Jean-Luc Hennig, The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal
Penny Arcade, ed., Bad Reputation

Review by Angie Fitzpatrick
Bowling Green State University

Hennig, Jean-Luc. The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal: Days and Nights of an Anarchist Whore. 1981. Trans. Ariana Reines. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009. 183 pp. $14.95 (978-1-58435-078-1)

Arcade, Penny, ed. Bad Reputation: Performances, Essays, Interviews. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009. 196 pp. $19.95 (978-1-58435-069-9)

[1] The books under review interrogate what it means to be a bad girl through the personal experiences of anarchist courtesan Grisélidis Réal and performance artist Penny Arcade, drawing on the second wave feminist adage that the personal is political. Both books articulate resistance to hegemonic discourses of sexual expression that expose the intersections of gender, sexuality, and class through sex work, which the texts approach as an economic issue, above all else. Despite (Western) cultural pressures to conform to middle-class femininity and heterosexuality, Réal and Arcade carve out cultural spaces for expressions of non-normative gender and sexualit(ies) that account for class differences – Réal in her anarchist activism and Arcade through her punk rock performance art.

[2] Originally published in 1981, this second edition of The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal focuses on prostitution as labor via Réal's little black book, a catalogue of her clients describing their sexual needs and the prices she charges to satisfy their desires. A French woman hailing from middle-class roots, Réal became a prostitute in the late 1950s, at the age of 30 when a bout of tuberculosis landed her financially destitute in the hospital. Although she periodically took time off, Réal worked as a prostitute until she was 66 years old and as an activist for prostitute's rights for an additional ten years until 2005, the year of her death. At the time of the interviews with Hennig (1979 – 1981), Réal was working as a prostitute in one of the large red-light districts in Geneva, Switzerland, where prostitutes, many of whom were immigrants from "South America, France, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East," paid tax for their services (8). Ariana Reines, who translated The Little Black Book, explains in the translator's notes at the beginning of the book that because Réal spent her life working as a prostitute in a nation where it had been legal since 1942, "her activism centered on responding to moralizers whose condemnation of sex work as both paternalist and misogynist, and to feminists who considered sex work to be exploitative or emblematic of patriarchal repression" (8). In this way, Réal articulated a sex-positive, working-class feminist discourse in her approach to prostitution.

[3] Réal's personal experiences as an anarchist whore are divulged through a series of interviews between her and sociologist Jean-Luc Hennig. The little black book, which is transcribed at the end of the collection, functions as a centerpiece for Hennig's three sets of interviews. Réal began keeping the book as a way of keeping track of clients, their sexual preferences, and the prices she charged. But also, she sees it as her "revenge." "When I'm miserable, at zero, I reread my little black book and laugh by myself. I say look, they're recorded in here and they don't know it. I laugh! I have a great time!" (42). For this reason, although Hennig sees the little book as a sociological text, he also recognizes it as a subversive text, one that empowers Réal.

[4] For the most part, her account of life as a prostitute challenges some of the myths that anti-prostitution feminists have used to attack the sex work industry. For example, it is a commonly held idea that prostitution is an oppressive lifestyle, rather than a complicated form of work. Réal challenges this myth by differentiating between work and leisure, making it clear that having sex for money is only one aspect of her daily life, much like typing memos is only one aspect of a secretary's daily life. She tells Hennig: "There are women who are slaves to the job. Not me. The less I do, the better" (37). As with any job, Réal describes times when she enjoys her work, such as the satisfaction she derives from bringing a sexually frustrated client to climax. Still, there are moments in the interviews that suggest her work is not entirely satisfying such as when she describes encountering a former john on the streets without being able to acknowledge the night they shared together. However, when Hennig asks her if she would ever give up prostitution she responds: "But prostitution's to make a living. I don't have anything to live on...By being a prostitute I have a lot of liberty, because even if I only do one client a week, or a client every three days, I live" (92). As a street walker, she finds freedom in her work. "It might be the only profession in the world in which you are totally free" (125). Réal operates according to the Marxist principle – "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" – and offers sliding scale prices to the men, allowing them to pay less when they can't afford standard prices. In this way Réal demonstrates a delicate negotiation of class difference, which bridges racial difference. This is a logic that seems lost on Hennig who time and again overlooks class and instead asks her to comment on ethnic/national/racial difference between her and her clients with such questions as: "Have you ever been attacked by an Arab?" (61).

[5] While the interviews comprise the bulk of the book, the collection also includes two introductions, one by the translator, Ariana Reines, and another by Hennig. The former offers a comprehensive context for the text, situating it

"as an important intersection between the –often fictional—divulgence of the particular wisdom and secrets of women of pleasure...and the profoundly sexualized idea of a woman, not necessarily a whore, talking candidly about what she feels, who she is and what she knows? it's a sociological document, but imbued with tropes from literature and the "(9).

