Cutting Remarks | The Nation


Cutting Remarks

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Warhol survived, and Solanas went to jail for three years. In the 1970s, she was in and out of psychiatric wards. In the 1980s, she continued to live a marginal life, nursing a drug problem and supporting herself with prostitution. She died of emphysema and pneumonia in 1988, either in a hotel in San Francisco's Tenderloin district or in a welfare hospital, again depending on the source.

About the Author

Claire Dederer
Claire Dederer, who lives in Seattle, writes frequently for the New York Times Book Review.

Also by the Author

In his 1997 song "Highlands," Bob Dylan reports a conversation between
himself and a waitress. "She says, You don't read women authors, do

The SCUM Manifesto, on the other hand, went on to bigger and better things. In 1968 Girodias published it with a commentary by Realist publisher Paul Krassner. Feminist-movement leaders like Florynce Kennedy, Ti-Grace Atkinson and Robin Morgan hailed Solanas as an important new voice. In 1970 Morgan included the Manifesto in her influential anthology Sisterhood Is Powerful. Girodias published it twice more, in 1970 and 1971. In 1977 Solanas, freaked out by minor edits made by Girodias, self-published "the CORRECT Valerie Solanas edition." In 1983 the Matriarchy Study Group in London brought it out, and it was published a few more times by small presses throughout the 1990s. (San Francisco-based AK Press put out an edition in 1996 with a terrific afterword by the artist Freddie Baer, from which much of the biographical information in this article is taken.)

Now Verso has published a top-of-the-line, sexy new edition, begging the question: Why the SCUM Manifesto, now? Possibly because Solanas's crazed rage doesn't look so crazed anymore. These days, SCUM is no longer scummy. SCUM is transgressive, queer, other-identified. SCUM has its own learned journals, its own coffeehouses, its own university departments, its own bands and movies. The cultural critic B. Ruby Rich noted Solanas's burgeoning relevance in her 1993 essay "Manifesto Destiny," which ran in the Voice Literary Supplement. "The 90s is the decade of the Riot Grrrls, the Lesbian Avengers, Thelma and Louise, the Aileen Wuornos case, and Lorena Bobbitt," she wrote. "There's something intensely contemporary about Solanas, not just in her act but in her text as well."

Was Solanas a harbinger, even an early cause, of this flowering of female rage and queer empowerment? Does she merit some kind of elevated status as the mother of transgression? Verso's gorgeous new edition seems to answer yes. The slim, hardbound volume, with its elegant matte black cover, lends her manifesto a canonical gravitas. She's given the full theory treatment in an introduction by Avital Ronell, a professor of German and comparative literature at New York University whose previous academic titles include Crack Wars and Stupidity. Even the typeface is beautifully designed. Verso's SCUM Manifesto is a chic little object.

At her arraignment for the Warhol shootings, a clamoring pack of reporters surrounded Solanas. "Read my manifesto," she said to the crowd. "It will tell you who I am." Her words eerily conjure the problem for those of us intrigued by Solanas. Does the manifesto justify the shooting? Or does the shooting vindicate the manuscript? Is she the manifesto? Or is she the shooting? Text or action? Word or woman?

Of course, we'll never be able to answer these questions, because we can never encounter the manifesto without the shooting. We would probably still read Ariel and The Bell Jar if Sylvia Plath had not killed herself, but would they mean the same thing? We can never know.

The Plath connection is hardly coincidental. A question nagged at me as I read the SCUM Manifesto: What if Sylvia Plath had shot Ted Hughes instead of gassing herself? How would we read her work? Would we still dream of her as a beautiful woman? In the 2003 biopic, Plath was played by the radiant Gwyneth Paltrow. Solanas, on the other hand, was portrayed in I Shot Andy Warhol by Lili Taylor, an actress who has played ugly in many films. (I ran into Taylor once at the Mallory Hotel in Portland, Oregon, and she was heart-stoppingly beautiful in real life. But that's another essay.)

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