Valerie Solanas (April 9, 1936 – April 25, 1988) is nothing if not divisive. She was a mysterious Villager known for being a radical lesbian feminist separatist, for writing the wild, controversial SCUM Manifesto, for shooting Andy Warhol and two others at Warhol’s Factory in Union Square and defending herself at her trial. It’s clear that what is known about Solanas is generally anecdotal, possibly mythology, and often unconfirmed – emblematic of a life lived outside of the bounds of society, which Solanas did by a combination of choice and necessity. There are more questions than answers about Solanas, but looking at her in context and in light of the many readings and retellings of her work over the past decades can give depth to a messy story about a messy woman.
Valerie Solanas leaving the police station after shooting Andy Warhol
I’m thinking about Valerie Solanas and her ever-changing legacy. Did she intend “SCUM” to stand for “Society for Cutting Up Men?” Did she shoot Andy Warhol because he snubbed the play she wrote which he refused to produce, or as a valiant metaphorical act against the patriarchal art apparatus of her time? Did her gun really jam because she’d wrapped her bullets in aluminum foil, thinking that only silver bullets could kill the vampire, Andy Warhol? How influenced was she by the social and political unrest and militant movements around her in the Village and beyond, as she lived, worked, and waged battles in the Village? Was Valerie Solanas off her rocker? Maybe. Was she a prescient and trailblazing figure of radical feminism? Probably. Was she a renegade? A Villager, as only Villagers can be? Definitely. Let’s explore.
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