Saturday, September 21, 2013

The fine line between crazy and inspired

The Scum Manifesto

By Valerie Solanas

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There is a fine line behind crazy and inspired. There is also a fine line between crazy and genius but Valerie Solanas was no genius. For that matter, she probably wasn't crazy. At least, not at first. She was a very troubled woman damaged by child molestation and abuse. She appeared to have had volatile relationships with others, letting them in then turning against them when they turned out to be flawed humans. This defense mechanism had tragic consequences for both her and Andy Warhol, who she shot. While not killed, Warhol was left in a condition of severe physical and emotional damage with physical effects that finally killed him. Solanas' SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto, which was written before she shot Warhol, is the only other thing for which she shall be remembered. Most of her other writings were either unfinished or lost (which brings up the possibility that when she accused Warhol of stealing the only copy of her play Up Your Ass, she may have not been technically paranoid as this play was found with Warhol's other possessions after his death). As strange and repulsive this manifesto may be, it does attest to the fact that Solanas was a powerful writer. It is at the same time a vicious sexist rant and a crafty socio-political satire. If you are at all open when you read it you will shake your head at the ridiculousness of it but almost think, "I can see where this is coming from." Personally, as a man, I'm glad no one took this seriously, But I also understand this was written at a time when feminism was striving while the predominantly white male power structure continued to be in control and I can understand Solanas' frustration. It is pretty obvious that Solanas herself didn't take her manifest literally as she would admit to it in her more lucid moments...

"It's hypothetical. No, Hypothetical is the wrong word. It's just a literary device. There's no organization called SCUM...It's not even me...I mean, I thought of it as a state of mind.In other words. women who a certain way are SCUM. Men who think a certain way are in the men's auxiliary of SCUM.

If the SCUM Manifesto has a lasting philosophy: it is that sometimes things are so unbearable that we can not just "drop out" or ignore. It need to be confronted. Solanas states in the manifesto, "Dropping out is not the answer. Fucking up is." The SCUM Manifesto was Solanas' way of fucking up. I suspect the work was a cathartic move for Solanas. But it was not a healing one. Solanas spent most of her time afterward in mental hospitals, dying destitute in a welfare hotel. It's unfortunate we have little else to go on to assess her talent. Her brief improvisatory bit in Warhol's film, I, a Man shows that she had a sharp if rough-edged wit. Those who have read or seen her play, Up Your Ass describe it as obscene but impressive. But the SCUM Manifesto remains her most lasting work and an important document of Radical Feminism and over-the-top social observation.

Note: I was given a review copy of The SCUM Manifesto that is published by AK Press who, being an anarchist publishing company, may or may not agree with my assessment. The edition also contains an insightful introduction by Michelle Tea and a concise biography of Valerie Solanas in the afterword.

Method Acquired: Goodreads Firstreads

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