July 5, 2013
From “The (dis)appearance of Up Your Ass: Valerie Solanas as abject revolutionary” by Desiree D. Rowe, Rethinking History, Volume 17, 2013
After I presented an early version of this paper at a national academic conference,
a woman approached me. She1 said that she had seen the very last performance
of a work by Valerie Solanas – a performance I had just mentioned – at that
moment I disliked her. My dislike was rooted in envy, to be sure. Envy of her
experience of seeing Up Your Ass staged in a tiny theater space in New York City.
Of being able to feel the pressure of Solanas’ script. A script that was never again
performed, but shoved in a dusty archive. This space, P.S. 122, is one I have been
to a few times – but I never saw Valerie there.
My new friend saw the performance in 2001. Someone from the Village Voice
must have been there too: ‘What astonishes more is the ahead-of-its-time critique of
gender roles and sexual mores embedded in the jollity,’ she wrote, ‘queer theory has
nothing on the boundary-smashing glee of Solanas’s dystopia, where the two-sex
system is packed off to the junkyard’ (Soloman 2001). My jealousy builds.
Valerie Solanas herself
After that 2001 New York City performance, Valerie Solanas’ writings were put
away for good. Her performances and scripts disappeared. Why? The answer,
unfortunately, lies not in Solanas’ text, but in both the absence and inaccessibility
of it. You see I would love to take you on a grand tour, in the fashion of a rhetorical
analysis of Solanas’ Up Your Ass. But, as you will soon discover – that text is lost.
From the Cradle to the Boat, or The Big Suck, or Up From the Slime
Solanas’ most popular work, SCUM Manifesto (2004), is not her only one.
Solanas has two (lesser known – of course they are) other works. The next known
surviving work of Solanas’ is an article titled ‘A Young Girl’s Primer, or How to
Attain the Leisure Class,’ published in 1966 in the soft-core pornography
magazine Cavalier. She couldn’t get her work into mainstream publications so
she went to porn magazines. Don’t we read it for the articles?
The ﬁnal piece, and the one I am most interested in, is her 1967 play Up Your
Ass: From the Cradle to the Boat, or The Big Suck, or Up From the Slime. After
Solanas had completed the performance piece, she directly approached Warhol
about producing Up Your Ass. Warhol didn’t care. He took it. Lost it. Didn’t give
a shit (Harding 2001). By the way, this was her only copy. She clickty-clack-
clacked her way through this play and Warhol tossed it aside. Here’s the thing:
the play didn’t suck. After it was rediscovered in 2001 (and performed.
Remember? My new ‘friend’ had seen it) the response was strong.
But who cares?
The play was/is/can be good. But it is still lost.
Currently, the manuscript is in the archives of The Andy Warhol Museum in
Pittsburg, PA. As part of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburg, the Warhol Museum
charges $20 general admission. I paid the student price, $10. Up Your Ass
however, is in the archives. You need an appointment to get in there – it’s no
place for the common folk. The only published excerpt of Up Your Ass appears in
James Harding’s 2001 article, in which he reprints two of the 40 pages of text.
When I attempted to access the script I was informed that I needed to show
documented proof of my afﬁliation with an institution of higher education.
Further, the copy would cost me, according to an employee of the Archives Study
Center at the Warhol Museum, at least $80 for every hour it took archivists to
retrieve and that didn’t even include photocopying and postage. Further, I was
instructed to wait 4 – 8 weeks to receive a response from the museum to conﬁrm
these details. After payment, they would send me a copy of Solanas’ manuscript.
That struck me as complete bullshit.
That began the process of historical gatekeeping that I had to negotiate for
the next two years.
I found it absurd that I had to provide such information, considering Solanas’
own position on higher education and relationship to Warhol. She was the woman
who attempted to take his life, something the archivists never tired of reminding me
in my contact with the Museum. Solanas also wrote in her manifesto of her disdain
for higher education because of her own experiences at the University of Minnesota,
beliveing it was men that had control over knowledge and doled it out to women only
when they had earned favor with the men in charge. Knowing this and requesting
those letters left me feeling a bit sad. Had so much changed since 1968?
