The other day I said “What if Marie Calloway is really Katha Pollitt?” and it has been…

The other day I said “What if Marie Calloway is really Katha Pollitt?” and it has been making me snicker ever since. It prompted me to go back and read Pollitt[s 2007  “Webstalking” piece again. Its ruthless recklessness is a precursor of Taylor Swift’s practice of feminist vengeance for sure:

I would plug his name into Google, Lycos, HotBot, Alta Vista and up would pop, in distilled, allusive, elliptical form, like a haiku or a mathematical curve, everything I should have known: the life behind my life. Out of a soup or cloud composed of book reviews, publishers’ notices, conference announcements, course assignments, Listserv postings, and tiny mentions and stray references embedded in documents devoted to some quite distant theme, a person would slowly condense, like someone approaching out of a fog who at first looks as if he were made out of fog, only darker. There on my screen glowed the programs of academic gatherings he had attended going back for a decade: the same female names appeared over and over entwined with his in panel announcements. Why hadn’t it struck me as odd that his “best friend,” a professor of English literature, was the respondent for papers he gave at conferences on art history and philosophy? Was I even aware that they attended these events together? And what about the philosopher he’d been seeing, I’d recently discovered, when we started dating, and the art historian who called all the time and then, one day, stopped calling? They were on those panels, too. I had been so out of it!

I tried to break into his e-mail. I had his password - “marxist” - or did I? When I asked him what his password was, a few months before he left, he had cleared his throat and paused. I attributed this hesitation to modesty - he was embarrassed to claim such a heroic identity, or to use such a large, noble, world-historical word for such a trivial purpose. But perhaps he hesitated because he was afraid I would use it and find out his secrets - or was thinking up a fake password so that I couldn’t. In any case, “marxist” didn’t work when I tried to access his mail through - nor did any of the other words I tried: “marxism,” “marx,” “karlmarx,” “engels,” “communist,” “communism,” “pannekoek,” “korsch,” “luxemburg,” “luxembourg,” “belgium, ” “chocolate,” “godiva,” “naked,” “breast,” “cunnilingus,” “fellatio,” or the names of our cats, his new girlfriend, his mother’s dead golden retriever. My password is “secret,” which is so obvious that e-mail programs cite it as the exact word not to choose, but which I liked because it was a pun - “secret” as a secret password, the word that is also the thing itself I noticed he didn’t ask for my password, but I told him anyway.

Mostly, though, I Webstalked him to find out what he was up to now. I knew when he went to Philadelphia for the College Art Association meeting, when his essay on eighteenth-century art-critical terminology was assigned in a class at Essex University, when he sent a flattering e-mail to the Web site of a conceptual artist whose work consisted of reading “Das Kapital” out loud in dozens of obscure foreign languages and invited this artist to be involved in a book he was “producing” with his new girlfriend. I don’t know what made me saddest: that they were co-writing, or at least co-producing - whatever that is - a book? That he was seeking out this half-baked poseur? That he prefaced his girlfriend’s name with “critic,” the way it would appear in Time? Clearly, his prose style had deteriorated since he left me - the man I loved would surely have written “the critic,” which is the correct and elegant usage.

When I first read “Webstalker,” I cringed. I was  horrified and so embarrassed for Ms. Pollitt. I was  angry with her friends. Why hadn’t they stopped her? Here was a serious feminist writer (I used to think this way! really! despite Jane Gallop!) writing about her messy personal life, and it felt weird and scary. Years earlier I had been in a destructive, obsessive relationship. I could never write of the humiliating bargains I had made with myself in order to keep it going. I folded up my New Yorker on the subway, trying to hide both myself and Ms. Pollitt from other people’s pitying eyes.   

The piece did have a quaint charm  (“What, for example, is a PDF?”) and a refreshingly naked desire for petty revenge against the ex and his unnamed-but-identifiable girlfriend, even if her own public humiliation was part of the deal. It helps to be a terrific writer, of course: “I was like Javert, hunting him through the sewers of cyberspace, moving from link to link in the dark, like Spider-Man flinging himself by a filament over the shadowy chasm between one roof and another.”

Reading it now, I see a confidence  that wasn’t there for me the first time. Possibly this is due to therapy, because I”ve been working on that whole vulnerability thing there, too.  “Webstalker” also feels very current in this world of xojane, Chris Kraus, Kat Stacks, Tracey Emin, Marie, Taylor, and others. I hate the rubric “confessional” for writing like this (and others it has been applied to, in particular female poets). It implies that the writer is seeking forgiveness. That said, I hope Katha can forgive me for my initial reaction, although I doubt she cares.

One does wonder, with that persistent feminist trouble with description vs prescription, what the reaction would be if  Rihanna or Katy Perry or Lana Del Rey or whoever were to write a song about webstalking her ex and making fun of his grammar (or swagger, whatever the kids are calling it these days). Or if Marie Calloway wrote about it. Maybe she already has.

[image: two white people kissing—one has red hair, the other has a blonde wig. On the right, it’s author Laura Albert, who created the persona of JT LeRoy and wrote several books and magazine pieces as LeRoy; on the let, it’s someone Albert hired to play LeRoy at parties and events.]

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