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Modern Life is Rubbish: Tao Lin’s Taipei

By posted at 6:00 am on June 5, 2013 96

coverWhen I began to read Taipei on my morning commute, I wondered if I had been lobotomized in the night. On the way back home, I wondered why someone who hates words would take the trouble to arrange so many of them in a row. The following morning, I wondered, Why does he hate me?, the way people wonder about playground bullies, or terrorists. Why does he inflict upon me his “framework-y somethingness,” his “soil-y area,” “the salad-y remains of his burrito”? Why does he take away my joy?

When I received this novel in the mail, I did not understand that Tao Lin was a name I had seen before, during a hazy period several Internets ago, when I was learning about Fat Acceptance and Tracey Egan Morrissey was still called Slut Machine. Later, I recognized the name as something observed in unread Gawker headlines (and unread Millions pieces, as it turns out).

I report this so you will know that when I began reading Taipei, my loathing was pure.

The novel opens and we follow a writer named Paul as he drifts around Brooklyn waiting for his book tour to start. We are with him as he sort of goes through a breakup, sort of goes to parties, sort of “works on things” (sometimes in quotation marks, sometimes not), definitely purchases little lots of groceries contrived as though to generate maximum annoyance (“organic beef patty, two kombuchas, five bananas, alfalfa sprouts, arugula, hempseed oil, a red onion, ginger”), definitely wiles away the hours in awkward communing with pseudo friends “[he was] peripherally aware of a self-conscious Matt slowly creating guacamole”), and definitely upsets his mother.

The subject also has excruciating interactions with a series of distressingly underemployed young women.

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…Laura exited a few minutes later, meekly holding her tambourine and shaker and some construction paper. “I see you ‘got in on’ the construction paper,” said Paul in the sarcastic, playful voice he used to recommend Funyuns the night they met, but with a serious expression. “Good choices, in terms of colors. Good job.” “You said I could have some,” said Laura hesitantly.

Everyone’s ages are recorded, as if in a hipster police blotter: “After the reading Lucie, 23, introduced herself and Amy, 23, and Daniel, 25, to Paul and Mitch, saying something about her and Amy’s online magazine.”

I say this novelist hates words, because the novel reads as though it were the result of strict parameters imposed by a perverse contest, or the edict of some nihilist philosophy, to use as few interesting words as possible. Tao Lin seems to aspire to a prose I can only describe as “affectless.” When an adjective is required, and sometimes when it is not, Lin often adds a “y” to a noun (see: “soil-y”). Some traditionally formed adjectives and adverbs are enclosed in quotation marks; I believe to communicate the overarching theme of the book, which is that the majority of Paul’s powers of observation are absorbed in the business, not of something so studied as introspection, but of prolonged self-gazing from an external vantage. His quotation mark tactic achieves this effect, but it also communicates an embarrassment about words and what they can represent or mean.

He reached outside his blanket and pulled his MacBook “darkly,” he felt, toward himself, like an octopus might. It was 12:52 a.m., almost three hours since leaving Angelica Kitchen. Laura, to Paul’s surprise, had emailed twice — a few sentence fragments apologizing for her awkwardness at 11:43 p.m., a paragraph of elaboration at 12:05 a.m. Paul emailed that he understood and liked her and thought she was “cool.” She responded a few minutes later, seeming cheerful. After a few more emails she seemed almost “giddy.” They committed — earnestly and enthusiastically, Paul felt — to get tattoos together tomorrow.

If Lin is too arch to use the word “giddy” stripped from the safety of quotation marks, he spares no length, no number of unremarkable words, in the service of communicating how his character is feeling. These boring sentences are demarcated from the other boring exposition sentences by their length and the number of commas, which imbue the novel with an arrhythmia that somehow also succeeds at being monotonous:

He imagined his trajectory as a vacuum-sealed tube, into which he’d arrived and through which — traveling alone in the vacuum-sealed tube of his own life — he’d be suctioned and from which he’d exit, as a successful delivery to some unimaginable recipient.

Other narrative choices indicate either a fundamental laziness that precludes finding interesting combinations of words to describe things, or a concerted effort to describe the world of Paul using minimal “literary” embellishment (both possibilities arrive at the same place in terms of transmitting insight or aesthetic pleasure to the reader). Even the conceit of listing ages seems like a careless shorthand to describe people without really describing them, though this strategy conveniently reveals, later in the novel, that Paul’s authorial fanbase is all younger than he (sometimes inappropriately so: e.g., “Calvin, 18, and Maggie, 17, seniors in high school,” with whom Paul and his girlfriend Erin do lots of drugs and swim in the hot tub in Calvin’s “mansion” — quotation marks original — in Ohio).

