Episode 97: The Pursuit of Female Pleasure
Published June 16, 2017.
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Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: [Laughs] And I'm Ann Friedman.
Aminatou: Why are you laughing?
Ann: Because I feel like you were just like -- it was the perkiest.
Aminatou: I am perky right now! Don't police my perkiness.
Ann: I'm not trying to police your perkiness. I loved it. Don't mistake me mentioning it for me policing it because I love it. I'm here for it.
Aminatou: Thank you. Thank you.
Ann: What's going on?
Aminatou: Oh my gosh, we are totally cheating this week.
Ann: Oh, it is a cheat week.
Aminatou: It's a cheat week. We are sitting together in a very luxurious hotel room.
Ann: You might remember it from last week's episode. [Laughs]
Aminatou: You might remember it from last week's episode. You guys, it's bigger than my apartment. It's kind of amazing. We're basically going to introduce you to two interviews that we did with two great ladies.
Ann: But what do they have in common?
Aminatou: They have in common that they're authors and they've both written books about female pleasure.
Ann: Ooh. I mean it's a funny thing to even talk about because obviously we are pro female pleasure.
Aminatou: One hundo.
Aminatou: General CYG announcement time.
Ann: Ding, ding.
Aminatou: There are a few tickets left to the Philly show. Do you want to come see us in Philadelphia? The answer should be yes. July 16th at the Trocadero. All that information is on the Call Your Girlfriend website. And this is the last, last, last time that you can get stuff from this run of CYG merch. So if you still want something, go for it.
Ann: Yeah. And the preorder door is closing on June 18th so if you don't order before that date you may never see some of the stuff ever again. So, you know, get it in gear.
Aminatou: Oh, I've got to order my stuff.
Ann: I know, right? But yeah, there's still time. You still have some days.
Aminatou: We're definitely pro female pleasure, but what does female pleasure mean?
Ann: I mean, what does it mean?
Aminatou: And I think that the reason that I'm excited about this episode is that it presents the full spectrum of what female pleasure can be. I talked to friend of the podcast Jill Filipovic -- hey, Jill, who's listening in from Kenya. Jill is a lawyer who is also a feminist who had this really Internet famous bar called Feministe.
Ann: Oh, Feminist blog glory days. Yeah.
Aminatou: Yeah, Jill's been around. She's written for Cosmo about global health issue and women's rights and development. You know, like a really smart lady in the thick of it. She has this new book out called The H Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness. The reason why I love this book is because the title is not subtle at all, you know? This stuff is like you can either -- you know, you can either be really subtle like feminist title or you can just go for it. And in this case she went for it completely and I think it's a win. And so Jill's book is basically about the Declaration of Independence promises everybody happiness and a life of freedom, the pursuit of freedom. But the truth is historically that only applied to . . .
Ann: I've seen that Barbara Jordan clip.
Aminatou: You know, Barbara Jordan, a great . . .
Ann: Maybe we shouldn't -- maybe we should play that clip.
Aminatou: We'll play the clip. Okay.
Chairman: I recognize the gentle lady from Texas, Ms. Jordan, for the purpose of general debate not to exceed a period of 15 minutes.
Barbara: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Earlier today we heard the beginning of the preamble to the constitution of the United States. We, the people. It's a very elegant beginning. But when that document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787 I was not included in that we, the people. I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in we, the people. Today I am an inquisitor and hyperbole would not be fictional and would not over-state the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the constitution is whole. It is complete. It is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the constitution.
Aminatou: You know, this is like historically -- yes, it says for everyone, but it's really for men. And so Jill really flips that on her head. Her whole thesis is basically that pursuing happiness is really complicated but that it's something that women are really interested in and actually strive towards just as hard as everybody else. And she's not talking about like, I don't know, getting manicures and pedicures and ice cream and a pony and unicorns. No, literally like the happiness that is promised to us in the constitution.
Ann: Like fundamental life-fulfilling kind of . . .
Aminatou: Exactly. And so she's also really great at writing kind of about her own life and contemporary women's issues, and so she talks about all the things that she wishes she'd known at 21, how like your decisions don't have to be final and the kind of character flaws you have and what the markets of adult life are and how that applies, how that can help shape your life and thinking about that whether it's marriage or having rich friendships with women and the full spectrum of lady pleasures. So I called Jill up while she was on book tour and I'll let her explain herself in her own words.
