Summer’s Over But The Drama Never Ends
Coverage Check 08/2021: Fame in its flop era
“Everyone is mentally unstable…being a sad girl is no longer revolutionary, it’s boring. Everyone’s a sad girl, even men are sad girls now.” - Jana Surkova, Girls in the Bell Jar, Hate Fiction
Pink’s blast, landing mid-month on Neutral Spaces, sought to set the record straight on the issue of Conroe’s authenticity, or more appropriately lack thereof. I cannot comment on how authentic Fuccboi is as I haven’t read it, but both Pink’s ridiculously long statement and Conroe’s excerpted emails in it, which give off an air of guilt, suggest there is high probability of significant stylistic similarities across both of their work and that there’s an interesting conversation to be had on the question of authenticity. Litts’ essay covers this terrain and does so with eloquence and a degree of neutrality that even seasoned critics struggle with.
Would we be having this conversation at all if a $200k advance from Little, Brown wasn’t in this mix? I’m guessing no [though I love to be proven wrong!], so the conversation naturally progresses to questions of power, privilege and money [also the insincere sentiment of “not doing it for the money” but that’s a conversation in and of itself]. Who’s granted access to the high circles of publishing and lands advances that can enable greater freedom, artistically but most of all materially? We all know the game is rigged. The publishing world is embarrassingly middle class and by default excludes certain stories and styles. This isn’t news, but perhaps more writers waiting in the wings for their turn under the spotlight should be angry.
The aggression on Pink’s part however betrays a juvenile jealousy at someone else’s success, even if that success isn’t deserved, even if it is perceived to have been won at someone else’s expense. Perhaps Conroe isn’t as authentic (is it the prose that’s inauthentic or the writer himself? Is his crime engaging with ideas and styles that do not reflect his reality [I have no idea what Fuccboi is about and Pink’s blast hasn’t clarified frankly]? Or that he’s creating an autobiographical narrative/persona that’s factually incorrect?). Perhaps Fuccboi isn’t good. That will be determined upon publication. But if it is bad, why go through with this takedown at all?
“Everything is a broken reflection of what came before it,” I recently said to a new friend when we spoke about the controversy, not because I felt I had to stand up for Conroe, but because if we were to take the purity of authenticity to its ultimate, extreme conclusion there’d be no books to publish. Do I really need to write a book about sex when the Henry Millers of the world did it? Do I really need to write about my life when Anais Nin did it? Why am I as a Greek man writing at all? My distant ancestors wrote beautiful words whose shadow I will never be able to step out of. Maybe we should all just quit writing and work in finance. Then the issue of money at the very least would be resolved.
Kyle Beachy, in his interview with The Rumpus, feels relevant here: “One difficulty of writing is that it’s tempting to see ourselves as always potentially failing. Way too often the matter of failure or success is something we subcontract out to a third party—workshop, agent, publishing house—who pass judgment based on tastes and interests that are usually different and sometimes directly opposed to our own. This, at a basic level, is stupid and confusing and alienating.”
Success and failure are central preoccupations in Pink’s missive, as is fame. “Sean has always wanted to be a famous writer,” he writes, but was unwilling to do the work, opting instead to copy someone else. He writes about wanting to be famous in Fuccboi, in which according to Pink, he even tries to leverage a romantic relationship to land a deal. In Pink’s blast, Conroe’s presented as an ambitious schemer who’ll stop at nothing and will exploit everything and everyone to guarantee success and fame. Perhaps that’s true.
But a $200k advance doesn’t make a career. Years of publishing work and having a direct influence on young writers do. You could choose to be angry, or you could choose to be flattered. Perhaps Pink is, secretly or subconsciously, and this is him grappling with it all, almost as if he’s grappling with his newfound fame by proxy without relinquishing his indie authenticity.
So, the real question is, is it plagiarism? Or a more ethereal stylistic thievery, a vibe steal of sorts? If it’s the latter, do we need better methods of safeguarding art against future offenders?
I believe that Sam Pink believes Conroe has ripped off his style. I believe Conroe believes it too. But these are just beliefs, not absolutes. Perhaps I’ll find out once the book comes out. My point is, authentic or not, keep writing, then let the works speak for themselves.
Sally Rooney wants the conversation to circle back to books. “I want to live in a culture where people are making art,” she said in one of two profiles this month (kudos to the PR who bypassed the exclusive), “even as everything else falls apart.” It’s a beautiful sentiment in two otherwise next level dull pieces decrying living in the aftermath of crossover success and stratospheric fame, reserved for only a small number of writers in any one generation. Not to say that she seems insincere when expressing that fame has been “hell.” She comes across unrehearsed, genuine. She doesn’t believe it is graceless to complain about fame. “People who intentionally become famous – I mean people who, after a little taste of fame, want more and more of it – are, and I honestly believe this, deeply psychologically ill,” she writes in her new book. I hate that I agree.
The Museum of Literature Ireland launched its Writer Presents podcast with Claire-Louise Bennett, whose Checkout 19 arrived the day I began writing this column. Holly Connolly and Zsofia Paulikovics are bringing writers’ diaries to the public with Three Month Fever (no one has written about having sex yet). The chicest of all, bad bitch Philippa Snow obviously makes an appearance, her contribution making it crystal clear how prolific she is in her engagement with the highest forms of art all the way down to posts on IG [which reminds me I haven’t seen The Young Pope yet, wtf]. She stands firm on her assessment of the new Gossip Girl and reflects on the new Paris Hilton adventure, which she also wrote about for ArtReview [performance art, darling!]. Elsewhere, a French film leads her to vouch that she has never been propositioned by an artist in exchange for coverage, citing “it is possible that I have not been going to the right gallery openings.” Paris is calling!
