2. I saw the film on 14 March at the Logan Theatre in Logan Square, Chicago. It was a special event. About 70 people were in attendance.
4. Pirooz gave me a poster and a button and a DVD copy of the film. Thank you, Pirooz!
5. I’ve read Shoplifting maybe half a dozen times. I’ve also taught it twice. It’s my favorite of Tao’s books and I consider it something of a masterpiece.
6. Some people persist in thinking Tao isn’t a stylist, but I think he’s a brilliant stylist. Although maybe people are nowadays more convinced of this? I don’t know.
7. As Tao himself has pointed out (see here for instance), all of his books are written in different styles, something that I think obvious when one really looks at them.
8. I suspect some people really aren’t looking at them.
April 15th, 2013 / 8:07 am
Wrote about Tao Lin for Hobart.
Exchanged emails with Tao about what I wrote.
Tao cut and pasted part I’d written about Zac Zellers and Marie Calloway and wrote beneath it “this seems funny to me.”
Replied with a paragraph in which I described Zac Zellers as the “Where’s Waldo” of Ann Arbor.
19 mins later got email from Tao saying “you should write something about this and send it to me.”
Zachary German’s web presence was one I once compulsively checked-on for updates, that I consistently enjoyed, intriguing and funny, and now his web presence is gone, mostly, because he wanted it to go away.
Adam Humphreys’s new documentary, Shitty Youth, which shares a name with German’s possibly defunct “radio show”/podcast, portrays German as a willfully difficult or potentially alienating person socially who is very attuned to style and taste, the author of one novel, Eat When You Feel Sad, which got good attention and praise, who has released almost no writing since, in part because much writing, including his own, is not up to his very high standards.
November 5th, 2012 / 5:54 pm
I haven’t read Sheila Heti or Ben Lerner’s recent novels, the impetuses for Blake Butler’s recent, anti-realism-themed Vice article, but I’d like to respond to Blake’s finely-written itemized essay, because I, personally, continue to desire novels written by humans, which relate, slipperily or not, to human reality–subjective, strange and ephemeral as it is–novels which deal with such humdrums as sex, boredom, relationships, Gchat, longing, and, beneath all, death. I want a morbid realism.
I agree with Blake that a reality show like The Hills and social media such as Facebook create stories by virtue of humans doing simply anything. The documenting, sharing, and promoting of mundane everyday human life is more prevalent and relentless than ever before. In this environment, literature (and movies) about humans (most controversially, about privileged, white, hetero humans) that presents everyday drank-beers-at-my-friend’s-apartment life, wallows in self-pitying romantic angst, and doggy paddles po-faced through mighty rivers of deeply profound ennui can potentially seem annoying, or boring, or shittastical.
This is a conversation. It is 1:06am MST. We are both HTML Giant contributors. We are also both Asian. This is happening IRL.
Lily Hoang: So, imagine there’s someone sitting at a café, smoking a cigarette, drinking a fucking Americano, reading David Foster Wallace. What do you think?
Jackie Wang: Who is this wienerschnitzel? Lemme guess. A white boy with lots of feelings.
LH: Haha, no, it’s me: I’m in white boy drag!
JW: White boy drag?! That’s an interesting term. What exactly does that mean? You’re not going to kill yourself and make everyone else feel bad about it, are you? Cause that would be taking the performance a little too far!
LH: Well, it’s hard being a white boy, I gotta admit. Like you don’t know how hard it is. The guilt. The burden of genius. All the privileges. It’s hard to balance, keep the head sane, ya know?
JW: You know what I hate about white boys? They’re always complaining about how they can’t get laid, but it seems obvious to me – like – why they can’t get laid. Should someone tell them? Should I be the one to tell them?
As promised, back to Shklovsky! In Part 1, we examined his fundamental concepts of device and defamiliarization. In Part 2, we saw how context and history deepen what defamiliarization means. (That’s what led us to take our New Sincerist detour.) Now, in this third part, let’s return to Chapter 2 of Theory of Prose, where Viktor Shklovsky discusses “special rules of plot formation.”
Here it’ll be useful to remember that one of the meanings of rule’s root, regula, is “pattern.” Because Shklovsky is talking less about “rule of law” than he is about the patterns that devices combine to make.
Whenever you write—and it doesn’t matter whether you’re me or Chris Higgs or Mike Kitchell or Kathy Acker or Georges Bataille or whomever—you’re working with conventions. None of us invented these words, nor words, nor their spellings, nor syntax, nor sentences, nor punctuation. We didn’t invent writing. Nor did we invent literary criticism, or essaying, or blogging, or the HTTP protocol that transmitted this post to your computer. We’re all working within overlapping systems that, by virtue of the accident of birth, we find ourselves in. This should cause us no distress because rather than stifle our creativity or inhibit our originality, these systems and their rules provide the very basis for originality and creativity. Without any patterns or conventions we would be left with only noise, in which no innovation whatsoever is perceptible or even possible. It is in fact patterns and conventions that provide the opportunities for disruption and deviation.