Jill: My name is Jill Filipovic and the book is The H Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.
Aminatou: Great. It's so nice to have you on Call Your Girlfriend, Jill. How are you doing?
Jill: I'm good. I'm so excited to be on my favorite podcast.
Aminatou: This is exciting for us because you live all the way in Kenya so whenever I see a Kenyan listener on our analytics I know it's you.
Jill: You know it's me. [Laughter]
Aminatou: Yeah. Can you tell me a little bit about what the idea of writing -- like where the idea of writing this book came from? Because I think that H Spot, you know, the title is either a little bit radical or actually very radical depending on how tongue-in-cheek you want to be. I was like oh, wow, orgasms and bombs. Good callback, Jill.
Jill: [Laughs] I can't take credit for the title but it is clever. No, the idea for the book came after years of feminist writing, both kind of commentary and then more reported pieces, where I find myself addressing kind of the same issues over and over. There were often times in women's lives that were the most difficult: issues having to do with sexual violence, reproductive health and rights, even things like trying to get birth control and getting screamed at as you're going into a Planned Parenthood clinic. Or even writing about women's sex lives, there's often kind of the worst parts of those lives. And I wasn't writing a lot about pleasure or what made women happy.
After years of doing this, I kind of just came to the conclusion that it seems like the real underlying problem was this sharp hostility to women seeking pleasure and a sort of impulse to make women's lives unnecessarily difficult whenever we were taking steps to take control of them. Feminists and I think the feminist movement has done amazing things but I sort of became increasingly convinced that just trying to make women equal in a system that has been built by and for men was just never going to work, and the more interesting question is what would the system look like if we got to build it ourselves? And if we were doing that then what's the goal? It seemed to me the goal had to be happy, pleasurable lives because what else are we all doing here?
Aminatou: Yeah. And I mean to be clear you're not talking about pleasure or happiness in the visceral sense that we think about like joy or the amusement park, like kind of exhilaration. I don't know. I was so struck by reading some of this, the part where you talk about because the mission of the women's movement hasn't done everything that it's supposed to do you say we can topple the most stubborn roadblocks and you kind of suggest this feminism in politics that reorients themselves away from a simple equality towards happiness and pleasure. I thought the phrase "away from simple equality," I was like wow. I don't' know. I was really struck by that because I don't think that I had ever thought of those things as completely separate or even really considered what the happiness part in the constitution is really about, you know? And I think you make a fairly convincing case for that.
Jill: I mean I hope so. You know, and to be clear I'm not saying that we shouldn't care about equality.
Aminatou: No, of course.
Jill: [Laughs] Of course we should.
Aminatou: You're like forget equality. Ice cream for everybody.
Jill: No, I mean of course we should care about equality, but I mean to me the more interesting question is okay, well what does equality mean? Who are we trying to make ourselves equal to, and then why? And the founders wrote about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence. I mean they weren't saying everybody is entitled to ice cream and a pony, right? What they were saying is this sort of at the time very small segment of the American population, so land-owning white men, were entitled to this vision of a happy life that meant pursuing personal knowledge, that meant exploration, that meant overcoming challenges, and that meant at least trying to and having the opportunity to forge their own identities. And that's something that just has not ever been on the table for women and for people of color. And instead all of us were kind of relegated to the background propping up this system that was allowing this same small group of people to thrive.
To me the kind of ultimate goal of the women's movement and movements for equality and social justice in general should be okay, what kind of world do we want to live in? What do our laws and policies and institutions look like? If we get to decide who they serve. And that seemed to be a conversation that wasn't really happening in what I think is an understandable effort to just kind of catch us up.
Aminatou: Yeah, like policy never addresses that, right? Policy is always like here's how we get equal pay or here's how we remove an important barrier. But nobody's really saying how do we support people in genuinely fulfilled and content lives?
Jill: Right, and how are we going to stop treating women as if we're this marginal interest group and actually fold our lives and experiences into the baseline assumption from which we are making law?
Aminatou: So for writing this book you actually went on the road and talked to a lot of women, like one-on-one.
Jill: I did, yeah, which was a really fun part of getting to research this. You know, I went and stayed in various people's homes and had lots of long conversations and did a lot of obviously kind of formal interviewing but also just sort of observing of what people's lives who are living under very different circumstances than me look like, and trying to combine that with social science research on what actually makes us happy.
