please know: in my efforts to find photos from the launch of selfish to illustrate what i’m about to write about selfish, i just saw SO.MUCH.KIM.KARDASHIAN. her instagram is A LOT, yo. so i’mma call on my emotionally incontinent face celebrity double britney to ease us all in.
fist things first: kim kardashian’s instagram was a reminder of how much this eye makeup rocked my world many moons ago…
and how divisive this was…
so there’s that. now on to business.
am i correct in assuming that no one here has read selfish?
am i correct also in my assumption that it’s controversial to suggest that selfish is something that one might read?
(and does my asking those questions betray the fact that i’ve been teaching a bunch ‘o undergrads who don’t read their assigned texts?!)
for the record, yes, selfish is something one can read.
which is not to say that many people have.
when it was released in may 2015, selfish met with… howshallwesay… NOT SUCCESS.
so what is this thing i am banging on about that no one has read?
selfish: kim kardashian’s book of selfies.
because it was a book of photos, i always assumed it was a coffee table book, until i encountered it in a bookstore and discovered it’s actually about the size of a walkman and the thickness of a bible.
so a book of kim kardashian’s selfies with captions written by kim kardashian.
in writing about selfish, i wrestle with genre. do i want to frame it as a memoir?
because memoir and autobiography are often used as though they mean the same thing and they do not, let’s clarify:
thus, a memoir is scenes from the life and an autobiography is a more complete account of the life.
by this account, selfish is a memoir. it’s kim kardashian’s life, circa 2006-2014.
a huge chunk of it arises from her instagram feed. albeit not all because (fun factz!) instagram wasn’t invented until october 2010 and she didn’t join until february 2012.
the thing that interests me about selfish is that it’s a memoir, using photos and captions. in that, it seems new media and modern. but there are few formats more traditional than the book and there are few stories more conventional than the marriage plot. and that is what selfish ultimately becomes.
i know, i know. but, no, really.
confession: i was vair vair skeptical about selfish.
if you have stuck with me this far, you are probably also skeptical about selfish.
and i’m uncertain how to sway your opinion because i honestly do not know how to convey the narrative tension of pages like this…
because that looks downright ridic here in a post wherein i’m making an argument about Literachoore.
but, in reading selfish, when i got to this page, it was legitimately cathartic.
the starvation. the suddenness with which the starvation was overcome. the barrage of exclamation points. the ambiguity inherent in the line: “spain was a wild trip.” (because they starved? because they finally ate? because what? she does not tell.)
in reading selfish, a funny thing happened. i got into it.
like, surprisingly really into it.
which is why i was also surprised by how ENRAGED i was by the ending.
as someone who is alive in 2016, i know kim kardashian is married to kanye west.
but, as someone reading selfish, somehow i expected more than the standard marriage plot.
which, i admit, is perhaps a wildly misguided expectation for a book by kim kardashian about her selfies.
perhaps my anger has something to do with my having stuck it out through the hefty centerfold section of bikini and nude pics- the point, for me, where selfish jumped the shark.
in its review, the telegraph noted that the book is “oddly moving” until 2012, when “the fun disappears.” the reviewer contends this is because kardashian’s “selfie face” kicks in, but i think it’s something else.
the arrival of kanye, 200 pages in, signals a major shift in the narrative.
prior to kanye’s arrival, selfish makes no mention of romance. reggie bush has been erased as has the marriage to kris humphreys.
which is a bit rich. (contrast this with mercy, who was around for a hot second and yet gets two pages [pp. 240-241]… and who also goes down in history with justin beiber’s monkey as having the saddest of sad celebrity pet lives.)
but the effect of these erasures is a portrayal of a woman’s life where her love life isn’t just not the most interesting thing about her. it’s a non-issue.
you guys, that is revelatory.
because women’s lives are so so so soooooooooooooo seldom portrayed that way.
and it’s a portrayal the value of which only becomes evident when kanye enters the tale.
the book by no means becomes all about him- he’s a shadowy presence at best. BUT, we get kanye and then we are submerged into a centerfold portfolio of bedroom, bra, and nude shots (pp. 256-299) which, due to the positioning within the book, feel as though they’re meant for kanye.
it’s a sensation reenforced by the fact that immediately after the conclusion of this section (p. 300), we land in 2013…
and she’s engaged.
many of the tit pics were leaked in the sony hack, and so this could be seen as empowering. but, again due to placement in the book, positioned just before the engagement, they feel like a guide for “Using Sexy Selfies to Get Him to Put a Ring on It.”
which was a plot twist that made me want to hurl selfish across the room.
and so, rather unexpectedly, the most interesting aspect of selfish is everything that comes before kanye. to such a degree that the rest of the book feels like filler.
she’s still traveling, still doing stuff, but it’s like she had waaaaaaay more fun assembling the first half then totally checked out.
there’s 20 pages on a trip to thailand. hilariously “the prettiest place” she’s ever been and, of course, we see none of it because we’re only seeing selfies.
of the first half, the telegraph concluded “It should be dreadful, but it isn’t. Surprisingly, it’s a rather enchanting document,” which probably explains why i was so annoyed by the ending. this rather silly, sweet story is indeed enchanting- because it feels both familiar (we’ve been looking at kardashian for years) and refreshingly not precious.
the problem is this: for the first half of selfish, i was surprised by kim kardashian. the whole second half, i wasn’t.
BUT. perhaps i’ve wrongly blamed kanye here.
kim kardashian didn’t join instagram until february 2012. 2012 is the point in selfish when, per the telegraph, “the fun disappears.”
perhaps the narrative shift that so bothered me has nothing to do with kanye. perhaps it doesn’t have anything to do with stories or words either.
maybe it’s just the joie de vivre of photographs taken for pleasure versus photographs intended for public consumption from the outset.
as sontag writes in on photography, “the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.”
sontag contended that “a photograph could also be described as a quotation, which makes a book of photographs like a book of quotations,” and that “because they [photographs and quotations] are taken to be pieces of reality,” they are seen as being “more authentic than extended literary narratives.”
perhaps selfish irked me because, reading it, i thought it would transcend the standard boring literary tropes. it’s failure to do so, especially after displaying such promise in the first 200 pages, made it doubly frustrating.
photographs are “measuring the lost past…, taking the temperature of the present,” sontag claimed. as a book of photographs and as a memoir, selfish illuminates the ways in which we have progressed in our story-telling about women’s lives- and, of course, by extension, the way women are actually living their lives now- whilst also setting in high relief the ambiguities inherent in such a course.