Unwrapping the Beef: What's Up With Feminists on the Internet Arguing About Chris Kraus?


What do we talk about when we talk about this Chris Kraus fighting that’s all up in your timeline? Why are perfectly average feminists getting XXL mad defending a writer from other feminists saying the writer sucks for defending an academic she barely knows from accusations of sexual harassment? Why are we even talking about this? I don’t know; I have never read Chris Kraus’s books though I have heard them discussed at length, and I don’t quite understand any of this, but it is our reality now, so consensually grab my hand and let’s figure it out together.

The gentlewoman’s disagreement, if you will, began August 19, when the author Chris Kraus wrote about Avital Ronell being accused of sexual harassment by former student Nimrod Reitman, on a website devoted entirely to defending Ronell. Before we dive into the substance of what she wrote, some context: Chris Kraus wrote I Love Dick, a feminist novel-turnt-Amazon series, and most recently, a biography of feminist performance artist Kathy Acker.

Avital Ronell’s case seems to be dividing important avatars of third-wave feminism (including Judith Butler) from some of their younger contemporaries, and Kraus’s piece was a reflection of that divide. Beginning with a disclaimer of sorts that she has “never studied” with Ronell, Kraus then explains that Reitman should have known that Ronell’s style of teaching would result in some of the behavior he accuses her of. Also, she invokes Knight Landesman, the former Artforum editor who resigned after being accused of sexual harassment:

The New York Times article stirred the most virulent anti-intellectual, anti-artistic sentiment, which people are always eager for an opportunity to display. Those outside this world don’t seem to realize that Reitman – or any Ph.D student at NYU – is hardly an innocent.
Avital’s style of pedagogy was no secret, and he sought her out. No one prevented him from changing advisors. Like those in the art world who attacked Knight Landesman, Reitman is an empowered and privileged actor. His feigned helplessness after the fact is transparent to anyone who cares to consider the situation.
I’m heartbroken that Avital Ronell has become the target of this ugly and hateful dishonesty.

As an impartial observer with no stake IN or OUT of Chris Kraus, it is my read that this statement is blaming the victim, a behavior in direct opposition to the ideals that writers like Kraus and Butler instilled unto us! Obviously, because the circumstances surrounding Ronell’s alleged behavior are not so cut-and-dry as, say, powerful billionaire Hollywood man abusing young actresses—both Ronell and Reitman are queer—it requires a fair bit of nuance when parsing out the structures that could have enabled them. For some feminists, though, Kraus is a tough one, because she is so respected as an intellectual and artist. And that, my dear friends, is where the beef began.

A joke tweet by the writer Kaitlin Phillips, referring to Dick Hebdige, the “Dick” of I Love Dick, and a retort by Ruth Curry, co-proprietor of the book imprint Emily Books:

The thing about Twitter is that you can tweet something on impulse and go about your day, eventually reaching a point in which you no longer care about that thing and may have even forgotten you tweeted it. However, because the tweet has been published, another person may read it, say, three hours later, and respond to you as though you still may care about the thing you tweeted, pulling you into a hypothetically endless drama about a topic in which you are only marginally invested in, at best. This is just an aside to tell you about something that happened to me today, and perhaps that happened to Kaitlin Phillips at some point this week, because the original tweet that everyone seems to be mad about may have been deleted. It seems to have involved one of Chris Kraus’s other jobs, the fact that she supports herself by purchasing and managing real estate in New Mexico.

At any rate, I’m glad I read this exchange because it led me to this blog post about neoliberal feminism. Moving on, Curry then crafted her own tweet about the criticism of Kraus, beseeching those doing so to “thank her for your writing career on line to board the Bad Take train.”

If that was unclear, Emily Gould—author, Emily Books coproprietor, former proprietor of an I Love Dick-related Tumblr and former editor of Jezebel’s former sister site Gawker—made a Venn Diagram in response to Phillips’s tweets (but NOT yours):

Finally, the journalist Melissa Gira Grant tweeted this beef’s denouement:

As they say when you reach the end of a Twitter Moments thread: That’s it!

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