Marie Calloway has recently achieved notoriety as the pseudonymous author of Adrien Brody, an autobiographical story about her sexual encounter(s) with a modestly famous New York writer. The original version of the story was first posted on Calloway’s Tumblr, but later retracted because it revealed the real identity of “Adrien Brody.”Calloway’s story has been met with a mixture of interest and vitriol. The main detractors claim she lacks talent and berate her for her desire for recognition of her talents. They state outright or imply that her reported behavior is slatternly. The fact that her desire for attention is only equal to that of “Adrien” is given little, if any, weight.
It’s true that the original interest in Calloway’s story was due mainly to its unflattering (but not unaffectionate) reportage on a well-known figure. Attention persisted because the story is insightful and well-written, and because Calloway was all too happy to defend herself and her intellect.
Adrien Brody doesn’t merit ongoing attention because (some) readers know Brody’s real identity, but because the piece itself is sharp, its unapologetic author both vulnerable and shrewd. During sex, Calloway’s choice of conversation topic is remorselessly bookish:
He started to talk about things.
“I always feel weird talking during sex,” I said.
“But that’s the best part,” he insisted, grinning.
“Let’s talk about Gramsci,” I said.
“Okay,” he said, and we did.
Adrien Brody is well-structured (very Ford Maddox Ford): we are placed in the action; the background is woven into the story; requisite development, climax, ending). Calloway’s voice is as blunt and incisive as Mary Gaitskill’s narrators in Bad Behavior. Here’s a little excerpt from the short story Secretary (this takes place just after the narrator’s boss non-consensually spanked her while she read aloud and cried):
I went to my desk. He closed the office door behind him. I sat down, blew my nose and wiped my face. I stared into space for several minutes, every now and then dwelling on the tingling sensation in my buttocks. I typed the letter again and took it into his office. He didn’t look up as I put it on his desk.
A lot of people want to rip Marie Calloway to shreds. She is a spectacle because she has made herself vulnerable; her transparent desire for affection entertain in part because it is sad, and frightening, and such a very perfect reflection of so many people’s desires. As though a desire to be told that you’re worthy makes someone lesser. It does not, but in extreme cases, it may yield weird results. Adrien Brody is one of those.
As I read blogs and articles that pillory Marie Calloway I am reminded of the way those who had little or no stake in the JT Leroy case condemned Laura Albert. They despised the way Albert yearned for, then coveted, the vicarious attention she received for her talent. They assumed she wrote as JT for the attention, or for the fame, and not simply because at some point, it made sense for her to “be” JT.
It comes back to Andy Warhol, a man whose profound obsession with recognition was rooted in his own profound insecurity with his appearance (and his uncertainty of his own worth or worthiness).
There is always a great deal of anger directed toward those who want fame and pursue unusual means to attain it. Warhol is loved and hated in equal measure, and for a time Albert faded into disgraced obscurity (but she’s coming back!). One may or may not enjoy their output, but whether they hunger for fame should have little to do with it.
Speaking of hungering for fame: I have yet to read anything that confirms that Marie Calloway wrote the original Adrien Brody (before the Muumuu House edits) as a coldly calculated move to draw attention to herself. Calloway had already been published on Thought Catalog. She already wrote and posted autobiographical stories on her Tumblr. As far as I know, the primary version of Adrien Brody was posted in that context. In an interview she says that she was “excited” about the story, but that could as easily be attributed to the content as the (potentially fallacious) assumption that it would bring attention.
The personality cults of girls with Livejournals (or, more recently, Tumblrs), have finally spilled into the mainstream. Yes, Adrien Brody is self-absorbed, but there is something fascinating, something profoundly intimate, about directed self-absorption. As they grew older these women tucked their insecurities and meditations safely away behind Friends Only posts, presuming that need and confusion were unacceptable traits in anyone past the age of 19. Something was lost, then, in the fear that honesty could only be permissible in juvenilia.
Marie Calloway intentionally lets the raw edge of her damaged youth show. Yes, her writing is solipsistic, but the solipsism is intentional and affecting. It’s involving and cleverly rendered and happily, because of a certain Adrien Brody scandal, there’ll soon be more of it. I hope her stories stay keen.
Addendum: The more I think about it, the more I think Marie Calloway might be a hoax, a pseudonymous personality and not just a nom de guerre. What proof is there that the letter to The Hairpin was real (or even that the original Tumblr post existed)? It’s interesting that people are asking “Who is ‘Adrien Brody’?” but not “Who is ‘Marie Calloway’?” We’re quick to assume that she is who she claims to be, despite her affiliation with people dedicated to adopting multiple online personas and staging publicity stunts (Momus and Tao Lin). It seems equally likely that Marie Calloway is who she claims, and that she isn’t who she claims. It doesn’t matter all that much. What’s really interesting is the way she and her writing have been treated, validated, invalidated, et cetera, based on assumptions about her identity and motives.