In Chapter 2, Shklovsky is trying to understand patterns that authors use when stringing devices together. He isn’t interested in defining every pattern; nor is he interested in critically evaluating them (e.g., “this pattern’s better than that one”). Rather, he wants to examine commonly used ones and demonstrate (the following point is crucial) how even though the patterns are simple and common and predictable, they provide practically infinite opportunity for defamiliarization—and therefore artistry.
In the rest of this post I’ll focus on the simplest of those rules, repetition, with examples taken from Nirvana, Weezer, and Tao Lin.
23 brief replies to Blake Butler & Elisa Gabbert & Johannes Göransson & Chris Higgs re: (dear god, what else?) the fucking New Fucking Sincerity
I’ve decided that, from now on, all I’m going to write about at this goddamned site is this goddamned thing.
… No, seriously, I’m delighted that so many have chimed in. Thanks to everyone! I thought one massive reply would be easiest. If you read this whole thing, may your god shower blessings upon you. And if I missed any pertinent responses, kindly direct me to them in the comments. (I was traveling last weekend, and as such had trouble keeping up with all the discussion.)
I’ve claimed (here, here, here) that one thing at stake in the New Sincerity is the discovery of what maneuvers currently count as “feeling sincere.” That such maneuvers exist I consider more an observation than a topic for debate. E.g., Blake, in his recent post about Marie Calloway’s Google doc pieces, wrote that Calloway’s recent work:
It made me very happy to read the various responses to Part 1, posted last Monday. Today I want to continue this brief digression into asking what, if anything, the New Sincerity was, as well as what, if anything, it currently is. (Next Monday I’ll return to reading Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose and applying it to contemporary writing.)
Last time I talked about 2005–8, but what was the New Sincerity before Massey/Robinson/Mister? (And does that matter?) Others have pointed out that something much like the movement can be traced back to David Foster Wallace’s 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” (here’s a PDF copy). I can recall conversations, 2000–3, with classmates at ISU (where DFW taught and a number of us worked for RCF/Dalkey) about “the death of irony” and “the death of Postmodernism” and a possible “return to sincerity.” Today, even the Wikipedia article on the NS also makes that connection:
If the New Sincerity is anything real or coherent (and I wrote that post last Monday because I, like others, am trying to figure out whether that’s so, or will be so), then we should be able to identify the devices or moves that define it—that arguably make a piece read as being “New Sincere.” The “New” implies they produce that sincere effect right now, in the current literary landscape; whether the techniques or devices are entirely new doesn’t matter (they could be older techniques, fallen out of prominence, now returned). Similarly, it’s irrelevant whether the author using them is “really” being sincere. What matters instead is that
- Those devices exist;
- People think they “feel sincere” (as opposed to other devices, which don’t);
- “Being sincere” has some value at the present moment.
Why sincerity? What is its present value? My broad and still developing belief is that “sincere” writing is one means of breaking with the aesthetics of postmodernism and self-referentiality: invocation of Continental Theory, metatextuality, excessive cleverness, hyper-allusion, &c. What makes writing “sincerely” even more delicious when perceived against postmodernism 1960–2000 is that it proposes to offer precisely what pomo said didn’t matter or couldn’t exist: direct communion with another coherent, expressive self, even truth by means of language. (Don’t tell Chris Higgs!)
One of my first impressions of the NS came when I started noticing artists and authors using longer titles—in particular, long rambly ones with strong emotional resonances. My thought then and I think now was that both the length and the ramble, as well as the emotive quality, signaled non-mediation: a desire to appear uncensored, unrevised. Those titles stood out (defamiliarized the title) because they failed to comply with what a “proper,” “edited,” “thoughtful” title should be.
Is this a sensible thing to argue? Have I had too many G&Ts? Let’s pursue …
I wasn’t surprised that my Monday post, which was ultimately about reading & applying some ideas from Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose, mostly generated conversation about Tao Lin and the New Sincerity. I knew that would happen even as I wrote it. So I thought I should take a post to clarify my thoughts on “the whole NS thing.” What follows will be a mix of fact and personal reflection.
In the first post in this series, I outlined Viktor Shklovsky’s fundamental concepts of device (priem) and defamiliarization (ostranenie) as presented in the first chapter of Theory of Prose, “Art as Device.” This time around, I’d like to look at the start of Chapter 2 and try applying it to contemporary writing (specifically to the New Sincerity). As before, I’m proposing that one can actually use the principles of Russian Formalism to become a better writer and a better critic.
anonymous contribution to the ‘subgenre’ of ‘literary’ ‘essay’ known as ‘how i feel about marie calloway’
Reading Noah Cicero’s piece about Marie Calloway, it struck me that the Internet has invented a subgenre of literary essay. These essays could be easily be published in a volume called ‘How I Feel About Marie Calloway,’ collecting the torrents of writing about ‘Adrien Brody’ alongside the very small trickle of responses to ‘Jeremy Lin.’ Someone should publish this, if for no other reason than that we might see the collective bloviation of our Best Minds on a topic that eludes them completely. Tao Lin might have done, if ‘Jeremy Lin’ hadn’t so effectively outed him.
