This past week, there have been several blogs (plus the mention in the New Yorker) about Tao Lin and the reviews lodged for and against him. To be fair, I haven’t read much of Tao’s work, but I am entrenched in the pure spectacle of “Tao Lin.” Mostly out of boredom but partly because I can’t get away from it, even if I wanted to.
But consider this, in his Author’s Preface, Alexander Pope argues, “Poetry and criticism [are] by no means the universal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there.” So I’m back to the question of boredom. Why do we care who says what about Tao? And here, just look back at the comment streams about Tao. People seem to do more than simply “care.” They’re invested! I barely have time to care about the reviews written about my friends, much less any other contemporary. I have no desire to be an idle man writing in my closet, nor an idle man reading there.
It doesn’t matter much to me whether or not Tao (or any other writer, for that matter) cultivates this particular brand of hype. My concern has to do with the unabashed responses that indicate how very right Pope is. Even this post reinforces Pope’s argument that I’m simply an idle man—or woman in this case—reading in a closet.
Later, Pope writes, “I was never so concerned about my works as to vindicate them in print; believing, if anything was good, it would defend itself, and what was bad could never be defended. I used no artifice to raise or continue a reputation, depreciated no dead author I was obliged to, bribed no living one with unjust praise, insulted no adversary with ill language; or, when I could not attack a rival’s works, encouraged reports against his morals.” I’ve said and written some stupid things. Let them be what they are. Stupidity should not be defended. Bad writing should not be defended. Good writing can defend itself. But what’s happened here over this past week seems to have little to do with writing and everything do with the writer, and arguably, it doesn’t even have to do with the writer but the image the writer has created for himself. This, to me, is disgusting. I could care less about what your thoughts on Tao Lin the spectacle are. If his writing is bad, let the reviews say it, but if it’s defendable, let’s not get caught in the closets of the internet.
In the end, this isn’t about Tao. I have no investment in the guy. I don’t know him. I haven’t read his books. I do, however, care about the evident boredom people display in their comments about him. Why do you care? Furthermore, why the fuck do I care that you care? Aren’t there fundamentally more interesting and worthwhile things to discuss?
So, I’ll end with Pope, once more, who says about collecting his poems for publication: “I am altogether uncertain, whether to look upon myself as a man building a monument, or burying the dead.” Rather than blast off—yet again—about Tao Lin, wouldn’t you rather talk about whether publishing is building a monument or burying the dead? To me, it’s a vastly more provocative discussion.