NEW YORK • Twenty years ago, I Love Dick - Chris Kraus' novel chronicling her one-sided obsession with a cultural critic named Dick and how she staked out her own identity as a writer through a wild series of letters to him - was published to little notice.
Since then, it has grown into a feminist cult classic. The book anticipated an era of popular female autofiction - from Emily Gould's And the Heart Says Whatever to Sheila Heti's How Should A Person Be? - and with a cheeky title that feels made to be Instagrammed, it has taken on new resonance as a text for women in the social media age.
This month, it will continue its pop cultural rise with a television adaptation by another feminist auteur.
I Love Dick the television series - created by Jill Soloway, writer and director of Transparent, starring Kathryn Hahn as Chris and Kevin Bacon as Dick, and crafted by an all-female writers room - begins streaming on Amazon on Friday.
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Of course it's Kevin Bacon. He's an icon who means something to people in a way that Kevin himself probably doesn't understand. He's Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. He's Dick too.
JILL SOLOWAY, creator of the I Love Dick television series, on the casting of Bacon as Dick. Kathryn Hahn plays Chris in the series
Recently, Kraus and Soloway talked about the female gaze, the experience of writing about one's self and why Kraus' old friend, poet Eileen Myles, is at the centre of everything.
How did you first encounter each other's work?
Kraus: I saw Transparent, like everybody else. I thought it was wonderful.
Soloway: Strangely and sadly, I had no idea who Chris Kraus was until I read about her in The New Yorker. In the 1990s, I must have been in the wrong place to know about the book. I almost felt like she was kept from us - like there was a conspiracy keeping me from knowing about her.
How was there a book called I Love Dick that I didn't know about?
How did you two actually meet?
Soloway: Eileen Myles is the secret alchemy here. When I was writing the character of Leslie (a beguiling and commanding lesbian poet, played by Cherry Jones) on Transparent, I was researching Eileen. Then I got the book and the introduction was by Eileen, so that was crazy.
Here was this person who I had a kind of crush on, but I hadn't met, but I knew I was going to meet and then here she was introducing this book. She was wrapping her arms around the material and helping me understand how important it was. By a month or so later, Eileen and I were dating and I asked her to introduce us.
What was your relationship like during the making of the show? Chris is credited as a consultant.
Kraus: I'm more of a spiritual godmother. I wasn't involved in a very hands-on way. I never wanted to be.
Soloway: For us, I Love Dick is not just about adapting the book, but about trying to record the feeling of what happens when you read the book. Chris is so comfortable with her desire and creativity that it shocks everyone who reads it into his own artistic awakening.
Kraus: One of my favourite things you did with the material is the episode where the three women in the ensemble write their own letters to Dick. It adapts the phenomenon of the book rather than the book itself.
I Love Dick is one of the most "selfie" books in contemporary fiction. A lot of people who have read the book said it has given them a certain freedom. The book has turned me into a motivational speaker in some way. You captured that.
Let's talk about Dick. The character in the book is so much a creation of Chris' mind. How do you go about casting a real person in that role?
Soloway: Of course it's Kevin Bacon. He's an icon who means something to people in a way that Kevin himself probably doesn't understand. He's Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. He's Dick too.
Jill, you've said that the show is about the female gaze. What does that look like to you?
Soloway: I don't necessarily know what the female gaze is, but I'm in the process of excavating it, just like a lot of women are.
It starts with an attempt to recognise how much being seen stops us from being.
I've also been thinking about defining a Heroine's Journey as a story that moves in spirals or circles, instead of the Hero's Journey, which is more of an arc. That's why this book was so exciting to me: Chris was falling backwards and spiraling down heroically. I felt like I was able to finally read the trajectory of someone who wasn't succeeding on male terms.
Were any man to look at this woman, he would say, "She's crazy... I don't like her". But when a woman reads the book, she says, "She's my hero, I am her, and the more they don't like me, the further this thing goes."
The show traded California for Marfa, Texas. Why?
Soloway: That was another Eileen Myles piece of magic. She was living in Marfa and we were still together when I was making the pilot.
She said, "You should shoot in Marfa." My thought was, "This is a crazy way to get me to come visit you."
Fifteen minutes after Eileen made the suggestion, I realised how brilliant it was. The town is a place where masculinity had been running rampant. We took Chris Kraus and threw her in.
Jill, when you started making I Love Dick, Transparent was already a huge success. But you still had to go through the Amazon pilot process before getting the full season greenlit. They didn't make Woody Allen do that. Why did you have to jump through that hoop again?
Soloway: One word: patriarchy.