Writing to Herself: A Review of Love and Money, Sex and Death by McKenzie Wark

What would you say if you could talk to your younger self? To people who meant a lot to you but who’ve passed away? Would you tell them how they’ve shaped you? What have you been up to since? Or just relive old memories?

In her new memoir Love and Money, Sex and Death, theorist and professor McKenzie Wark faces these questions. Told as a sequence of letters to everyone from her mom to ex-lovers to herself, she takes readers into her past and the experiences and people who made her what she is today. The book travels from her youth in Newcastle through time spent in China and as a professor in Sydney before ultimately settling in New York City. 

I cried during some of these letters. 

Wherein Raving was a series of theory-as-practice set pieces, and Reverse Cowgirl used trans narratives to make sense of transition, Love and Money, Sex and Death cuts closer to the bone. The epistolary form has Wark lay herself bare emotionally and let the reader in. I cried during some of these letters. 

At the same time, Wark sets firm boundaries: one doesn’t get the same sense of knowing her family or other friends to the same extent. But, of course, you don’t need to. Letters ultimately are more about the person writing them than the person who receives them, and in these, Wark lets us inside enough to get glimpses of what makes her tick, get off, and laugh. But as she notes, her book is a reflection of herself. To wit:

“I speak about us, but it’s an us that’s only ever some of us. Us is an-other. To those who don’t want to be included, there’s plenty of other covers of care.” 

Wark lets herself breathe in these letters. She’s not Professor Wark explaining theory; she’s not McKenzie, the woman you spy on across the dancefloor. She never gets bogged down in metaphysics, and there’s almost no cross-referencing with other texts. Instead, she writes about herself, her late transition, and the axis of feminism and being trans. In a particularly moving letter, she addresses the Greek goddess Cybele and lays out not only a history of trans femininity but also what drives her sense of being. Similarly, another letter to Venus addresses the need for intersectional feminism and the extra burden black trans women are forced to carry in contemporary society.

Indeed, this is not a book about being trapped in the wrong body; if anything, Wark writes about how the body itself is a trap

It’s to Wark’s credit that Love and Money, Sex and Death avoids a lot of the cliches and trappings of the form. “Memoir, the confused account of the true self,” she writes, “is demanded of us. Fuck that.” Indeed, this is not a book about being trapped in the wrong body; if anything, Wark writes about how the body itself is a trap. It’s comparable to last year’s Faltas by Cecilia Gentili, who wrote about her past in a similar form. There are definite differences: Gentili is funny, while Wark is more serious and inclined to theorize. 

Compared to her previous memoirs, Love and Money is slight but packs more of an emotional punch than Reverse Cowgirl, and it feels more alive than Raving. One is left not only with a feeling of who McKenzie is but also what made her the person she now is. It’s an accessible introduction to her and maybe her most personal work yet.