The Great-ish American Novelist
September 23, 2010 3:20 PM   Subscribe

Tao Lin on the cover of The Stranger. The Stranger gives us a parody of the Jonathan Franzen Time Magazine Cover featuring unadjectiveable novelist, Tao Lin. Then Tao Lin profiles himself.
posted by outlandishmarxist (62 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Amusingly, Gawker didn't get it.
posted by Skot at 3:27 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the Gawker comments: "I'm pretty sure this is a joke, but Tao Lin's not in on it."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:29 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


unadjectiveable novelist, Tao Lin

That has not been my experience.
posted by penduluum at 3:29 PM on September 23, 2010


i 'love' tao lin.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:29 PM on September 23, 2010


Tao Lin is the most Tao Lin of today's Tao Lin-esque novelists.
posted by kmz at 3:31 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jessa Crispin, aka Book Slut, did a nice write up of Franzen's Freedom:
The book itself reminded me of a Spielberg production, or at least one of his “serious” films. It worked very well as a product, it hit all the right notes at exactly the right moments, but one could always feel the creator manipulating things behind the scenes.
posted by geoff. at 3:36 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sr biz comment: in the same way that d. eggers represented young folks rejection of cynicism in favor of sincerity, connectivity and evenhandedness, lin is the disaffection, boredom, and anxiety of today's overloaded 'youth'. He is the anonymous to eggers blogger, the gchat breakup to eggers YouTube, the lost druggy despair at a Girltalk show to eggers Arcade Fire slightly buzzed transcendence. This decade has been fun, but it's time for the hangover.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:40 PM on September 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


Anyone who uses the phrase "group-orientated" in an apparently earnest way is not allowed to say things like "to underscore the idea proposed by Schopenhauer" later in the same paragraph. The whole thing reads like a Markov-chain mashup of precious academic prose with OK! magazine.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 3:42 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Meh.

Don't get it. I know who Franzen is, vaguely. The whole "Tao Lin" thing reeks of an inside joke perpetrated by spoiled Ivy League/New York richie/whatever kids. His wikipedia page has more problems listed than any I have ever seen, and all the links here are trying to make it seem self-evident that he is someone of note.

All I could get from Wikipedia is that he wrote some "novel" with "American Apparel" in the title, which again gives me the stench of "pop culture cash-in" but not useful information about who the dude is or why I should care.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:45 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Tao Lin."
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:45 PM on September 23, 2010


I'm pretty sure Richard Lawson's only pretending not to get it.
posted by Flashman at 3:49 PM on September 23, 2010


@Geoff: Thanks for the link to Jessa Crispin's review. It's everything I've wanted to say about the Franzen hype, but much more eloquent. She's my new favorite reviewer after that.

@drjimmy11: So there.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 3:50 PM on September 23, 2010


I don't have a ton of money or free time except for the 2-3 hours a day I spend on, and waiting for, the bus as part of my commute. To bide my time I read books, but I don't have a lot of time to sort out which ones to buy nor excess money with which to buy them. The solution I have hit upon is Good-Will. I can go into Good-Will and literally grab books off the shelf at random, read and keep the ones I like and re-donate the ones I don't. For the the cost of 1 week in late-fees at the library I can own the book. This is how I ended up attempting to read Eeeee Eee Eeee. It was by far the worst book I have obtained from this method and that is saying something when its competition is exclusively books that people have discarded. It was trying oh so hard to be weird and it was just taxing. I couldn't finish it.
posted by lucasks at 3:58 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Stranger's review of Freedom.
posted by donovan at 3:59 PM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


I once got drunk and yelled at him in a party at his apartment. It was not one of my finer moments. (I've only hung out with him a couple of times, and I was certainly never friends with him, although he was a friend of a friend of a friend.)

My general impression of him and the people that surround him is that it's ultimately a kind of lived inside joke in which there is no longer any distinction between sincerity and affectation. I don't think these people are "trying" to be anything--or rather, I think they were "trying" to be something a long time ago but have either succeeded so well or burned out so completely that it is no longer a viable project for them. This sounds kind of inspiring, I agree, but interacting with them personally is really soul-crushing and alienating on a lot of different levels. I'm frankly surprised that his work is so popular; our journal published something by one of his friends a while back and I still shudder a little from the unpleasant feeling reading something so empty over and over gave me. (Although we did watch Clarissa Explains It All together once. That was cool, if slightly weird.)
posted by nasreddin at 4:20 PM on September 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Tao Lin: hamsters :: Andy Warhol : Velvet Underground
posted by darth_tedious at 4:21 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I sometimes think the world would be a better place if all books were, as a matter of course, published anonymously.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:24 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Turtles all the way down.
posted by vidur at 4:25 PM on September 23, 2010