You know, I wanted to have that component of it because women are more than half of the US population and most women in the US, their lives do not look like that of a highly-educated, 30-something year old, unmarried, childless, white woman in Brooklyn. So I wanted to paint a picture of American womanhood that was hopefully a little bit more accurate than my fairly narrow experience of it.
Aminatou: Without giving too much of the book away, what was one very surprising thing to you that you found out on the road?
Jill: Gosh, there were a lot of them. I mean I guess -- and I wouldn't say this was necessarily surprising -- you know, is that even in the face of great obstacles and the story of being a woman in America today is unfortunately facing a lot of obstacles, women still pleasure-seek in nearly every aspect of their lives, right? So I think we have images of women who pleasure seek as either kind of hedonistic or immoral and women who always put others first as the kind of plutonic ideal of femaleness.
But what I found, obviously, is that everyone seeks pleasure and happiness for herself. And where women are often kind of the most frustrated and unhappy are where those efforts butt up against sort of manmade or politician-made realities. You know, that stimy our ability to forge our own identities and seek fulfilling lives.
Aminatou: In what ways do you think -- I don't know, maybe this is a dumb question, but because I know you live not in the US, what are similarities that you found with talking to African women? Is there like an ideal world in which you can do this exact same kind of work on a global level maybe?
Jill: Yeah, I hope so. So when I get back to Nairobi where we're actually arranging an event around the book, we're going to have a panel discussion of Kenyan women and I'm very curious to hear their thoughts on how these ideas kind of apply in their local context -- but, you know, from reporting in Africa I think sort of the one big, overarching narrative is women around the world do . . . there's this sort of model of female sacrifice that exists perhaps not everywhere but certainly everywhere I've been. And this idea that part of the woman's role in any society is to do unpaid or underpaid and undervalued work that often involves caring for other people, and that work almost anywhere in the world is both dominated by women and not a thing that is particularly socially-valued. And that keeps women I think both kind of unhappy and functionally very marginalized.
Aminatou: It makes me a little depressed, so I'm like how do we end on a good, positive note? Tell me one positive thing that you hope that this book will do for people who read it, and especially for maybe policymakers who read it.
Jill: Yeah. So the one thing that I would love the book to do is to get people to just kind of think a little bit outside of the box on what policy solutions to this stuff could look like. And I think obviously the kind of laundry list of feminist policy demands would go a long way to making women happy, but that can't be the end all, be all of this discussion.
So when I was writing the conclusion of the book I actually talked to Ann, your lovely cohost, and she offered kind of one really interesting out-of-the-box idea for a policy change which would be allowing every woman to sort of designate her person as her legal or medical guardian should she become incapacitated. You know, and right now we structure that stuff around the nuclear and traditional family. That person is your husband or your parents.
Jill: And this idea of honoring and respecting the reality of women's lives and men's lives too now, that much of our lives aren't structured around that old model, you know, what she proposed I thought was a really interesting and relatively simple idea. So I'd love other sort of ideas and proposals like that to come out of the book and hopefully to eventually reach the ears of people that are making the decisions.
Aminatou: That sounds great. I'm super excited to have more people read it and react to it. The H Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness by Jill Filipovic is out right now so pick it up from your local bookstore. Jill, thanks so much for joining us.
Jill: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Amina.
Ann: Oh, yes.
Aminatou: Pick up The H Spot at your local indie bookstore on Amazon if you're a trash human like me.
Aminatou: Ann, I'm on ginadelvac.com and it's still not live!
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Ann: So, okay, on related notes of pleasures, both superficial and deep, I know you've been watching I Love Dick.
Ann: That's how I feel about it! The most pleasurable moan.
Aminatou: Oh, it's so amazing.
Ann: So I think there's a good chance you probably have heard of this book by now but it was written by Chris Kraus in 1997 and then reissued I think around 2006 which is really when . . .
Aminatou: The Internet like . . .
Ann: The Internet loved it. Like I definitely . . .
Aminatou: It was an Instagrammable book cover, let's be honest.
Ann: I mean, yeah.
Aminatou: Whatever it takes.
Ann: But I think it's also the book cover is Instagrammable because the book itself is pretty iconic.
