June 18th, 2013 / 7:00 am
Author News & Events

Tao Lin: Extremely Sincere or Total Put On (??)

Tao Lin

Tonight (I guess it’s last night by now), in the basement of The Elliott Bay Book Company here in Seattle, Tao Lin read a section of his new book, Tai Pei, to a crowd of about 70-80 people, most of whom were fans.

I’ve read very little of Tao Lin but being a part of the Indie Lit community I have heard his name quite a bit. And I do know that lots of people really like “Tao Lin” and Tao Lin’s writing. And lots of people really dislike “Tao Lin” and Tao Lin’s writing. And as we walked into the bookstore one of my new Seattle buddies underscored this with the phrase “very polarizing.” My friend was referring to Tao Lin’s writing but I guess he could just easily have been referring to “Tao Lin.”

Tao began by apologizing for being late (the reading had been pushed back from 7 to 8pm) and explained that he’d missed his 9:30 (a.m.) flight and then his new flight was delayed. Tao sounded a bit under the weather. A bit like he had a sore throat. But, the reading seemed to go ok.

The Q & A, though, is where things got interesting. And pretty quick. The 2nd question was about Tao’s use of Gchat and Gmail. This was, evidently, a touchy subject for Tao and from then on the Q & A, for the most part, was Tao bemoaning the negative reviews (and tweet) Tai Pei has received so far.

I say “tweet” because Tao mentioned a tweet in which he said the editor of Publishers Weekly said he was writing a “long con.”

The Q & A became, to use Tao’s own words, one long “diatribe against reviewers.”

And it was very strange and uncomfortable to watch. Strange and uncomfortable because Tao seemed so pained and awkward in answering. So pained and awkward in his speech and body language. He seemed incredibly sad. Devastated. Crushed and upset that the book wasn’t getting the chance it deserved. (note: Tao did enjoy one clever & lively moment when he said that most of the reviews seemed to have been written by Spam Bots.)

And when, a little earlier, I wrote “bemoaning” I did so because he did come across as moaning. Whining even. There was a part of me that felt sorry for Tao, that sympathized with him. (Negative reviews can be crushing. And indeed he seemed totally crushed). But there was a part of me that was thinking “really?”

And here’s the Polarity that was sharpening in me:

Tao was either being extremely sincere — Or it was a total put-on.

And without any real “Tao” experience I really couldn’t say. In my mind it was 50/50. And if tonight was anything to go by I can totally understand why people either really like or really dislike “Tao Lin.” Watching him suffer, or seem to, was like watching a coin turning, heads, tails, heads, tails.

This all being said it was a “Tao Lin” crowd and almost every one in attendance lined up after the Q & A to have “Tao Lin” sign their copy of Tai Pei—and, as I walked by, on my way out, I glanced down at the book he was signing and saw that he’d drawn a large, elaborate cat.



  1. Vol. 1 Brooklyn | Morning Bites: Goncharov’s Birthday, Stupid Vice Spreads, Jazz Age Lawn Party Pics, Getting To Know Tao, And More

      […] “Tao was either being extremely sincere — Or it was a total put-on.” – Getting to know Tao Lin. […]

  2. A D Jameson

      Hi Rauan,

      Thanks for posting this! The mistake I think people make with Tao Lin and his writing over and over again is to think that sincerity isn’t or can’t be “a total put on.” Sincerity is a rhetorical mode like any other, including irony. It is not, in other words, the absence of rhetoric. Tao time and again “puts on” a performance of sincerity—anyone does, when they’re acting (or being) sincere. Part of what Tao challenges (and explores) in his work are the formal and rhetorical qualities that signify sincerity, which are always in flux, and which can be pushed past their limits. Plenty of things that come across as sincere can also come across as ironic. [I pause here to look at you with exaggeratedly sad puppy dog eyes.] This exploration, this limit finding, is what makes Tao’s forms of sincerity often look so weird. I’ve wrote about this some last year (here, here, here, and here) and should probably revisit it.

      Another way to think of it is to imagine you’re an actor preparing for a scene in which your character is sincere. You will work to develop a performance that comes across as sincere. Or, hell, skip being an actor. You want to convince your parents or your S.O. that you really mean what you say. We all know ways to change the way we speak and arrange our facial expressions so we come across as sincere. Tao is exploring the written version of that.

      I find this situation similar to a mistake people often make with realism, which is an -ism, and a style like any other. But due to its mimetic concerns, people often read it as the absence of style, or the absence of mediation. But realism is as fake as any other kind of writing. Mimesis is an aesthetic effect.

      Well, that’s my take on it. It’s a situation that really fascinates me, and I’m always happy to read what others have to say about it. My own thinking on the subject owes a lot to the respective writing/thinking of Jennifer Ashton and Jeremy M. Davies.


  3. Rauan Klassnik

      thanks, Adam, and what you’ve written above will give me more to think about, the coin turning, heads, tails, heads,… (i mean this in a good way)… best, Rauan,….

  4. herocious

      I think Tao Lin is a good guy. He doesn’t want to bother anyone. He wants to live and be treated fairly, which sometimes means punching him in the face, but it has to be a rational punch in the face.

  5. marshall mallicoat

      if you haven’t read tao lin, and you don’t know tao lin, maybe you should shut your mouth about tao lin

  6. alanrossi

      “Paul noticed Laura looking at his pile of construction paper and said she could have some if she wanted, and she focused self-consciously on wanting some, saying how she would use it and what colors she liked, seeming appreciative in an affectedly sincere manner – the genuine sincerity of a person who doesn’t trust her natural behavior to appear sincere.”

  7. tao lin

      i liked this reading a lot. had fun. liked the audience & questions

  8. tao lin

      ‘And it was very strange and uncomfortable to watch. Strange and uncomfortable because Tao seemed so pained and awkward in answering. So pained and awkward in his speech and body language. He seemed incredibly sad. Devastated. Crushed and upset that the book wasn’t getting the chance it deserved.’


      i was uncharacteristically, like, ‘upbeat’ at this reading, i feel

      felt happy during the q&a

  9. Guest

      Is this supposed to be an exemplary passage? “Focused self-consciously” / “seeming appreciative in an affectedly sincere manner” / “the genuine sincerity” / “natural behavior.” There’s no imagination in this lifeless, lazy, hackneyed, abstract, plodding, dull prose. I can’t believe some of you read this stuff for more than a page.

  10. Richard Grayson
  11. Richard Grayson

      Once again, I like President Coolidge’s “In public life it is sometimes necessary in order to appear really natural to be actually artificial.”

  12. Rauan Klassnik

      thanks for commenting, Tao,… and glad you enjoyed the reading, had fun, was upbeat, etc.

      and if this was you in an “upbeat” mood and having “fun” i wonder what you’d come across like when you were down, sad, crushed, etc.

      all the best, man, and good luck with the book, writing, etc

  13. Rauan Klassnik

      wow, what a clever contribution, man. thanks for commenting!

  14. alanrossi

      if, by exemplary passage, you mean a passage that shows some awareness of the sometimes strange layers of consciousness that affect a concept/behavior like “sincerity”(the idea of “sincerity” being a thing that felt to me to be a main sort of “thesis” of this article), then yes.

      but i think that’s not what you mean and so no.

  15. Matthew Simmons

      if you haven’t read more than a paragraph and a half of a blog post, maybe you should not comment on a blog post

  16. Guest

      Your description of this unimaginative, boring passage is more interesting than the passage itself, probably because you’re not pretending to write fiction like Lin; all the intellectualizing in the world won’t compensate for zombified, anemic prose masquerading as fiction. As a commenter below the Millions review wrote, “I’m tired of intentional banality [that lacks soul].” It’s sad and pathetic that writers like Lin are too cool to be bothered with emotion, yet every single notable ironist has been ironic and soulful at the same and history will dispose properly of those who think ideas-for-the-sake-of-ideas are interesting in fiction.

  17. Jeremy Hopkins
  18. mimi

      Martha: I bust a gut! [laughs uproariously, then settles] George didn’t think it was funny at all.

      George: Martha thinks that unless you, as she demurely puts it, “bust a gut”, you’re not amused, you know. Unless you’re… carrying on like a hyena, you’re not having any fun.

      – from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee

  19. Guest

      What am I supposed to do with that? I imagine you’ll get a bunch of likes from people who haven’t read her work, though.

  20. Jeremy Hopkins

      “What” are you “supposed to do with” any informative internet links? Click and learn. Expand your horizons, yea even into the past. Take a look___in a book.

  21. Guest
  22. Jeremy Hopkins

      Sorry, hoamz. I don’t have the latest version of flash installed. (I found the terms of use unacceptable.)

  23. Shannon

      I am sad I missed this. I wanted to go but I had to work.

  24. Trey

      you get the idea though.

      not that I’m taking sides, I haven’t even read these comments. I’m lazy.

  25. Jeremy Hopkins

      Too lazy to write a thesis on how the fact I can “get the idea” without actually viewing the animation demonstrates something vitally important about the way we view and interpret the world around us using both experience and imagination?

  26. Jeremy Hopkins

      I don’t normally do this, but: See What I Did There?

  27. Trey

      way, way too lazy.

  28. Brooks Sterritt
  29. Wallace Barker

      The “is Tao sincere?” debate kind of reminds me of the James Frey debate. I never understood why people freaked out about A Million Little Pieces. If you enjoyed reading the book, what difference does any of the media crap surrounding the book make?

      With Tao it’s kind of the same thing. The question of whether he is doing some kind of “act” seems so irrelevant (other than just as an idle curiosity sort of thing).

  30. Rauan Klassnik

      Whitman did everything loafing around in “idle curiosity” … and the act (or no act) is interesting, i think,…

  31. herocious
  32. youxi211