After the initial deep, anxious loathing I felt for the novel, a germ of grudging appreciation made itself felt. Paul’s drug use in the novel begins with what seemed to me like a your-parents-wouldn’t-like-it-but-don’t-call-the-helpline usage — an Ambien here, an Adderall there, a Xanax. Eventually, though, Paul and his friends launch into sustained drug abuse. When the drugs began to flow (MDMA, LSD, mushrooms, heroin, Xanax, Klonopin, cocaine, Oxycodone, Methadone), I thought the novel began to excuse itself for its awfulness, namely because it now had a Problem I could recognize.

The characters seemed destined for emotional or physical trainwreck, and this immediately made them more interesting. The “affectlessness” made sense too; if you were writing about the observations of a person who was usually on a mess of downers, the adjectives might be the first to go. Your characters would also make a lot of totally inane remarks, as Maggie here, while swimming in Calvin’s parents’ pool on mushrooms: “What if we were all obese right now?” This kind of dialogue was conveyed with extreme accuracy and represents some of the “best” parts of the book.

After Paul and Erin make the surprising choice to get married in Las Vegas (“‘I don’t get it, at all,’ said Paul. ‘It’s what people do. This is what people want.’ ‘It seems really insane,’ said Paul.”), together they shamble around Brooklyn, and embark on a regrettable “honeymoon” to Taipei to see Paul’s parents, and ingest an amount of drugs that I think would make your nervous system fall out and/or prompt your parents (or somebody) to call the police. They feel the drugs’ effects and shamble further around Taipei fast food restaurants, recording themselves for an ongoing series of YouTube videos of themselves on drugs. Throughout this sojourn they display the kind of drug- and pretension-heightened honesty that is not exactly honesty, and that is the very opposite of the generosity and warmth I believe are necessary to sustain human relationships.

I began to think that this might be a sad novel — because of drugs, this guy, who already seems paralyzed by a steroidally muscular self-consciousness, is wasting his life, alarming the fast food employees of Taipei with his utter, utter malarkey, breaking his parents’ heart, and annoying the shit out of me while he does it. But, like the other promising problematic things in the novel — like Paul’s relationship with his family, with girls, with friends, with self, with work, or the amount of time he spends in Whole Foods — the novel refuses to pathologize his drug use, even though that is a time-tested way to engage the reader.

Speaking of inane remarks, reading Taipei came as close as anything can come to putting me on mute. I suddenly began hearing my own voice when I spoke within earshot of others, particularly people older than I. On the BART platform, I heard myself say “It was, like, not what I was planning to have happen,” and my voice trailed off as I became conscious of the poverty of my spoken expression, how much I must sometimes sound like the people in Taipei (“‘I feel like I’m unsarcastically viewing this as a major ordeal,’ said Calvin.”) I was born the year after Tao Lin; hearing our shared idiom come out of my own mouth, I realized that some of my loathing for this book is very personal. There is a fearful recognition of those things I want most to cleanse from my self-presentation, and self.

This realization brought another weak florescence of respect for Tao Lin. First, I tested the idea that he was mocking all our imbecilities and modes of expression, but rejected it as false because I can’t imagine that someone occupying the role of cultural critic would be able to stand recording all these encounters, unless he was able to take a lot of Xanax and not remember doing it, the way I manage airplanes (this is not, I suppose, totally out of the question). I next considered that this author might have made a radical and thus laudatory commitment to capturing things as they are or seem to him, no matter how egregious, or egregiously boring, they look on the page (and possibly because they do):

Laura complimented Paul’s hair and level of “casualness” and, going partially under the table, held a candle toward Paul’s shoes — which from Paul’s above-table perspective felt stationary and storage-oriented as shoeboxes — asking what brand they were.

“iPath,” said Paul.

“I can’t see. What are these?”

“iPath. The brand is iPath.”

“I like them,” said Laura.

“iPath,” said Paul quietly.

Could Tao Lin be… post-shame?, I wondered. Philip Larkin jumped to mind, “High Windows:” ‘When I see a couple of kids / And guess he’s fucking her and she’s / Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm, / I know this is paradise”). This association, however, was actually what caused me to finally reject this hypothesis as well: Tao Lin might freely record things that seem humiliating to me, i.e., sounding like an idiot, but his sex is the sex of The Truman Show. When the panties come off, the camera, narratively speaking, looks politely away. All we hear about it is that it happens, its location, and duration.

One might perceive this as another form of cultural or personal critique: for someone very focused on the self and what the self is feeling, and how many drugs to put in the self, sex is one of the first normal human priorities to be abandoned. But then we read a conversation Erin and Paul have in Taipei, when they ask one another for opinions and “critiques” about their prowess. While Paul says that sex is not “that big of a thing” for him, Erin still reassures him, and us, that he’s “good at everything” and “[keeps] it interesting” and that she “[has] orgasms…regularly.” It feels a sterile, cowardly way to treat sex from a radical cataloguer of human experience.

