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In 1979, while still a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, I served as a research assistant to Professor Peter Selz, then in the process of writing Art in Our Times: A Pictorial History, 1890–1980.[4] Selz kindly entrusted me to make some of the selections for the book since my dissertation research focused on happenings, Fluxus, and body art. One of my choices was Carolee Schneemann, an artist whose work I knew only through texts and illustrations. When Selz initially objected to including Schneemann in his book, I threatened to resign. He graciously acceded and authorized me to write to the artist, requesting an illustration. She responded enthusiastically and later made a point of stating that she realized that as a woman I had been instrumental in her inclusion in the book.

One might imagine, then, that a shared feminism had something to do with my selecting Schneemann for Selz's book. But it did not. At that time, I did not identify with feminism, having been disappointed by the elitism of a clique of art-world feminists in California at that time. I chose Schneemann simply because her work was visually powerful and indispensable for understanding the medium of live, presentational art. Her undeniable originality was clear even if one saw only photographic documents of her happening Meat Joy (1964) or her performance Interior Scroll (1975).[5] As visual images alone, these two works have the power to challenge concepts of the nature of visual art, art history, the institutions of art, art practice, and, certainly, how one might live one's life as a woman. In addition, Schneemann's book More Than Meat Joy had appeared in 1979, providing more access to her performances and to her aesthetic theories.[6]

Schneemann and I quickly became friends after meeting in 1980. I soon realized that to foster that friendship I had to maintain my distance professionally. And I did, waiting to write about her for over a decade. Why? It was more important to become her friend than to advance my career through my close relationship to her. I also recognized that I needed to mature as an art historian in order to grapple with the complexity of her art and its art historical and cultural contexts. Since I was a student when we met, and she an internationally recognized artist, the transition into friendship, although swift, was not fluid. Friendship required that we treat each other as equals, a process made all the more onerous by my being the art historian and her being the

artist. Professionally, I was the one expected to attend to her. So I demanded the same attention to my life as I paid to hers. She always returned it, generously. Nevertheless, this period of waiting to fulfill our professional relationship strained our friendship at times, especially as I increasingly wrote about her peers. Eventually, our friendship created the trust that enabled the privilege and enormous responsibility of editing Correspondence Course, even though, paradoxically, my access to the intimate material of Schneemann's life emerged from what I shall describe as a betrayal.

In the spring of 1994, Bonnie Marranca, coeditor of Performing Arts Journal, commissioned me to edit a book on Carolee Schneemann for the new “Art + Performance” series she and her husband, Gautam Dasgupta, had launched as part of their PAJ Books, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. The series would contain volumes on Rachel Rosenthal, Meredith Monk, and other important figures in performance art.[7] All the books in the series were to be composed of interviews with the artist, selected writings on the artist by critics, selected writings by the artist, illustrations of selected works, a bibliography, and a six-thousand-word introduction by the editor. Marranca's invitation could not have come at a more opportune moment, for I was up for tenure at Duke University. Moreover, both Carolee and I had been eager to undertake a project together, and I thought the book would be fun and easy to finish quickly. Carolee gave the project her blessings. I signed the contract, put the forthcoming book on my curriculum vitae, and immediately spent the small advance I received. A couple of weeks later, Carolee informed Marranca and me that another author had just received a contract from MIT University Press for another edited book of her writings. Although I was upset and felt that my project had been undermined and used for leverage to get the MIT contract, Carolee assured us that the two books were very different.

So that summer I traveled, at my own expense, to visit Carolee and begin work on the book. Carolee picked me up at the airport. We drove amicably to her home through the two-lane rural roads, admiring the flowering countryside until we spotted a huge white rabbit dead in the middle of the road. Carolee stopped the car and pulled the corpse off the road. Given the inauspicious beginning of the project, the beautiful dead animal seemed a very negative portent to me. And it was. Once settled in her home, I asked to see the prospectus for the MIT book, which clearly overlapped with my project in a way that rendered

one or the other redundant. I accused Carolee of betraying and manipulating me into a situation of writing about her. In tears, I explained that I now found myself in an impossible situation from which I could not easily extricate myself, one that was potentially dangerous given my upcoming tenure decision. I was angry and frightened and persisted in confronting Carolee with what I perceived to be her contrivance and duplicity. Initially she feigned misunderstanding and then the “inability to think just now.” She wanted to “take a nap.” I refused to let her go, haranguing her about my situation. Finally, she admitted that she had not been forthright. Then with a smile and a wave of her hand she said, “But there's enough to go around; look around, you'll find something to write about!”

