March 17th, 2010 / 8:47 am

A Review of Reviews of Shoplifting From American Apparel

[Ryan Call and I asked Brandon Scott Gorrell to take a look at some of the negative reviews of Tao Lin’s Shoplifting from American Apparel, and maybe say something. This is the result of that. – Gene Morgan]

I’m going to try and ignore the thought I keep having that I shouldn’t be shit-talking people’s opinions, that it’s obvious they’re opinions, and that these reviewers aren’t stating their opinions as facts.

Here are some opinions of mine about quotes from four negative reviews of Tao Lin’s Shoplifting From American Apparel. I don’t feel I took the quotes out of context.

Kati Nolfi, Bookslut: “There is so little aboutness in Lin’s work.” What?

Lisa Foad, Globe and Mail: “After all, Lin – feted darling of the hipster coterie – is known for his pomp-and-pageantry-fuelled exploits. Witness: Lin glutting NYC with a Britney Spears sticker campaign to promote the release of his 2008 poetry collection, cognitive-behavioral therapy; Lin routinely repeating the same line – “The next night we ate whale” – at readings (seven monotonous minutes mark his record to date); Lin auctioning drafts of his writing on eBay, and most recently, his MySpace account (it fetched a whopping $8,100); Lin selling shares of the anticipated royalties of his upcoming 2010 Melville House novel, Richard Yates (to the tune of $12,000); Lin founding Muumuu House, a publisher that boasts an appreciation not just for poetry and fiction but Tweets and Gmail chats; Lin enlisting fans as “interns” to rally on his behalf by blogging about him, reviewing his work on Amazon and padding his Wikipedia profile.” I understand Tao’s gimmickry is disarming for people, but it really doesn’t take that many steps in logic to figure out that everyone does what he does, they just present it in a way that’s more familiar.

Publishing houses hire publicists to expand their audience. Authors hire agents to make them money. Independent lit publishers hire fans as interns (would they really hire someone who didn’t like the press as an intern? That wouldn’t happen) and have them write Wikipedia pages for their authors. The difference is that Tao is transparent and vocal about it.

Huw Nesbitt, The Quietus: “Real art doesn’t hinge upon opaque observations and bland reproductions of the world.” What does real art “hinge upon?” What if I wanted my art to hinge upon a clear and flavorful reproduction of my penis? Does the “clear and flavorful” lens validate my penis as art? What exactly validates it? Who’s judging? Why can’t art hinge upon ambiguous observations? What is real art? Are there rules around art? Certain art can’t be art?

Paul Robinson, BC Books: “[Two sentence summary of novella]. End of novella. ‘Hang on a second!’ I hear the expectant reader murmur. ‘Surely there is more?’ Well, no, there isn’t. That is pretty much it. Now onwards to deep analysis of the narrative!

“Lin is adept at publicity and in 2008 began a campaign to procure finance from his forthcoming second novel by offering six “shares” in the novel’s future royalties. He sold them all and received much media attention in the process. [Four more sentences about Tao Lin gimmickry].” …I thought we were going onwards to a deep analysis of the narrative.

Huw Nesbitt, The Quietus: “But [SFAA] doesn’t question anything either, and that’s its real failure.” I didn’t realize that novellas were supposed to question ‘things.’ Guess I didn’t ‘get the memo.’

Paul Robinson, BC Books: “Lin is adept at publicity and in 2008 began a campaign to procure finance from his forthcoming second novel by offering six “shares” in the novel’s future royalties. He sold them all and received much media attention in the process. As a journalism graduate he knows how to engage with the press and turn negative reviews into good publicity — the so-bad-it’s good paradox — by using the latter to generate traffic and other statistical goodness. And this is how you are supposed to experience the Tao Lin narrative — through the spectacle of the Lin/Melville publicity vehicle, which creates mystic support for an otherwise deficient product.” Why do Tao’s negative book reviews seem to always cite as evidence Tao’s gimmickry? I understand that reviewers often attempt to create angles from which to write their pieces, but I counted the number of lines Paul Robinson dedicated to SFAA and to things not SFAA. Paul Robinson dedicated 15 lines to SFAA and 30 lines to Tao’s gimmicks and how nice the cover of Melville’s Contemporary Art of the Novella series looks.

The title of Paul Robinson’s review was “Book Review: Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin.”

Kati Nolfi, Bookslut: “From Sam’s narration, a reader can extract themes of loneliness, the nature of happiness, the role and responsibility of the artist, and the vacuity and meaning of internet relationships.” I thought Kati Nolfi held that there was “so little aboutness in Lin’s work.”

Kati Nolfi, Bookslut: “Even in this short and spare work, it is fatiguing to read the commoditized so-called underground undeservedly claiming elevation over mainstream consumer and work choices.” Kati Nolfi is trying to say that the characters in SFAA undeservedly imply that wearing American Apparel, being a vegan, and being a part-time employee at a vegan restaurant is better than wearing clothes from the Gap, or something, not being vegan, and working Monday through Friday, 9-5, at a non-vegan restaurant or some other “mainstream” place of employment.

I don’t think the vegan characters in SFAA said or implied anything about being better than “mainstream consumer and work choices,” but I guess that’s a matter of interpretation. But if they did, why wouldn’t they deserve to?

It seems like Kati Nolfi is engaging in a sort of “doublethink” here. By writing that the book’s characters don’t deserve to claim elevation over “mainstream consumer and work choices,” Kati Nolfi, by her action’s nature, is claiming elevation over the book, and I guess by implication, is saying that she deserves to. Kind of wonder if Kati Nolfi is “mainstream” or “underground.”

Huw Nesbitt, The Quietus: “That’s just boundless, patronising cynicism, which invests the artist — like the priest or the monarch — with some clandestine wisdom mere lay folk can only ever hope to experience through the frail edifice of the artist’s world, but can never truly understand since everything is reduced to little more than residual, obsolete components anyway.” Haha.

What do you guys think?

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