[With the bulk of your day likely consumed by work, meals, time spent with the family and mindless internet browsing, it can be intimidating to devote time to a book. Dusk Jacket Dispatch takes every Friday to profile an author worthy of your investment.]
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– Tao Lin (@tao_lin), Twitter — 3 Dec 2012, 6:22 AM — (15) Retweets (25) Favorites
I want to believe. When I first heard of young poet/author/blogger Tao Lin it was through word of mouth from one of my favorite modern day oddballs, Miranda July. I’d somewhat begrudgingly fallen for July’s precious, aloof persona in both her films and short story collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You. When she endorsed Lin by deeming his emerging voice to be “moving and necessary,” I gave him the cursory Google to find the glorious synopsis of his debut novel, Eeeee Eee Eeee (I think I’m spelling that right):
Confused yet intelligent animals attempt to interact with confused yet intelligent humans, resulting in the death of Elijah Wood, Salman Rushdie, and Wong Kar-Wai; the destruction of a Domino’s Pizza delivery car in Orlando; and a vegan dinner at a sushi restaurant in Manhattan attended by a dolphin, a bear, a moose, an alien, three humans, and the President of the United States of America, who lectures on the arbitrary nature of consciousness, truth, and the universe before getting drunk and playing poker.
That book sounds amazing. Within seconds I had opened the Los Angeles Public Library catalogue to ensure there were copies available. But although it’s factually accurate to the events of the book, the synopsis doesn’t suggest the (intentionally) static, plaintive prose in which the story’s presented. As much as I wanted to love Lin’s novel, something tells me he’s just as happy that I didn’t.
SO WHAT’S THIS GUY’S DEAL?
Presenting his biography in some ways seems to contradict the content of his work. Lin graduated with a BA in Journalism from NYU and has since lectured on writing and art at colleges across the country. He’s probably the most distinguished writer to ever buy a URL like heheheheheheheeheheheehehe.com. So is he just having a laugh? Well… yes and no. A measure of absurdity is integral to Lin’s work, and both his poems and prose boast a deadpan humor. His language is rigidly literal to the point of being simplistic, yet still somehow feels constructed.
“I think most people just think I’m a gimmicky asshole,” says Lin, and it’d be easy to dismiss him that easily. Let’s look at a few facts. He named a novel after the sound anthropomorphic dolphins make, he’s launched a small press that publishes Gmail chats, and he delivers the most vulgar and strange lines of poetry at readings without the slightest hint of irony. The occasional glimpse of profundity through an onslaught of of banality may be the point, but to what degree are readers willing to parse through his nonsense?
IS THERE ANY SUBSTANCE THERE?
I’ll admit that Lin’s work largely falls flat for me, but it’s singular enough that I think anyone interested should at least give it a shot. The emptiness of his writing (I think) attempts to emulate the emptiness of modern life. You certainly get a sense of isolation and sadness from his books, but the most pervading theme is boredom. In Eeeee Eee Eeee, the protagonist drives around in his job as a pizza delivery boy, and ponders about the human condition. But by the time the wide array of talking animals enter the fray — hamster, bear, dolphin — they’re depicted with the same air of barrenness.
It’s experimental fiction, to be sure, so critiquing it for its narrative is beyond the point. We want writers to display an utter devotion to their craft — to have carefully considered every word choice and sentence structure in pursuit of an ultimate message. The fact that Lin’s is almost utterly indigestible is disappointing, but could also be by design. When you’re out to skewer the utter nonsensicality and meaninglessness of life, your material might end up kind of a drag. But Lin revels in that gutter, maintaining his poker face throughout.
WHAT’S THE UPSIDE TO READING HIM, THEN?
The books are short, and for all my complaints, like I said — he’ll definitely click for some people. For as little as I enjoyed his debut novel, I still blew through it in a day or two.
IF HE WERE A FILMMAKER HE’D BE
Harmony Korine, which is a shockingly perfect fit the more I think about it. Trash Humpers sounds like the title of a Tao Lin poem; Stealing From American Apparel sounds like a Korine movie. Both plumb the depths of dark humor and absurdity in a singular way that pisses off just as many people as it attracts. I’m glad both exist, and I hope that one day I’ll find the appeal that grabs so many.
GIMME THOSE QUOTES
Happy to oblige.
“Moose had no friends that year. A lot of the time a moose would feel tired and lean against other moose. Only there wouldn’t be moose there and the moose would fall.”
“He used to think things like, This organic soymilk will make me healthy and that’ll make my brain work better and that’ll improve my writing. Also things like,The less I eat the less money I spend on publicly owned companies the less pain and suffering will exist in the world. Now he thinks things like, It is impossible to be happy. Why would anyone think that?”
“Sometimes an alien would stand with a moose, not because of solidarity, but because of accidentally doing it.”
“A world without right or wrong was a world that did not want itself, anything other than itself, or anything not those two things, but that still wanted something. A world without right or wrong invited you over, complained about you, and gave you cookies. Don’t leave, it said, and gave you a vegan cookie. It avoided eye contact, but touched your knee sometimes. It was the world without right or wrong. It didn’t have any meaning. It just wanted a little meaning.”
SO IT WILL TOTALLY HELP MY INDIE CRED TO CHECK HIM OUT.
I’m not even going to acknowledge that question. Instead, by way of an answer, here’s Eeeee Eee Eeee in the HBO Girls pilot.
I don’t know how or why, but I think that says it all.