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Newfound Footage from Stephen Elliott’s Shining Postscript and the Politics of Reading “Adrien Brody”

“It never ceases to startle me that a brilliant thinker can be such a bad writer. It challenges some of my preconceptions about language and thought.”—Rob Horning, “Exhaustion of generic raw material”

Frank Hinton would be the first to tell you that I adore Steve Roggenbuck. Not only did his star rise as fast as Tao Lin’s—he emerged on the online alt-lit scene like an explosion—and his universe is still expanding. The only two writers of whom I can think that have matched his output are Roxane Gay and Blake Butler, (I see xTx everywhere, too). Not that it’s a race or anything, or that we should feel the compunction of competition. We’re in this together more than we know—hence the hostilities whenever someone emerges and receives a little bit of exposure. Still, to think that Roggenbuck has done it—and continues to do it—without recourse or dependency on any of the online lit scene’s publishing machinations is astounding. While poetry editor last fall at Eleven Eleven: A Journal of Literature & Art (edited by Hugh Behm-Steinberg, whose poem in decomP you should read here), I solicited Roggenbuck. He was positively thrilled, expressed how he always wanted to be in the journal, but quickly became, almost innocently, concerned about which poems he should send me.

It never happened, of course. I was exhausted writing a novella, finishing graduate school, and trying to start a career—as a teacher no less. And I let things slip. Neither of us got back to each other and by the time the term was over, I could care less. But this is the other thing I like about Steve Roggenbuck: his politics. To be honest, I don’t know what Roggenbuck means when he calls himself post-corporate, but I like it. He seems to live up to it, too—all his work is free and available on his website, and a few other places—and that’s not because it’s not wanted. It’s because Roggenbuck has decided it’s better that way, that there is value in refusing the online alt-lit’s universal twitch toward corporatization. Besides, I like Steve Roggenbuck because watching him at the Alt-Lit Gossip Awards was better than watching cable. Satanic cats, fuck yeah. At a time when certain writers still hold fast to the misunderstood Warholian I-want-to-be-a-corporation mentality, Roggenbuck represents the resistance. You should read his poetry.

Stephen Elliott‘s fiction has not always been, for me, the brightest sun in the galaxy. Although there are moments when it does shine—I almost always seem to know what’s going to happen next. And that’s okay. Predictability provides a certain kind of comfort. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t want to bask in the glow of Elliott’s inconsistent wattage or lurk around in his writing’s shadows—which, I wish there were more of.

I do.

Stephen Elliott’s writing—for better and worse—has informed my writing. I mean, Stephen Elliott has basically made a career out of writing about sex, drugs, murder—in broad daylight. He’s like the straight guy’s Dennis Cooper. Which is one of the reasons I read him, even though I’m gay. In fact, I have read almost everything he’s ever written. But let me be clear: writing sex, drugs, and murder, journalistically—the way Stephen Elliott writes it—straight-forward, tight, masculine, slightly twisted, bright (like Stephen Elliott, himself) is a major, minor accomplishment. And that’s okay. For the relatively heterosexual people living in the Bay Area thirsting for relatively straight literary porn (and for submissive men specifically), he’s pretty much all we got (and let me be clear: I’m not submissive, but there are moments when it’s nice to dream). Besides, his male characters give a whole new meaning to the term submission policy. (I promise at least one porn link every essay.)

On top of that, I look forward to watching Cherry, the film he will be directing.

Like I said before, it is nice to receive attention. Even when that attention is tacit. Even when it’s negative. Even when that attention is brought to my attention by somebody I wish I knew better. As you may know, my name is not big-time. I have not generated a sex scandal or written about all the girls I’ve sodomized (coming soon) or how I never—and I mean never—use condoms. Or that I may be the only person on the planet who can claim to have had sex with Kathy Acker and Peter Sotos—not at the same time, unfortunately. (That’s right, I’m name-dropping.) But, when I do decide to write about it, I will expect Farrar, Straus & Giroux to come knocking at my door with a book deal. The formula is simple: describe act objectively, respond to act honestly, generate scandal, repeat. If I learned anything from the most current streak of literary minimalists, it is that.

More on Stephen Elliott: A few days ago Madison Langston (you need to read her stuff on Ilk, here) forwarded me this text message: “Stephen Elliott just sent me yr lil article[.]” At the time I received the message I didn’t think much about it. I was receiving too many facebook messages and too many text messages about my ‘lil’ article on Marie Calloway to care, really. What I felt was profoundly peculiar was not the enormity of the number of responses I received, but how they were almost all sent to me privately—lest the Muumuu House of Corrections get wind of a restless populous starting to embrace paradox and question a certain manneristic, deceptively neutral logic that seeks appropriate online behavior and public forum decency at every turn, I don’t know? But, it intrigued me. Haters are going to hate, that’s for sure. But there is pleasure in hating. We should cultivate it, provisionally, amongst the arts. Because I believe it is good for the arts. Inconsideration generates disaster. It is what our writing is all about: adrift on a sea beneath a starless night sky. For those of you who have forgotten—or for those of you who have not heard me say it before—our alt-lit universe is tiny, hardcore, and ruthlessly competitive, a veritable corporation of the small arts, a square universe to be exact, built by squares for squares. And that’s okay. I wouldn’t be able to fit anywhere else. So, let’s hate.