From Freedom (via The Stranger review):
Connie had a wry, compact intelligence, a firm little clitoris of discernment and sensitivity to which she gave Joey access only behind closed doors.
Is there any way that wouldn't be flagged to hell and back here? And rightly so, that sentence is just...awful.
posted by maxwelton at 4:49 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the in-joke equivalent of a black hole: so dense, self-referential and convoluted that no humor escapes from it.
posted by killdevil at 4:50 PM on September 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm also baffled that the people in this thread who are criticizing Lin's self-profile apparently don't understand that it's a parody of the Franzen profile in Time. I mean, that's not affectation--he's just imitating the thing phrase-by-phrase.
posted by nasreddin at 4:52 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've only read Richard Yates and I found it to be a moving, sincere work. There's something about the flat affect of his narrative voice that I find weirdly infectious. As Lin himself says, it has a bit of a narcotic quality to it. I also find it to be "real" in a way that a lot of so-called realistic novels can't quite manage (Freedom for example). It captures pretty convincingly what it's like to be a twenty-something moving around in a hyper-connected "social network" of a world while still feeling lonely and alienated. That said, the book is a relentlessly depressing read. I suppose it helps to realize that these characters have serious issues and are almost certainly clinically depressed, among other things. And that they aren't meant to be stand-ins for all young smart internet-savvy folk.

ultimately a kind of lived inside joke in which there is no longer any distinction between sincerity and affectation.

If you read Richard Yates I doubt you would get that impression from it. It's a fairly autobiographical work and he bares his soul in it to the point where I felt extremely uncomfortable.
posted by naju at 5:22 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tao Lin (or the actor playing him) once sent me actual hate mail for announcing the results of a short story contest he didn't win. I've tried to ignore his self-promotion ever since.
posted by gerryblog at 5:22 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I'm also baffled that the people in this thread who are criticizing Lin's self-profile apparently don't understand that it's a parody of the Franzen profile in Time."

They are pretending to not understand, just as you are pretending to be baffled and I am pretending to explain. We are all pretending. Or, maybe not. Amirite?
posted by vidur at 5:24 PM on September 23, 2010


I'm also baffled that the people in this thread who are criticizing Lin's self-profile apparently don't understand that it's a parody of the Franzen profile in Time. I mean, that's not affectation--he's just imitating the thing phrase-by-phrase.

I was wondering about that - it seemed strangely engaging, for a "Tao Lin" "piece." For comparison, here is the Jonathan Franzen article, possibly best viewed in parallel windows to compare the writing of that piece and Lin's own profile.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:30 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a fairly autobiographical work and he bares his soul in it to the point where I felt extremely uncomfortable.

I don't think that's incompatible with the kind of thing I had in mind. The whole point is that it's simultaneously profoundly sincere (you're not covering up any real feelings, in fact, you're trying your best to excavate them and put them out on the page) and affected (because you have a rigorous and artificial aesthetic that governs the way the material is presented).

Admittedly, it's been a couple years since I last saw any of these people, so it's entirely possible that things may have changed.
posted by nasreddin at 5:35 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Franzen's novel is chick lit for men--relationships ad nauseum, plus some care about environment, for which nothing much gets done.
posted by Postroad at 5:38 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


He probably is a total dick, by the way. I definitely got that impression after reading the novel. If it's autobiographical like I suspect it is, I would not want to be friends with him.
posted by naju at 5:39 PM on September 23, 2010


Also, fans of Tao Lin should definitely check out Ellen Kennedy's work. I was last exposed to it about four years ago (I think we're about the same age) and even then it showed a remarkably developed literary talent; I can't imagine how good her stuff must be now, assuming you can get into the affectless aesthetic.
posted by nasreddin at 5:50 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The thing that I find mildly upsetting about the whole thing is that for the last 11 years, I've been defending Lev Grossman, the profiler who is so savagely roasted by both Tao Lin and the main link here, as a significantly underated novelist.

Seriously, people. Warp is several kinds of good. Codex and The Magicians are significant genre deconstructions that manage to be passionately about something as well; they speak to the experience of work, of school, of attraction, of grief.

So, okay, kind of hackey profiler. But a damn fine novelist, and I stand by it.

Stanley Bing, same thing.
posted by longtime_lurker at 6:07 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Atlantic's review of Freedom
posted by lukemeister at 9:21 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was wondering about that - it seemed strangely engaging, for a "Tao Lin" "piece." For comparison, here is the Jonathan Franzen article, possibly best viewed in parallel windows to compare the writing of that piece and Lin's own profile.