I felt it necessary, back there, to mention the initial purity of my loathing, because after Googling around, lighting up new links and links long dark, the loathing quickly becomes sullied and amplified by outside influences. I even found a rejection of my more charitable positions toward Tao Lin from the horse’s mouth: Entertainment Weekly asked, “While you were writing this book, you predicted that it’d be your ‘magnum opus.’ Did that pan out?” and Tao Lin answered: “Yes, in that I didn’t save anything for a future book. I used, as source material, everything I know or have felt or experienced, or could imagine knowing or feeling or experiencing, up to this point in my life.”

Then at Thought Catalog, I was treated to a first-hand account of “What It’s Like To Be In a Tao Lin Novel“:

I’ve always wondered what it was like for people friendly with, like, Hemingway and whatnot. These authors, like Tao, write pretty closely to their personal experience… I will treasure this book for the rest of my life not because my friend wrote it, or because it’s the best book ever written (goddamn is it good, though), or because I’m in it and so are a lot of other people I care about, but actually because of a scene I’m not even in. Six simple lines of dialogue.

–“You said you only go to like one party a month. But you’re at almost every party,” [said Daniel].

“This isn’t normal at all,” said Paul. “Before we met I probably did less than one thing a month.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“Probably because I met people I like.”

Daniel hesitated. “What people?”

“You, Mitch, Laura… Amy,” said Paul. “I’m going to the bathroom.”–

Gah.

(I don’t mind airing my loathing, because Tao Lin seems like he can take it. In Taipei, he anticipates it: “He read an account of his Toronto reading, when he’d been sober, describing him as ‘monosyllabic,’ ‘awkward,’ ‘stilted and unfriendly’ within a disapproval of his oeuvre, itself vaguely within a disapproval of contemporary culture and, by way of a link to someone else’s essay, the internet.”)

My loathing was never pure, of course. Not really. I think that really great writing is bracing, and makes you feel like making something of your own, either another piece of writing, or a joyful noise unto the Lord. Then there are things you read, a little less great, that don’t make you feel one way or another, creatively speaking. Then there is a small, deadly class of book that make you never want to set pen to paper again. Tao Lin’s novel is a grave case of this latter kind, where you are faced with the consequences of writing down all the things you do or think. What if they sound like this? Colorless, witless, humorless. Picking out individual passages cannot express their cumulative monotonous assault on the senses.

The good thing about Taipei, if you’re like me, is that its characters will make you want to hug your lover, have a baby, go to work, call your mom. But maybe you’ll rethink that novel, that personal essay. In the cold ruthless scheme of things, that might not be such a bad thing. But it makes me look upon this novel as dangerous and threatening to life, like as the anti-choicer looks upon the abortionist.

Last week I participated in an online survey about ethics in book reviewing. One of the questions asked something like, “Is it okay to review the book of someone to whom you are aesthetically or philosophically opposed,” and I think I answered “Yes,” although I think the correct answer is “No,” or possibly “I’m not sure.” The next day, I saw (on Twitter) an assertion by no less a person than Joyce Carol Oates that reviews should include a minimum of opinion. I am not sure what all of this means for my ethics or my prospects as a book reviewer. But I’ll say it: It is my opinion that this novel is awful, and I am aesthetically or philosophically opposed to it. Likely it comes from some hypocrite-lecteur-mon-semblable-mon-frere place, but Taipei brought out all of my conservative instincts. Only a real codger would say this, but if this is the output we can expect from one of our bright young things, we’re fucked.





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96 Responses to “Modern Life is Rubbish: Tao Lin’s Taipei”

  1. JamesH
    at 8:39 pm on June 15, 2013

    If we were commenting on the review of a truly impressive novel, a work that exudes tremendous literary imagination and stylistic flair, we might suppose that our comments would reflect some of those qualities too, or at the very least, an appreciation of said qualities, if not the ability to demonstrate them.

    If we assume that the above assumption is true, what can we say about the novel under review here, in relation to the quality of the comments it is attracting?

  2. baroque
    at 9:41 pm on June 18, 2013

    Congratulations. This negative review made me really want to read the book. And I don’t even like minimalism.

  3. Bob
    at 12:11 am on June 19, 2013

    Then you will get the book you so richly deserve, “baroque.”

    It’s the other readers who had no warning, those who have only seen the “kid glove” reviews, who might be mislead into thinking that this is an actual novel rather than a thinly disguised diary, that I feel sorry for.

  4. Danny Peters
    at 12:36 am on June 19, 2013

    1. “‘kid glove’ reviews.” Most of the mentions of Tao Lin and Tapei are highly negative.

    2. “thinly disguised diary.” Are you new to fiction?

