The Tao Shoplifting Crisis by Tao Lin and Richard Grayson

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: The Tao Shoplifting Crisis

Authors: Tao Lin and Richard Grayson

Type of Book: Non-fiction, epistolary

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Tao Lin will always be odd to me.

Availability: Published by Carnarsie House in 2009, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I love writing for this site, but I think it goes without saying that any online endeavor is going to have a downside. When I wrote my analysis of 2083, the epic-length document by Oslo shooter Anders Behring Breivik, it went mildly viral. The four part discussion, close to 50,000 words of analysis, caught the attention of news sources in Norway and was translated into Norwegian. I experienced praise and pushback, and some of the pushback was upsetting, to put it mildly. But for the most part, even the negativity that came my way was delivered with some modicum of respect, aside from the terminal cases who were outraged that I discussed the woman-hate that I discovered in the document. Even the incoming links from people who disagreed with me, even from virulent racists, simply said I got it wrong, but given that I had read it my take was still worth reading.

Will it surprise anyone that in terms of annoyance and abuse that my discussion of Tao Lin’s execrable novel, the wearying and craptacular Shoplifting from American Apparel, was quite a bit more tiresome than the onslaught of e-mails and comments I received when I discussed one of history’s worst mass murderers? I still get the occasional e-mails from smug readers who insist that a line I used wherein I discussed plunging Lin’s soul was a horrible error and that I am dumb, oh so stupid, for not understanding that. It’s hard to make Lin’s acolytes understand that plunge was a play on plumbing the depths of a soul, as the saying goes. A soul’s depths are plumbed, a toilet is plunged, and I am not the first to engage in that particular word play so all the bafflement, if not assumed, is baffling. But still the e-mails come. October 2012 was the only month wherein I did not receive a plumb/plunge e-mail, though of course the number of messages has died down. And let’s keep it that way!

And yes, I am verbose, a common complaint from Tao Lin fans. Watch my verbosity in action as I use far too many words to discuss this 38 page book!

In addition to the plumb/plunge/too wordy missives, I received a lot of feedback that I can only call bullshit. But given that I hated the book and discussed it in excruciating detail, I understand that I should expect such reactions and that perhaps it is a bit hypocritical for me to consider such feedback bullshit. But then again, this world is big enough in terms of ideas that pro-Lin and anti-Lin can both be bullshit and both be right. I was just mildly surprised by and eventually tired of the lengths to which fans of Lin will go to defend their idol/friend/whatever he is to them.

I tell you these things, dear readers, not to gain pity or to get some sort of ego stroke in the form of protestations that my writing doesn’t suck. I know it doesn’t suck. I have many flaws as a writer but if I felt I was truly a terrible writer, I wouldn’t spend a chunk of my life discussing books. I tell you all of this just so you know that, character for character, discussing Tao Lin will generate more bullshit, insults and nastiness than discussing a mass murderer of children. I find that interesting and, frankly, a little unexpected. For such a passionless book, Shoplifting from American Apparel has a lot of passionate defenders.

I also tell you all of this so as to explain why it is that I waited so long to discuss Richard Grayson’s book. Grayson was kind enough to send it to me after he read my discussion of Lin’s opus and I read it very soon upon receiving it. I had wanted to discuss it but wanted to give myself some breathing room after the stupidity that flowed after my discussion of SfAA. I am disorganized at times, and then 2083 happened, and then some Redditors found me and I received an onslaught of review copies from hopeful writers (one called me “the reviewer of the damned” and I may incorporate that into the site soon). I just lost track of things. But I found my copy of the book again when I transferred everything over to a new computer and realized that I needed to discuss it.

(BTW: Even though I hated the shit out of the book, the director of the movie adaptation of Shoplifting from American Apparel asked me if I wanted to review the movie. Hell yes, was my answer and I will get to that soon. After that I suspect Lin will never be mentioned on this site again, glory hallelujah amen! Well, I say that. I’m sure I’ll read him again should I feel adequate provocation.)

