politics and favored literary tropes, blending theatrical techniques with Dada, literary criticism, social activism, and performance art.

Kraus is Jewish and deals with many spiritual and social aspects of Judaism in her works. She says that her parents attended Christian church and did not tell her that her family is Jewish until she moved back to Manhattan at age 21, possibly to shield her from antisemitism.[4][5]

She continued to make films through the mid-1990s. As of 2006 she was married to Sylvère Lotringer, a Jewish man who survived the Holocaust as a child.[5] They had divorced by 2016.[4] Some of her works are based on her marriage and her ex-husband.[4][5] She now lives in Los Angeles.

In 2017, Kraus published After Kathy Acker, a biography of Kathy Acker.[6] That same year, she also came under sustained criticism from anti-gentrification activists who believed Kraus & other artists were being used to promote displacement in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. Semiotext(e) chose to cancel an event at which she was slated to speak rather than face further protests.[7]


I Love Dick[edit]

I Love Dick is an epistolary novel, with autofiction elements, and Kraus's most successful work. It's written as a series of love letters written to an addressee who is derived from the real-life cultural critic Dick Hebdige. In 2016, Joey Soloway adapted the novel as a TV series, produced by Amazon Studios.[8] The first season was released on May 12, 2017.[9]

Aliens and Anorexia[edit]

Aliens and Anorexia jumps back and forth in time and location, tracing the life and activism of Ulrike Meinhof, the downtown theatre scene in late seventies New York, the drug experiments of Aldous Huxley, the paintings and writings of Paul Thek, through the narrator Chris's fruitless attempts to make and sell a feature film, Gravity and Grace, (which takes its title from the Simone Weil volume of the same name).

Video Green[edit]

A series of 23 essays written between 1998 and 2003, mostly in her column "Torpor" in the magazine Artext, Video Green is concerned with the literary, the personal, and the culturally marginal. The collection's essays not about Los Angeles include the elegiac "Posthumous Lives", about the performance artist Penny Arcade's loving curation of the estate of the filmmaker Jack Smith, and "How to Shoot a Crime," about Kraus's 1987 film of the same name. The volume's first essay and its longest, "Art Collection" follows the idea of collecting through the M.F.A. art scene and real estate market of Los Angeles, ending up in rural upstate New York with the art collection and poetry of William Bronk.


Torpor follows Jerome Shafir, a literature professor at Columbia, his wife, Sylvie Green, a writer and filmmaker with an inconclusive career, and their dog Lily through rustbelt New York City, Paris, Berlin, and the Eastern Bloc at the dawn of the New World Order. A portrait of a Holocaust survivor as well as of a marriage, Torpor also depicts a woman rarely found in literature: a down-and-out intellectual bearing witness to a culture in collapse. Kraus shifts out of the first-person narration of I Love Dick, and in naming her central characters Sylvie and Jerome, she alludes to the hapless, interchangeable protagonists of George Perec's first novel, Les Choses. Perec, a childhood friend of both Torpor's Jerome and Kraus's real-life husband, Sylvère Lotringer, is quoted several times in the novel. Felix Guattari and Nan Goldin also make appearances, among other cultural figures, though Kraus's use of "reality" comes to more subversive effect than a simple roman à clef.

Summer of Hate[edit]

Summer of Hate is the story of Catt Dunlop who, like Kraus, is an art critic and occasional professor of Cultural Studies. Emerging rattled from a dangerous relationship with a dominant sex partner she met online, Catt invests in a handful of corroding properties in Albuquerque and moves there to prepare them for rental. She hires Paul Garcia to work as her property manager, and they begin a romantic relationship, though Catt is still married to an older philosopher in New York City.

A recovering alcoholic, Paul is on parole after spending two years in prison for "stealing less than an art gallery spends on an after-party". Eventually he is pulled over for speeding and arrested in fulfillment of an outstanding warrant, and the pair embark on a grueling legal process involving inhumane prison practices and impossible parole stipulations. Back in Los Angeles, Catt studies and teaches "all the books about symbolic violence, soft forms of control", but the forms of control to which Paul is subject are neither soft nor symbolic. As the course of her life fuses with the course of Paul's, Catt's relationship to class, race, citizenship and criminality become increasingly complicated.[10]

After Kathy Acker[edit]

After Kathy Acker is a biography of Kathy Acker, a radical American experimental novelist, poet, and essayist. Writing in the Financial Times, Lauren Elkin wrote that Kraus "is the perfect mediator for Acker, finding in her work an aesthetics of provocation, discomfiture, risk and radical empathy." Reviewing the book for The Guardian, Olivia Laing noted, "Acker was the previous girlfriend of Kraus's now ex-husband, Sylvère Lotringer, like Kraus an editor at the independent publisher Semiotext(e) and a frequent interlocutor here. Is it crass to point this out? It certainly complicates any objective perspective, and maybe it would have been better to state it plainly, especially since it's logged in I Love Dick, the roman-à-clef that made Kraus famous. That said, Kraus reconstitutes Acker's wanderings with real wit and beauty, understanding without pandering to the painfully high stakes of her identity games."[6]