Indeed, you really need the side by side experience to get the satire, as so many here are failing to. Luckily someone has gone and done it for us, so there is no need to fiddle with windows.
posted by kaspen at 9:46 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Seriously, people. Warp is several kinds of good. Codex and The Magicians are significant genre deconstructions that manage to be passionately about something as well; they speak to the experience of work, of school, of attraction, of grief.

The Magicians is amazing. One of my favorite books in years.

Anyway, I don't know if I really feel like this is a truly savage roasting. In my MFA program, we'd do student readings every week. One pretentious MFA student would intro another pretentious MFA grad student. Introductions were often just like this. Someone would print out a filmography or wikipedia page or whatever of some famous person and tweak every sentence or so, and sometimes we could get the undergrad students in the audience to laugh, and sometimes they'd just titter uncomfortably. Whatever the case, it was easy to do.

(My introduction for a student was an extended joke about jizz, and it took me all of a half hour and three hard ciders to write.)

Anyway, and I mean this somewhat genuinely, can someone explain Tao Lin to me? Before I decided to say goodbye to all that grad school crap, I used to read HTMLGiant and stumble across his name but I never got a very solid picture of the type of writer he's supposed to be or what his books were about or whatever, just that he's maybe sort of a dick online or something?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:53 PM on September 23, 2010


I like Eeeee Eee Eeee. If Tao Lin has another novel out that's not about American Apparel, I'm interested. The trick with Eeeee Eee Eeee is to keep reading until the sections from Ellen's point of view and the literary references turn up, because this is when you realize that the book has a real philosophy and is not all an elaborate prank.

Also, like naju says, it helps to realize that it is a book about clinical depresson, and that even if you occasionally feel the same way after staying inside playing flash games on your laptop all day, it is not the same thing.
posted by subdee at 10:12 PM on September 23, 2010


I mean nothing against you, lukemeister, but that B.R. Myers review of Freedom is just idiotic (I read it earlier). I just finished the book a few days ago, and it's certainly not OMG THE BOOK OF THE DECADE, but nor is it the vacuous nonpile of nullity that the Atlantic hit-job suggests. It's . . . okay. I'm ditching my Atlantic Monthly subscription as soon as it runs out, as they just give me the vapors any more. I can't take any more of the likes of BR Myers or Megan McCardle or Caitlin Flanagan.
posted by Skot at 10:33 PM on September 23, 2010


I've only read Richard Yates and I found it to be a moving, sincere work. There's something about the flat affect of his narrative voice that I find weirdly infectious. As Lin himself says, it has a bit of a narcotic quality to it. I also find it to be "real" in a way that a lot of so-called realistic novels can't quite manage (Freedom for example). It captures pretty convincingly what it's like to be a twenty-something moving around in a hyper-connected "social network" of a world while still feeling lonely and alienated. That said, the book is a relentlessly depressing read. I suppose it helps to realize that these characters have serious issues and are almost certainly clinically depressed, among other things. And that they aren't meant to be stand-ins for all young smart internet-savvy folk.

That's my own experience with Lin's writing (although I hear that he, himself, is a bit obnoxious). I find nothing trite or overly callow or trollish in it at all.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 10:45 PM on September 23, 2010


Thirding The Magicians.
posted by lumensimus at 11:17 PM on September 23, 2010


Atlantic Monthly

I remember when it was an important magazine. That bastard Bradley destroyed it. It's a shame he wasn't with Michael Kelly when he got his. I guess there's only a limited supply of justice to go around.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:39 PM on September 23, 2010


The best thing about Tao Lin and discussions thereof is that they remind me to read more Richard Yates.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:41 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Unadjectiveable" is an adjective.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 11:57 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have not read any Tao Lin novels, but the hype smells suspiciously like the hype in the early 1990s about Mark Leyner & _My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist_. There were reasons it was Leyner and not some other slush pile find who got the treatment, but the book simply didn't hold up to a reading by anyone paying attention. Is the same true for Tao Lin?
posted by chavenet at 12:49 AM on September 24, 2010


Am I glad I have no idea who Tao Lin is? Or have I missed something worth noticing? The putting himself on the cover of the stranger and mimicking the prose of the Time mag piece can't be all the guy is about - well, actually I guess it could...

(This is one of the side-effects of NYC as Cultural Capital - if at the right party you can chat up the right person at the right moment you can get a book deal. And if your book stinks, or at least doesn't set anything on fire, you can just wait until the next right party and chat up the next right person and get another book deal (probably for less money though) and when that one doesn't set anything on fire, you go out there again and (because this is the kind of person you are), sell another idea - before you know it you've written a couple novels and have a 'career' as a novelist of novels no-one has enjoyed, really, and you can flip that into a teaching gig somewhere when you hit forty and your liver and/or your soul is tired from always attending that moment's 'right' party... Could make you down-right cynical the third or fourth time you see it happen...)

I'm excited to read The Magicians.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:41 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought Et Tu, Babe was a superior effort to MCMG, if more conventional.
posted by maxwelton at 2:24 AM on September 24, 2010


We are all Carles.
posted by kersplunk at 2:31 AM on September 24, 2010


Relatedly: Franzen’s afoot: Guard the Gaddis
posted by chavenet at 3:15 AM on September 24, 2010


You know what's really funny? Richard Yates got a really blistering review in Bookforum, written by Joshua Cohen, wherein Cohen describes asking Lin to do exactly the same thing- review his own novel. The best thing about it is that Cohen starts the article talking about asking Lin to review Richard Yates, Lin refuses- and then Cohen just gives him both barrels. I was thinking about this, and about the author Cohen is (sort of....neo-traditionalist? He's obviously "post-modern" but deals with the past in a way that other authors of his age co-hort don't), and then I found the amazingly painful New York Observer profile of Cohen, and all of this thinking about literary feuds and the way they are played out in extremely ridiculous, fawning articles lead me to write (and apologies for the self-link) a sort of satirical adventure story about Cohen and Lin that ends with them fighting at the Reichenbach Falls.
posted by 235w103 at 6:03 AM on September 24, 2010


Franzen's novel is chick lit for men--relationships ad nauseum, plus some care about environment, for which nothing much gets done.

What, Freedom didn't change the world overnight? For shame!

Sigh. Maybe I haven't moved properly into the 21st century, but I just like to have my novels be good, thoughtful reads, and I save my activism and changing-the-world stuff for when I am not reading, but you know, doing wanna-change-the-world stuff. (We Neanderthals are like that. We'll probably all die out in a few decades, so no worries.)
posted by aught at 7:58 AM on September 24, 2010


...the literary phenomenon of the “fiction reviews” section of Bookslut.com’s May 2007 issue.

Bravo, Mr. Lin.
posted by Mister_A at 8:21 AM on September 24, 2010


Anyway, and I mean this somewhat genuinely, can someone explain Tao Lin to me?

*checks back in in the morning*

Guess not.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:24 AM on September 24, 2010


The most telling part of the TIME profile, IMO, is Franzen's reaction to DFW's death:

"It was like, man, if you're going to do that? Be the heroic, dies-young genius? That's ... that's a low blow. I'm going to have to get off my ass and actually write something."

Wallace was a big tobacco chewer. Franzen didn't indulge; in fact he'd quit smoking a decade earlier. But the morning after Wallace's memorial service in New York City, Franzen did something he'd never done before: he walked into a bodega and bought some chewing tobacco. Then he went to his office, closed the door, put a plug in his mouth and started chewing. It was so revolting, he almost threw up. But he kept chewing.

posted by thescientificmethhead at 9:04 AM on September 24, 2010


This makes me miss the "Neal Pollack, America's Greatest Living Writer" character.
posted by milkrate at 9:25 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anyway, and I mean this somewhat genuinely, can someone explain Tao Lin to me?

Part of the fun is figuring this out for yourself, I suspect, since apparently he's one of those authors who will provoke different reactions and explanations from everyone who reads him. Shades of Peter Sellers' character in Being There. I know that's a cop out, so let me try and share some more of my half-formed opinions!

One thing I enjoy about Lin's work is the willingness to engage with how many young people I know actually live our mundane daily lives. Who else is writing dialogue in that particular GMail Chat / instant messenger style, and doing it in an absolutely convincing way? Many of us spend a good portion of our days talking to friends in that medium, joking around and correcting typos and checking out music blogs and laughing at a Youtube video and then discussing serious stuff all within the span of a few minutes. I'm glad there's a writer out there who's willing to engage with this lifestyle. His characters spend an inordinate amount of their time in front of the computer. And hey, I guess I do too.

Then there's the contrast between the sometimes overblown feelings expressed in the GMail Chat conversations and the totally flat affect of the narrative sentences, the autistic listing out of mundane actions, the curious way he describes the feelings of his characters. The way his characters don't really think like characters in novels usually do, but are usually aware of the fact that they're thinking about thinking instead of saying something and how that's drawing them further outside of their world. And also as an accurate glimpse into the introverted/socially anxious mind.