  5. Bob
    at 1:27 am on June 19, 2013

    Nice little switch you tried to pull there. I’m talking about reviews, you change it to “mentions,” as if they were one and the same.You do know what a “review” is, right?

    But anyway–yeah, kid glove reviews. Like the one in the New York Times, for instance. Have you heard of that newspaper?

    As for me being “new to fiction,” I’m guessing that was your (rather poor) attempt at an insult. You should try a little harder.

    But to answer your question, no, I’m not “new to fiction.” And just because a few highly popular modern authors regularly cast themselves and their friends as characters in their “fiction” doesn’t mean this should serve as the definition of what a novel is, or could be.

    Has it ever been done well in the past? Yes.

    Did Tao Lin do it well here? No.

    Care to try again?

  6. Danny Peters
    at 2:14 am on June 19, 2013

    Do you mean to say that the mentions are negative but the reviews use kid gloves?

    No. I have not heard of the New York Times. I live in Texas.

    As for the new to fiction thing . . . the reason I ask is because you seem to think that most fiction is not thinly disguised autobiography (or “diary”).

    And I wasn’t trying in the first place.

  7. Bob
    at 3:08 am on June 19, 2013

    No. I mean to say what I said. The reviewers use kid gloves. “The mentions” you keep talking about, whatever that means, that would be what YOU are talking about. Not me. You seem to be getting the two of us confused. So one last time: I’m talking about actual “reviews.”

    Texas. I’ve never been there, but I believe the New York Times is accessible, at least online, even in Texas. The reason I mention it, is because the Times is actually a pretty well known daily newspaper. Perhaps the most well known, outside of Texas. And it printed a very “kid glove-y” review of Taipei. Remember when I was talking about those? That’s what I was talking about.

    Yes. Most fiction is not thinly disguised autobiography. That what’ I’m arguing. Or let me qualify it slightly. Most GOOD fiction is not thinly disguised autobiography. Writing a good novel takes a lot of work and talent. It is more than just changing the names around.

    Your issue with that statement is …. what, again?

    As for you not “trying in the first place,” I think we should change that to “not succeeding in the first place.” That would be a lot more accurate.

    You were trying. You just weren’t succeeding.

  8. Observation
    at 10:02 am on June 19, 2013

    Me here. Another observation. For a totally different response to Lin check out Emily Witt’s review: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/06/18/the-gpistolary-novel-tao-lin-s-taipei.html

  9. baroque
    at 10:19 am on June 19, 2013

    The New York Times review is one of the only good reviews of this book I’ve seen. The fact that it happens to be more high-profile than most may have given some people an incorrect impression of the general state of reviews.

    That review also points out what you and the author of this review seems to be missing in Taipei – the “deftness with emotional close-up work”, which is exactly what separates it from a “thinly veiled diary” (most diarists aren’t as perceptive or objective as Lin about their own emotions, let alone others’).

  10. Kevin S.
    at 10:21 am on June 21, 2013

    Sorry you weren’t able to understand, Jim. If there’s a particular part of my comment that’s giving you trouble, then I’ll be happy to break it down for you provided you ask me a pointed question.

  11. Elena
    at 2:33 pm on June 21, 2013

    Okay, even if he’s trying to illustrate the banality of self-consciousness and the sort of disconnected nature of the interactions it implies, I still don’t think his writing really offers any kind of solution. Writing isn’t meant solely to depict; it is also meant to illumine, or to come to some sort of conclusion about the state of affairs beyond merely saying that they exist. Even if he’s a satirist, I find his style so grating that I can’t get past it to the point.

  12. Danny Peters
    at 2:41 pm on June 21, 2013

    “The writer’s task is not to solve the problem, but to state the problem correctly.”
    — Anton Chekhov

  13. Steven Augustine
    at 3:27 am on June 24, 2013

    I first came across TL’s material “long ago” and was into the outline of the aesthetic, then soon became disappointed by the persistently sophomoric execution. But, riffs like this: “He imagined his trajectory as a vacuum-sealed tube, into which he’d arrived and through which — traveling alone in the vacuum-sealed tube of his own life — he’d be suctioned and from which he’d exit, as a successful delivery to some unimaginable recipient”… indicate the presence of literary Art. That is not smugly half-assed work. Even if that passage is the high-point of the novel, I think it’s a very good sign.

    Not that I’m inspired to buy the book, because passages like the cited “Paul noticed Laura looking at his pile of construction paper… (etc)” still warn me away from the product the way passages from anything by BEE (or, say, Crichton, or JCO) tend to warn me away by not quite being my cups of tea or red bull or treacle.

    Which is very different from saying that TL is a famewhore who can’t write. I think TL is becoming a famewhore who CAN write and there’s a good chance the famewhore part will burn off, sooner than later, leaving a Writer. Having a team who can worry about his fame *for* him will probably help.

