ART DOES (NOT!) EXIST by Rosalyn Drexler


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There must be a reason why stridently feminist fiction falls into two camps: realist novels-of-manners that owe their inspiration to Jane Austen and the tradition she belongs to; and bohemian experimental train wrecks like Drexler's latest. After a couple of books from major publishers in the late '70s and early '80s (Starburn; Bad Guy), Drexler appears to have retreated to the academic fringe for this dialogue-intensive yarn narrated by Julia Maraini, a flip, glib, impoverished young video artist loping across the Manhattan art world's weird landscape, struggling to get an NEA grant so she can continue to work. The book is funny in a willfully absurd sort of way: Julia must contend with vaguely predatory landlords, sexually deviant Brazilian industrialists, a deranged husband, ditzy curators, dependent friends, and a couple of oddly named cops--Detective Flamingo and Detective Palm Trees--who keep showing up, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to interrogate and accuse. When Julia discovers a pair of skeletons in her garbage, she incorporates them into her ongoing video project, interviewing them with a supply of Beckettesque dialogue. The tape of these morbid proceedings disappears, only to return as a snuff flick starring the Brazilian industrialist, who has been writing letters to Julia describing his debauched exploits with cows and his daughter-in-law. All of this may be suitably kooky, but it's also mostly unreadable; unlike other American writers, among them Paul Auster, who cleave to witless, cloyingly hip European models for fiction, Drexler at least understands that surrealism isn't supposed to come with a moral, though she appears not to grasp that it requires a supreme clown to make it lively. Roaming the general Kathy Acker neighborhood, this protypically overhip novel will try the patience of even the most ardent enemy of conventional, patriarchal storytelling.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 187pp
Publisher: FC2--dist. by Northwestern