Does the Publicly Private Writer Say Anything At All?
Now, I don’t know much about ‘Marie Calloway’ and certainly not enough to call her a
(for the record, I don’t think she is) but her work (seemingly) speaks to another body of American writing that was certainly called “narcissistic” or “attention seeking” by a fair number of critics and culture watchers in its time (as Calloway’s work has been: “Calloway is just a young girl desperate for attention”)—the confessional poets: Berryman, Lowell, Plath, and in Calloway’s case, Sexton (who is something like a spiritual precedent though I doubt Calloway would claim her). And like Calloway after her, Sexton’s work “regularly incorporated the advertising and hype of modern consumer society” (from David Haven Blake’s “Public Dreams: Berryman, Celebrity, and the Culture of Confession”). Colloway’s work not only employs the technological modes of modern consumerism (many formal elements include text boxes and emails and blogs) but seems to surround these modes with the question of their relevance, their usefulness, to the culture at large. About Calloway’s work there’s always the same debate; Gawker succinctly put it this way: “Likewise, let us be clear about what a teenage girl's sexual gossip and self-exploratory essays about sex that, at one time, would have been personal diary entries are definitively not: a symbol of something Important For Our Age.”
Calloway’s book, What Purpose Did I Serve in Your Life (out on Giancarlo DiTrapano’s Tyrant Books, 2013) gets between “Important For Our Age” and “Waste of Time” and stays there like a prideful home-owner in Ohio, recently foreclosed on. Behind the maddeningly spare prose, we can hear the gears of an insecurity endemic to an age blighted by easy access and irony. Is she saying something at all? Is this feminist? Is this pornographic, dull, unnecessary, stupid? Is Marie Calloway an advertisement for a new mode of self as a continuous billboard or an elegy for the passing of a better kind of self-reflexivity?
With Calloway a straight answer is hard to come by. For instance, she describes herself as “shy” on a Facebook wall post, which is either an ironic statement about the condition of being “shy” when anyone can access you (there’s no such thing) or is blitheringly unaware of what it means to make a statement like that publically. Calloway’s work, when it’s at its best, is never quite clear about whether it’s put on or absurd ignorance, because there’s little investigation into what lies behind the declarative.
Calloway first came to everyone’s attention with “Adrien Brody” a fictionalized/true account of a girl named ‘Marie Calloway’ who goes to New York to sleep with an older writer she admires. In the case of “Adrien Brody” the writer in the story was/still is a real writer who people in the NY Lit Scene could identify. Writer had a girlfriend. Girlfriend and other people found out identity of “real writer.” Scandal caused. And Marie Calloway became “microfamous.”
What Purpose Did I Serve in Your Life is mostly stuff (if you’re at all a fan of Calloway’s) that you’ve probably already read online. To read what feels like specifically online experiences in a book seems to sap some of the strength from the stories (the blank redundancy of the prose feels watery on the page). Nor do the stories seem to engage the dynamic between the disparate reading experiences. It doesn’t feel like this is engaging in the book as a form, which is something Tyrant is usually very good for.
The real meat is the stuff DiTrapano’s printers refused to print because the graphic nature of the content (and boy is it graphic)—but like most of Calloway’s work, I read this as a PDF, on my laptop. Instead of turning pages, I was scrolling down through screengrabs of Facebook chats. It was depressing and exhausting and afterward I felt like I couldn’t write anything—Calloway had done something to me, regardless of what it was. I didn’t know if the experience was literary or if that’s even a category worth keeping when talking about her. All I know is, at some point some guy makes her vomit on his cock and he rubs her face in it while punching her. There are pictures of her naked, fingering herself, naked with bruised breasts, naked with cum in her mouth. Is it brave to be naked on the Internet these days? When so many girls are naked on the Internet? All what happened was, I was reminded of Joshuan Cohen’s excellent 4 New Messages, and this part: “I see them, by seeing through them. Their beings projected onto every surface, on every ceiling and floor and sky, projecting across every window and alley’s curve ... their youth preserved only in their motion ... Nataskha one and another from that vid with the Cuban I think and yet another from a schoolyard seduction and still another from the bucked back of a moving truck and a girl I recall her name too, I think Masha, Sasha, Svetlana (trans. luminance)—and they are themselves but aren’t, as they were both onscreen and you have to guess in life itself, but not.” That’s Calloway. In life. But not. Is it art? Is it good? Is it feminist? Is it narcissistic and shameless attention seeking? Is it brave? Those are boring questions.
Photographer: Samantha Casolari at SamanthaCasolari.com. Hair: Michiko Boorberg at Michikoboorberg.com. Makeup: Agata Helena at AgataHelena.com using M.A.C Cosmetics.