In addition, Reines provides a commentary on matters that readers might find shocking, such as Réal's seemingly bigoted discussions of racial difference (which I would argue are instigated by Hennig) and her unwillingness to use condoms, even in her professional life. Hennig's introduction, bordering at times on glamorization, offers more of a biographical context for his interviews with Réal, insightfully describing how her resistance to her middle-class upbringing and her complicated, often devastating relationships with men paved the way for her to career as a prostitute. In a letter to Hennig, Réal describes an experience during the Paris-Geneva Trans Europe Express: "I feel triumphant. If the bourgeois ladies surrounding me only knew that I paid for the right to sit among them by expertly and patiently making immigrant laborers come, perfumed with sweat and wine! Saturday, day of rest among the populace, I got fucked by ten of them?" (21). Working under the bourgeois housewife name, Solage, Réal was fond of mocking the middle-class, particularly middle-class women.

[6] The strength of this book lies in Réal's voice. It feels as if one is engaging in "girl talk" over coffee, relishing in the subversive acts of the bad girl. Réal speaks candidly of her work experiences, describing in detail the tasks she performs, and the great lengths to which she must go in order to satisfy her customers. Indeed, she seems like an old friend, sharing the secrets of love and sex and gossiping about the other women in the neighborhood and the men foolish enough to pay for sex. The book includes one of Réal's own poetic pieces of prose writing, titled "The Way Blacks Dance." In this short text she exoticizes the black male body and draws troubling connections between black men and animals. That said, the book might have been strengthened by the inclusion of more of Réal's own writing, particularly pieces of a more political nature. As a whole, the book does an excellent job of positioning Grisélidis Réal as a complex, multidimensional person in her multiple, often intersecting roles as an anarchist writer, mother, prostitute, and sex-worker rights activist.

[7] The one thing that might be the most off-putting to readers is the frank way that Réal and Hennig discuss race. Ariel Raines addresses this in the translator's note: "I'm not going to gloss over, explain, or apologize for, promote, or become the exegete of, Grisélidis's racial stuff. She's not an idiot; she has no need to homogenize the world. If her longing for difference sometimes verges on exoticism or orientalism, well then, it does" (11). Depsite Raines' protests to the contrary, Réal does indeed homogenize the world to some extent. However, in the context of an industry within which the workers are largely unprotected, the (racial, religious, and class based) generalizations she makes about her clients help her to survive and avoid danger. After years of service, she comes to understand some of the differences in men manifest in experiences based on age, race/ethnicity, class, and ability. What is perhaps the most disturbing about her generalizations is the bluntness in her tone (a working-class characteristic of speech), which makes her generalizations appear too broad, too definite, and ultimately inflexible. It is worth noting that most of the awkward discussions of race in the interviews are instigated by Hennig, demonstrating that racism exists likewise in the middle-class, but there it is more insidious than in the working-class, who often bear more than their share of the blame for racism.

[8] Unlike Réal, Penny Arcade (nee Susana Ventura) has not been a sex worker herself, but her performance art does explore women's sexualit(ies) and at times the sex work industry itself. Bad Reputation: Performances, Essays, Interviews is a well-rounded collection that seeks to illuminate and preserve Arcade's performance art, which has been largely overlooked by mainstream America. The essays in the collection, written by Arcade's fellow playwrights and directors, introduce and critique the plays and add new layers of meaning to Arcade's performance pieces. The book also includes photographs of her performances from the early years in New York City to more recent times. Arcade, a working-class second-generation Italian immigrant, uses theater to explore the dynamics of working-class immigrant families, the meaning of being working-class and female in the U.S., the gay rights movement and feminism. In the first essay of the book, playwright Ken Bernard writes that "Arcade's 'sprawling' work is that of a survivor who has lived through a personal hell and come back to tell the tale—raw, bloody, obsessed, utterly unyielding and utterly serious. You might want to kill the messenger, but history and literature tell us that won't work" (10). The strength of Arcade's work lies in her ability to explore the complex intersection of class and gender through the figure of the bad girl, a label given to Arcade as an adolescent and celebrated in her adulthood. As Arcade puts it so succinctly in her piece Bad Reputation: "Being a bad girl has nothing to do with wearing too much make-up, too-short skirts or fishnet stockings. Being a bad girl is about being cut out and left out of society" (130).

