Reading Noah Cicero’s piece about Marie Calloway, it struck me that the Internet has invented a subgenre of literary essay. These essays could be easily be published in a volume called ‘How I Feel About Marie Calloway,’ collecting the torrents of writing about ‘Adrien Brody’ alongside the very small trickle of responses to ‘Jeremy Lin.’ Someone should publish this, if for no other reason than that we might see the collective bloviation of our Best Minds on a topic that eludes them completely. Tao Lin might have done, if ‘Jeremy Lin’ hadn’t so effectively outed him.
Before I get into any kind of Substantial Critique, I’d like to point out that we are discussing a young woman of twenty-two years. She’s not a symbol, she’s not a literary persona, she is an actual human being of twenty-two years. I remember when I was twenty-two years old. I could barely tie my shoes and had a problem with public drooling. Calloway is also, it must be said, a young looking twenty-two. Both by genetics and by design, she appears about sixteen years old.
The Marie Calloway Problem is pretty simply stated: we live in a society in which the mechanisms of commerce are designed to encourage us to believe that young women are randy hot sex machines, but we have a collective meltdown when one of them actually writes about sex that is anything other than vanilla. It breaks discourse. We’re that unevolved.
This was, in part, the pro-Calloway critique offered by many women writers in the days after ‘Adrien Brody’ went viral. The problem with such critiques is that almost all of them attempted to tie Calloway into a greater narrative. ‘Adrien Brody’ could not exist in a vacuum. It needed to be contextualized within its Greater Import.
This is nonsense. ‘Adrien Brody’ is a piece about a groady balding Brooklyn Intellectual who writes about Big Issues (Why is Capitalism Bad?) having sex with a twenty-one year old woman that likes his Twitter. The woman, recounting the tale, makes vague allusions to Marx, Marxism and Marxist thinkers. The Marxism is, of course, an affect.
But twenty-one year old people are nothing but affect. The one very good point in Cicero’s essay is his critique of how Calloway’s sense that she’ll never love again reads like complete stupidity to anyone above thirty. The way in which it is couched, hectoring from above, undercuts its import. But he’s absolutely right. The nastiest most fucked up sex of your life will not occur with random strangers, no matter how hard you try. It will occur with people that you love and trust, who expose the darkest weird shit of their souls.
The thing about sex is that it’s both the most subjectively meaningful and least objectively meaningful thing in the world. It’s a lot like how you wake up from a dream about Britney Spears that seems awesome and then you tell it to your friends and halfway through you feel like an asshole, because who cares about another person’s dream about Britney Spears?
This meaningful meaningless offers a blank canvas. Calloway’s real brilliance in ‘Adrien Brody’ and earlier pieces is to mimic the blankness of that canvas. A lot of people accused her of being a direct inheritor of Tao Lin, he of the Financial Independence, but I think Calloway is much better than Lin at blankness.
Why is her blankness brilliant? Because here we are, months later, still talking about ‘Adrien Brody.’ If you mimic the blankness of sex and write about it blankly, knowing that there is a certain power in your own youthful persona, then the world will rush to you. It won’t necessarily have anything to do with your work, but it will have everything to do with people’s desire to be heard. The literary world has always been full of shitheads who want to tell you why X is Y. It always will be.
The real key to understanding this is, as pointed out in an earlier HTMLGiant post, the complete and total silence that has greeted ‘Jeremy Lin.’ As far as I can tell, this piece was read by more people than ‘Adrien Brody’—being on the website of VICE, being on the frontpage of Tumblr, getting thousands of reposts, etc, etc.
By any literary measure, ‘Jeremy Lin’ is a much mores successful work than ‘Adrien Brody.’ But almost no one has said anything about it.
First of all, it makes Tao Lin look like a preening, primping asshole. People believe that Tao has Influence, that at any moment he might descend from his apartment in the East 20s and guide them towards quasi-literary success (just like with Marie Calloway!) These people, who also are the main audience for ‘Jeremy Lin’, will not mention the piece.
But I’ll say it flat out: Marie Calloway destroyed Tao Lin.
What’s worse than finding out that the progenitor of your entire way of being, who’s built an entire pseudobrand on his pretense towards the thousand year stare, actually really, really, really cares about how he’s perceived? That he’s not made numb by 21st Century life? And that he’s worried about Financial Independence? In ‘Jeremy Lin,’ Tao Lin sounds like someone hunting for the exact mathematic formula by which he can achieve Freedom through Fame. Basically, Calloway makes Tao Lin look like a sexually inhibited Kim Kardashian. Totally gross!
(By the way, since Cicero mentioned Hemingway, if you’re interested, you should contrast and compare ‘Jeremy Lin’ with Lillian Ross’s “How Do You Like It Now?” a profile of Ernest Hemingway written for the New Yorker in 1950.)
Secondly, ‘Jeremy Lin’ isn’t about sex. So there goes the blankness.
It’s a much trickier piece, as Calloway demonstrates an unattractiveness in herself, as well as in others, that doesn’t lend itself to easy proselytizing. The responses to ‘Adrien Brody’ were tiresome because the piece’s blankness allowed bloggers and writers to vent freely about their pre-existing hobby-horses. People saw what they wanted to see in the blankness, which, to mix metaphors, was primarily a reflection of themselves. So no one was really interested in writing about Marie Calloway. They were interested in writing about themselves and there was that blank canvas. And better yet, it involved sex.
‘Jeremy Lin’ doesn’t offer anything of the kind. The best you get is a lame Slate.com article about Girls, by a writer whose main topic is television who throws in a paragraph about Marie Calloway and how she somehow ties in. Or Hairpin or Jezebel articles on Feminism sandwiched between two non-consecutive pieces about Lady GaGa’s bitching beach bod.
That reminds me, and I guess this is as good a way to segue out of this piece as any. What the fuck happened to all of us? It’s hard to believe—especially if you’re under, say, 25—but there was a time when our women writers and artists were radicals. Why the hell does it all seem so retrogressive now, like we’ve elevated writers (and am I not including Calloway in this) who aren’t fit to latchet the shoes of the women who preceded them even 15 years ago? Do you think Kathy Acker or Lynne Tillman gave a shit that someone had sex? Do you think Leonora Carrington spent her nights tossing and turning, worrying that somewhere, somehow a twenty-one year old might have been fucked?
When the Marie Calloway story first broke, all I could think was: “Here is another person about to be destroyed. Here is another person who is about to be told by her surrounding society that what matters is nothing but the conflation of youth with talent.”
All the scum and hangers-on, all the agents who are trying to glom themselves on to the next big thing are just the same parasites who’ve preyed on the young for decades. No one cares about her ‘talent,’ just like no one cares about the ‘talent’ of any musical performer, and no one cared about the ‘talent’ of Jonathan Safran Foer or Leif Garrett. What people care about is youth. And I sincerely hope that Marie Calloway is strong enough to withstand the next five years of people telling her that she’s ‘talented’ when what they mean is ‘young.’
I’ve been heartened, actually, at Calloway’s ability to hang on thus far. When you’re ‘young,’ your consciousness and identity are permeable, and the same people who are whispering $weet nothing$ into your ear are the ones who will ultimately destroy you. They will worm their way into your mind, and make you confuse your ‘youth’ for your ‘talent.’ You will lose sight of one while the other slips away.
Try and remember. No one wants to watch a thirty-five year old dance. No one cares if you fuck when you’re forty.