Ann: So the book kind of on a superficial level is the story of a woman -- it's a novel about a woman named Chris Kraus who is frustrated because she is having trouble getting the film community to accept her brilliance when it comes to making films. She's married to a cultural critic type guy, right? Isn't that what he is? Yeah.
Aminatou: Professionally adjacent to her.
Ann: Exactly. Exactly. Which gives me lots of feels as someone who that question of could you time machine to the past and tell yourself not to do something, I'd be like "Don't date people in your profession, girl." [Laughter] That's like one of my number ones. I'm just like who would I be if I hadn't made those choices? Anyway . . .
Aminatou: No Journo.
Ann: Yeah. Hashtag #NoJourno. Anyway, she is in a relationship with someone who is professionally adjacent and becomes sort of fixated on another professionally-adjacent man who is kind of an asshole but she's fascinated by him. And she together with her husband writes him some letters and then on her own writes him some letters. But the book is really a lot about exploring relationships to power and women's relationships to making art and agency in making art and power dynamics within relationships. It's deep and it's complicated and it is like a book that for me is a real thinky book, you know? Like not a real visual watch the plot unfold book. And so when I heard they were adapting it into a TV show for Amazon I was like oh, really? Were you nervous about what was going to happen with this book?
Aminatou: No, because you know that my preferred way to discover media is to watch the show and then read the book.
Aminatou: All of my favorite things I'm like what? This is from a book? I'm like the script's so good. And then they're like it's a book. But no, obviously I had read the book.
Aminatou: You know, I wasn't -- you know . . .
Ann: Don't try to play. I know you're making it sound like . . .
Aminatou: I'm on top of the Instagram book community. Don't worry. If my favorite Instagram models tweet it or Instagram it, I'm reading it. But I'd read the book. I was super excited about the TV show, obviously, because it's a Jill Soloway production and Kathryn Hahn is, you know, like goals. I sat across from her at a dinner.
Aminatou: And she was wearing the most beautiful red crushed velvet suit. This was like in Park City, Utah.
Ann: I feel faint.
Aminatou: It was negative a million degrees. Everybody looked a mess. It's the one time a year where I buy boots from Zappos that I'll never wear again.
Ann: Sure. Out there in your Canada Goose jacket.
Aminatou: Exactly. Love my Canada Goose though.
Aminatou: And she like walked in looking amazing. She was hilarious and very gracious. But just watch -- I was like "Oh, you are goals." Hashtag #goals.
Ann: Yeah. And so I will say that the show is almost inspired by the book by certain plot points but it's its own beast.
Aminatou: Yeah, it's definitely not -- it's not like a straight book-to-Amazon experience.
Aminatou: So definitely keep an open mind about that. I appreciate the stylistic differences because I think that adapting a book like that that is really all . . . like you said, it's a thinky book, so a lot of the action happens in your head. I don't know how to write TV but I feel like that would be a really hard thing to do exactly straight from the book.
Aminatou: So I don't mind it at all. Kevin Bacon's even okay in it. Like it's fine. Just kidding; I'm a huge Kevin Bacon fan.
Ann: I know. I was like don't even lie to these listeners.
Aminatou: I know. But can I say one thing, though? I was really disappointed by the marketing campaign for this.
Ann: Oh my gosh, I thought it was a joke. Please describe it.
Aminatou: The marketing campaign for a book written by a woman about another woman was literally just billboards of Kevin Bacon's face.
Ann: Well, there is at least around LA the billboards -- and this is what I thought you were going to say . . .
Aminatou: Oh, tell me.
Ann: Are an image of Kevin Bacon and Kathryn Hahn kind of locked in a gaze.
Aminatou: Oh, yeah.
Ann: So it's like very kind of sexy-looking.
Aminatou: I've seen that one.
Ann: But then they say "Be empowered."
Ann: And I was like I actually couldn't -- in my dream world this is like mocking empowerizing because the book is actually about what is empowerment, anyway?
Aminatou: Okay, that's definitely your dream world.
Ann: I know.
Aminatou: Because capitalism is dirty and you can make pure art and some idiot person in a marketing department will go "Have you ever heard of empowering?"
Ann: Oh my god.
Aminatou: That's what we're going to do. The couple of billboards that I saw, and a lot of the promo, it would be like just him solo.
Ann: Ugh, no.
Aminatou: And I was like this is not going to make me . . . like I love Kevin Bacon, but like -- fine, I would watch any TV show with him. I'm not the test audience for this. But you know what I mean? It was just a very . . . I was disappointed by that. But that's obviously not something the filmmakers control.
Aminatou: So that's not what I'm saying. It's just such a . . . yeah, capitalism is a dirty game.
Ann: You can make a female gaze TV series.
Aminatou: But that's what's so subversive about watching this stuff and liking it is when you find . . . when people who obviously have this pursuit of feminist pleasure art who are able to place it in these mega corporations . . .
Aminatou: And there's something really subversive and dare I say empowering about that.
Ann: Oh my god. Yeah. So yeah, like a few weeks ago I was at an incredible bookstore in Dallas called The Wild Detectives. A few awesome CYG listeners came, so maybe some of you will find this to be a repeat. But anyway, I interviewed Chris Kraus. We talked about I Love Dick a little bit and about the role that it's played in her career because she's written four other books and several other essays and short collections and obviously . . .
Aminatou: Beast mode. [Laughs]
Ann: Yeah. I mean, yeah, incredibly prolific, right? But I talked to her a little bit about what it's like to be known so much for this one thing that is, you know, not unrepresentative of her work but definitely doesn't really touch the breadth and depth of what she's done. And then we also talked about her book which is coming out not until August which is a biography of Kathy Acker who's . . .
Ann: A writer, poet, performance artist who, yeah, was this kind of larger-than-life figure who Chris actually knew.
Aminatou: Punk before punk.
Ann: Well, yeah, and coexisting with and actually kind of disdainful of certain parts of punk. She had a lot going on. She also is noteworthy because she was someone who sought to be famous and be known, and for women living decades ago, especially the idea of pursuing a wide audience for your work and being unashamed about that fact, not being like "Oh, people like it? What?" and self-effacing. But being like no, actually I'm trying to get famous here. It predates so much about the way I think we now respond to modern public figures and artists and celebrities who do that.
Aminatou: Can't wait to hear it!
Ann: Here we are. Also this was recorded outdoors and so if you hear some ambient noise it's because we're not sitting in a hotel room.
Ann: I'm curious about how, you know, because she is someone whose life and whose image have taken on their own narrative, she's become mythologized, whether you identify with that part of her story? Whether you feel that people mythologize you or your work at all?
Chris: If they do, and I guess the TV show I Love Dick is going to make that inevitable . . .
Ann: Good plug.
Chris: . . . to some degree, I choose to just kind of put my head down and pretend it's not happening. I really -- I never wanted it. Kathy really wanted it. I mean that's definitely a difference. She wanted it from the time she was 23, a really critical part of the book. And I think everybody looks for this in a biography, right? That tipping point. Like when did the famous person go from becoming like us -- not famous -- to becoming really famous? And they rarely tell the truth about that, you know? It takes a lot of work for that to happen by a lot of people. And so I'm acutely aware of how she made that happen for herself, how she worked towards it, who she cultivated, all the little stepping stones as it were. And when people kind of throw that back at me because of I Love Dick and the TV show, I mean I just do everything I can to take it down. Let's just talk. I really don't want that.
Ann: Right. Which is so funny because for me I've only seen the pilot episode of the TV show but I've obviously read the book and they feel like totally separate projects. Do you feel that they're close at all? Or do you feel like I do, that there's quite a bit of distance between the book and . . .
Chris: Well, I mean, Jill and her crew, obviously they had to pick up on some aspects of the book and not all of them because that's what TVs and movies do. There has to be a very clear line. So they picked up on the infatuation and the obsession and the story of her -- the [0:30:40] aspect of it where she's kind of becoming herself through this obsession. And Kathryn Hahn just does it so beautifully and with . . . I mean this level of acting. I've seen the whole first season now and it's this level of acting you never see on episodic TV. It's like watching a John Cassavetes movie. I mean it's just so intimate and so wild.
Ann: Do you have -- is there a part of you that wanted to work on that more directly, or be involved in it as a . . . I mean I know you're also a director and a filmmaker.
Chris: Oh god, no, that was the last thing I wanted.
Ann: That's healthy.
Chris: I don't write script. I don't know anything about writing a successful script. I wouldn't want to be the writer sort of hovering around protecting the book. I mean as soon as they proposed it and we agreed it was like let it go.
Ann: Is it difficult to be so known for one book out of so many that you've written?
Chris: I'm doing my best to remedy that, Ann. [Laughs]
Ann: I mean but the fact remains . . .
Chris: You'll notice on the book table there's another book called Aliens and Anorexia and you might enjoy that one too.
Ann: Was that rude? Sorry.
Chris: [Laughs] No, that was a good question.
Ann: Okay. I will confess that I recently, knowing we were doing this, binged your entire catalog in the span of about two weeks. Some of it I had read before and some of it I hadn't. And I Love Dick wasn't my favorite reading everything together. I don't know, I was just thinking about how hard it must be to have this one piece very, very prominent when it's part of a whole body of stuff and to just be constantly asked about lust and obsession all the time. It must be tiring.
Chris: Well, I mean this is inevitable because of the TV show.
Chris: I mean there's just the enormous investment that I cannot even begin to comprehend that goes into producing a TV series. So, yeah, that's normal, but I hope that -- this new book will be published by Penguin in the UK and by more mainstream presses in Europe. I hope that eventually other work of mine -- especially Summer of Hate, that was really an important book to me because it sort of steps out of the cocoon of the New York and European intellectual worlds and it's set in the southwest during the Bush years in Albuquerque and Phoenix and has a lot to do with underclass life and consciousness and prison/jail, twelve step programs, addiction. It's a step into a whole other world. And that book was -- I mean it could be that this is a more timely book now than it was right after it was published.
Ann: Yeah. And you've talked before about how your writing relates to your personal experience so intimately and maybe you can talk about Summer of Hate and about what in your life inspired you to write that novel and how you felt personally invested in issues like the carceral state.
Chris: It's a third-person book but there had to be somebody like me in the book. Her name is Catt Dunlop in the book and she's kind of a jaded LA cultural critic. And if you don't have that character the people who buy books are not going to be very interested because there has to be a character that's like you. So Catt is there for you. She's like everybody here. She's . . . [Laughs]
Ann: Jaded? Are you all jaded?
Chris: You know, she's a member of the creative class. But really the protagonist of the book is the guy that she meets, Paul Garcia, who is just getting out of prison and that is really who I wanted to focus on in the book. And I did have this experience. I went to Albuquerque in '05. I had bought some apartment buildings when I arrived in California in the late '90s for very little money and they escalated greatly in value with that bubble in '05. And I sold them and people said "Oh, go to Las Vegas or go to Phoenix." I couldn't bear going to those places. But I'd given a reading once in Albuquerque and I thought okay, I can handle Albuquerque. So without knowing very much about it I bought three apartment buildings in Albuquerque in pretty low-rent, sketchy areas. I think there was an episode of Breaking Bad with a shooting that took place outside of one of my buildings, so that's kind of where I was going.
So I went there. I actually had -- I mean I have this whole other part of my life that does this, you know? Fixing up things. I had a crew, a very non art world crew, who worked with me and they went out to New Mexico. And we finished and I put an ad in the paper to hire a manager so I could leave. I was going to go to India. And the Paul Garcia character answered the ad and he was looking for a property manager job because he was getting out of prison and all the jobs he was applying for had the felony question and he knew he had to find some kind of little tin pot mom and pop operation that wasn't going to have a hard time with a felony. And also there was an apartment offered.
So I got to know him. We fell in love, in fact, and the person who inspired the character Paul Garcia is now a psychologist who runs a clinic in South Central for formerly homeless people and is my husband. But following his experience of how incredibly hard it is to dig out of a hole of getting out of prison, I happened to have money at that time because I had sold those buildings and I was able to help him. And I was surprised by just how much it costs to get somebody back on their feet after an experience like that. It's bottomless, the restitution and the fines and the court fees and they have to pay for probation and there was a DUI involved so there's the blow car. You have to pay for the blow car. You have to pay for the monitoring of the blow car. You have to pay for your own probation. You have to pay for everything. And he had gone to college and had a student loan that defaulted, so the only way he could enroll in U&M and get the benefit of state-funded tuition was if he paid off the bad loan that he was so high when he signed the papers he didn't know what he was signing, and a loan that he'd taken for $3,000 ten years ago had ballooned into a debt of over $20,000. Who has that kind of support getting out of jail or prison? Hardly anybody.