[9] In a 2008 interview with Chris Kraus, the only interview in this collection, Arcade discusses the ways in which her working-class experiences and sensibilities, such as a rejection of middle-class politeness and engagement with the street intellectualism of the working-class, inform her work and challenge mainstream middle-class art. Her career in theater began in John Vacco's campy and absurd Play-House of the Ridiculous in the 1970s among drag queens and at the forefront of the punk scene in New York City where she worked with popular culture icons such as Jackie Curtis, Patti Smith, and Andy Warhol. Arcade's work on stage is largely improvisational and the contributing writers explore Arcade's live theatrical devices to explicate some of the more nuanced meanings embedded in her art. Because her work is so grounded in improvisation, it seems as though some of these meanings have gotten lost in the transcription from the stage to the book.

[10] The book contains three of Arcade's performance pieces developed in the 1990s: La Miseria, BITCH!DYKE!FAGHAG!WHORE!, and Bad Reputation. A more traditional play, La Miseria is one of Arcade's strongest pieces in this collection. In this autobiographical piece Arcade explores and critiques the institutions that have shaped her life: family, religion, reform school, and psychiatry. Sarah Schulman, in her introduction to Arcade's 1991 play La Miseria, positions Arcade's work as the integration of Realism and Performance Art in a way that "enhanced the emotional communication without eliminating the politics" (34). Indeed, this is clear in a scene where Arcade articulates her feelings of otherness as a second generation immigrant in a humorous and meaningful fashion: "while all the kids were having milk and cookies on Dick Clark—I would have focaccia and watered wine. Eventually I realized I wasn't the All-American Girl. I was the other American girl" (55). Arcade also articulates the sense of otherness she felt within her working-class Italian family in a scene between her and her brother who tells her, "art, Sue, art is for rich people! And you're not one of 'em. Ha! And you know what? Besides that? Nobody wants to fucking' hear from you" (71). The multiple ways in which Arcade has been silenced – by her family, by her peers, by the courts, by theater critics – becomes a recurring theme throughout the works presented in this book.

[11] Her piece BITCH! DYKE! FAGHAG! WHORE!: The Penny Arcade Sex & Censorship Show begins with Arcade exploring sex work through two characters involved in that industry: a receptionist at a brothel whose name changes with every john who calls and Charlene, a prostitute who talks about her work as work and articulates prostitution not as a moral issue, but as an economic issue, hinting that even marriage, when it is done for money, is a form of prostitution. Charlene tells her audience: "You see, the only woman who is a whore is the one who won't admit that she's selling it, when she's selling. And the only man who is a trick is the one who won't admit that he's paying for it, when he's paying for it" (100). The remainder of the play is an excavation of Arcade's personal history as a self-proclaimed faghag and bitch, describing how she felt rejected by her "immigrant" status, and how the queer New York community of the 1970s taught her it was okay to be outspoken and opinionated. Arcade expresses the pain and outrage caused by the AIDS epidemic that devastated the queer community in the 1980s. She ends by indicting the conservative Right and feminism in her rant against censorship.

[12] Arcade continues to challenge feminism, as well as academia, in Bad Reputation, the final play in the collection, which she describes as an "all-girl revenge show." "I have been fucked over by men my entire life but it's always been women who have betrayed me?" (135). At times her critique of feminism and women's betrayal of other women is spot on, and appeals to the reader's sympathy, for instance when she discusses the ways in which middle-class feminism marginalizes other women. Arcade also gives voice to one of feminism's greatest fears: that women are often more competitive than they are collaborative. This observation provides Arcade with an opportunity to critique patriarchy and discuss the ways in which women are turned on each other by that oppressive system, but she takes the easy way out and instead reduces competition among women to biological determinism. While critics such as Stephen Bottoms, whose essay closes out the collection, sees this as something that is in part a joke, it is hard for members of the audience who are less familiar with Arcade's work to read it that way. Ultimately, the treatment of feminism in this collection is at once compelling and confusing. Arcade's rants against feminism and women (and academia) border on antifeminism in the vein of Camille Paglia and the contributing writers use terms such as feminism and post-feminism interchangeably thereby erasing the differences, albeit subtle differences, between these two logics. Despite this lack of nuance, Bad Reputation: Performances, Essays, Interviews is a welcome challenge to second wave feminist metanarratives of patriarchy and oppression, as well as middle-class American femininity. Working class readers, in particular, will sympathize with Arcade's descriptions of growing up female and working-class, and rally behind her resistance to middle-class hegemony. Indeed, the outspoken Arcade articulates an empowered, rebellious identity that refuses to conform to the passive and silent middle-class prescriptions for women: "I never learned how to simmer contentedly. I boil over continuously" (155).