    Having a fixed opinion (pro or con) about any Artist is the same category of cultural failure as being a would-be artist too lazy to grow.

  14. Renee
    at 8:53 am on June 24, 2013

    Nothing minimalist about it, more’s the pity.

  15. CarolB
    at 2:31 am on June 29, 2013

    Most, unquote, fricking hilarious, unquote, review ever.
    Incisive. Engaging. Articulate.

    This book is like Miss Manners’ books. Its chronic, in-the-life subjects won’t recognize themselves. They won’t recognize themselves, but they’ll feel as comfortably numb in the book’s world as children of alcoholics do with alcoholic spouses. They are the “whatever”ers who out-barraged the air-quoters; the 25-year-olds with anxious expressions who unconsciously quiver one leg as a pacifier when they sit and clutch their phones on the toilet and eye them hopefully during random but frequent, joyless, hairless sex performed as if in “duty to the Party” or as payment of dues to tv or internet fame. They become the 35-year-olds who say they’ve never been in love, and it’s true, and the 45-year-olds who are buying gender-determined eggs in pairs for rented wombs; the seemingly exhausted scuffers in mules and slides who believe that surgically altered faces look most human. Find them stockstill, typing stream-of-inchoateness in the middle of Whole Foods aisles or any bustling forum.

    Writing about post-shame, post-ironically.

  16. Scott
    at 5:51 pm on July 2, 2013

    People discussing whether or not Tao Lin is a terrible writer and a fake are like people discussing whether or not George Zimmerman “did it.” Tao Lin is hands-down the worst thing this generation of writers has ever offered. Read just one chapter of this terrible novel…I mean, just read it…don’t go thinking “I know this book sucks, but it’s meant to suck”…or “I know this writing is terrible, but maybe that’s what the joke is”…or “I know this book sucks, but the world sucks too and I guess that’s Tao Lin’s big, incisive philosophy.” Just sit down and read this book, and if you have half a functioning brain cell and some sense of critical perspective, you will see Lydia Kesling’s review is 100% on point. Then, when you put down this terrible book, go and look at Tao Lin’s Facebook page where he whines that no one likes his book and begs his followers to come on to Millions and defend him…so he can hopefully sell more books. Seriously, Tao Lin is there no bottom to your pit of fame-whoring. You wrote a book. Some people, for whatever reason, like. And a lot of other dislike it. Deal with it, dude. Go live your life…have more experiences, and get the hell out of your own hipster head. That’s the only way you’ll ever be a good writer.

  17. james j
    at 6:07 pm on July 2, 2013

    that’s so funny! someone just forwarded me tao lin’s FB post to come here and defend him, and i thought, “okay i need to come here and put my two cents in.” this book Taipei is a pile of shit. a pile so smelly that i still don’t know what is to discuss. i guess some writers think as long as their book is being discussed it must be good thing, even if how much that book sucks is the focus of the discussion. i guess m. night shyamalan has the same thought every time one of his turds boms at the box office and people giggle and point at him on the street.

    really, though, this reviewer is right: tao lin hates writing. he must hate to write a word like “salad-y” and expect to be taken seriously. but okay, let’s not jump on him for simple word choice. let’s look at this book as a whole. is the book meant to be satire? if it is, then maybe it could work. but the whole thing is too self-conscious to be satire. it’s like the guy still wants to be seen as cool no matter what, which is really desperate, and kind of skeezy to tell the truth. also, i have yet to hear one person credibly defend this guys writing. most people i know who say they like this book admit that they only say that because they know tao lin personally, and they’re trying to be nice. i think it’s time for people to stop being nice. i think it’s time for honesty, and i think it’s time for literary fiction to be new and dangerous again.

  18. Ilya Zarembsky
    at 6:31 pm on July 2, 2013

    tl;df but if you like long words may I suggest a thesaurus

  19. Ilya Zarembsky
    at 6:59 pm on July 2, 2013

    Ok, I sorta finished reading….honey, you don’t hate this novel, you hate yourself

  20. jim
    at 10:03 pm on July 2, 2013

    “dangerous and threatening to life” idk I haven’t read it yet but through reviews, excerpts, my own anticipation and view on Tao’s work, I think this review is more dangerous than Tai Pei, seems like the book broke the reviewer and sort of abolished the reviewers ego in a way that seems the opposite of dangerous to me

  21. ryan manning
    at 11:30 am on July 4, 2013

    i like some of his early short stories and poems. i think his persona is distracting. i think he does epitomize a zeitgeist. it’s the logical conclusion of corporate warfare, consumerism, nihilism. and it’s not pretty. celebrity culture is a plague of humanity.