The Tao Shoplifting Crisis is a series of e-mails between Tao Lin and Richard Grayson. Grayson, a writer and activist, is also a lawyer. Tao knew Grayson through common writing circles, and when he was facing a court date as a result of being arrested for, wait for it, shoplifting from American Apparel, he turned to Grayson for help. It is here I need to clear up a couple of things that could upset an ethical reader. At no point did Lin retain Grayson as legal counsel because Grayson was only licensed to practice law in Florida and Grayson repeatedly told him his expertise was not going to be completely helpful and that any advice he could give needed to be followed up with advice from a New York lawyer. For those who may think it skeevey that Grayson published his correspondence with Lin, bear in mind these e-mails occurred in 2007. When Grayson became aware that not only was Lin not keeping his arrest to himself and was, in fact, using his arrests as the premise of a book, and furthermore was using the flyer wherein he was banned from a specific store for his shoplifting for promotional purposes, Grayson no longer felt as if Tao’s arrests were anything he needed to keep quiet.

But more to the point, given the way that Tao Lin has conducted his professional life, Grayson’s revelations about Lin, revealing the private and making it the premise of a book, is in no way different than the way Lin decided to construct SfAA. When one makes a spectacle of one’s life for art, it’s hard to control the spectacle once it’s unleashed. Still, given that Tao Lin has never met a bit of publicity he didn’t like or couldn’t spin to his advantage, even those with the sternest ethics can see how this little book, even if it shows Lin’s underbelly, ultimately does him no harm.

While Grayson’s book made me feel more kindly towards Lin, this small collection of e-mails is interesting because after reading this collection, Lin is far less clever to me. He’s less the crafty showman than just a dude who found himself in various bad situations and made the best of them. Somehow, that’s sort of endearing to me. Besides, if one makes continual bad decisions because one is a screw-up, turning poor shoplifting technique into lemonade is probably the best way to go about life. All the better if you have a crowd of people who enjoy the show.

In this collection of candid writings, Lin came across as a dense young man who had no idea how to navigate the world around him (though that certainly may have changed). He seemed very much like a naif, a little boy who acted up and had no idea of the real world consequences when he got caught. Here’s Tao explaining to Grayson the bind he is in:

should i say ‘no contest’ or ‘guilty’? at american apparel i told them i had stolen from other places before. i told the undercover cops. the other cops came and said i would get community service probably. but online it says i can get jail time or a giant fine. my court date is 9/11. how do you think i should handle this in order to get community service?

When caught he just blurted out all of his sins to the staff at American Apparel, the undercover cops and the police who came to arrest him. Why on earth would he do that? Either Tao Lin is the most machiavellian writer in modern history, creating specific scenarios with a mind to possible self-marketing, or he was a punk kid who got caught stealing and in fear and panic vomited up all his crimes.

After reading this, Grayson more or less implores Lin to get a lawyer, but Lin cannot afford one, so Grayson replies, using far too many words for the average Tao Lin fan’s tastes, asking specific questions. He states again that since he is not licensed to practice law in New York Lin needs to get appropriate legal counsel before taking his advice. He gives him relatively basic information that likely was not that basic to Lin: appear in court on the correct day at the correct time; if Lin cannot get a lawyer, he needs to take his ticket to a court officer who will let him know what he needs to do; ask for a public defender and be ready to bring documentation of his income to prove he qualifies for free counsel; witnesses are useless in a court hearing; and get there early because if Lin needs to apply for a public defender, it will be a long, long day. He also tries to nail down who it was that Lin confessed to and whether or not that person ever gave him a Miranda warning.

Lin’s short reply to Grayson’s long list of advice shows that perhaps things are not as dire as they seemed, that perhaps he had not spilled his guts to a cop. Did he misunderstand the situation or did he change his story? Hard to know but he says he is relieved by Grayson’s advice. and then reveals the following:

the american apparel person was writing what happened, i believe. (he probably wrote what i said, and one thing i said was that i had stolen from other stores before). it may have been for their own records, because i saw on the wall (the wall of polaroids of people who were caught) for some of them they had pieces of paper by them just stating objectively what happened. i did not speak to the officer about the incident. in the police car he just told me that i would get probably get let go the same day with a court date and then probably get community service (said it was up to his boss). which is what happened, the court date. i did not get a miranda warning.

Lin’s shoplifting excursion seems a bit confusing even to him but it appears the person at American Apparel was just gathering records for the store, not taking a legal confession.

In his reply back, Grayson says what all of us are thinking:

I am not sure why you felt you had to say anything to the guy in the store but it is done.

