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MORAL ACTS: Valerie Solanas and Official Discourses on Violent Queerness

MORAL ACTS: Valerie Solanas and Official Discourses on Violent Queerness

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Published by: soareyoubaby on May 12, 2010
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06/30/2012

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Moral Acts:
 Valerie Solanas and Official Discourses on Violent Queerness
1
 
Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation,and destroy the male sex.
 Valerie Solanas,
SCUM Manifesto
 
1610s, from L. hystericus “of the womb,” from Gk. hysterikos “of the womb, suffering in the womb,” from hystera “womb”. Originally defined as a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus. Meaning “very funny” (by 1939) is from the notion of uncontrollable fits of laughter.
Etymology of ‘Hysterical’
3
 
 
2 Valerie Solanas exists at the intersection of seemingly infinite social problems. Women are aproblem. Lesbians are a problem. Violence is a problem. Madness is a problem. Poverty, sex work,irony, dystopia, radicalism, attempted murder: they are all problems. The woman who shot Andy  Warhol—as she will probably always be known—challenges everything we want to read into her. The details of her life are infinitely unclear; her manuscripts and correspondences are difficult tocome by, and the published writing about her has mostly been unkind. Scholars of Solanas (or Valerie, as journalists and academics alike seem to call her, sometimes affectionately and sometimesderisively), for many reasons, are few. She did not write much, and what she did write survivesmostly through digs at exemplary insanity: get a load of 
this 
chick. Her brilliantly inflammatory 
SCUM Manifesto
is canonical, farcical. She is the latest in a long line of madwomen, whoseunsanctioned use of violence and unnerving refusal to step back or apologize for anything she didinstantly marks her as deranged. The time she spent in prison and mental institutions certainly donot help to wrest her from the clutches of discursive madness, and because we keep saying she was“crazy,” she always already is. Her
 Manifesto
is a laugh. Rarely does anyone deign to engage with her work critically (and this body of work is woefully incomplete, its remnants either held in personalcollections or completely lost).
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Valerie is lost in our assumptions about her, buried by the samethings that kept her infamous while she was alive.Solanas was born on April 9, 1936 to a working-class family in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Accounts of her childhood and adolescence are sparse, gathered mostly by Diane Tucker and Mary Harron
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, during research for Harron’s nascent (then-documentary) biopic about Solanas’ life.Indeed, reading Harron’s introduction to she and Daniel Minahan’s screenplay 
I Shot Andy Warhol 
,elicits jealousy from those attempting to wrest a fuller idea of Solanas from the archives; Harron and Tucker were able to access rare, private psychiatric records from her stay at Bellevue after Warhol’sshooting, documents from Solanas’ time at University of Maryland, not to mention numerousinterviews with people who knew Valerie. This paper deals with the scant I was able to recover:scattered newspaper articles following the shooting and a handful of legal documents regarding Solanas’ arrest and sentencing at 100 Centre Street in Manhattan.Many archives that would seem relevant to Solanas’ life and times seemed devoid of Solanasexcept in her manifesto: they held the
SCUM Manifesto
with all the questions it raises, but none of the notes on Solanas’ existence that might begin to answer those questions. Searches of archivesavailable on the internet were no better: copies of the manifesto and reviews of Harron’s film wereall that seemed readily available; some digging produced a much-quoted 1977 interview that Solanas
 
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gave and a few wire articles about the initial shooting. Few academics or historians of feminismseemed able to engage with the
 Manifesto
on its own terms, without assertions of Solanas’ insanity ora simplistic reading of Warhol’s shooting (e.g., he was famous; she was crazy) looming over Solanas’carefully constructed text. Even in the popular 1996 AK Press edition of the
 Manifesto
or in Verso’s2004 reissue of the text, biographical explanations of Solanas’ actions in introductions and post-scripts invite readers to equate the two without fully understanding either. Solanas is famously quoted as explaining her shooting Warhol with “He had too much control over my life…read my manifesto and it will tell you who I am,”
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:she did not mean for us to read the two without eachother. She did, however, expect a full willingness for spectators to meet with both on their ownspecific terms, complicated and repellent as they may be.From shooting to manifesto and back again, the picture of Solanas that is handed down tous from liberal feminists and misogynists hiding behind Valerie’s alleged madness demands to becomplicated. Solanas would not want us to remember her for “pushing the envelope” for second- wave feminism; or as a figure who is always already man-hating and psychotic (as indeed media inthe late sixties were wont to declare her).
SCUM 
is about overthrowing capitalism as much as it isabout eliminating men (even to read it as baldly as to assume that Solanas’ deployment of “men” inthe text is literal is perhaps doing her an injustice).
SCUM 
is rhetorically masterful, informed by yearsof study at the University of Maryland and elsewhere; it is certainly not the lunatic scribblings of someone the State declares “psychotic.”
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And what if it was? To what extent are modern readers willing to engage with Solanas on her own terms, ironic and nasty as they we perceive them to be? Why are details of Solanas’ personal life so inextricable from her theory—in a way that the skeletonsin other authors’ closets never are?It comes back, of course, to the shooting. But even this can be troubled when onedenaturalizes a politic dependent on nonviolence. Life under capitalist patriarchy is imbued with violence for women, for the working class, for people of color, and always for people dedicated touprooting that system. Biographical accounts of Solanas reveal a familiar resentment—she is calledcynical, sarcastic
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, derisive, and tough
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 —doubtless from constantly being forced to engage withpeople who had it infinitely easier than her for no reason at all. Harron insightfully notes that Warhol saw himself in Solanas:
“both were Catholic, born into blue-collar families; had spent their childhood inpoverty; were intellectually precocious; and had experienced being tormented atschool. Perhaps most important, both claimed to have rejected sex, although fordifferent reasons…”
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