  22. fitz
    at 6:04 pm on July 5, 2013

    Perhaps his first language is his forte, not English ?

  23. JT
    at 3:07 pm on July 11, 2013

    For those who are so negative to Tao’s background (because he is an America-born-Chinese, so called, ABC) , these information may help:
    Tao’s father is a Ph.D in physics (1981) and is the inventor of the flying-spot LASIK (a surgical procedure currently used to correct millions of myopia worldwide), published over 65 SCI journal papers and is now a Visiting Professor at HE Medical University (China). Tao might be a great scientist, if not a great writer (which needs a strong math & logic background too)..

  24. Nil Sasserath
    at 10:56 pm on July 19, 2013

    Three critics walk into a gallery where an artist has placed a turd on display for them to critique, much hilarious hand-wringing, self-deprecation and tentative speculation follows until one of the critics manages to utter what everyone in the gallery has clearly spotted as soon as they came in: “You know, this might just be a turd, after all.”

  25. JT
    at 11:07 pm on July 19, 2013

    For those with negative critics should also read the positive critics. Do not HATE the book, hate yourself not being qualified to SEE the real value of the book.

  26. Tao Lin… | Schiamachia
    at 2:13 pm on July 24, 2013

    […] Quem quiser pode ler uma resenha de verdade, em inglês, aqui ou […]

  27. Observation
    at 7:33 pm on July 24, 2013

    “Then, when you put down this terrible book, go and look at Tao Lin’s Facebook page where he whines that no one likes his book and begs his followers to come on to Millions and defend him…so he can hopefully sell more books.”

    I don’t think he has told anyone to come here to defend him.

  28. JT
    at 1:57 am on July 25, 2013

    a real master piece does not intend to be appreciated by below-averaged-readers..

  29. thegrapefruit
    at 12:37 am on August 12, 2013

    I thumbed through a couple of chapters of Lin’s book today. The dislike of this book, I think, has a lot to do with the crappy “MFA” style of fiction that is considered haute couture these days among the literati. That style fetishizes imitations of Hemingway: short, sparse sentences that record life as a camera might, full of physical detail, and with the admonition to “show, not tell” as the most important rule. Some of the best writers in history cared not a damn for that rule.

    Lin’s novel, from what little of it I read, is not at all like that, and thank god for it. He is working in a more modernist tradition. He is concerned with tracking like a seismograph the every minor fluttering of the mind: the pushes and pulls of awareness and attention, of emotion (and particularly hard-to-articulate moments of awkwardness, confusion, or ennui), and of the mirror dances of social interaction — and he renders these in beautiful metaphor which he is not afraid to tell quite directly, rather than show.

    For example, his fascinating renderings of the moments just after waking, and the disorientation that accompanies them, and the old memories and identities that bubble up, dream-like, and then die away, are astute. He is a superb observer of the subtle recursive and reciprocal confusions of social interaction. He can also be an excellent observer of physical detail. For example, at one point his narrator, Paul, is in a bar and sits across from a girl who is watching a TV show on the screen behind him. Paul sees in her eyes the reflection of the show, which appears as 4-6 pixels in the corner of her eye which sometimes change color. Haven’t we all experienced this? Perfectly captured.

    Lin is very talented. I did sense an excessive clinicality and lack of heart in the text, and that is a major problem. But there is a lot of potential and good here.

  30. Five Things To Expect From Tao Lin’s Australian Tour | Junkee
    at 1:05 am on August 13, 2013

    […] very little middle ground when it comes to Tao Lin. Lydia Kiesling of The Millions said she felt “lobotomized” after reading his newest novel Taipei, while Charles Bock of The New York Times said that he […]

  31. Jack M
    at 7:21 am on August 13, 2013

    If you want a laugh, go to the HTML Giant website and take a look at the self-obsessed slop being peddled as great prose and poetry. Pretentious to the extreme, and Tao Lin is their idol. Then, after you’re done shaking your head, you may want to cry. It’s all just literary masturbation.

  32. David Biddle
    at 2:46 pm on August 15, 2013

    I like very much that Nina Palluci clued us in a bit on the real vs fiction thing and author’s choices and that the real Paul (Tao Lin) is such an interesting guy. I imagine most here have missed that recent comment.

    I have been reading Alt Lit writers and Tao Lin in particular now for several months. I’m impressed with the consistency and the effort to create a new kind of literary rubric. It goes without saying that folks who have “standards” will have a hard time with a fundamentally different approach to fiction (is this ficiton?) while folks seeking the new, wanting something better, odd, interesting, will be at least intrigued.

    This essay points to something that is just so obvious and pathetically important to know if you’re in the book game for keeps: Some of us are critics, some are writers, some are teachers, some are readers, some are editors, some are entertainers, and some are, well — I need to say this — some of us just don’t get what’s going on. It’s important to know which one of these you are. Things get a lot easier when you have that kind of awareness.

