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Eight years after her death, I met Sarah Jacobson through her archives–Dale Carnegie and all

By Militant Maudlinist Note from Therese: We're huge fans of the tumblr Militant Maudlinist as well as the person who writes it. So, we're excited to share a recent post about the late Sarah Jacobson, who left a truly inspiring legacy for the rest of us feminist media makers. Or, in the words of the website of the grant that bears her name: Her films reflected her punk sensibilities, her feminist beliefs, and her dedication to DIY principles.

Above: Fan-made trailer for Sarah Jacobson’s 1993 I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER.

“See the horror of righteous dismemberment! Feel the triumph when sexist pigs are wasted! Hear the screams of terror! Join Mary, America’s favorite female serial killer, who kills off dumb men.”

What I want for Chanukah is THIS MOVIE.

Sarah Jacobson passed away in 2004 (at 32 years old) but according to the person who made the trailer above, you can buy I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER for $10 from her mother, Ruth. Contact info can be found at the wordpress site for the film grant created in her name.

Additionally, Jacobson’s work and papers are housed at NYU’s Fales Library (the guide to everything in her archives is here). Eyeing the list, I can’t help but feel this loss that is a gaping space, although an unexpected one, given that up until 2 days ago I had never heard of Sarah Jacobson. This list of books, zines, comics, magazines, and movies Jacobson owned conjures up a really intriguing version of who she might have been, and I’ve got that frustrated racing sense of someone who desperately wants something definitively out of reach. This is to say that suddenly I really want to know this person who is gone, and admitting that is disorienting.

The following are some entries in Jacobson’s archive guide, which for all kinds of reasons caught my attention:

Doucet, Julie. Dirty Plotte. # 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Homopunk World, #1; # 2, Summer 1999; # 3, Summer 2000.

Dangerous Pussy, # 2, 3.

Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Pocket Books, 1998.

Lamarr, Hedy. Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman. New York: Fawcett Crest Books, 1967.

Random Letters to Ransom Girls, n.d.

Huber, Cheri. The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth. Murphys, CA: Keep It Simple Books, 1999.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Perennial Library, 1990.

Katz, Robert. Love is Colder than Death: The Life and Times of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. New York: Random House, 1987. (2 copies)

Linklater, Richard. Slacker. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

Nin, Anais. The Diary of Anais Nin, Volume Two 1934 - 1939. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967.

Playboy, vol. 39, no. 9, 1992; vol. 41, no.3, 1994.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.

Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.

Waters, John. Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste. New York: Delta Books, 1985.

I picked out some of these items, like John Waters and Zora Neale Hurston for instance, because they’re charged with special meanings for me. Hedy Lamarr’s memoir simply fills me with wonder, generally. Cheri Huber’s The Depression Book 1. reminds me I really want to read Kristeva’s Black Sun; and 2. gives me an opportunity to guess at how similar we might have been, and thinking about myself thinking about that makes me uncomfortable. But still, I do. What would she have thought of a book like that? Did she read it and hate it or did she say Well it’s got a lousy title but makes a few decent points, although it’s not the kind of thing I want to tell friends about. Were her struggles deeply private?

Some items in the archive remind me of friends, of college, of a trip I went on, of blogs I read, and of people I fleetingly and embarrassingly have projected desire on. Some of the self-help books not listed here seem to me almost too private to be displayed as they are, revealing dimensions of Jacobson’s life I feel I’m not supposed to know; and there’s this moment of cringing on my part to see such private things aired out like that—and this is me—and then I understand that as humiliation is conditional one of the conditions is probably the original humiliated subject being alive.

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People clearly provoked a walloping ”what.” Maybe someone gave it to her as a joke, or maybe she wanted to know what all the hype was about. Maybe she would have incorporated it into one of her films. I thought these things and I also thought of my high school boyfriend, who in the year that we dated I was never allowed to call my boyfriend (fyi: when there was a mouse in the studio last year I named him in honor of the non-boyfriend because of the “rustling” sound he made. While I understand generally not wanting to name un-domesticated rodents, I think if one going to said rodent should always be in honor of those one has been jilted by). His dad once gave him a copy of that book. It never seemed a believably sincerely given gift but also not obviously a joke, and I didn’t ask. For whatever reason that book has become a stalwart vividness of a time I mostly know obliquely.

There are multitudes of potential stories behind every archived item. What does it mean to get to know someone primarily through her archive (rather than for instance read about someone or read her work and then seek out her archives for supplementary info)? What kind of representation of a person does the archive (as a repository of things she owned, or works she made) conjure?

Something that interests me about the archival representation, and I guess archival knowledge more broadly, is the part the seeker plays in creating it. The knowledge I’ve gleaned out of Sarah Jacobson’s archive reflects the time and place I’m in, as well as the experiences I bring into the act of looking. When I make my lists I am able to see this broken down more clearly: how an imagined subject is always somehow made of others. My accumulation of events, people, desires, objects, and opinions situate me uniquely to see those of another person, and to consider what the connection is between such an accumulation and the subject. Alternatively, the act of virtually rifling through another person’s accumulation shows mine differently, and has me wondering myself about how my own desires and objects and all of that constitutes who I am.

Maybe this is because I have a blog but maybe also for more reasons, I like an idea of knowledge that grows out of permission to not focus. Considering my own process of looking at Jacobson’s archive reveals a way of knowing in which distraction is productive. In this context of the archive the wandering, undisciplined, and let’s be honest, self-involved mind achieves real insight. What I know of Sarah Jacobson is clearly incomplete, probably distorted in several ways, and perhaps disproportionately about myself. While these would be methodological concerns for some kind of biography I think for other purposes they make for strange and enhanced inquiry.

Suggested tags (If we had them): Epistemologies of Distraction, Narcissistic Inquiry, Partial Subjectivity, Archives