Synopses & Reviews
"Sylvie wanted to believe that misery could simply be replaced with happiness. Time was a straight line, stretching out before you. If you could create a golden kind of time and lay it right beside the other time, the time of horror, Bad History could just recede into the distance without ever having to be resolved." from Torpor
Set at the dawn of the New World Order, Chris Kraus's third novel, Torpor loops back to the beginning of the decade that was the basis of I Love Dick, her pseudo-confessional cult-classic debut. It's summer, 1991, post-MTV, pre-AOL. Jerome Shafir and Sylvie Green, two former New Yorkers who can no longer afford an East Village apartment, set off on a journey across the entire former Soviet Bloc with the specious aim of adopting a Romanian orphan. Nirvana's on the radio everywhere, and wars are erupting across Yugoslavia. Unhappily married to Jerome, a 53-year-old Columbia University professor who loathes academe, Sylvie thinks only of happiness. At 35, she dreams of stuffed bears and wonders why their lives lack the tremulous sincerity that pervades thirtysomething, that season's hot new TV show. There are only two things, Sylvie thinks, that will save them: a child of their own, and the success of The Anthropology of Unhappiness, her husband's long-postponed book on the Holocaust. But as they move forward toward impoverished Romania, Jerome's memories of his father's extermination at Auschwitz and his own childhood survival impede them. Savagely ironic and deeply lyrical, Torpor explores the swirling mix of nationalisms, capital flows and negative entropy that define the present, haunted by the persistence of historical memory. Written in the thirdperson, it is her most personal novel to date.
"While it's being billed as a novel almost certainly for legal reasons this is actually the third installment in Kraus's series of memoirs, begun momentously with I Love Dick (1997) and followed up in Aliens and Anorexia (2000). Kraus's estranged husband, Sylvre Lotringer, is a Columbia French professor and the founder, with Kraus, of Semiotext(e): he figures prominently in all three books; here, the two are named Sylvie Green and Jerome Shafir, respectively. Kraus's third-person narrative seems coy compared with the too-close-for-comfort first-person of the two previous books, but her opening tales of Sylvie's desire for a child and of Jerome's initial unwillingness to parent with her (she has two abortions at his behest) are wrenching. Eventually, in 1991, the two haplessly take a trip to Romania to adopt an orphan. The trip is the book's center, and Sylvie fugues around it brilliantly, ruminating on art and the art world, sex and sexism, marriage and children, Judaism and the Holocaust, urbanism and ruralism as all relate to her life as a perennial outsider. Kraus, whose writing about the L.A. art scene was collected as Video Green (2004), is an underrated thinker and critic; her books form a compelling record of recent art and culture, and make substantial contribution to both." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Torpor is a brilliant, funny, and moving novel about the failure of a marriage and the moral vacuum created by the global 'success' of contemporary American culture." Rain Taxi
"Chris Kraus combines fiction, autobiography and criticism in ways that are as funny and provocative as her titles (Aliens and Anorexia, for example)." Los Angeles Times Book Review
"I've read all of her books. Chris Kraus is a great writer." Michael Tolkin, author of Among the Dead
"Chris, and her generation of feminist theoreticians...did much more to embody the possibilities that were made possible by May 1968 and the critical writing of Tel Quel, etc., than the men who staked out all the early positions before succumbing to tenure." Rick Moody
"Chris Kraus believes in 'subliminal cross-referencing' of times and cultures and describes it in a lively and highly entertaining language free of unnecessary academic musings." American Book Review
A novel set in 1991, post-MTV, pre-AOL: Sylvie, longing for a life more like the TV show thirtysomething, sets off with her husband, Columbia University professor Jerome, to Romania to adopt a child.
About the Author
Chris Kraus is a filmmaker and the author of I Love Dick and Aliens & Anorexia, and coeditor of Hatred of Capitalism: A Semiotext(e) Reader. Index called her "one of the most subversive voices in American fiction." Her work has been praised for its damning intelligence, vulnerability and dazzling speed.