Valerie Solanas and the Limits of Speech


The reception of Valerie Solanas's SCUM Manifesto (1967) is over-determined by an event that has come to eclipse its critical legacy in the history of manifesto writing. Solanas's 1968 shooting of Andy Warhol, nearly a year after she wrote and began distributing her manifesto, projected her into the media limelight in a way that has complicated the SCUM Manifesto's reception as an avant-garde text. If Warhol believed he had been targeted merely as a vehicle for Solanas's own fifteen minutes of fame, this was a view quickly absorbed by the mainstream media and has fuelled an enduring representation of Solanas as an unbalanced, fame-seeking Warhol groupie. Similarly, early attempts to recuperate Solanas into a radical feminist political agenda have perhaps unwittingly ignored the deeply divisive and contradictory nature of her polemical tract. What both representations have tended to disregard is Solanas's own radical revisions of the manufesto genre, which amount to a highly parodic and exaggerated response to its hyper-masculinised tone, often inverting the gendered assumptions that have invariably underpinned the genre's hyperbolic rhetoric. As such, I am interested in the ways in which the SCUM Manifesto responds to both the generic topoi of the historical avant-garde manifesto as well as the political, aesthetic and sexual ideologies of the 1960s, in particular Warhol's neo-avant-garde enclave and the new media technologies that marked a decisive shift in the production and reception of its aesthetic practice. This essay reads the SCUM Manifesto within the context of feminist experimental writing concerned with radically refashioning the gendered nature of manifesto discourse, rather than as representative of a particular brand of feminist politics which positions Solanas as the 'first outstanding champion of women's rights'. This will, I hope, solicit a more nuanced understanding of Solanas's contribution to the genre of the manifesto. After all, Solanas always insisted that she was first and foremost a writer . What seems most pertinent to such a reading are the historical conditions that precipitated this highly idiosyncratic manifesto and its reconceptualisation of revolutionary discourse, particularly the historically gendered assumptions of the manifesto's rhetoric and performative practice.

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Published 1 November 2009 in Manifesting Australian Literary Feminisms: Nexus and Faultlines. Subjects: Feminism.

Cite as: Lusty, Natalya. ‘Valerie Solanas and the Limits of Speech.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 24, no. 3-4, 2009, doi: 10.20314/als.b2e4bdfa9f.