Thursday, June 27, 2013

An Alternative View

ISBN-10: 0985023589
ISBN-13: 9780985023584
Published: Tyrant Books, 06/01/2013
Pages: 200
Language: English
There's really nothing I can say on the subject of Marie Calloway's novel what purpose did I serve in your life half as well as one of the best cultural critics writing today, Michelle Orange, so I would strongly suggest that you check out her thought-provoking review before you read on. As Orange correctly points out, there's nothing new about Calloway's mixed fiction/nonfiction short stories, her explicit descriptions of sexual (mis)adventures-- in fact, Lena Dunham is covering that territory fairly thoroughly on her ongoing HBO program Girls-- or her portraits of adolescent ennui. However: "If what she describes is the same old anomie, Calloway joins a new chapter in the literature of disaffection. Here self-consciousness, far from a new literary toy, has flattened into landscape, an airless plane where stunted characters pass the occasional pebble back and forth like a cold potato." That's the kind of sentence I would kill to write, ladies and gentleman. 

What she's getting at is that Calloway is of the Tao Lin/Muumuu House school, a 28-year old author and his publishing house, respectively. Both the author and his associates are known for drastically stripping down the English language, as if trying to finish a job Hemingway only started. Personally, my initial reaction was very difficult to shake-- would you restrict a painter to only two shades instead of a full palette?-- but, on consideration, and after reading more than one review that called Tao Lin's newest novel Taipei a "modernist masterpiece," I decided to take a dive into this youthful movement (this coming from a 23-year-old) with Orange's article and Calloway as a starting point.

Calloway's writing is very New Media-centric, and her fame is consequently Internet-driven. Her most interesting stories, Adrien Brody and Jeremy Lin, can be read in their entirety online. The former caused quite a stir, as it depicted an evidently nonfiction sexual encounter between Calloway and a well-known figure in New York City's literary community. Removed from its context, it seems rather strange that such a simply told piece of writing caused a stir. Her voice seems less confrontational than absolutely unguarded-- the effect would render her almost cartoonishly naive if not for her constant self-examination. Jeremy Lin is the better piece, as it contains long, seemingly transcribed email exchanges between her and Tao Lin, which do provide some insight into the borderline-manic minds of developing young artists.

This may come off as damning with faint praise (which is not my intention), but I think that Calloway is worth reading purely out of sociological interest. Both her and Lin communicate and think-- or depict themselves communicating and thinking-- in such an autonomic manner that it brings to mind two robots slowly learning what it means to be human. In two separate stories a character more or less asks "Am I a sociopath?" The answer seems obvious given each character's constant feeling-- perhaps one out of every four sentences in Calloway's stories literally begins with "I feel..."-- but, as Orange writes of Calloway and Lin, there is a point at which one seems to be protesting too much: "Together they feel and they feel like, such that the phrase begins to suggest, amid a profusion of screens and floating personae, a kind of mutual assurance: I feel." I worry that some older critics are already referring to this burgeoning literary subclass as "voices of a generation," especially since that generation happens to be mine, but it's indisputable that they are saying something that strikes a certain chord with certain people. So, dear reader, I will keep an eye out and my mind open.

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