And I started reading Jessa Crispin's Dead Ladies Project, and fell in love immediately. I mean, woman has mental breakdown, abandons her life and travels around Europe chasing the ghosts of dead lady artists, reconstructing what it means to have a meaningful life along the way? How could I resist?
Actually I fell in love before I even read the book; I came across an excerpt of the final chapter about surrealist artist Claude Cahun several weeks ago, a chapter that is also a little bit about Kathy Acker, as you will see.
Don't know who Cahun is? That's OK, almost nobody except people like me who spent way too many hours compulsively researching all the women Dadaist and Surrealist artists. (And, in a strange twist of fate, David Bowie, who called her a "cross-dressing Man Ray with surrealist tendencies" and curated a show of her work in 2007.) Not so hard; there weren't that many. But Cahun remains the most elusive. "[E]ven fifty years on she’s still the wild one, that after Cindy Sherman is turned into postcards and even my parents have seen the Marina Abramovic documentary, Cahun has not been incorporated." Cahun's gender-ambiguous name, and portraits, and art, have always held a special secret meaning to me. So I was ridiculously excited to read this essay -- and in the process, learn even more than I knew before about Cahun. "God save us all from identity politics. Cahun was exploding her identity, not defining it."
There are dead gentlemen in here too, notably William James. The book is also enhanced by the memories of my own small perambulations around Europe a couple decades ago, although I think Berlin is the only destination Crispin and I shared.
It's also a good opportunity to indulge in my fantasies of fleeing the country, which are rather complicated now by the inclusion of two biracial kids and a black spouse-to-be. Still, any place where the police force doesn't routinely carry guns around begins to look nicer and nicer as time goes by, just sayin'.