On 7 June 2006, I received my copy of Up Your Ass. The museum had
photocopied (presumably) the original manuscript, which included Solanas’ own
scribblings and editoral marks. It is an amazing document. What I would ordinarily
do is detail the ﬁner points of the piece, quoting Solanas’ acerbic writing style and
marking the destruction of gender binaries and the hilarity of satirical
performativity. I can’t. There are only two copies of Up Your Ass. Mary Harron
found one via Billy Name, one of Warhol’s closest associates. Name gave the
script to Harron who then (allegedly) passed it on to Solanas’ sister. The second
copy is the one I found, and cannot be reproduced or quoted from without seeking
‘permission to quote . . . from the author, if known’ (Warhol Museum Invoice).
The Museum was not going to give permission to me, and I sure could not call
Valerie up and ask, so I was stuck. So I took a trip to Pittsburg.
A pilgrimage to Pittsburg
It is sad to me, really, that when I visited the Warhol Museum Archives, a manila
folder ﬁlled with photocopies of photocopies and originals were plopped in front me.
(I didn’t even need to wear white gloves when touching the documents. No
one told me to. That says something doesn’t it?)
This manila folder, heavy only with the symbolic representation of a little-
known life represented as copies of newspaper articles and scraps of paper, was
the most information I had ever seen about Solanas in one place. Before I opened
that folder I was breathless.
I could romanticize it for you, as if her fragments were swept up by the wind
like dandelion seeds, but we both know that is not what happens to radical activist
women. Solanas was ripped into little pieces and hidden away, and it remains
difﬁcult to pluck even the smallest bit of information about her from the conﬁnes
That is why, when I told the archivist at the museum that I was thinking about
coming back for a second day he laughed:
Why would I?
There was nothing else to see.
There was just that one folder.
There is no collection devoted to this radical feminist; and this is no accident.
There are only fragments because no one cares enough to preserve them – to
make space in a public conversation about women like Solanas. Radical women.
Solanas’ work is not accepted in traditional feminist histories, offering it no
stable home and perpetuating fragmentation. The Duke University’s online
collection of archives from the Women’s Liberation movement, considered to be
the foremost archives of the time, dismisses her in a footnote: ‘While Solanas is
not generally considered to be part of the Women’s Liberation Movement, her
SCUM (Society to Cut Up Men) Manifesto, written in 1967, is an example of extreme radical feminist theory’ (Special Collections Library, Duke University,
http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/wlm/). Duke’s unwillingness to house Solanas’
materials perpetuates the fragmentation of her story.”
‘I am afraid I may die of silence. Is there a risk? Yes. Without the person
who is not afraid to publish me, would I be published?’ (Cixous 1993, 214)
During my phone conversation with an employee of the Study Archives
Center at The Warhol Museum, I began to feel a sense of dread. As he began to
describe, through a thin veil of sarcasm, each progressive hoop that I would have
to jump through to even read Solanas’ manuscript, my mind wandered.
I needed to visualize the woman whose script was being kept under lock and
key in (from what I can imagine) a dusty room. Valerie was an extraordinarily
intelligent woman, who ‘runs with the best of them’ – Derrida, Freud, Butler,
Del euze ( al l dudes ) – ‘ picking off crucial themes associated with
phallogocentrism’ (Ronnell 2004, 8). She had quit her work as a doctoral
student at the University of Minnesota to pursue other, more revolutionary
endeavors (Ronnell 2004, 11). Though often portrayed as a madwoman,
she fought without being subsumed by the consumer capitalist culture
surrounding you. I guess Valerie paid for her lack of reverence, because she
died ‘homeless and destitute’ in San Francisco in 1988 (Ronnell 2004, 31). With
that gloomy thought I quickly turned back to my conversation with the man in
Pittsburg. When I learn that I need to provide proof of my afﬁliation with a
university in order to gain access to the manuscript, I laugh, knowing Valerie
would be pissed.
So, I now realize, would He’le’ne Cixous.
She would be pissed because it is impossible for Solanas’ writing of Up Your
Ass to be seen as a form of solace, that Solanas’ text Up Your Ass has been treated
as abject, just as feminine writing has always been, and that Solanas’ attempt at
linguistic rupture, through the lens of Cixous, has failed. How?
Through a closer look at the implications of the context surrounding the
chronology of the disappearance of Up Your Ass, I (we) can come to a better
understanding of not only why I felt such dread that moment on the phone, but
why the inaccessibility of Up Your Ass has far reaching ramiﬁcations.