Perhaps Lin’s interactions with the store clerk stemmed from a Dostoyevskian eye to confession but, really, it seems far more likely that he was panicked in that flat manner of his and just spewed. Either way, it’s interesting.

But even as I feel more kindly inclined towards Lin, I do have to note the following:

thanks richard. that is very reassuring. i had been ‘preparing’ myself to be fined $2000 or go to jail.

There they are. The ironic quotes. Much like the scene in SfAA wherein Sam and Robert were discussing Sheila’s institutionalization using ironic quotes to… To separate themselves from the horror of having a mentally ill friend in a hospital? To show how unflinchingly hip and disconnected they were? Who the hell knows but in this case ‘preparing’ means Lin is trying hard to gather money, a substance thin on the ground in his life, or he is going to have to spend time in a New York jail. Doing the former or steeling oneself up for the latter is actual preparation. It’s troublesome that Lin was engaging in this sort of bullshit before he was even a particularly well-known quantity.

Lin and Grayson continue to exchange e-mails and in these e-mails Lin shows even more basic incompetence at life. He cannot find the precinct where he was arrested and Grayson, a patient and kind man, finally just asks Lin for the actual location of the store where he was arrested. With that information Grayson can find the precinct, and if you are wondering why Lin could not gather that information himself, his answer to Grayson will clear that right up.

hi richard. i was arrested at the BROADWAY american apparel. BROADWAY & i’m not sure. i think wavery.

Yeah. Lin wasn’t sure exactly where he was arrested. Sigh…

In that same e-mail, he refers to himself in the third person:

thank you for keeping tao out of jail.

I found myself sighing a lot in this short book.

Grayson is indeed a kind man even to try to deal with this mess and tells Lin to give it a rest, but in far politer terms:

Please don’t put yourself in this position again. It is not worth it.

Indeed, it’s not, especially if one is an inept shoplifter who is going to spill one’s guts the moment one is confronted. But Lin’s response was unexpected and again showed me how oddly his mind works, or perhaps how naive he was.

i will not put myself in this position anymore. thank you for all your advice, it was very nice.
if you need something from me please ask. i don’t know… if you have more poems i could publish you again on 3 a.m .

See! Tao Lin gets it to a certain extent. He is interacting with a human being and having a normal exchange. Of course, he is more or less offering to repay Grayson’s legal expertise and kindness via publication online, but it’s a start. (And lord help me, I am now down to two degrees of separation from Tao Lin because, dear readers, I too was once published in 3 A.M. Magazine, back before it was hip to be a hipster.) Grayson lets that offer go without comment, but it was nice that Lin offered.

I found it strange that Lin had no idea what to wear to his hearing.

do you think i should wear a normal white long sleeve t-shirt with black pants?

See, I find it interesting that Lin could have navigated his way through his education and have no idea what to wear to court. No worries, Grayson also gave him good advice on what to wear. Is it shocking that Lin didn’t own a white shirt with a collar and needed to buy one? Ah well. Graduate school is expensive. I’m being petty. Best to let that one slide, I think.

Lin sends one more plea for information and assistance to Grayson, but follows it up with this:

hi richard. ignore that. my brother lent me $1000 and have a lawyer now. thank you for your help.

It’s really good that Lin’s brother came through in the clutch. Lin is a man who does not need to navigate prison, or even jail for longer than a weekend.

It all ends well for Tao, with community service, cleaning up “Thompkin’s Park” and he sounds like he is going to enjoy working outside for a bit. And then he wrote SfAA and here we are.

I Googled Lin after I read Grayson’s little book the first time and again just before I wrote this. It appears that he got divorced since I last looked into his life, and even if you get ‘married’ ironically, divorces still suck. (His ex-wife is Megan Boyle, whose book of poetry, Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express EmployeeI planned to read before I knew she was Tao Lin’s bride because writer Nick Mamatas linked to her book trailer and it was quite charming, I thought.) He’s had to ask people to buy his possessions twice in order to stay afloat financially, the last one occurring just after he took a job lecturing at Sarah Lawrence but had not yet received his first paycheck. Say what I will about Tao Lin, but it speaks positively of him that he sells things rather than just ask for money because he is Tao Lin. I came across his last hour of need too late to send him money, but even as I detest his writing and bizarre self-promotion, it sucks to be broke and having been there I take no pleasure in anyone being in that boat.

