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Issue 200

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster on Katharine Burdekin

‘Burdekin was a feminist, speculative, dystopian writer of essential texts’

BY Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster in Fan Letter | 08 FEB 19

Portrait of Katharine Burdekin. Courtesy: © Estate of Katharine Burdekin

In the context of a resurgent authoritarianism and fascism, in which human arrogance and predacity threaten biodiversity, I often find myself thinking about an as-yet-unrealized biography of Katharine Burdekin, which might be written by Daphne Patai, author of The Orwell Mystique (1984), who is credited with ‘rediscovering’ Burdekin’s work.

Also known as Murray Constantine, Burdekin was a feminist, speculative, dystopian writer of essential texts such as Proud Man (1934), The End of This Day’s Business (published posthumously in 1989) and, more famously, Swastika Night (1937). In a possible future, this biography would sit on a pile with books by Ursula K. Le Guin, Paul B. Preciado, Joanna Russ and Mary Shelley.

Dear Daphne,

Discovering Katharine Burdekin feels as important to me as unearthing the many Hilma af Klint paintings that remained hidden for so long. So intrigued was I to read in one of your afterwords that ‘Burdekin wrote in what her companion describes as periods of near possession’. That, while she wrote, she ‘would not really be there for some weeks’; that ‘she was not in the accepted sense a thinker […] She was a piece of cosmic blotting paper, or sponge, which some power squeezed, and out welled a strange confection.’ More Burdekin!

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster lives in Paris, France, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her work has recently been included in group shows at Shanghai Himalayas Museum, China, Centre Pompidou-Metz, France, Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing, China, Times Museum, Guangzhou, China, and Villa Empain, Brussels, Belgium