I recently wrote an article about failure. The text received moderate attention. I was glad about that. I like attention.
I also like pornography. I watch porn almost every night. I’m not joking. When I am involved with someone sexually, I watch porn less.
I have certain fetishes. For one, I love acne. When I see a woman with acne on her face, I pursue her. When I am involved with a woman who has acne, I like to pop the pimples with my teeth and suck. I like to tongue the scars left behind by severe acne. I like to whip acne-covered tits to watch the zits bleed. I cannot justify my lust for acne. I will not defend it. My lust for acne—a personal one—and my representation of it here—a public one—operate within two different domains of logic, perhaps. More on that later maybe.
About a month ago I received a facebook message from Marie Calloway. I am no independent literary superstar. If Jimmy Chen developed a graph of an online literary universe I would be somewhere furthest from the binary-star solar system that is governed by Blake Butler and Tao Lin.
I don’t even remember how Marie Calloway and I became facebook friends. My guess is that I probably saw a photograph of her on my sidebar, thought she was cute, and requested she become my facebook friend. I do this or I scour through my friends’ facebook friends searching for pretty girls to friend on a fairly regular basis.
Again I am a very minor writer in the Butler-Lin solar system. I don’t write for money—the demand for my work is not that strong. One hundred-fifty copies of my first book, Animals, were printed. One hundred-fifty copies of my first book, Animals, were sold. A second printing of my first book, Animals, will be released in January. But this is minor stuff compared to other writers within the system. And it is a system. More on that later perhaps.
I don’t write because I feel lonely. My feelings of loneliness preceded my attempts to write. My feelings of loneliness inform my writing. But, I don’t write because I feel lonely. And I don’t write because I need attention.
Although, I do love attention.
I write because it’s fun. And because I like to make things. But mostly, I write because I hate this society and I want something else.
Let me be clear: I hate this society. And hating this society, to me, is fun.
This brings me back to Marie Calloway. About a month ago I received a facebook message from her, which simply said, “Mew.” I am certain that I am not the first person nor will be the last who will receive a message from Marie Calloway that says, “Mew.” What else is a woman, who speaks with her pussy, supposed to say?
That’s not fair, I know. Men have been speaking with their cocks for thousands of years—and look where we are now? Besides, I’m not here to essentialize, but to question. Well, maybe to essentialize a little.
I responded to Marie Calloway’s message with a video of Ted Nugent playing “Cat Scratch Fever”. We sent short messages back and forth. Some were flirtatious. Others, matter of fact. I was curious. Perhaps she was, too. I liked that she had given me a little attention. And I wanted to return the attention, maybe even get to know a little bit more about Marie Calloway, my mysterious facebook friend.
It’s funny, when I think about the girls who are my friends on facebook with whom I would want to have sex, Marie Calloway was not, and still is not, one of them. This is not intended to be an insult. I don’t believe Marie Calloway was interested in having sex with me either. But, I may never know.
Anyway, when I do think about some of the girls who are my facebook friends with whom I would want to have sex, I think of: Rebecca Bridge, Allison McSurely, Catie Rae, Emji Spero, Kirsty Watt, Lindsay Allison Ruoff. And those are just the ones who I believe are single—who I believe I may have a chance with. If you want controversy, I don’t think I’d be the first to say that I’d love to have sex with Gena Mowish or Carolyn Zaikowski. But that would complicate things—perhaps I’ve already complicated them by stating them here—and besides, I happen to be gay.
I mean, not even Madison Langston comes to mind when I’m on facebook and I’m looking for sex. Although ultimately I would love to spend the rest of my life with Deb Olin Unferth, I still think Sara Wintz is hot. And if Ji Yoon Lee said, “I want you.” I’d come running.
Recently I have had a facebook crush on Shawna Yang Ryan, but I have a feeling she thinks I’m weird.
I love commodities. Now, I suspect that most people reading this will say, “He’s being insincere.” Or, “He’s being disingenuous.” Or, “He’s trying to be funny.”
I love commodities and I love people who try—and somewhat succeed—in becoming a commodity. For example, after a rough start (I still don’t believe he trusts me, even though I suspect he reads me–although I don’t believe he’d ever admit it), I can finally say, “I love Tao Lin.” And I mean it. I love Tao Lin. I mean, I defend him to people who attack him. Of course, my defense of him is paradoxical. I like some of the writing, but I don’t like the writing because I like Tao Lin. More importantly, I like Tao Lin because I like the writing. I don’t believe I’m alone on this.
But I also like Tao Lin, the commodity, regardless of the writing. That’s right. Even if the writing sucked per se, I would still like Tao Lin, the commodity. I can’t say the same for Britney Spears. I’m not really into her music. Nor for Marie Calloway. Not yet anyway. She hasn’t achieved the kind of status of the commodity that I desire to have. This is not to say that I dislike Marie Calloway, the person. I like Marie Calloway, the person. And I still like Marie Calloway, the person, despite what the New York Observer published in its thing on her. In fact, I continue to like Marie Calloway, the person—even though she has since de-friended me on facebook. I sent her a message last night asking why, but she hasn’t responded. Perhaps she never will?
Let me be clear about the story ‘everyone’ is talking about: I have questions about the ‘Adrien Brody’ text written by Marie Calloway and published on Thought Catalog and, later, Muumuu House. I wonder why the story is so lengthy? And I am curious as to why the accounts of sex are described the way that they are? The story’s effects, in general, seem normalizing—as if the writer wants to keep things just the way they are—or perhaps were. That’s okay. But I always want something else when I read a story. And yet, I also value Calloway’s ‘Adrien Brody’ story for precisely those very same reasons I listed above. I also happen to like the ‘Adrien Brody’ story because Marie Calloway wrote it.
