I Must Be Living Twice

The final part of this week's Culture Digest looks at two recently reissued books by Eileen Myles

As the US presidential election turns its sceptical gaze on the question of whether a woman’s body can withstand the role, it’s worth thinking back to 1992, when the poet, critic and performer Eileen Myles ran as an ‘openly female’ candidate. Myles promised voters ‘a moody campaign’ which, in contrast to the emotionless, grimly determined face presented by all the male candidates, wouldn’t attempt to hide any bodily realities: fear, vulnerability, uncertainty, PMS. Campaigning in response to George H.W. Bush’s comment that the greatest threat to free speech was posed by the ‘politically correct’ – or, as Myles countered in her campaign leaflets, ‘members of ACT-UP, victims of bias crimes: women, homosexuals, ethnic and racial minorities. He would like them to shut up’ – she turned all her subsequent poetry performances into explicitly political events. Among her policies were promises to write all her own speeches (Bush’s remarks came courtesy of a speechwriter), abolish income tax, not live in the White House while there was still homelessness in America, and to guarantee healthcare for all Americans within 90 days of her election (‘She needs it too!’).

Myles’s presidential campaign, whether viewed as art or activism (or a blend of both), can be read like her work: it exhibits the playful blurring of boundaries between fiction and reality, the subversive public presentation of the private, abject self, and a tone of cheerful openness twinged with the surreal. Myles’s novel-memoir Chelsea Girls, written between 1980 and 1993 and recently reissued, is a thrilling experiment in self-construction. Written in non-chronological chapters, like short stories or snapshots, Chelsea Girls constructs a mosaic-like impression of Myles’s life through a series of ‘dreamy messy evanescent experiences’: the death of her father from alcoholism, book parties and early sexual experiments (‘We placed a basket of grapes next to the couch. I have always been dedicated to beauty’), altercations with police and ex-girlfriends, hung-over mornings spent beneath a haze of coffee and cigarettes, slouching to the pharmacy to buy tampons with the money from a tax rebate. Beyond the story of a single experience, Chelsea Girls explores what it is ‘to be female and strange and to want art so much and be drunk and high’. The verve and yearning of its narrative compound Myles’s own words in her poem ‘For Jordana’, included in her collection I Must Be Living Twice: ‘I think writing/is desire/not a form/of it.’

Click here to watch 'A Poet in the Art World, an original frieze video interview with Myles about her life, her relationship to art and artists, and her recent global recognition

Eileen Myles, Chelsea Girls and I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems 1975-2014  are published by Serpent’s Tail

Francesca Wade is a freelance writer and senior editor of The White Review. Her writing has appeared in the London Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement and Financial Times, amongst other places. She is currently working on a book about Mecklenburgh Square, which will be published by Faber & Faber in 2018.

Most Read

A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018