The Correspondence Artist
A Novel by Barbara Browning
Originally Published on Two Dollar Radio Blog (Noise):
Monday, March 08, 2010
An Arty Berlin Theme Hotel
I am thrilled that my novel, The Correspondence Artist, will be coming out with Two Dollar Radio. When Eric asked me if I would blog a bit about my book, I thought it might be interesting to give potential readers a little background information about my characters – specifically, the four fictional manifestations of “the paramour,” the narrator’s celebrity lover whose “true” identity must remain undisclosed.
I’m dedicating this week to items relating to Duong Van Binh, the twenty-something digital art star currently living in Berlin.
My narrator, Vivian, first met Binh in the lobby of an arty theme hotel there called Propeller Island City Lodge. It’s run by Binh’s friend, Lars Stroschen. Lars also has a record label (experimental electronic).
That first encounter between Vivian and Binh is a little disorienting. There’s a weird confrontation with Binh’s jealous ex involving Coca-Cola and violence. Vivian’s confusion on that trip is only augmented by the fact that she’s staying in the “Upside Down Room."
Still, despite my narrator’s awkward experience, I wouldn’t dissuade you from staying at Propeller Island. In fact, you may want to check out a couple of the other rooms:
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Here’s a short video by Binh. He filmed it on his cell phone. He says he particularly likes the sound, although he has no recollection of the worm making this much noise:
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
I was recently introduced to a woman who was described to me as a "Lacanian lawyer." I thought that was funny! She turned out to be charming and very interesting. Her area of expertise is art law. She writes about “moral rights,” a branch of the law which basically says that if you are an artist and I buy a painting you made, I’m not allowed to draw a moustache on it, even though I “own” it. I’m not supposed to compromise your artistic vision.
I found this appalling! The Lacanian lawyer was also concerned. We bonded over our mutual powerful reaction to those doodles that the Chapman brothers did all over that set of Goya etchings.
I mention this because Binh and I also discussed the Chapman brothers. He has some pretty unpredictable views on the topic of intellectual property. I am basically a communist, so I have my doubts about property in general, but Binh is a little more concerned about controlling his product. This may just be because I am something of a charlatan, while he's what you might call an artist of genius.
Goya, needless to say, was an artist of genius. Still, or maybe because of this, I find this doodle by the Chapman brothers profoundly moving.
By the way, when I'm asked to describe my novel in a phrase, I sometimes say it's a "Lacanian love story." I think this is about as funny as a "Lacanian lawyer."
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Binh was at this show. He never, however, made a music video for Ponytail. Also, anything you may have heard about a "slumber party" with the Vivian Girls is just gossip. But the story about the "playdate" with the couple he met at the UdK was true.
Friday, March 12, 2010
As you may have surmised, while my novel is entirely fictional, it does invoke a number of “real life” celebrities from various art worlds, both highbrow and lowbrow. For a little while, I thought it would be interesting to contact some of these “real” people and give them an opportunity to deny any association with my fictional characters. I thought this might help my readers distinguish between fiction and reality.
The first person I approached was the philosopher Slavoj Žižek. I went to a talk he gave a few months ago at Cooper Union. The talk ended kind of abruptly because there was a bomb threat, but Žižek was gracious enough to stick around for a bit to sign copies of his book. I stood in line, but when I reached the front, instead of getting his autograph, I handed him a copy of my manuscript and said, “I wrote a novel and you’re a character in it.” He seemed kind of taken aback. He said, “Oh no, what, am I like that Jim Carrey character in ‘Dumb and Dumber’?”
I had inserted a brief note in the ms with my email address. I suggested that he might want to make a formal statement denying any actual association with my fictional characters. I'm afraid he didn't write me back. I followed up with a message to his website. I thought he might want to say, “Santutxo Etxeberria is a figment of Barbara Browning’s imagination. He was never a guest at a dinner party attended by me, Analia Hounie and Gayatri Spivak. Furthermore, Cameron Diaz does seem like an interesting person. Why is this treated as a comical assertion?”
Again, he didn’t respond.
Then I thought maybe I should just pilfer some material from real interviews that were already a part of the public record. I thought maybe I could just cite them as though the celebrities were talking about my characters, but I could footnote the original sources so that any curious reader with an internet connection would quickly discover that they’d actually been talking about other things.
I ran this by a lawyer friend. Since I already mentioned that “Lacanian lawyer,” you may think I know a lot of people in the legal profession. In fact, I don’t. But I’m starting to find that lawyers can be pretty interesting people (who knew?). One of them told me I needed to worry about “rights of publicity,” which is basically exploiting somebody else’s celebrity status for your own personal gain.
I wrote one of the big shots in this legal field. I said I was thinking about trying to use a blurb from Björk that was pilfered from some random e-mail interview she’d done for the Brooklyn Rail (“i always feel i say too much...”), and maybe another from Mikhail Baryshnikov on Larry King (“Next question.”) – as though they were trying to be discreet about the identity of Vivian’s lovers. I said, “Are they likely to sue me?” He said a lawyer could really only prudently respond that anybody could sue you... He did, however, think it was an interesting idea... But very possibly actionable.
I gave it one last shot. I sent the manuscript to Laurie Anderson. She was so nice! She wrote back right away! She thought the book looked “cool”! But she declined to give me a blurb denying any association with Binh...
Binh wasn’t surprised. He said, “Laurie is a very sweet girl...”