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Tao Lin

This Is Not a Book Review: Taipei by Tao Lin

DON’T BELIEVE ANY REVIEW YOU READ

 

most reviews seem like a combination of vague/abstract/sweeping statements, lies, inaccurate chains of thought, irrelevant information, personal prejudices, blind allegiance to traditions, personal belief in one’s ability to judge for others, passive insults, reluctant/qualified acceptance of talent, asskissing, exagerrated statements, reference to older authors and his/her work as template for how one can be better, unresolved psychological issues, jealously, desire for acceptance/shittalking how ‘cool’ the author and his/her group is, and other insecurities/pettiness.

– Sam Pink’s blog

 

A few months ago, I asked Vintage for a galley copy of Taipei, Tao Lin’s forthcoming novel, with the intention of writing a book review for a magazine that I solicited. The publicist at Vintage was very kind in her response, and prompt; in a few days there was a package outside of my door. The magazine in question was interested, which surprised me, because they tend toward more ‘esteemed,’ overtly political, and/or ‘international’ authors. Unfortunately it didn’t work out, for a variety of reasons. I’ll say that the fault is more mine than theirs—in reality it was my very first editorial dispute, which I’ll probably fondly remember in the future (or not). Either way, the review didn’t happen. READ MORE >

Random / 5 Comments
June 5th, 2013 / 12:16 am

Author Spotlight & Reviews

Buddhism and Shoplifting: A Few Notes on Tao Lin’s Early Prose Style

taipei-101-vacation-tourism-landscape

With the upcoming release of Tao Lin’s Taipei (and the recent release of the film version of Shoplifting), a novel which I happen to think (based on like an almost incomprehensibly small amount of evidence) will change the minds of those who don’t regard Lin as a “writer” or “artist,” or who don’t think of his writing as “literary” or “artistic,” or who believe he just “doesn’t write well” (a compellingly tedious example of some of these views here) I thought it’d be worthwhile, as a kind of prelude, to reevaluate some of Lin’s earlier prose style. Just to see and possibly help understand and enjoy Lin’s “progress.” In any case, here are a few notes on Lin’s early prose style.

Tao Lin’s “i went fishing with my family when i was five” is often seen as a joke, a gimmick of a poem, or, if the reader is in a more generous mood, as a kind of performance piece (video here) in which Lin is attempting to break down some barrier between reader and listener, poet and audience, by repeating the line “the next night we ate whale” for as long as possible. Or, if the reader is more interested in the poem as a poem, then the poem might be seen as an attempt to challenge what poetry is. The poem is all those things, sure, why not? The audience, in the above-linked video, alternately laughs, becomes uncomfortable, gets annoyed, laughs at their own discomfort or annoyance, and then applauds (when Lin finally decides to end the piece) either out of pleasure, awkwardness, or, well, whatever.  The taping of that particular reading is telling: the camera is trained not on Lin, like most readings would go, but on the audience. So, clearly, Lin and his cameraperson know that it is the response that they’re after, because the poem, possibly, isn’t as interesting without the response. This can be said of all poetry or prose, I think, but the interesting thing here is that Lin brings the response to the forefront: the response, the interaction between audience and poet, etc, is highlighted. Still, I’m just wandering here, and this isn’t what I’m interested in. I’m just saying I’ve seen the poem, and much of Lin’s other work, talked about in a couple rather reductive ways: one, as this thing that challenges what poetry/story is, or two, as one of Tao Lin’s gimmicks for self-promo. Possibly I’ve seen Lin’s work discussed as both at the same time. And weirdly, or perhaps shortsightedly, or maybe better put, narrow-mindedly, I’ve only really seen Lin’s novels criticized in these same fairly simple ways: positively, there’s the “like it/this is funny, I had fun” response, or the “I connected with this” response (both observable in comments on Lin’s stories, here and here), and negatively, there’s the “this is just bad writing, he’s a bad writer” response, or the “the characters are not really characters/it’s just autobio” response,  or the “he’s a stylist, but it’s boring” response, or the “it’s a gimmick/self-promo” response. All of which are fine. And there are some positive reviews of Lin’s work out there (here and here), but all these reviews (even the positive ones) do little more than explain why the reviewer liked or disliked a certain of Lin’s books, and as someone who has a nauseatingly and often unhealthy need to figure things out, all these responses are unhelpful/uninteresting in actually understanding what Lin is doing.

As an intro to Lin’s Shoplifting from American Apparel then,  I’d like to suggest that Lin’s whale poem– while it may be all the things I described above, and perhaps even more – one of the other things it is that is perhaps overlooked about the poem or not discussed enough, as if easily attributed as the dust of the thing, just a part of it that can be brushed off, is the line “the next night we ate whale” as a mantra. In Buddhism, the mantra often acts as that which opens up the meditative mind: Om Mani Padme Hum (in Tibet) is one of many “formulas and sounds [used] as concentration objects, and through that concentration [one] learn[s] lessons of life” (Watts 72) (And yeah, please excuse my citing Alan Watts, but his thing on mantra is basically correct). One sits in a meditation posture and repeats the phrase (mantra) inwardly, in order to quiet the mind, to get some self-consciousness gone. To stop some want. To stop wanting to stop the want. Yet, there’s another interpretation of such mantras, also squarely a part of Buddhism, and that’s that such mantras mean nothing at all. That the focus on these phrases as objects of concentration is merely that: as objects, not filled with meaning – koans, replete with zennie paradoxes, often lead a student to insight not through their meaning but through emptying the student of the need to make meaning. And isn’t this what happens when Lin repeats “the next night we ate whale”?: it’s not that this line carries some emotional weight because it’s repeated so much and it’s not simply that this is a joke or a gimmick, it’s rather that Lin is, for a moment, giving us one-pointed concentration on a phrase, an object of words. We begin to sense the meaning of language falling away through repetition (try it with any word), and possibly, the reader/viewer/audience is opened up to a new (or old (or forgotten)) kind of consciousness, one that through the repetition of a phrase quiets the meaning-making mind and gets us a glimpse of whatever the world is. In other words, we are directed past the phrase, past what is typically viewed as a mediation of reality (a poem), to a direct encounter with what is. Watch the video again and wait for that quiet where the audience stops talking, moving, and laughing. There is, for an instant, a silence filled with chant.

