Forum / Guardian Books: Why Tao Lin's Taipei can breathe new life into literature

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jun 18, 09:02am

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jun/13/taipei-tao-lin-new-life-literature

    I'm not sure I necessarily agree with Dan (the eternal optimist that he is). The cynic in me says that the mainstreaming of alt lit will involve stripping away all the things that aren't easily commercialized and shoehorning a few anointed examples into the well established "literary event" paradigm with ads in the New Yorker and talk show appearances.

    At which point, it's not really alt lit any more, just regular mainstream literature with a hip new genre designation.

    (imo)

    v. much enjoyed the comments, though.

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    Ann Bogle
    Jun 18, 09:21am

    Sorry to say this anywhere, but most of what these young are promoting is crap. Tao Lin's writing is as good as I told him it is when I wrote to him, and he requested copies of my short stories in The Quarterly. Tao Lin has all he needs to continue to invent. Metazen is non-crap, though Frank Hinton may disagree with the word non- there.

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jun 18, 12:16pm

    Let's just operate on the assumption that we're talking about the non-crap bits, and that we all acknowledge that there may be some personal difference in what we consider the crap and the non-crap.

    Now that we've gotten the "most of X is crap" bit out of the way...

    XD

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jun 18, 12:19pm

    (Though I agree with the designation of Metazen as non-crap.)

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    David Ackley
    Jun 18, 12:49pm

    Exciting stuff, not least for calling Penny Goring "...perhaps the finest practicioner of Alt Lit."

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    Ann Bogle
    Jun 18, 01:25pm

    "The finest proponent is Penny Goring, who uses words as fearlessly as Willem de Kooning slapped thick gobs of paint on the canvas."

    I agree with the reporter about Goring's gifts, especially as a fine writer, David, though is she a proponent or is he? The Internet is the place to take her work. She is not in deKooning's social position. When he was poor, he couldn't afford to use paint. Can a literary writer garner as in fine art? In the middle class of literature, excellence is a harder sell than soft talent.

    I described the effect of Tao Lin's writing as the first instance in my reading experience of seeing prose develop in or out of depression, as if it were a substance or matter to make shapes of rather than a theme or a subject, as it sometimes is to less interesting effect in poetry, even in poems that are perfect as craft goes.

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    Ann Bogle
    Jun 18, 01:57pm

    I read past the link to several other linked articles. Somewhere among them, I misread Indy Lit as Nudie Lit. Slugocki's story that I just read is that, a work of Nudie Lit.

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jun 18, 02:38pm

    Nudie lit as a genre is primarily identified through its themes of nudity, both physical and emotional, and, sometimes, the accompaniment of the work with naked selfies of the author.

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    Ann Bogle
    Jun 18, 02:58pm

    Google does not easily yield that content, Frankie. It must be clothed.

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jun 18, 03:06pm

    I wonder if alt lit can still be "alt" once it's mainstreamed.

    I will return later with probing questions about forests, trees, chickens, eggs, and transdimensional pterodactyls.

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    David Ackley
    Jun 18, 03:13pm

    The answer will be apparent, Frankie, if you substitute Bohemian, Avant-Garde or Outsider art for "alt." As soon as a term is invented for art outside the mainstream the art becomes a tributary of the main stream into which it is then absorbed and disappears.

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    David Ackley
    Jun 18, 05:31pm

    The chief fiscal edge that visual artists have over writers is that the artist's work can adorn the walls of the rich, providing cachet for the one and cash for the other. Since the only use for the work of writers has been to occasionally cover holes in the wallpaper, and that has been largely lost with the advent of the e-book, I am sad to say, Ann, that the condition of our penury relative to our painter peers is likely permanent.

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    Ann Bogle
    Jun 18, 06:54pm

    Your prediction shocks, how we came to grow bed springs, but I shall pause to believe it, David.

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jun 19, 11:21am

    I was just thinking about that yesterday, David. Or at least similar. Not in reference to alt lit so much.

