- Still Angry after All These Years, or Valerie Solanas under Your Skin
"Every man, deep down, knows he's a worthless piece of shit."—Valerie Solanas1
On 30 April 1988, the body of Valerie Solanas was found at the Bristol Hotel, the single-room occupancy in the Tenderloin District in central San Francisco. According to the terse police report, she was kneeling beside the bed in a tidy room with her manuscripts in proper order on her desk. The report goes on to state that Solanas had died around 25 April and that cadaverous worms had invaded her body. The hotel staff had seen her writing at her desk a few weeks earlier.
The image of the neat room with piles of manuscripts and the dead body of Solanas fascinated Sara Stridsberg, a Swedish playwright and novelist who was born in 1972. She decided to find out who Solanas was in the same manner that Isabelle Collin Dufresne, alias Ultra Violet, one of Andy Warhol's superstars, once did. Ultra Violet telephoned people who had known Solanas during the 1960s. Only a few of them were still alive and they warned Ultra Violet about Solanas. "She is dangerous," they said.2
Stridsberg was thrilled by everything she found out. She literally got Solanas under her skin, embarking on a three-year project (2003-06) that started with a translation of Solanas's 1968 S.C.U.M. Manifesto into Swedish and included the novel Dream Faculty: An Addition to the Theory of Sexuality (2006), which is about Solanas, and the play Valerie Jean Solanas for President of America (2006). This forum essay discusses Stridsberg's revisiting of Solanas's anger as a feminist response to the injustice of sexism and homophobia and to envision a future loaded with feminist energy. [End Page 529]
Characteristic of Stridsberg's work is the way she portrays her heroines when they are in a most vulnerable and deplorable state, but maintaining dignity against all odds. In Valerie Jean Solanas for President of America, Stridsberg tells the story of Solanas's wounded childhood, how she sold her body to finance her studies in psychology, why she shot Andy Warhol, and her death in the hotel room in San Francisco. Stridsberg also translated Solanas's S.C.U.M. Manifesto into Swedish in 2003 and provided a very long introduction. S.C.U.M. stands for Society for Cutting Up Men, a fictitious organization whose founder and only member was Solanas. The Swedish version of the S.C.U.M. Manifesto was performed by a chorus of angry women reciting it in the form of political agitation. When Stridsberg (fig. 1) planned the public reading of the S.C.U.M. Manifesto in 2003 in Stockholm, she contacted a number of women she thought embodied some of Solanas's qualities. The actress Ingela Olsson, who later performed Solanas (fig. 2), was one of them. Olsson and others who participated in the event had heard of the S.C.U.M. Manifesto, but they had never read it. They were, however, fascinated by the text, finding in it a special energy that emerges from the paradox of a person living on the streets and at the same time producing such a work.
Stridsberg knew the S.C.U.M. Manifesto by heart. She had laughed and cried over this irresistibly wild and crazy satire of the patriarchy that did not resemble anything by any feminist she had ever read before. Its language is harsh, its ideals completely out of reach. The wild and intense voice of the manifesto does not adhere to any consensus regarding rhetoric, politics, art, philosophy, or the future. It is a fantastically desperate and euphorically mad text. According to Stridsberg, the S.C.U.M. Manifesto is all about poetry, not politics in the traditional sense of the word; she places Solanas in the same tradition as Sylvia Plath, Courtney Love, Gertrude Stein, Yoko Ono, Billie Holiday, and Tracey Emin.
Writing about Solanas was, for Stridsberg, a way of communicating with the woman who had written the wildest utopia ever. She created a dance macabre of Solanas's childhood...