It’s interesting to consider that perhaps Lin is less the exacting master of self-promotion than he is just a strange, somewhat irritating guy who stumbles into fucked-up situations and manages to create buzz amongst those who like him and get him in a way in which I am constitutionally unable. I’m sick of irony. I never liked it much in the first place but increasingly the American cultural landscape is a tiresome desert of people hiding their true delight behind pretentious affectation or embracing that which they do not care for and never revealing their true loves lest they be mocked for earnestness. I’m pretty earnest and I get mocked for it from time to time so I understand the aversion, but refuse to give in. So Lin’s irony, if that is what it is, means I’ll never be able to give a shit about his writing because it will always read as dishonest to a person like me.

So is Tao Lin a neuro-atypical weirdo who haplessly falls into lunatic situations and manages to spin them well or is he really the master-mind of self-promotion many think him to be. Neither? Both? I don’t know but Grayson’s book of e-mails made me like Tao Lin a bit and this is something I like to avoid. I don’t like knowing too much about authors until I have read their bodies of work and know in my heart what my feelings are about their writing. I don’t like being influenced in a manner that leads me away from the author’s words and into salacious or disappointing details about his or her life that can taint the writer for me. I’m emotional like that. But even as I know some will mock me for this utterly unironic declaration, it’s nice to know that perhaps Lin is not such a plant-man after all.

25 thoughts on “The Tao Shoplifting Crisis by Tao Lin and Richard Grayson

  1. Your epic takedown of Shoplifting from American Apparel was one of the reviews that got me hooked on your site. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a lengthy, detailed expression of distaste that was so well reasoned and entertaining in itself. I’ve read bad books, and I’ve read bad books that have enraged me, but I would never have the stamina, diligence, and sheer force of will to power through a bad review with such thorough precision.

    I have no idea what to make of Tao Lin. I’ve skimmed a couple of his novels, read part of one short story and a couple of poems, and I occasionally read one of his various websites, his comments on other sites, interviews, and a bunch of articles concerning his merits, pro and con. I know he’s an incredibly polarizing figure who arouses incandescent rage in some people.

    At the risk of incurring your wrath, I’ll admit to being extremely amused by his schtick, whether it’s sincere, “sincere,” or just a lot of ironic bullshit. (Incidentally, my theory about his constant use of shock quotes is that he uses them around words he wants to emphasize as having some additional connotation or significance, often ironic, that otherwise would be glossed over. I don’t think he uses them casually. But I might be wrong.) What I’ve read of his fiction I’ve found mostly dull and uninvolving, so I haven’t had very much motivation to seek it out. But I attribute my lack of response to his work to generational differences.

    The last author I remember stirring up so much ire is Bret Easton Ellis in 1985 with Less Than Zero. It’s actually odd how similar the critical response to that novel was to the way detractors talk about Tao Lin: boring, indifferent writing, flat affect, shallow “insights,” annoying stylistic habits, etc. But as a 17-year-old, while I recognized that the writing was shitty by any currently accepted standard, I still found it fascinating, exciting, and rather witty in a hyper-self-aware way.

    Ellis was writing about a shallow, vapid, nihilistic world, which would have been okay had he not chosen to write that novel in a shallow, vapid, nihilistic way. Many critics at the time made no distinction between Ellis the author and Ellis the authorial voice, because he didn’t put out the usual wink-wink signals, and buried the irony so deeply that most people took the book at face value (as they did again later with American Psycho.) I’m not saying this made the book any less ugly or Ellis any less ugly of an author — I think his novels, while often funny and perceptive, are incredibly hostile and anti-human in that I think part of his motivation is to write books that the people he hates will want to read, so he can laugh contemptuously at the ironic idiocy of people unwittingly laughing contemptuously at themselves.

    So I’m not an Ellis fan, but I can laugh at the self-spectacle he creates in the guise of a hideous misanthrope. (I enjoy reading his Twitter feed just to shake my head at his outrageous — and dependably successful — attempts to troll people with his eye-rollingly horrible statements, like when he expressed joy at the news of J.D. Salinger’s death.) I suspect Tao Lin is working a similar angle. Like Ellis in Less Than Zero, he’s a gifted writer who writes like a semi-anesthetized 14-year-old, primarily to provoke and infuriate those who aren’t semi-anesthetized 14-year-olds, while securing the adoration and loyalty of actual semi-anesthetized 14-year-olds (and semi-anesthetized 14-year-olds in spirit) who feel he’s speaking for them.