    And, no, you can’t be more than one…that would be cheating. Tao Lin’s a writer. That’s clear.

  33. Matt Hunter
    at 12:17 pm on October 25, 2013

    Bravo! Congratulations for being willing to say something that most of Lin’s readers are likely afraid to say. And for fighting your way through this entire “novel” (quotes mine, not Lin’s). I’ve tried to read him multiple times and thrown the book across the room ten pages into every attempt. This guy is the definition of hack. You have to feel bad for his audience, however much the soiled toilet paper he foists on the world as literature might remind them of their own lives. So what if his text message as fiction feels familiar to those desperate for “art” to justify the vacuum they know their lives to be? If your books are as dumb as the subjects you’re trying to satirize/lampoon/lovingly portray, you may as well drop your Apple device of preference on a table in any Starbucks in the English speaking world and transcribe what is recorded. You, Tao Lin, are awful at what you do.

  34. Just checking back here and wow
    at 2:20 am on October 31, 2013

    Would love to see if the author of this review feels the same they do now as before. If she hates the book even more. Or less. Or what!

  35. Scott F
    at 1:42 am on January 3, 2014

    The book is like his other novels, which is to say, hard to read. I think maybe Tao Lin either resonates with you or doesn’t – and it’s shameful that for the people that do not feel this connection to find it necessary to belittle the people that obviously are connected to Tao Lin’s writing (I don’t think he could have amassed such a “cult” following if not for such a connection being present). Also – to feel “lobotomized” is to feel – to be effected by something to that degree, especially when you’re describing that something as “affectless” is to me ironic, maybe it’s a paradox, but sometimes the feeling of no feeling is very real and very relatable. This is why I love Tao Lin’s novels. Because they force me to question the “point” in life, often due to my stark objection to the reality Lin begins to portray. Since I read his recollections of “confusion” or “awkwardness” or his even more dry analytical musings that are often unfruitful in their conclusions and am either irritated by them or downright agitated I am more likely to question such a level of existentialism as beneficial. Also there are moments (as other commenters have mentioned) – of fantastic sarcasm, absurdity, or quirkiness – enough so that I forgot that I dislike nearly all of the characters (especially the typically irritating “affectless” malfunctioning protagonist). I think that if seeing myself in these horrifically hard to cope with protagonists allows me to live my life in a more meaningful/positive/less-depressed-way (a la “you-are-a-little-bit-happier-than-I-am”) then Lin is succeeding at a very high level of art. If you are sometimes not depressed by your own banality than Tao Lin is likely not the author for you, and congratulations on being well-adjusted to this world! (P.S. his poetry is far and beyond more enjoyable to read – and often just as “lobotomizing”-in-a-thought-provoking way.

  36. Literary Combat: Toa Lin vs. Marie Calloway « The WILD Magazine
    at 8:00 am on January 28, 2014

    […] Here’s the problem: I would like you to read Tao Lin but I would also like you not to give Tao Lin any of your money. My best suggestion is to see if your local library has any copies of Shoplifting from American Apparel or Taipei. If they do, check them out, read them (it should only take a few hours), and then return them immediately. Keeping them around only deepens their impression in your memory, and not for good reasons. […]

  37. Literary Combat: Tao Lin vs. Marie Calloway « The WILD Magazine
    at 1:35 pm on January 31, 2014

    […] Here’s the problem: I would like you to read Tao Lin but I would also like you not to give Tao Lin any of your money. My best suggestion is to see if your local library has any copies of Shoplifting from American Apparel or Taipei. If they do, check them out, read them (it should only take a few hours), and then return them immediately. Keeping them around only deepens their impression in your memory, and not for good reasons. […]

  38. Zadie Smith and Rejecting the “Vampire Castle” | Media Diversified
    at 2:00 pm on March 20, 2014

    […] the internet”, as the deadpan novelist-of-the-zeitgeist Tao Lin describes life, as he sees it, in Taipei. Maybe being in the Zadiedom is best characterized by some sentences from the novel “from […]

  39. nepotism and engineered success
    at 12:17 pm on April 4, 2014

    VOTING TRUST AGREEMENT

    THIS VOTING TRUST AGREEMENT (this “Agreement”) is made and entered
    into as of this 6th day of June, 2001, by and between

    VOTING TRUST COMMITTEE OF SURGILIGHT, INC., as Trustee having an
    address of 12001 Science Drive, Suite 140, Orlando, Florida 32826 (hereinafter,
    with any successors, referred to as the “Trustee”); and

    LIN FAMILY PARTNERS, LTD., a Colorado limited partnership having an address of
    4532 Old Carriage Trail, Oviedo, FL 32765; YUAN LIN, TRUSTEE OF THE Y-C
    IRREVOCABLE LIVING TRUST, having an address of 8th Floor, No. 7, Chung-Po N.
    Road, Taipei, Taiwan; J. T. LIN, having an address of 4532 Old Carriage Trail,
    Oviedo, FL 32765; YUCHIN LIN, having an address of 4532 Old Carriage Trail,
    Oviedo, FL 32765; and ALEX H. LIN, having an address of 4532 Old Carriage Trail,
    Oviedo, FL 32765, as Beneficiary (hereinafter, together with his, her or its
    successors and assigns, referred to individually as a “Beneficiary” and
    collectively as the “Beneficiaries”).