I added up the expense. It takes about 70 or 80 thousand dollars to clean up the mess. And who has that? Who can do that? I mean even with that it's so incredibly difficult to get out of that quicksand. So I started . . . I mean I'd always read about this. I'd always given money to Amnesty and other organizations and the ACLU. But I got so much closer to this and I came to understand it in a very immediate way.
Ann: It's interesting because I was saying to you earlier that the theme of I Love Dick that really resonated with me is who has power and how do the rest of us access it? And it seems, you know, it's really interesting to look at that from not through the sort of gender relationships relational way but through a big, systemic state policy way essentially. But it's also personal because as you say you're not partners. What does he think of your art world? What does he think about the kind of world that you exist in that you were hoping to represent with the character that's more like you/us?
Chris: Well, in what respect? You mean is he an art lover or does he mind being in a book?
Ann: I'm just -- I'm always curious about outsiders' observations. I have to assume that he wasn't a part of what you might define as your professional . . .
Chris: Well, Phillip is only half a civilian now because he's like -- we have the same friends and he goes to all the art events, and so he's not a complete civilian anymore.
Chris: But when he was a real art world virgin he was done right away. He's like oh, it's just a big clusterfuck. You know, you do this for him; he does this for you; he does this for . . . on and on and on. You all blurb each other's books. You all setup each other's shows.
Chris: It was a totally inside game.
Ann: Was that a refreshing perspective? Or is that how you already felt?
Chris: Well, I mean it's no secret.
Ann: I mean it's not a secret but it's easy to pretend maybe that's not quite how it is or to ignore it. I don't know.
Chris: I know. I mean like the worst thing is when people who are participating in this incredibly rigged, fatuous system pretend that it has anything to do with their personal merit. [Laughs] That is so conceited.
Ann: Yeah. And in a weird way, to bring it full-circle, that's one thing I love about Kathy Acker types who are just totally open about wanting fame and renown by any means necessary.
Chris: I totally agree with you.
Chris: I totally -- I mean she totally put on the table what goes on underneath the table. She wanted it. She said she wanted it. It was all over her books. It was all over her interviews. She was not discrete in any way.
Ann: Right. And that's something that women especially are often punished for I feel.
Chris: Oh god, yes. And so was she.
Chris: You've got to read the book and see what happened to her in London.
Ann: I can't wait.
Chris: They loved her for it, then a year-and-a-half later they hated her for it.
Ann: And then she had all those '80s photos that she couldn't overcome. Yeah.
Chris: Right. She's just totally kind of chewed up and spit out.
Ann: Right. Do you feel that sense of wanting to be known for certain things? Or do you identify with that part of who she is?
Chris: I'd like to be known as a writer, not necessarily the writer of I Love Dick. [Laughs]
Ann: Noted. But, you know, not as an artist more generally or as a filmmaker and a writer? Just a writer?
Chris: Just a writer. I mean like very old-school writer. You know, lots of writers also write criticism. Lots of writers also do editorial work or co-edit an in-print or magazine. So no, I feel like all my work has been the work of a writer.
Ann: Right. Do you write every day?
Chris: Only if I'm working on something. Once I'm working on something, yeah, I have to kind of keep it going. But I don't see any point in writing for the sake of writing unless I'm actually working on something.
Ann: Thank you.
Ann: Oh, Chris Kraus forever and ever.
Ann: Goals. Seriously. Yeah. You know when you meet someone and they're everything you hoped they would be?
Aminatou: I know, Ann. I'm sitting right next to you.
Ann: Stop! [Laughter] Stop, stop. You know, like a celebrity creative person. Come on.
Aminatou: I know, Ann.
Ann: Oh my god, stop. [Laughter]
Aminatou: Ann is blushing so hard.
Ann: It's very flattering!
Aminatou: You are ludicrous. Okay. [Music] You can find us at many places on the Internet: on our website, callyourgirlfriend.com, download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcast, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can tweet at us at @callyrgf or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find us on Facebook -- look that up yourself -- or on Instagram at callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn. All other music you heard today was composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs, and this podcast is produced by the beautiful Gina Delvac. See you on the Internet.
Ann: See you on the Internet, boo.