It seems that the market forces us to behave in strange fucking ways. Everybody in the independent lit universe knows that HarperPerennial belongs to the same corporation that owns Fox News. And yet, we all press ‘like’ when Blake Butler sneezes or when Dennis Cooper puts his thumb to a keyboard. And that’s okay. I know I would still like what Blake Butler and Dennis Cooper do even if they weren’t involved with the Fox News machinery. Just as I would still like what Tao Lin does even if I found out that he didn’t support the Occupation Movement. And Marie Calloway? I love that she’s a Marxist, whatever that means today. I love that she’s a feminist, whatever that means right now. I love that she’s getting attention.
Why? Because I also have a fetish for desperation, for women who act desperate and make it seem that they need to be saved. I don’t feel I’m alone on this.
Face it. We want attention. Some people are really good at getting it. If you get enough of it, you get a book deal. That’s how the market works. Your book doesn’t have to be excellent anymore. Just saleable. And yet, Marie Calloway has not signed a contract with Vintage, yet. Nor with HarperPerennial. But I would be willing to wager that Calloway would be more likely to be offered a contract by a major publisher than Roxane Gay and for reasons I don’t even feel I have to state. And that’s not okay. More on that later perhaps.
Nevertheless, I believe the reason for the negative attention given to Marie Calloway is because she is now associated with a group that many people within our little internet writing universe want to be associated with. This is all pretty cookie-cutter, I know. The ingredients are pretty simple: look hot, be fuckable, write anything, attract the attention of Lin, write anything some more, get published, get attention. It’s not that difficult. It works. Calloway will soon publish a book (think Ellen Kennedy or Megan Boyle) and will carry on a sexual relationship with Lin, or not.
It’s a pretty sweet deal actually. And it is supported by historical precedence—by Tao Lin, of course, but also by the history of literature and the arts itself.
But it still makes me curious.
It’s interesting that Calloway and her story—and all the discussion about them—have come to light at about the same time that a review of Blake Butler’s Nothing (HarperPerennial, 2011) was published by the New York Times. In short, both Calloway’s story and Butler ‘memoir’ are nothing short of nothing. That is, are of utterly no importance. This gives them their momentous strength. But, it cannot guarantee their lasting power. And it’s true. Who you sleep with will get you somewhere. Abuse of power is everywhere, though—even, and especially, in the arts—and abuse of power is seductive. If certain people like you, it follows that they will publish you. It doesn’t matter if you believe your writing is better than Calloway’s. There are no rules, really—or standards—if you decide to play in this universe. There are tendencies, however. And a certain logic. However, you must become accustomed to living within this universe of name-drop and corporate luncheon-mentality if you want to be a part of it, because the arts, here, in this tiny little bubble of a universe, are much like a corporation’s.
It is because of this, finally, that we can breathe a sigh of relief. We have arrived at the moment in the history of the small arts when careerism and the desire for the commodification of the self-as-artist are central to the development of not the arts but of a career as an artist—and that holds special weight in our small universe.
Face it. It’s what we all want. And if you don’t believe me, notice the role identity politics plays in all of this. It’s inescapable (for now).
On the one hand, one can’t argue the merits of Calloway’s story [e.g. Justin Taylor] because there are no merits because everything belongs to the cult of subjectivity [e.g. James Yeh] (where there are no merits except for those that one wants to value). On the other hand, ‘Marie Calloway’—and how we interpret her, which should not be confused with how we relate to her, but oftentimes is—takes precedence over ‘her story’ [e.g. 'everyone' except Tao Lin and Marie Calloway and me] and has become so inextricably entwined with our interpretation of her story that to merely question her story as an art object or as literature—and that is just one of the things at stake here—is to not only question her personally but also to put into question our fragile place in the hierarchy of our small literary universe, is to threaten the foundations of our tiny, hardcore corporate universe, itself—and to bring reluctantly into play a history of feminism and a politics of exclusion.
Marie Calloway did not write ‘Adrien Brody’. Any more or less than Blake Butler wrote Nothing. We can dispense with both of them when reading either, or all, of their works. And whether you like it or not subjectivity is not enough. It does not constitute an argument. It is part and parcel of a logic that supports maintaining the way things are. It is how we elevate failure in the name of something that is merely special—or at most specious. It has become the dominant mode of interpretation within our small universe. It is how we make a case for stories we like because we like the person or because we believe that belief in such stories is not possible without belief in the personalities who produced them. It is a way to protect our fragile self-interest.
This is corporate ideology. It is why we are battling against ourselves over bad pornography that attempts to disguise itself as confessional moment—as literature perhaps—while being promoted by certain taste makers of the culture, all the while losing the war against the very corporate forces that finance Lin, Butler, the anarchist (and my friend) Dennis Cooper, etc.
Stop. Breathe. Listen.
You may have laughed at this article. You may have dismissed it thirteen paragraphs ago. That’s okay. Because I am laughing at it, too–and no sooner than I publish it, I will dismiss it.
But, you want something to comment about? You want to go to war? Ask yourself why you’re such a sucker for a teenage girl’s journal entries promoted as art when the most scandalous politico-economic acts of legislation written have been written against you precisely because you are artists, a race of thinkers, perhaps. Everywhere in this spiteful culture we are hated. We should be celebrating each others’ failures—in the most ludicrous ways, each and every moment, for all time.
And if you’re curious as to whether I’m joking, I am. I really, really, am.