    And whether you believe he’s sincere or not, if you look at his work — or more importantly, his pathetic imitators — you can see that no one who actually is the way he presents himself could write the way he does. His writing is mawkish and shallow, but artfully so. So I can respect that. And there is something in it that feels genuine inasmuch as it sounds like a lot of millenials I’ve encountered. Whether we older folks like it or not, I think he really is the voice of at least some subsection of his generation.

    1. At the risk of incurring your wrath, I’ll admit to being extremely amused by his schtick, whether it’s sincere, “sincere,” or just a lot of ironic bullshit.

      Increasingly, I am amused by him, too.

      I’m not saying this made the book any less ugly or Ellis any less ugly of an author — I think his novels, while often funny and perceptive, are incredibly hostile and anti-human in that I think part of his motivation is to write books that the people he hates will want to read, so he can laugh contemptuously at the ironic idiocy of people unwittingly laughing contemptuously at themselves.

      That is sort of what I thought of Lin when I read SfAA. I wondered if his book wasn’t a huge “fuck you” to most of the people who read his work and identified with it in any manner.

      I find it interesting that you mention Ellis because he and Lin also have in common financial instability. Part of Lin’s is that he, from descriptions I have read and that have been sent to me, is utterly generous when he has money, spending it indiscriminately. Never heard that Ellis is generous but he and Lin seem to also share drug habits, past or present. It was shocking to me that both writers have such a hard time financially (but that could also be the changing literary scene – seems like no one makes money writing anymore). Being the emotionally dead, nihilistic voice of a generation doesn’t seem like a good gig.

      1. Your point about their financial instability is interesting. One thing the two have in common is that they both grew up totally dependent on their families financially. As far as I know neither has worked a so-called “real job,” though I believe Lin has done some teaching gigs. In Lin’s case, I think he’s very good at doing what many people raised this way do, which is get people to support him. Lin is obviously more savvy than his persona suggests, but he’s fantastically gifted at portraying himself as this naive, helpless, lost little boy, and as your review demonstrates, is pretty shame-free about taking full advantage of other people’s generosity. You could almost look at his entire career, with all of his self-promotion and other antics, as basically designed to charm people into supporting him.

        1. I know little about Bret Easton Ellis’ upbringing but this all makes sense. Perhaps I have some subconscious class warfare going on in my head that explains my complete rejection of Lin’s work. Or maybe he really is just a very bad writer.

  2. Would Have Edited To Add If I Could: I think a major part of his appeal is the exclusionary quality of his writing. By writing in this affected way and portraying himself as some kind of dazed naif, he’s essentially critic-proof in that anyone who’s derisive of his work has fallen for his ironic trap and been revealed as an overly earnest “square,” and every time anyone does that he just boosts his credibility with the type of follower who gets a big boost out of feeling like they “get it” and are in the club. Over time one can develop a devoted following by making yourself seem like a secret society that only the super-perceptive and knowing can join.

    I admit to writing like this when I was in my 20s and 30s, when I felt very cool and hip for writing stuff that went over people’s heads and angered the squares who sensed they were being mocked but couldn’t actually prove it. I guess it’s something young smartasses have done forever, and it’s only the nature and sophistication of the irony that evolves over time.

    1. I have never been able to be particularly ironic. I think that is why people often don’t know when I am deliberately being funny (or trying to be funny) because I am so earnest most of the time. My fiction was always naked and I often wonder how much that nakedness is why I burned out writing fiction.

      When I read David Foster Wallace, which is not often, he strikes me as what would have happened to me had I continued to write fiction (and this is not a back-handed compliment for myself because I don’t like Wallace very much). He’s so naked under all those footnotes, under all the minutia in which he coats his words.