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22 Comments
May 29th, 2013 / 11:00 am

Experimental fiction as genre and as principle

Mothlight Cut-Up

A few years ago at Big Other I wrote a post entitled “Experimental Art as Genre and as Principle.” That distinction has been on my mind as of late, so I thought I’d revisit the argument. My basic argument then and now was that I see two different ways in which experimental art is commonly defined.

By principle I mean that the artist is committed to making art that’s different from what other artists are making—so much so that others often don’t even believe that it is art. As contemporary examples I’m fond of citing Tao Lin and Kenneth Goldsmith because I still hear people complaining that those two men aren’t real artists—that they’re somehow pulling a fast one on all their fans. (Someday I’ll explore this idea. How exactly does one perform a con via art? Perhaps it really is possible. Until then, I’ll propose that one indication of experimental art is that others disregard it as a hoax.) Tao visited my school one month ago, and after his presentation some folks there expressed concern, their brows deeply furrowed, that he was a Legitimate Artist—so this does still happen. (For evidence of Goldsmith’s supposed fakery, keep reading.)

Eventually, I bet, the doubts regarding Lin and Goldsmith will fall by the wayside. Things change. And it’s precisely because things change that the principle of experimentation must keep moving. The avant-garde, if there is one, must stay avant.

That’s only one way of looking at it, however. Experimental art becomes genre when particular experimental techniques become canonical and widely disseminated and practiced. The experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, during the 1960s, affixed blades of grass and moth wings to film emulsion, and scratched the emulsion, and painted on it, then printed and projected the results. Here is one example and here is another example. And here is a third; his films are beautiful and I love them. (The image atop left hails from Mothlight.) Today, countless film students also love Brakhage’s work, and use the methods he popularized to make projects that they send off to experimental film festivals. (Or at least they did this during the 90s, when I attended such festivals; I may be out of touch.)

Those films, I’d argue, while potentially beautiful and interesting, are not necessarily experimental films. As far as the principle of experimentation goes, those students had might as well be imitating Hitchcock.

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Craft Notes / 144 Comments
April 22nd, 2013 / 8:01 am

Film & Reviews

55 Points: Shoplifting from American Apparel

Jordan Castro and Noah Cicero in "Shoplifting from American Apparel" (2012).

Jordan Castro and Noah Cicero in “Shoplifting from American Apparel” (2012).

1. This is a review of the recent film adaptation, not the book, although I’ll also say a few things about the book.

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.

3. The director, Pirooz Kalayeh, was there, and I spoke with him before and after the screening. Brad Warner, who plays Tao Lin (or “‘Movie’ Tao Lin”), was also 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.

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12 Comments
April 15th, 2013 / 8:07 am

Last Friday, Tao Lin came and presented to my department at UIC on his development as a poet, 2001–2013. The notes from his talk are here. I also recorded the event, and will see what I can do about making that available, should all parties prove willing.

My Experience Writing for Muumuu House

Not Elizabeth Ellen

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.”

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Behind the Scenes / 99 Comments
January 5th, 2013 / 11:21 am

Film & Reviews & Web Hype

The Zachary German Documentary, “Shitty Youth”

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.

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34 Comments
November 5th, 2012 / 5:54 pm

You Private Person: An Interview with Richard Chiem

I interviewed Richard Chiem on the occasion of his first book, You Private Person, published by Scrambler Books. Photos via Frances Dinger and (the above) Matthew Simmons.  

What was your favorite book when you were younger? What books have made you lol or cry or feel excited?

I think I read a lot of Goosebumps books and Animorphs books, and I was trying to collect the whole series for each. If I think about 1995, there were many times of me just waiting by myself inside a Safeway, because you could find them in the book aisle. I could read one of those books in about two and a half hours, so it became an easy addiction, since I wanted to know everything, to know the whole story. I would stack up my stacks of books next to my video games and my comic books in towers. They were each numbered like episodes, and in different colors. It seemed perfect to me at the time to have them all. I would save up six or seven dollars, everything other week or so in 1995, waiting in line at a Safeway. I recognized a particular need to read. But they never made me cry or laugh. I don’t really remember what exactly I was feeling when I was eight years old, in third grade, but I remember those simple horror and adventure stories, and I can still talk about them.

I turn on subtitles when I watch movies now. Some of my friends hate it and some really like it. It was adding another dimension to every movie and it quickened the pace of the viewing experience for me. And I watch a lot of movies. I always write after watching
a movie when everything still feels really alive about the story.

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Author Spotlight & Film & I Like __ A Lot / 11 Comments
November 2nd, 2012 / 11:50 am

I Am Prepared to Read Many More Novels About People Fucking

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 realitysubjective, 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.

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Craft Notes & I Like __ A Lot & Massive People & Random / 43 Comments
October 12th, 2012 / 12:49 am