    WITNESSETH

    WHEREAS, each Beneficiary is a shareholder of SurgiLight, Inc., a
    Delaware corporation (the “Company”) and owns shares of the common stock of the
    Company as set forth below:

    Name No. of Shares

    Lin Family Partners, Ltd. 4,000,000
    Yuan Lin, Trustee of Y-C
    Irrevocable Living Trust 4,500,000
    Yuan Lin 4,500,000
    J. T. Lin 1,064,000
    Yuchin Lin 800,000
    Alex H. Lin 100,000
    Tao Lin 100,000;
    ————–

    Total 15,064,000 shares

  40. Germane Jackson
    at 11:49 am on June 4, 2014

    Late to this conversation, but really, it’s a conversation that’s been going on forever. The question at hand seems to be something like, “Should literature endeavor to itself be banal in order to represent banality?”

    There are really two questions here: 1) Is banality an appropriate subject for literature? and 2) Is writing in a banal manner the best aesthetic way to examine banality? To the first question, I would venture a tentative yes. There are, of course, probably more important things to consider in the world than the ephemeral stylish ennui of a generation (a stylish ennui that repeats with every generation, incidentally, yet of course is regarded by each one as original), but sure, literature’s tent should be large enough to accommodate this topic.

    To the second question, I would venture a tentative no. Good literature rises above the aesthetic mode and related constraints of the ideas and objects it examines. For example, a good novel about romance can not be satisfied with solely using the cliches and tropes of romance, with writing in the pedestrian language of actual romance. Novels that do this are, in fact, bad genre fiction, romance novels. I would posit that this applies to “critiques” of banality and cliche as well. It is simply not enough to represent banality and cliche on the page and claim that as a critique; it is simply more banality and cliche. I’m not holding up Bret Easton Ellis as model of cultural incisiveness here, but as a thought experiment, imagine the record reviews of Huey Lewis and the cataloguing of brand names in American Psycho, without a deranged murderer doing the narration.

  41. Germane Jackson
    at 1:00 pm on June 4, 2014

    To add to my previous comment, Joyce, in Ulysses, famously uses genre language and professional jargon in various chapters. This tactic is only effective planted in the midst of a novel supremely interested in unique human experience. Joyce’s use of banal language in these chapters is meant (I think, and surely among other things) as an ironic and pathetic comment on the reduced and circumscribed level of intellectual and emotional response available to many of the characters. Gerty McDowell’s thoughts, for instance, remain on the level of pulpy romance, and it is an effective means of dramatizing her fantasy life; it would not, however, be effective, or readable, expanded to novel length, without the Bloom and Stephens’ superstructural narrative intellects.

  42. Moe Murphy
    at 11:15 am on June 5, 2014

    Hi Germane Jackson! I added a new Iowa Writer’s Workshop comment (not on Iowa, but on tangent of “colorful” web commentary) and hope you can stop by and read it.

    Quite a tempest in a teapot about a film review website, but it inspired some ideas in me.

    Best wishes to you,

    Moe Murph

  43. Moe Murphy
    at 11:16 am on June 5, 2014

    P.S. Pardon the unrelated comment in this threat just above.

  44. Moe Murphy
    at 11:19 am on June 5, 2014

    Mr. Jackson,

    Love the comment on the use of banal language by Joyce and the context for its use. Wonderful food for thought, this comment stream is fascinating tho I have not read the author yet.

    Moe Murph

  45. Steve Penhollow
    at 8:00 am on January 28, 2015

    It’s never a good idea for a reviewer to address what she believes to be a bad bit of writing with a worse bit of writing.

    I am no fan of Tao Lin, but — judging from the example above — I would rather read his novels than Keisling’s reviews.

  46. beloved artistry
    at 11:39 am on April 28, 2016

    Many of you are too blind to appreciate what he is doing. He is making fun of fame-whoring. He is engaging in it only to pull the wool off of its eyes. He is showing the utter emptiness of our supposedly wealthy society in a pure, distilled way. He is a GENIUS. And no, I don’t know him. But I’m glad for his writing. He is a jokester, for sure, but he is very serious about his subject matter.

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