Kissing Dead Girls

by Lorraine Berry, , May 21, 2008

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Kissing Dead Girls Daphne Gottlieb 2008: Soft Skull Press, Boston

I have never thought that post-modernism/post-structuralism/Lacanian analysis is sexy: I love words, but jargon is a turn-off. Secret languages whispered in the ear of your lover, especially at the moment of climax, are hot. Reading through convoluted arguments that try to attain a political relevance when they are inaccessible to all but the chosen few with advanced university degrees long ago lost its romance.

Kissing Dead Girls somehow makes postfeminist theory incredibly sexy. Each of the 68 pieces in Daphne Gottlieb’s path-breaking collection imagines an erotic relationship with deceased girls—famous women who are no longer of this earth. And in so doing, she manages to interrogate language, the cult of celebrity, and the fact that in American culture, at least, there’s an eternal fascination with dead women.

Which means the text is full of deaths, absences. Look into the abbess and who looks back? The text is full of deaths, absences. Holes. Girls. They’re that nothing. And if you peep through them? There are the dead boys, pressed right up against the other side of the page.

The structure of the book is that Gottlieb offers either flash fiction or a poem imagining an erotic relationship with an icon.

Of Marilyn Monroe:
We are both girls, true, but it’s like saying that a nectarine and a watermelon are both fruit. She’s a little tart rolling over the tongue, creamy; I crumble in the mouth, wet and rough.

Freud’s Dora:
Pandora, light of my life, my pale fire, my Promethean paradise lost. My sin, my soul. Her name is legion, that she is many, but it’s Pandora. Pan-door-aaaah: the pucker of the lips pursed for a kiss, the mouth’s moan of pleasure, the relief of the soft sigh of breath, the release of a kiss. Pan. Door. Ah.

The women that Gottlieb imagines her relationships with are not all traditional sex symbols—they range from Harriet Tubman to Karen Carpenter, Josephine Baker to Anne Frank. No doubt, some of her choices will offend certain readers, but I found each piece provocative. In each piece, these women’s humanity was preserved. Rather than being preserved in virginal amber (or perpetual whoredom), Kissing Dead Girls restores to each of its subjects a complex sexuality, a full participation in the human condition.

Kissing Dead Girls is an erotic triumph.

Lorraine Berry is Project Director for NeoVox

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