Cixous believes that writing is what can save women from a body-as-text death
within a culture that does not see them. Cixous writes to ‘touch with letters, with
lips, with breath, to caress with the tongue, to lick with the soul, to taste the blood
of the beloved body, of life in its remoteness; to saturate the distance with desire;
in order to keep it from reading you’ (1991, 4). Solanas wrote Up Your Ass as
more of a revolution than a contribution to a Norton Anthology.
Solanas wanted her writing to be read and embodied, not disappear in a
Warholian lighting trunk. In her exploration of Solanas as a radical feminist Dana
Heller likens the disappearance of Up Your Ass as akin to the erasure of the
‘memory’ of Solanas herself: ‘Seemingly unreproducable, Solanas’ memory,
writings, and image had all simply vanished, as ephemeral as print itself’ (Heller
2001, 171). In the losing of Solanas’ performance text, Warhol perpetuated the
same scene that Cixous describes, where every woman who attempts to write for
a larger public fears:
‘I am afraid. As a free writer? Worse still: a woman. Yes, I am afraid: afraid
of solitude, of hatred and rejection, afraid of being ‘horribly burnt’’ (Cixous 1993,
Solanas, through the rejection of her script (and the subsequent loss) was
‘horribly burnt.’ The rejection and fragmentation of Solanas’ text is a rejection of
Solanas. A rejection of her body. And, to take it all one more step – a rejection of
Valerie Solanas entered the University of Maryland in 1954, where she was
an open lesbian who ‘put herself through school by working as a prostitute’
(Heller 2001). Pursuing a degree in psychology, Solanas was using her body as a
tool to engage in endeavors of the mind. This theme reappears in nearly all her
(known) texts, when she focuses on the abject processes of the body. The
scatological reference in the title Up Your Ass and the excremental reference
SCUM (which she does not separate with the required periods) push us to think of
the body as a real place. A place for
All of her works come from this abject place. This base site.
She is reafﬁrming the value of the abject, or the connection between body and
She is in the muck – creating a shitstorm.
A consideration of scum, or the waste product of a waste product, as a powerful
mobilizing force of women is not overlooked by Solanas. She attempts to turn
what is abject into that which is valued.
Her work, however, has become abject itself. And here is where Cixous
Cixous formulates women’s writing as abject because it must happen in secret. When
writing is not secret ‘it wasn’t good, and because you punished yourself for writing,
because you didn’t go all the way; or,’ and watch out here, because Cixous brings it
back to the body for us, ‘because you wrote, irresistibly, as when we would
masturbate in secret’ (1976, 877). Women write in secret. And those secrets are
Solanas’ work is secret. Hidden. Disgraceful. She must be punished. She
didn’t care about the singular moment of pleasure. She wanted more.
Her work was focused on a greater structural rupture of the linguistic system
that had so entrapped her. As an individual Solanas worked diligently so that her
voice would be heard – Solanas was ﬁghting/writing for a revolution.
For Solanas, the power was in writing the revolution. When Solanas
approached Warhol to produce Up Your Ass, Warhol responded, ‘‘Did you type
this yourself? I’m so impressed.’ Warhol deadpans. ‘You should come type for
us, Valerie’’ (Heller 2001, 174). She was met with laughter and sarcasm. Cixous
envisions this moment of rejection: ‘A double distress, for even if she
transgresses, her words fall almost always upon the deaf male ear, which hears in
language that which speaks in the masculine’ (1976, 880 – 1). As a rejected abject
body, Valerie never experiences the ideal experience of e´ criture feminine, for her
gift was never received but, rather, it was (ﬁguratively and literally) lost.
The Warhol Museum still has the script. And isn’t showing it to anyone.
As it establishes requirements for viewing (membership with an accredited
institution of higher education) and imposes costly research fees (at least $80 an
hour for ‘research costs’) the Warhol Museum reiﬁes the denial of Solanas’
writing. In effect, the body of the text (body-text) is cloistered in the house of the
one whom rejected it.
The manuscript remains, undistributed, unread, and unrecognized in Pittsburgh.
Up Your Ass might not be a 40-page revolution, but it still should be
accessible to the general public. By keeping the work hidden, by locking it up, the
Andy Warhol Museum continues to categorize Solanas’ work as the text of a
madwoman. Solanas’ will never be able to experience Cixous’ e´ criture feminine.
Yet it might still be possible to bring make this open to the public.”
Read More: Desireé D. Rowe (2013): The (dis)appearance of Up Your Ass: Valerie
Solanas as abject revolutionary, Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice,