Christmas with Marie Calloway

Orchestrating capital C Christmas for two kids takes a lot of labor and attention, but throughout the wrapping, unwrapping, cooking, and cleaning, I’ve been distracted by the story “Adrian Brody” and by the reactions it’s provoked. Won’t you join me in my obsession? You can read the story here, at Muumuu House. I recommend you do.

But if you’re going to skip it (it’s long) or read it later, here’s the minimum you need to know: The piece is written by a young woman writing under the pseudonym Marie Calloway, and it first appeared on her blog as a work of nonfiction. In it, Marie goes to New York and hooks up with an older intellectual she became aware of and then propositioned online. The man has a girlfriend and is apparently well-known enough in certain literary circles that his identity–and thus his girlfriend’s–is obvious to some even when his name is changed.

I was completely drawn into the story. It nakedly addresses so many issues I’m perennially interested in and currently writing about or around: Gender, youth, age difference, sexuality, power, honesty, attraction, ethics, transaction, responsibility.

I was even more fascinated by the responses to it. Kate Zambreno’s post about the whole brouhaha was my starting point. Kate’s novel Green Girl was one of the most interesting things I’ve read this year, and I’ve been walking around writing an essay inspired by it in my head, especially since discovering a forgotten cache of journals from my early 20s and recalling…. but I digress.

This New York Observer profile of Maria Calloway  provides the juiciest gossip behind the piece.

This reaction by Roxane Gay in HTML Giant asks interesting questions about the ethics of writing so openly about a situation that affects a third-person: in this case, the male character’s real-life girlfriend.

The ethics Roxane examines and the power dynamics between a hot young thing and an older intellectual male and, especially, the question of whether you should ever sleep with a writer if you have any sense of privacy or want propriety over your own story reminds me of the issues surrounding the novel You Deserve Nothing, which is about a high school teacher who has an affair with a student and which was written by Alexander Maksik, a high school teacher who had an affair with a student. Few people knew about Maksik’s firsthand experience with his subject until Jezebel broke the story after Maksik’s student lover herself contacted the blog. She and some of her classmates were upset about how closely the fiction aligned to the facts, how similar some of the female character’s dialogue and correspondence were to the student’s own. They’d tried to get the attention of the book’s publisher and The New York Times, which had reviewed the novel glowingly, but they got no response.

On Gawker, Hamilton Nolan harshes on Marie Calloway and what he sees as the droves like her, young women writing confessionally about sexual exploits and the people who think there’s something meaningful in such writing.

Here’s Marie Calloway’s reaction to the reactions.

And I’m missing some good ones. If you head down the rabbit hole, you’ll probably find them yourself.

I’m one of the people who believes there can be much that’s meaningful in reading and writing about first-person sexual encounters. I also believe that we all have a right to write from our lives. Or maybe the matter of “a right to” is moot. We’re going to write from our lives if we can’t stand not to, and then we’ll have to face the ramifications. And I understand why there will likely be ramifications. The anguish and frustration Masik’s student apparently feels struck a chord with me. Maybe she should make some art of her own about the situation. Among the many things it’s been accused of, “Adrian Brody” has been called revenge lit–a girl’s getting back at the smart guy who walked out when she wanted him to stay. But putting something down in words can have a purifying, clarifying effect. And some pretty great song lyrics can fall under the category of revenge lit. How much does the gender of the writer have to do with the reaction of the public when the topic is sex?

There’s a lot to work through here. To tell you the truth, it was fun, but I’m glad Christmas is over.

Update: The Rumpus posted an excellent interview with Marie Calloway herself. Here.

33 Comments on “Christmas with Marie Calloway

  1. Agreed on the purifying effect of putting words on paper–hell, that’s why we write, isn’t it? But the revenge aspect here is simply unfathomable. She wrote about this man using his real name originally, and then Tao Lin was highly unethical in not changing any of the identifying information on “Brody.” (How did he get away with that? By labeling it fiction? Weak defense. Libel cases are hard to prove but truth isn’t an absolute defense against libel, and I imagine that even if every word of “Adrien Brody” is true, the male subject might have a case. /law school rant)

    I’ve written plenty about my own life but I can’t imagine identifying someone, especially when the collateral damage is screamingly obvious. I can’t help but wonder if Calloway or Lin had some sort of other beef with Brody and his girlfriend. It just seems…cruel, to put this out there in a way that she/he knew would probably damage their personal and professional lives, or at least his professional life.

    If your writing depends upon the identity of the person you’re writing about instead of *your experience*, your writing is crap. That goes doubly for sex, and triply for sex writing by women. I didn’t think Calloway’s piece was as terrible as most seemed to (though it was pretty godawful, it had some thoughtful points), and if she’d trusted herself enough to write about her actual experience instead of hinging this upon Brody’s identity I’d be able to muster a modicum of respect for her.

    • Thanks for the comment. I don’t follow the literary circles that come into play in the story–few people do in the big scheme of things; one of the posts refer to the man’s micro-internet fame– and to me the focus is very much Marie experience; that’s what drew me in. I could have cared less who the guy was. I haven’t even googled to find out. Even if I did care, I disagree that only crap writing can emerge when the subject involves someone known. This year I reread memoirs by Joyce Johnson, Jack Keroauc’s girlfriend, and Hettie Jones, Amiri Baraka’s wife. They never would have been published if the guys weren’t famous, but both books are insightful and well-written. They exceed a lot that’s out there.

      I also don’t think someone’s micro-fame–or macro fame, for that matter–should protect him or her from the effects of their own bad actions. As others have pointed out, this guy hooked up with a blogger well-known for writing about her sex life. Her story might have made a bigger splash than he expected, but he can’t be blindsided that there is a story. It’s not my business, but his relationship with his gf might even be strengthened in the long run by the shit storm. Or it might end. Which might be for the best. Who are we to say? Either way, the infidelity occurred–if that’s even exactly what it was; not knowing them, I don’t know what promises they made to each other, and neither does Marie.

      In general, I’m finding I stand on the side of the less-powerful person in these matters, especially if they’re younger. Not having power shouldn’t mean that you’re the one who has to shut up.

      Having said all that, I acknowledge how complicated the issues are. Of course we should think about what we’re doing when we’re writing about other people. The pressure between the need to express an experience and the expediency of repressing it can be intense.

      Why do you think sex writing by women should be held up to a different standard than that by men? I don’t get that, although obviously you’re not alone in thinking so. Alexander Maksik certainly made a much bigger splash with his published novel an affair had in an ethical gray area, but the world doesn’t seem to care.

    • I’m with you until you get to “sex writing by women” being triply as “crap.” Why? If someone is a bad writer and their work is being published for reasons other than its merits as writing, why would the final product be worse when it’s by a woman as compared to when its by a man? I can’t even really parse what you’re saying in that paragraph, or why bad writing would need to be ranked by order of subject or gender of writer.

      • Oops, I thought I’d responded to both these comments but hadn’t. I articulated myself poorly: I don’t think that sex writing by women is crap. What I mean is that I hate seeing women–whose sexual choices and whose personal writings are so easily mocked and dismissed–exploit themselves in this manner. I feel like Marie Calloway set back first-person writing by women–including sex writing–through the ethical questions of this piece. There are so many tales to be told and a responsible writer wouldn’t have dragged a real person into this. It makes all sex writing by women seem to be revenge lit instead of, well, lit-lit. and it’s unfortunate.

  2. Not so much that I think women’s writing should be held to a different standard; more sort of as a responsibility to other women, I guess. Women’s writing is so easily dismissed, and sex writing in particular is mocked and written off as salacious that I suppose in the name of sisterhood I think that for women to just throw down the “I fucked a famous dude” card is irresponsible.

    I should clarify: I agree that writing about someone well-known doesn’t equal crap writing, but in this case it seems a thin protection against a revenge plot. (And I don’t think the piece was terrible, just would have preferred to see it stand on its own merits instead of exploiting the small level of “fame” the Internet writer had, which wasnt much.) The blogger “Marie” was writing about wasn’t well-known, or rather he was just well-known enough for people to pick up on him as an angle in the story. She’s since claimed she was writing about power dynamics in sexual relationships, which may be true, but if that’s the case why ruin the reputation of this dude, and publicly embarrass his girlfriend too? Who would do that?? It just seems like straight-up revenge writing in this case, but revenge for what? Not wanting to be her boyfriend? Yipes.

  3. Is this really such a fraught ethical topic? Would I be oversimplifying too much to say that needing strangers to know details about your life is just narcissistic, and that art that doesn’t transcend the need of the artist isn’t art after all, but something much more self-interested? (I say this not yet having read the Calloway piece–perhaps it’s brilliant, but I’m not encouraged by statements like “I guess ultimately I wanted to connect with others in order to feel less alone.” I don’t see any amount of feminist theory exculpating that one. That’s just not what writing (in the public sense) is for.

    It’s human to want people to know about you–we all need to be known by others–but that’s why we have friendship and other similar private relationships. Confusing this role with the public, artistic one (which all too few of us have the luxury of inhabiting) has a huge negative impact on everyone that looks to art for something grander than a balm for the artist’s loneliness).

    That’s not to say that there’s no place for memoir, just that we should valorize it when it’s used responsibly.

    (BTW, I’m definitely guilty of having used my (minor) public persona for the purposes of personal gratification. It’s perhaps an unavoidable temptation for anyone with the opportunity to be read by strangers. But that doesn’t mean we should encourage it or dress it up as anything more noble than what it actually is.)

    • Thanks for the comment, Chris. I haven’t thought much about this issue in relation to Art, but I don’t agree that “art that doesn’t transcend the need of the artist isn’t art after all, but something much more self-interested.”

      Or maybe I can agree with that, but think the story did transcend the need of the artist, in that I and others were engaged by it, and it has engaged many in conversation about big issues.

      I don’t necessarily see art serving as a balm for loneliness as excluding some grander purpose of art. I don’t know if I see a grander purpose. Communicating with others. Understanding oneself and maybe through that something more about the human condition. That’s big stuff.

      • Thanks for the link and the discussion.

        I do see a grander purpose, though I don’t think I’m up for articulating it today, except to say (this is a paraphrase of DFW) that good art should come from the part of us that seeks to love rather than be loved. It’s a gift. That doesn’t mean that artists are saints, just that their work is (as much as possible) saintly.

        I did go forth and read the original story after posting my last comment, and found it indulgent and unengaging. And it’s not like I dislike stories about people fucking other people. It just seemed to disdain structure, and treat every detail as uniquely important because it was something that happened to Marie. That’s good for therapy; not so much for storytelling, in my wish-it-were-humbler opinion.

  4. It’s probably not a useful exercise to guess at Marie’s motivations, but: I can’t resist! After reading “Adrian Brody,” I read what else I could easily find of hers. Writing about guys she’s fucked is her oeuvre. I’m going to guess there was no way she was not going to write about this encounter, whether the guy left the room after sex or followed her to Portland the next day.

    The power dynamics in sexual relationships seemed clear as a bell to me in the story; that’s what drew me in, I think.

    I don’t think she’s throwing down the “I fucked a famous dude” card. I think she’s throwing down the “I fucked a guy” card. I can understand the discomfort of that from the point of view of the sisterhood, but I’m in the sisterhood camp that believes avoiding topics of sex and the body out of shame or fear is in the end self-defeating.

    That said, I talk a game that when push comes to shove I don’t want to play. I’m interested in whether there are generational differences at play. I like to wonder how different my teens and twenties would have been if the internet was going on.

  5. After reading the piece and diving down the rabbit hole of commentary a bit, I had a few other thoughts to add both to the discussions of Art and of Ethics. The story, frankly, kinda bored me, but I would totally argue that “Marie” is doing more than just self-indulgent confession. There are aesthetic choices being made – the blank affect, the ultra-intimate details, etc, that are the hallmarks of a particular corner of the lit world, and they’re working in service to this sort of meta-analysis of narcissism and “celebrity” and confessional writing and all that. Whether you think she’s successful in the execution is one thing, but I could totally see what she’s doing as a (perhaps unsophisticated) formal experiment. Is …. I don’t know, Donald Judd working from the part of himself that seeks to love? (I just pulled that out of my ass, but you get my gist?) The commentary by Roxane Gay articulated the aesthetics of the literary movement/clique “Marie” is in thrall to pretty well …

    The ethics are more interesting to me. Yes, it sucks that the girlfriend got unknowingly drawn into this drama, and perhaps the tools of fiction could have been employed to better effect on the girlfriend’s behalf. But ultimately, c’mon, the burden is on the dude for whatever harm this dalliance did to his reputation and (perhaps) to his relationship. Because, at least “Marie” is completely frank about who she is. She may well regret all this openness when she’s older, but as someone who’s always been very private/secretive about her personal life, and who is trying of late to let a little light shine in, I am sort of awed by her empowerment to do and say as she pleases. So she’s curious about exploring sex and power and mining her own experience for detail. So what? Good for her. In another ten years she might be in a more interesting place.

    • There are aesthetic choices being made – the blank affect, the ultra-intimate details, etc, that are the hallmarks of a particular corner of the lit world, and they’re working in service to this sort of meta-analysis of narcissism and “celebrity” and confessional writing and all that.

      Fair enough, but the question remains regarding the value of those choices. Maybe that particular corner of the lit world just sucks? Maybe her experiment failed? My argument is that form and structure matter, regardless of the nobility of the artist’s intent (or perhaps it would be better to say the artist’s intent does not become noble until she considers the importance of form and structure.) Maybe Marie has done this, and I’ve just missed it because I’m not intimate with this genre. But it reads like something by someone who thinks that her feelings are important enough on their own to elicit interest in them from strangers, which is (to my mind) a confusion of public and private realms. To our friends, and family (and shrinks) our feelings are important enough. That’s why we have Facebook. (And even then, in the case of our friends, we earned the right to indulge them by demonstrating a basic level of trustworthyness.)

      But ultimately, c’mon, the burden is on the dude for whatever harm this dalliance did to his reputation and (perhaps) to his relationship.

      Surely not the whole burden? If some idiot leaves his keys on the top of his car (to use Camille Paglia’s ugly analogy defending date rape), we might not be shocked to find it missing the next day, but that doesn’t annihilate the moral question of whether it’s OK for us to steal it ourselves. Adrien Brody comes off as a butthead here, perhaps deserving of social disgrace, but what about the girlfriend? And why is it okay for Marie to describe his shallow (extremely private) behavior in unloving detail, taking no pains to disguise his identity, but not okay for the Observer or Gawker to call her a famewhore?

      I’m a little awed by her frankness, but I’m still inclined to think that posting pictures of some dude’s dried cum on your face on the internet leans more toward a cry for help than a literary exploration of sexual power. Ick.

      • I’ve been spending all morning lost in the “rabbit hole” of the “Adrien Brody” piece and feeling inexplicably uneasy about the whole thing. Having just recently read a piece by Jonathan Franzen called “Imperial Bedroom,” it’s incredible to me that, until reading your comments here, I was unable to find and solidify the source of my discomfort while first reading the piece and then the internet commentary surrounding it. I do believe that the above criticisms of the piece being artistically worthless because of its reliance on name-dropping and sensationalism are somewhat valid. Mostly, I simply felt that the piece was poorly written. As many others have suggested, I think it likely would have entered and exited a college creative writing class workshop with very little notice by anyone were it not for the fact that it concerns a marginally famous New York blogger. The writing itself is neither complex nor imaginative, and the author, despite what some have said, never transcends the “confessional” aspect of the piece to reach any larger message than “Dear Adrien Brody: you should be ashamed of yourself. So should I, but in truth, shame kind of turns me on.” I enjoy Anais Nin, and I feel that it is important to encourage young female writers to explore their feelings, sexual or otherwise. While it is important to encourage young girls to express themselves in the pursuit of sexual, emotional, and class equality for women, it is in no way necessary to encourage those who write poorly to publish their writing simply because it is of a sensational nature, or because sexual experience is included in its content. This piece isn’t intriguing, deadpan feminism– it’s gossip rag fodder, with the slight artistic advantage of being written in the first person, allowing feminists to claim it somehow gives a voice to young girls everywhere. I shudder at the thought.

        Name-dropping and fame-whoring aside, my own discomfort with the piece lies with the idea Schoen posits above: that Calloway appears to be “someone who thinks that her feelings are important enough on their own to elicit interest in them from strangers, which is…a confusion of public and private realms.” This, of course, is a tenet of most confessional blog writing, and had the piece been categorized simply as such, and relegated to the annals of the self-indulgent, sexually exploitative bloggers who seem to be so rampant nowadays, I’m not sure it would have raised my hackles as it did. Instead the piece is being touted as feminist literature and as artistically admirable. The sentiments written about in the piece as well as the actions taken by Calloway herself in pursuit of the piece have been ascribed value, artistic and otherwise, by writers like Emily Gould, whose opinions I ordinarily share. In my mind, the value of the piece in the realm of “real literature” or “art” is negligible. In “Imperial Bedroom,” Franzen writes, “A genuine public space is a place where every citizen is welcome to be present and where the purely private is excluded or restricted.” Perhaps my largest problem with the “Adrien Brody” piece is that it seems to be NOTHING but purely private. No greater message or conclusion is reached for or found. The piece is pure scandal expose. A commenter on a blog I read earlier on the topic claimed that the piece was flawed because neither Calloway nor Adrien Brody appeared to have “learned anything” from their experience. I instead believe the flaw lies in that we as readers learn nothing from the piece, other than that older men like to sleep with younger women, that sexual deviance and infidelity are titillating, and that even the best of us have a difficult time keeping ourselves from craning our necks at the sight of a car crash. Reading the piece provided me with no insight into human nature, into the nature of sex, or even into the nature of the author herself. It belongs on a personal blog– one that likely would have a very small readership were it not for the inclusion of the semi-famous blogger the piece maligns. Perhaps I am less offended by the Calloway and the piece itself than I am by the fact that it somehow reached my inbox this morning, and that feminist writers are lauding it. I feel much like Franzen did when reading the Starr report in the New York Times: “…what I felt as I sat alone in my apartment and tried to eat my breakfast was that my own privacy–not Clinton’s, not Lewinsky’s–was being violated. I love the distant pageantry of public life. I love both the pageantry and the distance…What I felt I felt personally. I was being intruded upon.” While this may be a larger criticism of the dirty laundry-ridden online life I seem forced to participate in nowadays, this does not discount the idea that “Adrien Brody” in no way falls under the category of important literature, nor should it be dissected or treated as such.

  6. Hi Chris – thanks for replying–

    I guess that’s the question, isn’t it? Does one have to be moved by a particular genre for it to be art? Can something fail and be art? Isn’t there failed art all around?!? Most of the time I don’t begrudge the artist their effort – just as, even though I’m not really a fan of black metal I can respect how black metal bands work within the parameters of their chosen genre (to choose an extreme example). This sort of blank first-person narrative doesn’t do much for me, but I guess it’s a thing, that some people (Tao Lin fans) are into and in that sense this whole story reads less to me like “something by someone who thinks that her feelings are important enough on their own to elicit interest in them from strangers” and more like something by a young, immature writer who’s trying to impress her writing idol (Tao Lin).

    As to the rest, I don’t want to armchair psychoanalyze Marie (though who HASN’T wrapped a cry for help/attention in the veil of Art at a tender age?). But I do get creeped out when big media companies call 21-year-olds famewhores, unless the 21-year-old has enough power/money to fight back. That is just to me an icky dynamic, that goes far beyond the scope of this story and why I mostly don’t read Gawker. 🙂

    • Does one have to be moved by a particular genre for it to be art?

      That’s a really interesting question. I would say yes, one does, with the added ingredient that the reader/listener/viewer must make herself open to being moved, or recuse herself (I’m very glad I’m not the music critic for a death metal website, not that they would have me). Taste gets in the way, and I think the critic has a very difficult and confusing responsibility to make sure he is not dismissing a work superficially. There’s also a place where taste and genre melt away. Given a certain amount of maturity we can’t say that Moby-Dick isn’t any good because we don’t like the sea-faring genre, or Native Son because we don’t like “protest fiction.” In the best art, genre is actually part of the content of the piece.

      Having said all that I’m inclined to say that Tao Lin is just bad, and it’s not a matter of taste. I feel that he doesn’t actually care about human beings (in his work, not his personal life, which isn’t my business), and that this obviates any prospect of his writing being any good. I know something about what this is like; I was once a young aspiring writer who was too emotionally stunted to have any insight into real characters. I wrote (mostly bad) short stories where characters had flat affect and nothing happened. I wanted to write like Frederick Barthelme, but couldn’t muster even that baseline level of human concern for characters. I’m grateful none of it ever got published–it would have been hard to get out from under. Having to repudiate it publicly would have been a humiliation I’m glad not to have to experience.

      I agree that Gawker is mean-spirited. I’m not endorsing the famewhore epithet. But there are real issues here that arise from the now-universal ability to self-publish–apart from the ethical issues of whether its OK to publish intimate details of someone’s life. Being able to enter the public sphere with just a modicum of SEO savvy is a pretty unprecedented cultural development. I think that good writing matters and that bad writing is a thing of consequence every bit as much as bad politics or bad ecology.

      Politically it’s an interesting affair. I like the elements Zoe teases out about power equalization, even though I ultimately disagree. I don’t see an inherent power differential between Marie and “Adrien;” I see them as employing different kinds of power, and both displaying enormous quantities of cluelessness. Adrien’s at least had the virtue of being private. Since he didn’t sin against her in any way I can see, I can’t understand what is being rectified by her depiction, which is (to my mind) power exercised irresponsibly.

      • EXCELLENT point about Tao Lin. I’ve only seen a couple of people question his role in all this. For a sad 21-year-old girl to write revenge-sex lit is one thing. For Tao Lin to publish it with only the thinnest attempt at concealing “Adrien Brody”‘s identity is another. He’s pulling the strings all the way. Some people have accused “Brody” of exploiting “Marie” (which I don’t see; he should have said no both because of the age/maturity thing and the girlfriend, but in the end she certainly exploited his small level of public persona for her own ends) but Tao Lin is the real exploiter here. She’s just too awed by him to see it.

      • braunb,

        I may have been insufficiently precise when I wrote that “Tao Lin is just bad,” which I intended to refer to his writing, not his behavior. In a way the point you make directly contradicts the one I was aiming for, which casts Calloway as a sort of lone gunman. Having said that, I agree that someone of his stature and expertise should have (a) offered to edit the fuck out of her memoir, which is way too long and meandering, and (b) made a serious effort to ensure that the identity of Brody was better concealed, which is common practice when revealing intimate details about someone without consent. Or, best of all, (c) told her to keep at it and come back to him when she’d honed her craft. I tend to agree with Jessica Brick, above, that the piece had little to redeem it, with the potential to harm not just the lives of the people Calloway wrote about, but also memoir-writing generally, especially when promoted by a celebrity. It’s the job of elder writers to pay attention to stuff like this when it emerges in the work of their proteges. Boo, hiss, etc.

  7. I greatly appreciate these smart, thoughtful comments, which are making me think hard about a number of issues. Chris, I love your willingness to make the bald statement “Tao Lin is just bad,” even though the relativist in me is aghast at it. I’m also impressed by your certainties about art, which I don’t share.

    I’m not that interested in defending “Adrian Brody” as literary art, per se. What I’m defending is its right to exist. If anything, I see Marie as a performance artist, a provocateur. A photo of cum on one’s face doesn’t seem beyond the pale to me. Karen Finely famously shoved a yam up her ass, right? Robert Mapplethorpe a whip up his? Not that I mean to equate Marie with either of these fully developed artists. She’s very young. It’s true, pre-internet we never would have read her writing. (And the point is well taken that without Tao Lin’s involvement this particular group of us probably wouldn’t have read it now.)

    But I don’t think I miss the old days in that sense of being protected from young women’s indulgent musings, or from protecting my own. I was so thrilled when I discovered zines in the 90s. Photocopier technology and desktop publishing were breaking down barriers that had kept certain voices quiet, and for me, that was a great thing. All of a sudden (it seemed to me) anyone, any girl in her bedroom with gumption, could say what she pleased and disseminate it. The stuff I loved was often super-personal and ethically messy. Lisa Carver was my zine-writing hero–one of my favorite writing voices–and I’ve recalled her as I’ve been thinking about Marie. (Does anyone remember her? It seems amazing she’s not a presence on FB.) When Martha and I started Maxine we were purposely striving for a more edited, polished aesthetic, but there was still the sense that we were giving ourselves and other young women a voice as we were forming our identities rather than waiting until we were perfected enough to be tapped to put something out into the world.

    This comment in particular interests me: “But it reads like something by someone who thinks that her feelings are important enough on their own to elicit interest in them from strangers, which is (to my mind) a confusion of public and private realms.”

    The thing is, Marie’s writing HAD interested strangers, even before she published this piece about someone more well-known in the internet subculture. I don’t know her stats, but more people read her tumblr than bought my book, that’s for sure. And exploring the line between public and private realms seems a reasonable project for art, especially at this moment.

    That said, no doubt many people paying attention to her were doing so in part for the salacious personal details and provocative pictures of a conventionally pretty, sexed up young woman she provided. I certainly understand the discomfort with that from a feminist standpoint, the discomfort with the whole confessional genre, but I seem inclined toward a different view.

    • Whatever else, I am always and fully on board with editing.


      I don’t see M.C. as even in the same cosmos as Finley or Mapplethorpe, and she doesn’t feel like performance art to me, not one bit. I’m just not getting that warm glow of intentionality & consciousness on my face. The Brody story feels to me like a compulsive reenactment, not control (again, as reflected in the lack of editing & structure.) But I will get me to and see what I might have been missing.

      Meanwhile, I think it’s worth noting that even Mapplethorpe, a very realized artist, was deservedly criticized for the ethical connotations of his treatment of black subjects. That was the original point of the backlash, I think; the ethics, not the aesthetics.

      • I realize that this is UTTERLY off topic, but since we’re talking about the right of artists to own their own shocking/graphic expressions of sexuality I would like to point out that Karen Finley never put a yam up her butt. It’s a myth. (The performance in question was called “Yams up Granny’s Ass” and involved cooked candied yams smeared on her body, and possibly on her behind, but there was no penetration.)

        That is all.

  8. Chris, looks like we just posted comments at the same time. I can wholeheartedly agree with you about Tao Lin and editing. Whatever else, I am always and fully on board with editing.

  9. I don’t know, I skimmed through this piece and it just made me so glad I’m not an insecure 21 year old or a hipster. It is difficult to have the genuine connection both characters claim to desire when you are busy pretending to be something you’re not or are too young to know who you are yet.

  10. Zoe,

    I found your post via twitter, and you expressed so many points about this whole Marie Calloway situation that I’ve been struggling to get my head around.

    My original thinking regarding the idea of revenge lit is this:
    Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want written about.

    But then can that same logic be applied to You Deserve Nothing? I guess it depends on the age of the subject being written about. I’m not familiar with the story behind that book, but it sounds like the author used the guise of fiction to try to hide something that the author may have written about as nonfiction if it weren’t unethical or possibly illegal. – again I don’t know the back story there.

    With Tao Lin, changing the name to “Adrian Brody” could have been more of a calculated move to create intrigue or generate press. I don’t picture him being worried about lawsuits.

    With that in mind, I have no idea how I feel about this idea of confessional literature that also seeks to (or at least seems to) expose unseemly attributes of others.

    I do know that I am fascinated by this essay by Marie Calloway. I can’t remember the last time I was excited to discuss a relatively short piece of writing.

    There is an implication in “Adrian Brody” regarding societal degrees of separation that really grabs me. They don’t seem to exist anymore. You wanna talk to Kevin Bacon? You don’t even have to get through the six degrees of separation to get to him. just Google him, shoot him an email, and see if he responds. If we are to believe the essay (which I tend to believe) she just emailed “Adrian Brody”, and initiated a relationship where no prior relationship existed.

    • Thanks for your comment, Mandy. I think one big defense of “Adrian Brody” (am I continually misspelling his name?) is that it got so many people disagreeing about so many issues. That’s valuable to me.

      I don’t know much backstory about You Deserve Nothing either. I don’t even have much of a judgment. It’s interesting in part because it’s the flip side of the Adrian Brody story. It WAS fictionalized. The identity of the student WAS protected (except to those who were already aware of the situation, as all the students in the school were, I think, because the teacher/author had been fired for the affair—although that’s a pretty significant except). In this case, it’s the student who is outing herself, not the other way around. I got the sense she felt her voice, her words, her feelings were stolen, and that she wasn’t given credit for them. This is the silenced girl, in comparison to Marie, who is the girl with a voice (who’s getting yelled at.)

      • Marie has every right to put her work out there. But to do so about other people, without their consent, in a defamatory fashion, is just heinous. It’s just heinous! How can any of us be lauding her for having her voice? It’s the Internet! It’s not that hard for anyone to have a voice! I’m doing it right now! I’m just shocked that people didn’t see this for what it is: a troubled person doing troubling actions. There are real people behind those names and identifiers who didn’t consent to any of this. The ethics of it are despicable and the more we treat this as literature instead of defamation, the less of a favor we’re doing all young female memoirists. I actually worry about “Marie Calloway” too. Will she ever learn that she has talent without fucking someone slightly known? Hopefully she will, but history and all that.

      • I think we are conflating lots of overlapping uses of the word “voice” here. When we say something like Latino or lesbian or dissident voices must be heard, that’s a statement of political equity and basic human rights. It has to do with the basic aspiration to be treated as an equal member of society.

        A writer’s “voice” is something else entirely. It is an artistic construct, the value of which lies in its specialness and excellence.

        In the former sense, everyone’s voice is (rightly) of equal importance and concern. In the latter case, only those with something very specific to offer. By conflating both of these, I feel like we are being put in the very awkward position of having to say that Marie Calloway is an interesting or important writer because of her age, gender, or choice of topics. What’s missing is that she’s not (yet) a talented or engaging writer. (I know this is a matter of opinion, not fact, but I do note that most of the defenses of “Adrian Brody” this far tend to refer back to the identity politics aspect, not the artistic merit aspect. Where is the case for the merit of Calloway’s artistic voice?)

        Calloway is not getting yelled at for expressing herself, she’s getting yelled at for (as braunb notes) passing off gossip as literature. There are times when publishing an account of people’s private speech and behavior without permission is legitimate. If there is a need to expose some heinous crime for example. But there’s a reason journalists are not allowed to attribute speech without very clearly defining the type of permission the speaker is granting. I can’t understand why a young woman writing about sex is any kind of special exception to this.

  11. Pingback: Marie Calloway: This Internet Sensation Is Brought To You By Tao Lin

  12. I think Calloway is getting yelled at for both the ethics and her mode of expression. Our discussion on this thread has touched on both, and that seems to be the case elsewhere.

    Regarding the ethics, I’m sure my view has been colored by my having read the story as “Adrien Brody” and not as it originally appeared on her blog. Even knowing the facts, the impact for me is minimized. My view of the ethics is also colored by the fact that the public recounting and the actual doing seem equally dubious to me, and neither seem beyond the pale. In addition, I’ve been reading a lot of memoir lately. Certainly there are reasons other than exposing heinous crimes that authors write about people in ways that could appear unfavorable. (It’s worth noting that in her interview, Calloway acknowledges she shouldn’t have run the piece as she did originally without explicit permission.)

    As to her literary voice, respected authors other than Tao Lin have defended it. Stephen Elliot has praised it on FB and in his Daily Rumpus emails, as well as in his intro to the interview. Kate Zambreno has also been public in her support of the voice and the story itself. I don’t think any of these people are arguing that “Adrien Brody” is a literary masterpiece, a fully realized work of Art. But they are seeing something in it that is unique and shows promise. (Admittedly, many other writers have dismissed the story as a literary work. It’s a subject of debate.)

    I’m going to paste in a bit from today’s Daily Rumpus in lieu of responding further, because I’ve run out of time. Thanks for the thought you’ve put into responding.

    Happy new year!

    “A little bit more on this story. I was reading the comments about Marie Calloway over on HTMLGIANT following Roxane’s article. The conversation got fairly brutal in some points and it reminded me of the way people used to talk about Dave Eggers. Large groups of young literary people seemed to froth at the mouth when his name was mentioned. They’d fall on their backs, shrieking, as if in unbearable pain. They despised his writing, and they despised him. It didn’t make any sense to me. How could someone not enjoy A Heart Breaking Work Of Staggering Genius? It wasn’t a perfect book, but it was full of life. Later, he’d write better books like The What Is The What, and then Zeitoun, which I think is a masterpiece. In the meantime he built a huge charity and gave away all of his own money. He’s basically a saint, one of the best people I’ve ever met. But there was all this anger toward him for so long.

    Someone pointed out that beat writers, Jack Kerouac, etc., were also accused of narcissism. Someone pointed out that Hemingway’s fiction wasn’t always that fictional. The Bell Jar wasn’t published in the United States for a long time because of Sylvia Plath’s mother. In the end there is the art, and the person experiencing the art. But maybe not in the beginning.

    Someone in this thread quoted an article about Sophia Coppola that said you have to first learn to make movies that are not about yourself. It’s the worst advice anyone’s ever given. If anything, that would be the last thing you would want to do. You wouldn’t start there. I directed actors for the first time this year. The hardest thing for an actor to do is to play themselves. You can’t be a great actor until you can comfortably be yourself in front of a camera. Playing yourself is vanilla. You can use vanilla ice cream to make a chocolate shake, but you can’t use chocolate ice cream to make a vanilla shake. Once you’re able to play yourself you can add things. You can push your history, inhabit new relationships. But first get in front of the camera and be.”

  13. I love Lisa Carver! writing and creating art comes from how I feel, it’s always first person whether it’s dressed up as fiction or “confessional” lit. The criticism feels elitist…even bloggers write books.I would never have read the book “Waiter Rant” if it wasn’t for the blog coming first. Some of my best short stories are posted on my blog. Thanks for the shout out on FB- did you find Lisa’s page? I like the discussion going on here. I personally would not write about my sex life and if I was even semi-famous, I don’t think I would cheat in my significant other with a girl that writes about her sex life for a living…

    • I did find Lisa’s page. I want to order the book tomorrow; your review was just great. I’m rereading Drugs are Nice right now, inspired by this brouhaha of writing about messy lives and naming names and I’m impressed just like I was twenty years ago by Lisa’s voice. I love it.

      • the book is spellbinding, to say the least. I am so impressed. I feel like I have grown up with Lisa and for her to reveal herself in this kind of way, it is so much more than writing about being abused. Writing about survival in such an honest way, graphically, but not for the sake of shock ,it’s humbling and I am grateful. When we open up and talk about the things that happen to us, it helps the healing process. I grow from what I write. And isn’t that the point…that I grow into the person I want to be using the gifts I’ve been given. I really enjoy your blog! thank you so much for taking the time to share what I wrote so that, in turn, I could find you! I love sharing!

  14. Your post, and this thread, is orders of magnitude more interesting than the story itself, its author, or its publisher.

    I have a different reaction about the identity of the lover. ALL I care about is who he is. If I knew going in, I’d care much less. Such is the nature of roman a clef (or short story a clef, as it were). And now that I’ve been told who the writer in question is, I find that, assuming my info is accurate, it’s someone I’ve never heard of — which seems to indicate that “famewhore” is a bit much.

    As a sidenote, I wish the lit world, or this insular part of it, would stop conferring the “original” label where it doesn’t belong. Tao Lin was savvy to sell stock in himself, yes, but that idea didn’t originate with him; Wallace Shaun did the same thing in the early 70s, as anyone with a long New Yorker subscription well knows. And the MC thing reminds me of the epistelary exchanges between Sasher-Masoch and Emilie Mataja, except that the latter are more readable.

    Finally, Bret Easton Ellis wrote a great essay at the Daily Beast last year about the Charlie Sheen phenomenon, arguing that the idea of fame has changed — that celebrities have to be all in, that there’s no such thing as privacy. MC seems to have taken this to heart, accidentally or otherwise.

    Happy New Year, Zoe!

  15. Pingback: Sweet Marie | Bark: A Blog of Literature, Culture, and Art

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