'Shooting from the Hip': Valerie Solanas, SCUM and the Apocalyptic Politics of Radical Feminism

Article excerpt

   I consider that a moral act. And I consider it immoral that
   I missed.
   I should have done target practice. (1)

   --Valerie Solanas commenting on her near-fatal shooting of
   Andy Warhol in 1968

   Valerie Solanas took the elevator and got off at the fourth floor
   She pointed the gun at Andy saying you can't control me anymore ...
   Valerie Solanas waved her gun pointing at the floor
   From inside her idiot madness spoke and bang
   Andy fell to the floor
   And I believe life's serious enough for some retribution
   I believe being sick is no excuse
   And I believe I would've pulled the switch on her myself

   --John Cale and Lou Reed, 'I Believe'

Introduction

In the early afternoon of June 3rd, 1968, the summer of the student uprisings across the US, Valerie Solanas waited, clutching a paper bag, outside Andy Warhors new gallery and office space, the Factory, at 33 Union Square, New York. It was a warm summer day but Solanas was heavily dressed and she had even applied a little makeup--from all accounts something she reserved for special occasions. When Warhol and his assistant arrived in a taxi, Solanas rode with them in the elevator up to the gallery. After exchanging a few words with Solanas, Warhol and his entourage went about their business, ignoring her presence. A few minutes later, Solanas pulled a .32 calibre automatic pistol from the paper bag and fired three times at Warhol. Only one bullet hit her target, but it seriously wounded Warhol, 'entering through the left lung and hitting the spleen, stomach, liver and oesophagus before penetrating the right lung and exiting from the side.' (2) She then fired at a visiting art dealer, hitting him in the left buttock, before catching the elevator down to the ground floor. Later that evening, having surrendered herself and the gun to a traffic policeman in Times Square, Solanas was taken to the 13th Precinct Booking Room where she openly confessed to the shooting of Warhol.

It is this incident for which most people remember Solanas, if they remember her at all. In popular accounts of the shooting, her guerrilla action was always already mediated by her victim's celebrity status as representative of the disreputable world of the 1960s New York avantgarde. As Germaine Greer writes, Solanas 'was too easily characterised as a neurotic, perverted exhibitionist, and the incident was too much a part of Warhol's three-ring circus of nuts for her message to come across unperverted.' (3) Overshadowed by Warhol's seductive public persona then, the unanimous conclusion of the media was that Solanas was mad, (4) and it is this one-dimensional image of the crazed Solanas that has left its (albeit faint) mark on modern American history. As a consequence, within the spaces of popular culture, it is rarely acknowledged that, in addition to having shot a pop-art icon, Solanas was also the author of one of the most incendiary texts of modern feminism, The SCUM Manifesto.

Self-published by Solanas in 1967, the SCUM Manifesto is one of the few remaining concrete legacies of Solanas' existence. In the opening paragraph she wrote:

   Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of
   society being at all relevant to women, there remains to
   civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow
   the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete
   automation, and destroy the male sex. (5)

And later in the manifesto, she describes SCUM's activities as follows:

   SCUM will always operate on a criminal as opposed to a
   civil-disobedience basis, that is, as opposed to openly violating
   the law and going to jail in order to draw attention to an
   injustice ... SCUM--always selfish, always cool--will always aim
   to avoid detection and punishment. SCUM will always be furtive,
   sneaky, underhanded ... SCUM will coolly, furtively, stalk its prey
   and quietly move in for the kill. …