Where Art Belongs[edit]

One of Kraus' non-fiction works is Where Art Belongs, a book-length essay examining contemporary art and sexuality.[11] In a series of vignettes, Kraus treats various forms of early 21st century art, detailing her personal association with some of the artists. Artists whose work is discussed include Ariel Pink, Bernadette Corporation, Bas Jan Ader, Elke Krystufek, Moyra Davey, Louis Malle, and James Benning. Ariel Pink's visual art is discussed in connection with Tiny Creatures, an art collective that was active in Los Angeles from 2006-2007. Elke Krystufek's visits to Easter Island and Palau are described as being inspired by Ader's disappearance at sea, journeys that were undertaken for the purpose of producing art. Photographer Moyra Davey's diagnosis of multiple sclerosis[12] is described as influencing her choice to incorporate writing into her artwork, particularly fragments by Walter Benjamin. Kraus also discusses her participation in the Sex Workers' Art Show, a touring show which precipiated the firing of Gene Nichol, president of the College of William & Mary, when he allowed the troupe to perform at the college.[13]

Additionally, Kraus cites two historical countercultural documents on sexuality which have informed contemporary art. Suck was an underground newspaper founded in 1969 by Jim Haynes, Germaine Greer, Bill Levy, Heathcote Williams and Jean Shrimpton.[14] The twelfth issue of Recherches, a French journal, was edited by Félix Guattari in collaboration with the Front Homosexuel d'Action Révolutionnaire, a gay rights group.[15] Titled "Three Billion Perverts", the issue was devoted to homosexuality, with many copies being seized and destroyed by French authorities.[16][17] Kraus cites Andrea Fraser's Untitled (2003), a video work showing a sexual encounter between the artist and a collector who subsequently purchased a copy of the video, as an example of an artwork informed by the literature.[18]

Semiotext(e) Native Agents Series[edit]

Sylvère Lotringer, Kraus's husband from the late eighties to the late nineties, founded Semiotexte's Foreign Agents series, which mostly published French critical theorists, in 1980. Ten years later Kraus founded the press's Native Agents imprint to publish fiction, mostly by women, as an analogue to the French theories of subjectivity in the Foreign Agents series.[19] In addition to groundbreaking works of fiction by writers like Michelle Tea and Ann Rower, Native Agents has published notable volumes of poetry and prose by Eileen Myles, Barbara Barg, and Fanny Howe, as well as memoirs and interviews by Kathy Acker, Bob Flanagan, David Rattray, and William Burroughs. In a 2012 piece for n+1, senior editor Elizabeth Gumport wrote "What united the Native Agents authors was the way their work combined elements of theory, fiction, and biography, explicitly refusing to identify absolutely with any single genre."[19]


Before beginning her career as writer, Kraus was an artist and filmmaker, making a number of short films and videos, including one feature Gravity & Grace. Her films have been the focus of a number of international retrospective exhibitions and screenings, beginning in 2008 with “Plastic is Leather, Fuck You: Film and Video 1983-1993” at Galerie Cinzia Friedlaender, Berlin. In the press release for the 2011 exhibition at Real Fine Arts in Brooklyn, Kraus detailed her thoughts behind the production of these films.[20]

The Chance Event[edit]

The Chance Event: Three Days in the Desert: Primm, Nevada, November 1996. Curated by Chris Kraus, Chance brought together Jean Baudrillard, Rosanne Alluquere Stone, DJ Spooky, Diane di Prima, the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, visual artists, garage noise bands and 600 participants to investigate the mystery of chance at Whiskey Pete's Casino. Variously described as "a philosophy rave" and "one of the landmark LA events of the 90s," The Chance Event was reviewed on the front page of the Los Angeles Times and throughout the art press. Highlights, including a performance by Baudrillard wearing a gold Elvis-inspired blazer and accompanied by the 'Chance' band, were broadcast on European television. The event was funded by the French Cultural Service and Art Center College of Design.