Books by Penguin Random House, outfits by Prada
Emma Cline and Ottessa Moshfegh (shot by total babe Jordan Wolfson no less) landed the Vogue Italia cover, injecting some needed fun into this whole business of books. You’d expect me to have something incendiary to say, but they look hot, soz.
Adam Cook of Long Voyage Home reviewed Leos Carax’s return with Annette, a tale of “narcissism, insecurity, and self hatred, expressing anxieties around partnerships, creation, success, and fatherhood, as well as the role of art and the artist in our contemporary culture.” What place exists for the artist in a world that’s been radically commodified and utterly corrupted? “Whatever connections to the sacred that existed are severed,” states Cook, analysing the film by considering its grappling with ideas of beauty and abjection and their interconnection. Bonus points for mentioning we got a scene of Marion Cotillard getting head to look forward to. 10/10
Paul Dalla Rosa announced his foray into Substack with Bad Artist Statements, promising “disembodied” interviews with writers and artists from Melbourne and across the world. He was wasted for the first one, so this will be fun. Jared Richards filed his review of The Scary Of Sixty-First, which he sees as sharing Red Scare’s aesthetic and artistic pulse, describing it as “a grab bag of references,” echoing other reviews about the film’s mixed influences. Gabriel Smith forced the Gawker editor in chief to issue a disclaimer that he isn’t fiction editor at the sewer fest.
n+1 reviewed the contemporary book review (slightly psychotic). Document Journal was just embarrassing. i-D did right by Dirty Magazine, christening it “New York's horny new fashion publication.” Co-founders Ripley Soprano and Magdalena Galen were interviewed about their print-only mag that took root as an idea at hooker laureate Rachel Rabbit White’s sex/book parties and took off in the aftermath of the plague. The first Dirty party was, it turns out, the one Cat Marnell referred to in The Drunken Canal. Soprano and Galen mention to i-D that since then “every party has gotten bigger and wilder.” A subscription to the mag comes with VIP invites to just these events along with access to an encrypted Signal chat room. And as for the publication’s future, the duo are dreaming big: “a hotel with a porn theatre in the basement.” Filling in the cigarette boy job application.
In her interview with The Creative Independent, Elle Nash (who just landed a UK publisher) professes her fascination with all elements of sexuality and the psychology of violence. Sex, to Nash, acts as a catalyst to structuring a human life. Writing about sex then becomes an exercise in understanding human motivation. She’s unafraid of the jarring experiences she writes about, which is perhaps why she sees books as the domain of the obscene. You couldn’t pull off some things with film, but books? They’re the domain of artistic freedom, less chained to limitations imposed by morality. [Is this indirectly unconsciously suggesting that film is the medium that’s popular and therefore needs to conform more to what a majority considers decent? Whereas books are esoteric and therefore the medium that can be perverted to the author’s content? Are books a truer reflection of the human psyche then? “What does it take for a person to begin to break so many boundaries that they then find it completely morally okay to hurt another person?”].
On Thick Skin, Blake Butler reflects on his reviewers and a decade of “don’t get it.” Readers, he believes, come to books predetermined, full of conceptions, so when they inevitably place their own principles on someone else’s work, it’s over [for the hoe who wrote the book]. It’s even more pressing with his work, which is dependent on the reader’s consciousness [he doesn’t elaborate on what books he perceives to be free of this rule]. He considers every interpretation of art as truthful, but defends incoherence, seemingly the criticism levelled at his work. “Do people not read poetry? Do we really need to imagine that everything must be spelled out somewhere to contain truth?” Can Britney save us? Can we be saved? Elsewhere, he thinks back to his days at an MFA, where he “craved someone ripping me apart, challenging my ideas so I could see what they really meant to me.”
Boris Johnson won’t be happy when he finds out Oliver Zarandi went on Left the Hose On. “You got the movie version, we got the straight-to-DVD version of Donald Trump,” he says of the British PM. He recollects about running Funhouse, one of the few cool UK websites of the previous decade and how it bridged him with writers he’s since become friends with in the US. Unsurprising then that he considers Jon Lindsey’s Body High as “so fucking good,” joining the ever increasing harmony of writers taking a stand against MFA writing, far more prevalent stateside: “Give me something disgraceful.” Zarandi’s ready to get back out to the world, so I guess look out for pics of me and him looking dishevelled at a Clapton bar.
Huw Lemmey reminisced about a crush on Utopian Drivel, scenes of riding a moped, the sacred communion before the act. “We could barely speak to each other, and so we fucked, and I imagined what he was saying and I dare say he did the same.” Interspersed between the fragmented recollection is an exploration of the gay male realist and his evolution to confessional autofiction. Lemmey thinks of a crush as a “fictionalisation of yourself” the you you’d wanna fuck, “an autofiction of self-desire.” Was autofiction nothing but a drive to create a version of yourself you perceive as more fuckable?
Dean Kissick escaped New York for the first time in a year and a half and took inventory of what happened in between for Spike. He believes writing has flourished, citing The Drift, Heavy Traffic and Manhattan Art Review among other projects that launched or took off during this time, along with the renaissance of blogging via Substack. “It’s hard to overstate how many of us don’t like going to work,” he reflects and considers Leave Society as “a bigger cultural event than any recent exhibition.”
Kanye West dropped Donda (no thoughts, head empty, haven’t listened yet) sending everyone into a frenzy I haven’t observed over a music release before.
Azealia Banks ripped Webster Hall apart, while others like me and Suki Waterhouse watched the videos as they were fed through on IG wishing we were there.