What did I do? I looked around. I found boxes lined up of her voluminous correspondence in preparation for its possible purchase by the Getty Research Institute. When I first sat down to read the letters, I had not conceived of editing a book of her correspondence or of even writing about her writing. I was trying to pull myself together, get some ideas from the letters, and step back from the unnerving confrontation. I had spent money I did not have to come to visit her. I was not scheduled to fly home for another five days. I had to do something. I had to find something to write about. I envisioned my tenure slipping through Carolee's fingers. Then I read that line to Elsa: “I decided to write, since it's so much like a letter / I would make to myself were I someone else.” I began poring through the boxes of her letters. I read every letter in five bleary days, working ten or twelve hours a day. I never even stopped to count them. After the first day, I told Carolee that I wanted to edit the letters for their aesthetic content and extraordinary documentation of the period. Carolee agreed. But when she agreed, I do not believe that she grasped the import of her decision. Nor did she fully comprehend the implications of selling her correspondence to the Getty. At lunch each day, we would regularly put a blanket on the grass and chat about her life. As I asked questions, aided by the content of the letters, I began to consider the immense intelligence and creativity of my friend in a manner that had eluded me before. At one point I exclaimed to her that the letters helped me to understand how immense and significant her oeuvre was. “You're just like your own big home with many windows,” I observed. “But you keep the curtains pulled as a veil, opening only one at a time, so that no one can ever see the whole picture.” She responded immediately:

“Baloney! The curtains aren't closed! No one has bothered to look.” She was right.

But the more letters I marked to photocopy for editing, the more uncomfortable Carolee became. As the days wore on and I continued to read and make notes, she began circling like one of her cats, looking at me, reading over my shoulder, fidgeting. On the last day, after I had finished, she suggested we go to dinner to celebrate. Then in the parking lot of the restaurant before we got out of the car, she lowered the boom: “You know,” she looked at me with determination, “you can't have all the letters; you can't publish everything.” I was completely exhausted and exploded. “It is too late, Carolee,” I reminded her. “I have already read them all, and I know.” I also warned her that if she thought she was vulnerable now—with me, her trusted friend—then she must think very carefully about putting her letters in a public archive. She would remain in control, she retorted, because she would retain the copyright. But I advised her that she could not anticipate what scholars might extrapolate and infer from the letters, and she could not control how they might interpret and use the information discovered in them—even if the letters were never quoted verbatim. This argument was useless, quite simply because she needed to sell the letters to pay her bills, to continue to make art, and to live. It was now Carolee's turn to cry. And she did. “I am still alive!” she shouted. “I have a life to live!” Again, she was right.

The dilemma Carolee and I have confronted revolves around the potential “exploitation of biography for political [and personal] ends,” a process that Catherine Epstein recently formulated as “the politics of biography.” Epstein quotes Philip Guedalla, an English historian writing in 1920: “Biography, like big game hunting, is one of the recognized forms of sport; and it is as unfair as only sport can be.”[8] Carolee's fear, of course, was the possibility that I, an art historian, would treat her as big game, a trophy stuffed and hung on a wall exposed. At the end of the process of reading her letters, she knew that I knew too much about her. She had opened herself and her home to a friend, only to find that an art historian had gotten in. Ours was a double bind: If I behaved as a “professional” art historian, I would record what I knew; if she had not tricked her friend into signing a contract for a book about her, an art historian would not be writing about her. We had each other over a barrel. My knowledge as an art historian made her feel vulnerable, not only to me but in the world. We now realize

just how unprotected, perhaps even defenseless, this sharing of intimate information had made her and how it had confronted me with an ethical dilemma. Should I protect my friend or write about the whole of my knowledge of this important artist and the history of her work?

Schneemann's words—“I am still alive!”—resolved the question for me. As a friend and art historian, I would not contribute to the erasure of the boundary between private and public. I would protect her secrets, maintaining her privacy even if that meant suppressing information from the historical record at the expense of an art historical understanding of her work. In her lifetime, I would tell nothing about Carolee Schneemann's art or life that she did not authorize. This does not mean that I coyly would hold back a “big secret” that might be gleaned by someone else who read her body of correspondence. Rather, I made a personal decision to be sensitive to and respectful of the moral implications entailed by my privileged access to the whole of Schneemann's life—her massive archive, her enormous body of work, her personal emotions and experiences, and so forth. In a period that witnesses the simultaneous development and exploitation of psychobiography and, at the same time, the deconstruction of the very notion of biography itself, scrutiny of one's practices is paramount.

While working on the book, I gave her my working manuscripts. She was astonished and thrilled. It was startling to find her own and others' aesthetic ideas culled from the correspondence and presented in a succinct, lucid, developmental chronology. She began to appreciate her own epistolary history, her aesthetic concepts, and the sheer beauty of her written style in a new way. But she also confronted reliving both the joy and the pain of her past, something she had not asked to do. Even though she could now systematically remember how she had once formulated her ideas about her art, and the ways in which her work and interpersonal relationships were interpolated with current events, she also found her life apparently wrapped up in a manuscript. However reaffirming, it was a double-edged sword. For the art historical process that distilled her words threatened her sense of living in the present, for the future, and, she feared, relegated her life to the past.

I have now been working on Correspondence Course for eight years. It is a very different book from the one for which I originally contracted. In addition, Carolee and I agreed that the contract needed to be renegotiated to include her, since the volume is composed of her

letters. Meanwhile, Carolee has my working manuscript, from which she inevitably began to draw ideas as she developed her MIT book, Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (2002), for which I wrote the introduction. Meanwhile, my book no longer fit into the Johns Hopkins series “Art + Performance”; the University of Chicago Press decided not to publish it because of competition from the MIT book.

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