      The whole notion of the secret society where only those in the know can really belong is such a part of one’s early adulthood. But I think that once you hit 35 or so, whether or not anyone is a poser, or poseur as it were, becomes irrelevant. There was just that day when I no longer cared what people read, what music they preferred, what restaurants they dined at. That’s why Ellis and Lin are going to be at a disadvantage. The age group that loved Ellis have already grown out of his schtick and writers like Lin have already caught the attention of the appropriate generation. Ellis already seems dated and stale and every time I hear about “The Canyons” I just die a little inside where my love for Ellis is concerned. This status of being in the know or knowing the secret has a two-decade shelf life, if not less. Let’s hope Lin ends up in better shape in 20 years than we find Ellis.

        1. That is hilarious, and oddly well timed. I feel it supports my thesis in that Ellis, 48, would recognize a fellow traveler in Tao Lin and approve of his style, while being bored by the subject matter.

      1. I think there would be universal interest among the readers of this site in reading your fiction. Give it us!

        Yeah, the problem with being a young provocateur is that you eventually become one of the old fogies you ridiculed for not getting it, and meanwhile your audience has grown up and moved on. Tao Lin is definitely in danger of his. He’s totally locked into his gimmick at this point, and that gimmick has a definite shelf life. And although as he’s being published and recognized within a small subsection of the literary world, he’s unlikely to match the career trajectory of Ellis, so he’s going to need to evolve to survive.

  3. I actually read this book a year or so ago when I was basically going through and reading as much of Tao Lin and his associate’s online work as I could find. I don’t really have anything to say about it. I haven’t read SFAA and it doesn’t really seem to hold much interest outside of a supplement to that book.

    I’ve only read the work Tao Lin has online, so I can’t really speak for any of his books. I do have his first novel on my shelf and I am looking forward to reading it because I do like the online work I’ve read. I like his sense of humor and his simple prose (even if the emotional flatness of it requires some patience). I think I also see more of myself in the lonely and awkward characters than I’d like to admit.

    In regards Tao’s irony or sincerity, I have seen some reviewers call his work “post-ironic” and say he’s part of the New Sincerity (this article is an interesting look at that: ). In the poems and stories I’ve read by him, I don’t really see much irony. Humor and occasionally parody , but not irony per se. Of course, I could just be a sucker.

    Now all this said, I do think Tao is somewhat overrated. Noah Cicero and Sam Pink, both associate’s of Tao (I think Noah even appears as a character in SFAA), mine a very similar vein to Tao and I think they do it far better. Their prose is simple but not flat at all. They pack a ton of emotions in their unadorned sentences. I think they’re funnier, too

    There are other differences of course. Tao’s works have a sort of “educated young east coaster” feel to them. The stories of his I’ve read are about lonely college students and couples going to concerts. Sam writes about retail workers and the weird people he sees on the bus. Noah writes about meth heads and strippers and makes fart jokes. I think that’s why they appeal to me more.

    But while Tao is getting published by Vintage this year, Sam and Noah are on Lazy Fascist. Nothing against Lazy Fascist, of course. They put out great stuff and Cameron Pierce is a fucking badass. But I think Tao is getting put out by a big time outfit like Vintage far more because of his promotion tactics than his writing. I don’t begrudge him that, I just wish such things weren’t necessary.

    Zachary German is another of Tao’s associate I enjoy more than Tao. But he seems to have quit writing and I still can’t figure out what I find so compelling about his novel, Eat When You Feel Sad.

    So I guess I view him like Andy Warhol in that regard. I do like his work but the people he hangs out with are far more interesting.

    1. I’m an advocate of New Sincerity, at least as I would define it, as a deliberate rejection of self-conscious irony in favor of earnestness (as opposed to regular old Sincerity, which is non-self-conscious earnestness). I think Tao Lin tries to have it both ways here. On the one hand he’s writing prose that seeks to convince us of its earnestness by its awkwardness, mundanity and indifference to literary conventions (that’s presented in a way as to seem merely naive instead of rebellious or experimental). I like that aspect of his work — it seems like the latest iteration of what minimalist writers were doing a generation ago. I still don’t really want to read it, but I approve of the concept.

      However, at the same time, he betrays the spirit of New Sincerity whenever he pulls some ridiculous self-promoting stunt or trolls the literary establishment (posting the exchange on his site so his fans can snicker at the hapless victim)…and the writing itself never reads as sincere to me since he can’t not let you know that he’s self-aware and in on the joke. I think he enjoys walking the fence between sincerity and irony, keeping people guessing as to his true motivations, which can be entertaining in itself — I find it funny — but I would never read his work as New Sincerity. Whatever open naivete he seeks to convey through his work, he negates whenever he uses that “naivete” to express passive-aggressive hostility.

