A Lonely Girl Phenomenology

By | 3 February 2024

I am following a lineage of sad and lonely girls, women who diarised or even fictionalised their sadness, knowing that their words would be scorned by the men they loved, men whose so-called serious efforts were lauded and canonised, while their own projects were dismissed as personal, histrionic. I am infatuated with the hysterical, the abject, the ugly: I want to gaze upon my literary reflection. I am a Sad Girl, a Lonely Girl, not beyond reproach. I study my 2017-issued university ID, selfied between jags of tears. This photo reflects a girl who is writing herself a new life post-domestic violence. You can’t really blame her for being sad, sad, sad.

Chris Kraus was reeling from the rejection by the European festival circuit of her indie film Gravity & Grace – based on Philosopher of Sadness Simone Weil’s work – when in December 1994 she met cultural critic Dick Hebdige and developed a capital-C Crush on him. Once you accept the obscurity that comes with failure, Kraus writes, ‘you may as well do what you want’. You may as well fuck shit up. When a feminist’s work is dismissed by tastemakers (aka patriarchy) the next best thing is to revel in one’s debasement.

In Kraus’s autofictional I Love Dick she cannibalises her Dick-lust for autoethnography’s sake, gutting her emotions, opening herself to ridicule by penning hundreds of pages of love letters to Dick. Repurposing life as art in the diaristic style of gonzo journalism or cinéma verité, the writer/filmmaker is made visible: she will not be erased. I Love Dick oscillates between second-person epistolary address and third person, ‘the person most girls use when they want to talk about themselves but don’t think anyone will listen’. Kraus cites Hannah Wilke’s provocation: ‘If women have failed to make ‘universal’ art because we’re trapped within the ‘personal,’ why not universalize the ‘personal’ and make it the subject of art?’.

Dick isn’t ever going to listen to what Kraus has to say, so she pivots: ‘‘Dear Dick’’, she writes, ‘‘I guess in a sense I’ve killed you. You’ve become Dear Diary …’’. It is clear that Dick never mattered, he was only ever a construct which allowed the vertical pronoun to stand. Dear Dick is Dear Diary is DD: an interchangeable audience. Kraus makes a promise ‘(to herself? to Dick?)’ to write every day: ‘The diary begins: Dear Dick’. At one stage, Kraus replaces Dick with an orange candle because Dick wasn’t listening, no one was listening, and Kraus felt ‘completely illegitimate’.

Kraus is ‘moved in writing to be irrepressible’ as revolutionary action: a ‘paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive’ woman who dares to talk, to exist, in public view. The unrelenting rejection of her one-sided longing (aside from a pathetic fuck-fest that reeks of Dick’s ambivalence, with Kraus literally cast as lapdog) serves as self-immolation on behalf of all the Lonely Girls. Kraus looks back to her 24- or 25-year-old self who diagrammed George Eliot in relation to Ulrike Meinhof and Merleau-Ponty and calls that secret writing which had no audience, which is also the writing channelled by her 39-year-old protagonist ‘Chris Kraus’, a Lonely Girl Phenomenology.

Phenomenology is a philosophy that studies the experience of things from a first-person perspective. A Lonely Girl Phenomenology diarises the lived experiences of one for whom the world returns no love because it never was a world intended for her benefit.

Just before Kraus met Dick,

For three weeks I’d been bursting into tears so often it became a phenomenological question: at what point should we still say ‘crying’ or instead describe the moments of ‘not-crying’ as punctuation marks in a constant state of tears?

Kraus’s Gravity & Grace was unloved, she was a failure and Dick, who might as well have been a candle, fell into this vortex of sadness. Kraus knew that Dick had become a stand-in for the elite boys’ club which dictates who gets to speak and be heard. Kraus demands that Dick witness her becoming a ‘crazy and cerebral girl, the kind of girl that you and your entire generation vilified’. Kraus writes that the act of witnessing makes Dick complicit. Observing suffering requires agency: doing nothing implies a choice.

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