The Socialite Manifesto

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I wrote a short presentation of Christiana Spens‘s The Socialite Manifesto for the Spring 2009 issue of Flux magazine (issue 68, p. 92):

From her publicity shots, Christiana Spens stares out at you with the faraway look of innocence lost. This 21-year-old Cambridge student is the precocious golden girl of our gilded age. Christiana launched her writing career at fifteen when she began filing copy for various arts and music magazines. “The deadlines gave me discipline, the music gave me dialogue and the art gave me ideals — so I was all set to start.” Last year, she published her debut novel which established her reputation as the poet laureate of elegantly-wasted Sloanedom. Reminiscent of Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh and Bret Easton Ellis, The Wrecking Ball zeroes in on the existential nightmare at the heart of the consumer dream — a theme that is also central to her latest project.

The Socialite Manifesto — which we showcase in the following pages — is clearly more graphic than novel. “My parents both write art books, so I grew up surrounded by picture books of every kind,” Christiana explains. “In a way, visual books are more natural to me than straightforward novels.” She was also inspired by a recent exhibition of collaborations between French writers and artists as well as a felicitous bout of writer’s block. “I started painting properly again when I had writer’s block in the spring. Painting seemed a more direct and sensual way to express myself, and gave me an elation writing didn’t. I swing from one to the other though. When one brings me down, the other brings me up.”

The Socialite Manifesto is meant to be the diary of one Ivana Denisovich whose name is an obvious nod to Solzhenitsyn. “I was interested in how there are all these Russian oligarchs around who have so much money it’s vulgar — and that that came out of communism. Where Ivan Denisovich was trapped by the Soviet regime, Ivana is trapped in the gilded frame of capitalism.” The writing is kept to a minimum to ensure that Ivana remains largely a blank canvas. “I was thinking of all the visual icons, like models and actresses, who never have anything to say but are stars because everyone projects their fantasies on them. I wanted my main character to be everyone’s personal fantasy, so to do that I couldn’t make her speak too much. If she started talking you might not want her anymore.” Christiana Spens subverts the traditional division between author and reader by inviting us to colour in the artwork and fill in some of the diary entries thus transforming the book into a truly collaborative experience. As for the eponymous Socialite Manifesto, there is not one — “just blank pages and a feeling that something isn’t quite right.”

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