  4. So I guess I view him like Andy Warhol in that regard. I do like his work but the people he hangs out with are far more interesting.

    HA! This is a good way to look at it. Though I must admit that I am also beginning to feel less snotty towards Warhol, as well. Weird, huh?

    Sam Pink has come up several times as someone I should read. This comment convinces me that I need to go ahead and buy that copy of Pink I have had on my list for so long.

  5. One day in 2010 I picked up my local alt weekly tabloid. It had a giant picture of Lin on the cover with the headline “The Great American Novelist”. It was both written by and about Tao Lin. It was apparently intended as a parody of the Lev Grossman’s fawning Time cover story about Jonathan Franzen. It was amusing for like the first two paragraphs, then just got progressively odder and more annoying. Some commenter on the online version of the article didn’t get the “joke.” A few weren’t sure if Lin was the actual author, but the consensus was that he’d written it. As one put it, “All I really know is that it makes me want to push Lin into the path of a train, which makes me think it’s authentic.”

    Re: the whole American embrace of irony/denigration of sincerity thing,John Roderick thinks that punk rock is to blame. Don’t know if I buy it, but it’s a fun read.

        1. There are probably others out there. I don’t know of any though. I know of this one because it’s in Pierce’s Die You Doughnut Bastards collection.

          If you liked the story, I’d highly recommend the collection. It’s great stuff.

    1. I saw that punk rock piece yesterday, and I think his argument was pretty right on for the most part. I think he makes a good point that an ethos that’s basically negative, in the sense that it’s defined by what it’s against, creates an atmosphere of insecurity that leads people to adopt irony as a shield against being considered uncool or insufficiently “punk.” The film that probably encapsulates that ethos is Repo Man. It’s one of my all-time favorite films, but it really is a black hole of negativity, that brutally mocks anything smacking of positivity or sincerity. That attitude kind of ruined GenX, I think, because it made so many kids afraid to express any feeling about anything that didn’t lie in a narrow range between dismissive contempt and indifferent acceptance.

      1. I wonder if he overestimates the influence of punk culture, though. It may be because I’m more or less musically illiterate, and I’ve always been more inclined towards reading and gardening than engaging with youth culture, but to me punk always seemed like a small movement, and even when you consider that the larger culture adopted some its odd mix of cynicism and idealism, I can’t help but think that it’s only one part of a broader embrace of indifference and irony. I’m often tempted (and more often than I’d like to admit, give in to)negativity and cynicism, and this is probably universal. Does that make any sense at all?

        1. I hadn’t thought much about this stuff, but now that I do, I’m surprised i haven’t come across this conversation more often.

          I originally come from England, and the whole Hipster irony thing is very big in London too. Last time I was unlucky enough to be a party there, I had to listen to a guy going on about how he hated Bob Dylan and Bjork (he only liked Dancer in the Dark because he got to see her get hanged) but he loved songs by Kermit the Frog. Some years earlier I would have seen this as fighting talk, but we all get older and ennui is contagious.

          I tend to feel like the whole terror of engaging in good faith comes from a generation whose parents were sincere idealists, but later turned their back on their ideals and became cynics. The only way to out-hippy the hippies is to be jaded from the outset. But I do also think that punk as a culture has a role. Anecdotally, the people I know who most bought into Fugazi etc. as teenagers are the most difficult to pin down. If you grow up expected to reject everything un-punk, you have no choice but to pretend that any divergent tastes are a kind of knowing cultural game.

          I watch the bands these people form, read their blogs and listen to their conversations, and the saddest thing is that even they don’t know whether they are being ironic or not. I doubt Tao Lin has a clue what he really thinks about anything. And that’s not really irony, is it? Because, as I once read someone else say, you can’t say the opposite of what you mean if you don’t know what you mean in the first place.

          Personally, where 70’s nostalgia is concerned, I never understood what was wrong with prog and jazz fusion, so I think the world has somewhat left me standing.

          1. Kermit the frog? I love Bein’ Green, but I never thought of it as an anthem for disaffected youth.

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