Of course, I asked Madison Langston’s permission to publish the text message Stephen Elliott had sent her about my article. She said, “Ha yes [. . .]” I don’t know why I did this. I guess I wondered if journalistic standards require that I get Stephen Elliott’s permission, too? Or, perhaps, since he was the writer of the message, that I get his permission first—or maybe solely? It doesn’t matter, really. Whether I got permission or not, I was going to publish it anyway. Besides, Stephen Elliott, the editor of The Rumpus, read my article. That possibility got me fired-up (that, and learning that the legendary Dodie Bellamy linked it on her blog, then removed it because she didn’t want to be part of the conversation). And even if Stephen Elliott didn’t read it, even if he merely read only so far, scanned the list of names of facebook friends that I do and don’t want to fuck, noticed a name he recognized of someone whom he fucked, or wants to fuck, or thinks is cute, or believes is immensely talented, or is just a friend, or whatever, and came up with an excuse to text her—regardless of all that, Stephen Elliott sent Madison Langston my little article. I thought that was kind of neat. Of course, he didn’t link it on The Rumpus. I’m not Jimmy Chen or Kate Zambreno or Roxane Gay (all wonderful writers you should read). But, shit, what a nice way to start off the week.

On the other hand, my article about Marie Calloway was not really an article about Marie Calloway, which might explain why Stephen Elliott, or whomever, didn’t link it on The Rumpus. I understand that my article was not gossipy or abusive enough to get people to respond to it—publicly. That makes sense. No, my article about Marie Calloway was about the politics of reading “Adrien Brody”—and the challenge to read the story as if “Marie Calloway” did not exist. (And that’s what I’m going to do on my next post.)

It’s funny but three days later, Stephen Elliott would make the same ‘argument’ in a postscript following his interview with Marie Calloway published on The Rumpus: “Postscript: While the story Adrien Brody is supposed to be based on a real experience Adrien Brody was published as fiction. I think it’s only fair to read it as such and to withhold judgements from the participants as you would with any work of fiction.”

I want you to notice something, the key to that postscript: “Adrien Brody was published as fiction. I think it’s only fair to read it as such . . . .” That should have been enough. It wasn’t. The phrase that follows the conjunction got everybody who read the postscript crazy: “and to withhold judgements from the participants as you would with any work of fiction.” Of course, what followed this phrase was total confusion—in the comments section—and rightfully so. “Participants” is situated ambiguously. It could refer to either the “real experience” participants in the nonfiction account of “Adrien Brody” published on Marie Calloway’s blog (and now removed) and Thought Catalog or the participants as fictional characters in the now fictional story “Adrien Brody” published on Muumuu House.

I decided to read the postscript—and understand the use of the word “participants”—as an invitation to read “Adrien Brody” as fiction, judge the characters in “Adrien Brody” as you would fictional characters. In other words, do not judge them as actual, real experience, people. (Fifty-four [last I counted] comments failed to do that. I promise I won’t fail to do that—and let me add a little hubris to the mix: one day The Rumpus will invite me to write a regular column for them.) But once again, the reading public was duped (not entirely their fault) into a prolonged debate in the comments section about judgment, the writer’s feminism, the ethics of publicity, gossip, what’s fair game and what’s not in evaluating something that may or may not be fiction, the logic and claims of the postscript itself, and so on and so on.

All important social and political issues, but meanwhile, the story “Adrien Brody” has become, fittingly, the back story—and the quest for a close reading of the story remains, well, absent while at the same time the advancement of confessional writing remains stuck in 1950s America.

Just so we’re clear: Marie Calloway’s story “Adrien Brody” is fiction. We didn’t need Stephen Elliott or Tao Lin or Marie Calloway to tell us that. So, why all the fuss? Let’s read it as such. And tomorrow, if Calloway decides that “Adrien Brody” may make a better memoir, we can read it that way, too. So, what?

Welcome to the New New Narrative.

3 thoughts on “Newfound Footage from Stephen Elliott’s Shining Postscript and the Politics of Reading “Adrien Brody”

  1. janey smith you are the only person that can continue to talk about ‘marie calloway’ without finding me immediately rolling my eyes, thank fucking christ

    your writing over here is continually amazing.

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