    I don't think visual artists are in a much better spot. The number of them selling canvasses for much lucre are actually pretty slim. Visual art has gone digital too. I suppose there's more respectability in being a visual artist that's self printing/selling your work. (Thinking cafepress, vistaprint, etc.) Or maybe it just seems that way from the outside.

    There's nothing to stop writers from creating a one-off (or very tiny run) book. JK Rowling & The Tales of Beedle the Bard for instance. But that's not how we think of books, and to get people to fork over lots of cash for it, a reputation is still necessary, much as it is for artists. And I suspect visual artists might sometimes eye Kindle and the other systems of electronic distribution available to writers with envy.

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    David Ackley
    Jun 19, 12:30pm

    I think you're probably right for most of us, Frankie. The painters and sculptors I know are as broke as the writers. Still, there's a cloud of big money that floats around Art Fairs and Sotheby auctions that doesn't seem to have its equivalent for writers. Or perhaps I mean for painters etc doing good work vs. poets and writers of the same ilk. I leave out the writers of 50 shades of Puce.

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jun 23, 09:52am

    Just bought Taipei. Haven't read it yet. Probably this week.

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    Christopher Allen
    Jun 23, 10:48am

    We try not to be crap. That's one of our mottos.

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    Ann Bogle
    Jun 23, 12:58pm

    Not be crap or write crap, not anything I wrote, I wrote promote crap, hesitating to say it anywhere, not referring to writers per se but to promoters as a generation, if that is what it is, or a method of promotion, not meaning self-promotion, meaning more likely other-promotion, but with the premise that literature is suffering without these particular young, as I referred to it, and to promotion as a new theory, sorry to have said it if it doesn't bear out, water or fruit.

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    Ann Bogle
    Jun 23, 01:35pm

    Also, I did not realize that a generation of young writers had taken INDY as a plank in pursuing IDENTITY in literary careers. It's the real truth, as my friend AQ once described it, that I had early read Tao Lin and heard him read at the Bowery and thought that no one writes as he does, and one reason he writes as he does seems to be his homages to the minimalist generation of the 80s, born in the late 40s-early 50s, his taking them to heart and not missing them or their intent. Is this a place to ask what posterity and mortality have to do with it? Half the time I imagine myself as working in an American shoe factory, and that I make shoes, one at a time, not as well as Italian shoe makers, but as well as I can, and like all laborers, though an item or a few items I make may have a significance to <100 or =100 or even sometimes 100+ shoe readers, mostly it's unpaid labor of days, minutes, years, unseen and seen effort, appreciated, miscontrued, and jism'd in competition for notches in a leather belt, though I work in shoes, and if you compile others' unseen and seen efforts, and especially, unseen appreciations of effort, it mounds to a collectivity not comparable to one team of swimmers who hit shore and penetrate one egg, as in John Barth's "Night Sea Journey," where one sperm or no sperm wins it per round, though the whole rod of spermatazoa swim in Speedos or linen eyehole tunics to their conclusion as a group. Thank YOU for Your Sperm, Marcus Speh. This is a shoe lace, white or ribbed brown or gold.

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    Sam Rasnake
    Jun 23, 01:44pm

    This is an amazing paragraph, Ann. A piece unto itself.

    Favorite part: "...though I work in shoes, and if you compile others' unseen and seen efforts, and especially, unseen appreciations of effort, it mounds to a collectivity not comparable to one team of swimmers who hit shore and penetrate one egg, as in John Barth's 'Night Sea Journey,' where one sperm or no sperm wins it per round, though the whole rod of spermatazoa swim in Speedos or linen eyehole tunics to their conclusion as a group. Thank YOU for Your Sperm, Marcus Speh. This is a shoe lace, white or ribbed brown or gold."

    Yes. I'm clapping. *

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    Ann Bogle
    Jun 23, 02:09pm

    Cool as sin. I'll claim it as a piece. Thanks, Sam.

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jun 26, 09:01am

    I am having technical difficulties w/ my book. I spent half an hour in a chat w/ customer service & it still does not work. Not only that, when I try to delete/redownload, I get an error saying there's no network. It's only Taipei, all my other books work. It's like Tao Lin is haunting my ereader.