The relationship dynamics between the 22-year-old main character and his 16-year-old girlfriend are absolutely convincing and heartbreaking. The way he tries to control her every move and she tries to please him and he exploits her insecurities, etc. in a natural way that likely comes from Lin having actually experienced this stuff firsthand.

Richard Yates doesn't have the 'excessive' use of quotation marks that his critics like to 'excoriate' him for. But I think when he adopts that style in his pieces, he's doing it as a way to draw attention to and co-opt non-neutral language while simultaneously distancing himself from it. Some people find it annoying, but I think it's just a case of the writer wanting to express himself in a nuanced and measured way without language overpowering how he really feels. Sort of like constantly implicitly announcing "I don't endorse the way this word is subconsciously coloring my message with unwanted associations and emotions, but I'm going to adopt it anyway because I need to communicate without constantly cluttering up my sentences with caveats." And sometimes he exploits the quotations thing to be funny. And I find Tao Lin to be funny quite often, too, another one of his strengths.

[I dunno / feel like I'm just rambling / you'll find this whole comment silly / I should probably check my work emails]
posted by naju at 9:33 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Oh, loved The Magicians too by the way!)
posted by naju at 9:50 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


So . . . he writes books about people who are in their twenties and utilizes current technology and the vernacular of those using their technology to talk about . . . what, how we're disaffected? This is where I have trouble understanding his work, and why I haven't really felt drawn to it at all, I guess. You read his wikipedia page and it's all about stylistics and thematics but never about story, and I read goodreads reviews of his books and they're all about either how brilliant he is or how people would punch his books in the face if they had them. But I recognize that I'm a luddite among the literati and distancing myself from them, too, in that I care primarily about plot and story these days. The stuff you say, naju, about the character relationships--that's probably the most concrete thing I've heard about one of this books. And the most compelling.

I suspect I'd find them tiresome, because I've had problems even swallowing John Green lately. Too much posturing about the cleverness of the author. I find it very distracting.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:40 AM on September 24, 2010


I thought Tao Lin was totally insufferable until I read his Thomas Bernhard essay, which cracked me up so hard I had to like him after that, insufferable or not.
posted by tangerine at 11:49 AM on September 24, 2010


So . . . he writes books about people who are in their twenties and utilizes current technology and the vernacular of those using their technology to talk about . . . what, how we're disaffected? This is where I have trouble understanding his work, and why I haven't really felt drawn to it at all, I guess. You read his wikipedia page and it's all about stylistics and thematics but never about story, and I read goodreads reviews of his books and they're all about either how brilliant he is or how people would punch his books in the face if they had them. But I recognize that I'm a luddite among the literati and distancing myself from them, too, in that I care primarily about plot and story these days. The stuff you say, naju, about the character relationships--that's probably the most concrete thing I've heard about one of this books. And the most compelling.

I suspect I'd find them tiresome, because I've had problems even swallowing John Green lately. Too much posturing about the cleverness of the author. I find it very distracting.

Why this need to agonize over what it all means and whether you'd like it or not? Just read one of his books. They're not long or difficult. Hell, you can read 20 pages and it will give you an adequate sense of his style.
posted by nasreddin at 12:39 PM on September 24, 2010


Why this need to agonize over what it all means and whether you'd like it or not? Just read one of his books. They're not long or difficult. Hell, you can read 20 pages and it will give you an adequate sense of his style.

Because I like to know what books are about before I read them?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:09 PM on September 24, 2010


I thought Tao Lin was totally insufferable until I read his Thomas Bernhard essay, which cracked me up so hard I had to like him after that, insufferable or not.
posted by tangerine at 11:49 AM on September 24 [+] [!]


The link is recursive. Or was that the point? though I can't imagine how...
posted by From Bklyn at 2:09 PM on September 24, 2010


Oh, sorry, I mangled the link. He calls the essay "In Which He Was Glad He Came," but come on, it's really shit-talking in Woodcutters.
posted by tangerine at 5:26 PM on September 24, 2010


Certainly reads like a hamster wrote it.
posted by Wolof at 6:57 AM on September 25, 2010


A very very talented hamster. Maybe even a hamster genius.

yeah, file this under your favorite avant-garde novelist sucks.
posted by From Bklyn at 10:21 AM on September 25, 2010


By the time I reached the last 50 pages, each time the characters said they wanted to kill themselves, I knew exactly how they felt.

I love you, Charles Bock.
posted by cowboy_sally at 11:04 AM on September 25, 2010


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