Before I get into any kind of Substantial Critique, I’d like to point out that we are discussing a young woman of twenty-two years. She’s not a symbol, she’s not a literary persona, she is an actual human being of twenty-two years. I remember when I was twenty-two years old. I could barely tie my shoes and had a problem with public drooling. Calloway is also, it must be said, a young looking twenty-two. Both by genetics and by design, she appears about sixteen years old.
The Marie Calloway Problem is pretty simply stated: we live in a society in which the mechanisms of commerce are designed to encourage us to believe that young women are randy hot sex machines, but we have a collective meltdown when one of them actually writes about sex that is anything other than vanilla. It breaks discourse. We’re that unevolved.
This was, in part, the pro-Calloway critique offered by many women writers in the days after ‘Adrien Brody’ went viral. The problem with such critiques is that almost all of them attempted to tie Calloway into a greater narrative. ‘Adrien Brody’ could not exist in a vacuum. It needed to be contextualized within its Greater Import.
This is nonsense. ‘Adrien Brody’ is a piece about a groady balding Brooklyn Intellectual who writes about Big Issues (Why is Capitalism Bad?) having sex with a twenty-one year old woman that likes his Twitter. The woman, recounting the tale, makes vague allusions to Marx, Marxism and Marxist thinkers. The Marxism is, of course, an affect.
May 1st, 2012 / 2:54 am
Over at The Asian American Literary Review Vaman Tyrone X has written an essay about/review of Tao Lin’s recent books: Bed, Shoplifting from American Apparel, and Richard Yates. I enjoyed reading this essay partially because of this point below concerning Lin’s online activity and his writing, which I hadn’t really thought about before in this way. I think, before, I’d always read other critics conflate the two rather than separate them? Anyhow, see what you think.
He wrote an entire (and earnest) essay about Yates’ oeuvre four years before RY was published. Is it really okay to begrudge Lin the right to name his novel after an under-appreciated literary figure that clearly has meant something to him? Or maybe it’s just a more admirable enterprise to protect a now-canonical realist author from Lin’s digital-fame grubbing? The subtext to every sub-positive response to Lin’s work and accompanying personal brand seems to be twofold: (1) “I could write that. I know how to not pile on subordinate clauses too” and (2) “I could become as famous as him if strangers bought shares in my future novels, enabling me to sit, consume kale, and coin acronyms on Twitter.” Fortunately, Lin’s fiction can exist apart from such criticisms because the Lin-ean frame—the megabytes of service he has performed deconstructing ‘Tao Lin,’ his style, and his infamy-inducing act—acts as a helpful buffer, [emphasis mine -RC] letting Haley and Dakota wander safely in a traditional realist space without a self-consciously perspiratory narrator forcing them to confront the faults of their maker.
Have a read if you’re so inclined, and I hope all of you are having a lovely day. Take a break from the computer if you can and go for a walk sometime? It’s 60 degrees or so and sunny in Houston and I’m going to take my last class outside, I think.
This follows Roxane’s Tuesday post, and Jami Attenberg’s initial observation/criticism of something she heard Franzen say. Their defense of Twitter/Facebook/etc. is of course right: small press writers and publishers need those tools to promote themselves and their works. But I’m less convinced that Franzen has “lost perspective,” as Attenberg puts it, or “doesn’t understand what Twitter is for,” as Roxane claims. Instead, I think Franzen is making a deeper, more disturbing criticism—the latest salvo in a decade-long attack on certain writers, certain kinds of fiction, and ultimately, a certain construction of art itself.
To grasp all of that, let’s look more closely at a different part of his complaint:
[Twitter is] like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’…It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium.
Um—huh? What do lipograms have to do with social networking? And how are they irresponsible?
I hope this is the last time I’ll find myself writing about Tao Lin. In July I wrote a lengthy story for The Morning News that delved into Lin’s publishing venture, Muumuu House, and looked at a few of the prominent (allowing for a loose definition of “prominent”) writers in his literary cadre. (The post engendered quite a comment chain on this very site.) Mere weeks later, Lin landed a $50,000 book deal with Vintage for his next novel. And that was when someone commented on the Morning News piece that they’d be “interested in an update on all of this” (presumably they meant an update from me) and wondered whether his deal would “change things.”
It does change things, yes. The fact that his next novel (it’s tentatively called Taipei, Taiwan) will come out under the Vintage label means that, like it or not, it’s going to get a lot more notice than his books have had in the past when published by Melville House. And that’s no knock on Melville House, which does a fabulous job both with publicity (the Moby Lives blog is fun and occasionally gets good pickup on Twitter etc.) and with the aesthetic look of its titles (see: the Art of the Novella series). But it’s still a tiny press. A book published by Vintage will be seen, not just by critics that have managed to avoid Lin and maybe still haven’t even heard of him, but also by mainstream readers, the Barnes & Noble shoppers who have definitely not heard of him and who read the Stieg Larsson trilogy. This isn’t to say they’ll pick up the novel and buy it, but it may catch their eye, they’ll take a look, and now they’ll know who or what a Tao Lin is.