    #21stcenturyproblems

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    David Ackley
    Jul 02, 01:04am

    TAIPEI, reviewed (favorably) in yesterday's Times Book Review, enters mainstream.

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    mxi wodd
    Jul 02, 01:18am
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    Gone
    Jul 02, 12:42pm

    Christopher Allen writes: "We try not to be crap. That's one of our mottos."

    "We try not to be crap."

    I want that one tattooed to my typing finger.

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    Chris Okum
    Jul 02, 02:40pm

    I didn't want to chime in on this topic, because it makes me feel like one of the dwarfs in the French Revolution section of Mel Brooks' History of the World, Part 1, maybe the second to last dwarf, during the human chess match, when they all jump the queen, but I can't believe how many thoughtful and intelligent people are being taken in by the Tao Lin long con. How someone, anyone, can read his oatmeal prose and think to themselves, This is the future of fiction, boggles my mind, since there have been tons and tons of writers over the last 10 years who have written the exact same slop about the exact same subjects. There are so many other young writers deserving that kind of attention - Matthew Roberson, for one, whose novel "Impotent" says more about America in one chapter than in Tao Lin's entire body of work. I suspect that Tao Lin's ascendency had more to do with his proximity to the former Center of the World, and the assumption that anyone who lives and writes about New York is writing about Universal Themes, while the rest of us hicks are just writing about our measly lives. I think it also has to do with older people not wanting to feel that they don't get younger people, so they glom on to whomever strikes them as edgy and relevant, i.e., anyone who writes about drugs and casual sex in an affectless manner, which, of course, is a total cliche as far as what defines edgy and relevant. Bret Easton Ellis hasn't panned out very well. I suspect Tao Lin won't either. I read that American Apparel Shoplifting book and I couldn't believe how lifeless and mediocre it was. And to those who say, Well, that's the point, all I can say is that it's a shame that so many people would sell themselves, and fiction, so short.

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    Gone
    Jul 02, 02:49pm

    Amen.

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    stephen hastings-king
    Jul 02, 03:09pm

    i had seen tao lin as a brand, one that, like most, offers little more than restatements of brand identity in book form. i follow him on twitter for some reason. i thought his interns were funnier.

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    Chris Okum
    Jul 02, 03:37pm

    Given enough time, a hypothetical fashion model typing at random would, as part of its output, almost surely produce all of Tao Lin's novels.

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    Gone
    Jul 02, 05:27pm

    It's the American literary equivalent of pachinko parlors.

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    Ann Bogle
    Jul 02, 07:55pm

    I like Chris Okum's comment thoroughly and not because I view Tao Lin's writing as Okum seems to view it. I do not see, for my part, Tao Lin's work as the future of the novel or of fiction, but I see that he has a future. He turns thirty today, in fact. Where was I at 30? Newly diagnosed with bipolar 1, atypical, with a father who died on his half birthday and who was my main supporter in art within my family, along with a crop of innovative-on-the-line short stories, ripped from workshop table, and not copyrighted, by a writer whose dad was apparently much richer than mine.

    Okum may well be a better writer than Tao Lin in scope, intellect, and technical skill and certainly, in short story. I continue to feel, though, that Tao Lin's timing has been precise and practical, his journalism major at NYU, his going places, his understated style, his shy and sly wit, his beginning in poetry also published, and his innovative efforts at raising funds using Paypal.

    He perhaps wants to be an event, and he is. There are his several books to back it, and I admire his use of his time still in his 20s.

    Johnny Candlewax, Johnny Appleseed. Results from my self-elected DNA test reveal that my earwax is likely to be of the type "wet." I could go by Andy Earwaxtest. Then rip without shame or fear of reproach, not beyond reproach, but beyond mud pay.

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    mxi wodd
    Jul 02, 08:48pm

    I think Oat Nil's "popularity" (which does not extend beyond the Indy-Lit kindergarteners, no matter what "web-time" he may be getting) can in part be attributed to the failure of the MFA industry (now 3 generations deep in its modern incarnation) to produce ANYTHING of lasting historical importance.

    "Surely ONE OF US will, uh, amount to something... Will be able to be pointed at with what looks like pride..."

