By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
She thus liberates herself to jump from the German journalist-cum-terrorist Ulrike Meinhof, to Weil, to her miserable attempts to find a buyer for her film at the Berlin Film Festival, to New Zealand in the 1980s, to the Great Disappointment of 1844, when the Apocalypse, as it so often does, failed to arrive as scheduled. Onward to pages on conceptual artist Paul Thek, letters to Walter Benjamin about an acid trip in Morro Bay, a long-distance SM phone-sex relationship, and the misogynistic assumptions of writing about anorexia, even by feminists. Kraus interprets this last as “a psychic-intellectual equation between a culture’s food and the entire social order,” and thus as “an active stance: the rejection of the cynicism that this culture hands us through its food.”
Intriguing as they are, some of Kraus‘ theories end up feeling underdeveloped -- lost, in part, in the whirlwind. But there are more ideas on every page of Aliens & Anorexia than in most books published in the last year. It is an exciting and courageous work.
No greater contrast could be found than Christopher Isherwood’s Lost Years. In I Love Dick, Kraus attacked “the ‘serious’ contemporary hetero-male novel” -- in which the protagonist is a stand-in for the authorial ego and the supporting characters are his friends and lovers, their names and “insignificant features of their identities” disguised -- as “a thinly veiled Story of Me, as voraciously consumptive as all of patriarchy.” Though Isherwood was famously, even heroically, not hetero, Kraus‘ words could easily describe his fiction, which often starred a character named Christopher Isherwood interacting with camouflaged but easily recognizable contemporaries. Isherwood added to this body of autobiographical fiction several volumes of out-and-out memoir, including more than 1,000 pages of diary entries. Fourteen years after his death, the publication of his oeuvre is complete with the release of Lost Years, the product of Isherwood’s attempt in the 1970s to reconstruct the period from 1945 to 1951 (during which he did not keep a daily journal) on the basis of his correspondence and skeletal day-to-day diaries.
What‘s curious about this volume is that for all Isherwood’s obsessive attempts to re-create his daily doings -- whom he dined with, whom he slept with, who complimented his looks, work and sexual prowess -- he seems thoroughly uninterested in analyzing his motivations in any but the most superficial manner. Lost Years is somewhat jarringly written in the third person, as if Isherwood the elder were researching a biography of his younger self (“Did Christopher rent a car until his return? I don‘t think he did.”). He explains that “This helps me overcome my inhibitions, avoid self-excuses and regard my past behavior more objectively.”
It’s that very objectivity, the flatness and apparent lack of curiosity about its subject, that makes this work so strange. Lost Years is nonetheless frequently entertaining. It‘s filled with bitchy gossip and amusing stories, such as the “alleged peeing incident” that Isherwood returns to time and again: Charlie Chaplin stopped inviting him to parties after Isherwood passed out and pissed himself on Chaplin’s couch. “Personally,” Isherwood looks back, “I‘m pretty sure that Christopher was innocent.”
But for all the illustrious names in these pages -- W.H. Auden, E.M. Forster, Stephen Spender -- there’s very little that brings the cast to life. It‘s hard not to sympathize with Isherwood when he writes, “I am inclined to feel irritated by Christopher, because the memories he has chosen to pass down to me are chiefly compliments paid him, of sex encounters and suchlike, while his meetings with (so-called) valued friends seem to have left only faint impressions.” He concludes, “Of course, Christopher himself must have been doing much of the talking.”
There is far more insight into character in Stars in My Eyes, the new book by Isherwood’s longtime lover Don Bachardy. The book collects Bachardy‘s somewhat creepy drawings, largely ofaging celebrities, joined by essays culled from his diary entries about the sittings. Bachardy has a sharp eye for nuances of character, particularly as expressed in subtle physical and gestural details, that comes across as much in his writing as in his portraits. He largely erases himself from his accounts, letting his subjects display themselves in full force, from a tough and lonely Bette Davis, to an imperious Ginger Rogers, to a fiery but faded Louise Brooks, who, peeing with the door open, impressed Bachardy with her no-nonsense ways by letting out a small but dignified fart.