Though best known in the art world for much of her career, Kraus's readership is beginning to increase.[21] She's been referenced in the work of poet Ariana Reines, novelist and memoirist Kate Zambreno, and n+1's pamphlet No Regrets.[22]

In an introduction to her September 2013 interview with Kraus in The Believer, author Sheila Heti wrote "I know there was a time before I read Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick (in fact, that time was only five years ago), but it’s hard to imagine; some works of art do this to you. They tear down so many assumptions about what the form can handle (in this case, what the form of the novel can handle) that there is no way to re-create your mind before your encounter with them."[23]


In 2008, Kraus received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism from the College Art Association.[24]


  • I Love Dick, 1997 (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents). ISBN 9781584350347
  • Aliens & Anorexia, 2000 (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents). ISBN 9781584351269
  • Hatred of Capitalism: A Semiotext(e) Reader by Chris Kraus & Sylvere Lotringer, 2001. ISBN 9781584350125
  • Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness, 2004 (Semiotext(e) / Active Agents). ISBN 9781584350224
  • LA Artland: Contemporary Art from Los Angeles by Chris Kraus, Jan Tumlir, and Jane McFadden, 2005 (Black Dog). ISBN 9781904772309
  • Torpor, March 2006 (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents). ISBN 9781584350279
  • I Love Dick by Chris Kraus, Eileen Myles, Joan Hawkins; Sep 2006 (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents).
  • Where Art Belongs, 2011 (Semiotext(e) / Intervention Series). ISBN 9781584350989
  • Summer of Hate, 2012 (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents). ISBN 9781584351139
  • You Must Make Your Death Public: a collection of texts and media on the work of Chris Kraus. Mute. 5 January 2015. pp. 135–. ISBN 978-1-906496-64-7.
  • After Kathy Acker: A Biography, 2017 (Allen Lane). ISBN 978-0241318058
  • Social Practices, 2018 (Semiotext(e) / Active Agents). ISBN 9781635900392

Books in Spanish[edit]

Filmography and performance history[edit]

  • In Order to Pass (1982), 30 minutes, Super8 film/video.
  • Terrorists in Love (1985), 5 minutes, Super8 film/video.
  • Voyage to Rodez (1986), 14 minutes, 16mm film.
  • Foolproof Illusion (1986), 17 minutes, video.
  • How to Shoot a Crime (1987), 28 minutes, video.
  • The Golden Bowl or Repression (1990), 12 minutes, 16mm film.
  • Traveling at Night (1991), 14 minutes, video.
  • Sadness at Leaving (1992), 20 minutes, 16mm film.
  • Gravity & Grace (1996), 88 minutes, Lonely Girl Films (New Zealand/USA/Canada).
  • Disparate Action/Desperate Action (1980), performance.
  • Readings From The Diaries of Hugo Ball (1983–84), performance.
  • Longing Last Longer (1998), performance with Penny Arcade based on I Love Dick, directed by Eric Wallach and produced by The Kitchen, New York, January 1998.


  1. ^ "Chris Kraus". Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  2. ^ "Conversations with iconic people – Chris Kraus". Archived 2017-04-06 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  3. ^ Guthrie, Kayla. "Interview: Performing Is Storytelling: Q+A with Chris Kraus." Art in America. 2011 June 22.
  4. ^ a b c Sonkin, Rebecca (5 August 2016). "Chris Kraus and the K-Word". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Cahmi, Leslie (7 June 2006). "The Tense of Trauma - Novelist Chris Kraus ponders the meaning of "It would have been"". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  6. ^ a b Laing, Olivia (31 August 2017). "After Kathy Acker by Chris Kraus review – sex, art and a life of myths". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  7. ^ McGahan, Jason (5 October 2017). "Boyle Heights Event by I Love Dick Author Canceled After Pressure From Activists". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved 5 October 2020.
  8. ^ Gajanan, Mahita (2016-02-18). "Coming from the creator of Transparent: I Love Dick, the TV version of cult novel". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  9. ^ "I Love Dick critic reviews". May 24, 2017. Retrieved 8 October 2020.
  10. ^ Summer of Hate reviewed at Full Stop. 4 September 2012.
  11. ^ Kraus, Chris (2011). Where Art Belongs. Semiotext(e) Intervention Series. Vol. 8. Semiotext(e). ISBN 9781584350989.
  12. ^ Where Art Belongs, p. 102.
  13. ^ Where Art Belongs, p. 95.
  14. ^ Where Art Belongs, pp. 76-82.
  15. ^ "Trois milliards de pervers: Grande Encyclopédie des Homosexualités". Éditions Recherches. (French)
  16. ^ Where Art Belongs, pp. 83-86.
  17. ^ Genosko, Gary. "Busted: Félix Guattari and the Grande Encyclopédie des Homosexualités". Rhizomes.
  18. ^ Where Art Belongs, p. 86.
  19. ^ a b "Female Trouble," Elizabeth Gumport, n+1 Magazine, 14 February 2012
  20. ^ "Press release for "Chris Kraus Films"" (Press release). Brooklyn, New York: Real Fine Arts.
  21. ^ "The Novelist as Performance Artist," Michael M. Miller, Gallerist, 30 October 2012
  22. ^ No Regrets, n+1
  23. ^ "Interview with Chris Kraus,' Sheila Heti, The Believer, September 2013
  24. ^ "Awards". The College Art Association. Retrieved 11 October 2010.

External links[edit]