    I think the MFA program(s) is like a failed government program ("No Writer Left Behind") whose only true lasting value will be the money they earn their universities because of the low overhead (hire one "name" and a bunch of adjuncts, give 'em two-three room that would otherwise be unused and...voila! MONEY!)

    It's also a sign o' the times, the desire of a large part of this generation of children to be flat-affect(ed), untouchable and untouched.

    Safe in an unsafe world (as they walk in front of a speeding car while texting their latest BFF...)

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    Gone
    Jul 02, 08:50pm

    Whatever is mud pay?

    Or, should I ask?

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    mxi wodd
    Jul 02, 08:54pm

    Who the fuck knows?!

    ;-)

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    mxi wodd
    Jul 02, 09:06pm

    Oat Nil and Marie Commonlay (oops--"Calloway"...) engaged in ironic "every character is the same character" sex.

    THIS is what is important to the Indy-Lit crowd.

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    mxi wodd
    Jul 02, 09:34pm
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    mxi wodd
    Jul 02, 09:53pm

    MFA definition:

    Students are taught that the bad stuff is good.
    Students are taught how to write the bad stuff.
    Students graduate, go out and maybe get editor-type positions at various literary magazines.
    Ex-students are on the lookout for stories to publish that is like what they've been taught, a.k.a. the bad stuff.
    The bad stuff gets selected for publication.
    The students and ex-students are the only ones who like what gets published, and regular readers are alienated.
    (The ex-students leave their editor posts because they can't sustain themselves financially and end up back in school or working in a totally non-publishing field.)

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    Marcus Speh
    Jul 03, 02:39pm

    Enjoyed Sam Byers' review of TAIPEI by Tao Lin in the TIMES: exactly my feelings...

    http://19841979.tumblr.com/post/54347527342/times-literary-supplement-re-taipei-out-jul-4-in

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    Ray Shea
    Jul 03, 03:18pm

    The Year Alt Lit Broke.

    Late to this, but in reference to Frankie's comment:

    "At which point, it's not really alt lit any more, just regular mainstream literature with a hip new genre designation."

    that'd make Tao Lin the Nirvana of alt lit, which if you were around during 80's punk/indie, you know when Nirvana became huge there was a general, "wait, what the fuck is happening?", a huge rush to mass-market "punk-ish" bands, everybody wandered around confused for a couple of years arguing about what indie means anymore, and then the music that never got discovered stayed alt and new kinds of alt appeared in different places and we were back to where we started. Some people got rich, pop music was briefly invigorated, then everything went back to normal.

    I probably won't read Taipei. My daughter bought me Bed a couple of years ago, and at first I thought, "this is interesting" and then I thought "this is not interesting any more" and then one page of one story at the end almost but not quite broke my heart. Which isn't enough of a payoff for me to read another one. I'm old, I've got about 1000 books to go before I die so I'm less patient with things that don't blow me away.

    Hi, I'm Ray, I'm new here.

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    mxi wodd
    Jul 03, 06:57pm

    "Hi, Ray!" (resounding group chorus"

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Interesting note by Christopher Higgs on teaching Oat Nil:

    "In fact, make case in class for reading every character in the book as the same character, because for all intents and purposes there is no difference between Andrew and Ellen, between Ellen and her mother Jan, between the bears and the president, between the dolphins and Andrew’s boss Matt. They all speak the same way and have the same thoughts. They are all depressed and sad and angsty."

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    Gary Hardaway
    Jul 04, 02:48am

    Everybody's Alt Lit until they sell enough stuff to afford a house in the Hamptons. Then they're just Lit, I guess.

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    mxi wodd
    Jul 04, 02:51am

    no

    ;-)

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jul 05, 09:39am

    Hi Ray. I'm impressed you managed to invoke Nirvana while completely avoiding the word "grunge".

    Makes me want to dig out my Doc Martens and an old band shirt and terrorize any youth of today displaying poor personal electronics etiquette on public transportation with stories that start with "Humph. You think *that's* music?"

    But first I need to find a frayed flannel somewhere.

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