Because I don’t have a car and getting to Park Chalet for Surf Lit would have been nearly impossible, I biked straight down to the Haight, to Booksmith, to see Tao Lin read. Now I have neither read nor seen Mr. Lin before, but I am an avid reader of the Daily Rumpus and quite a Stephen Elliott fan, as those of you who know me know, and Stephen is rather fond of Lin and speaks of him often. So I went to check it out.
Actually, I also forewent A Feast of Words: A Storytelling Potluck and also Original Shorts: Bottom Up, which included stories from my friends James Warner and Shanthi Sekaran. In other words, it was a tough decision. As you can see in the videos below, Lin read for only 6 minutes, and his Q&A, while more informative than his reading, was overly affected and not very sincere. I was pretty disappointed for the subsequent hour or so, honestly. But it got me to thinking …
Lin’s performance, as Charles Kruger pointed out to me after having seen him at Radar yesterday, is very similar to what you might expect from a smart child trying to express himself; so simplistic yet mysterious in delivery, it is difficult and sometimes seemingly not worth it to figure out what he’s trying to say. Because I don’t think — and I think he would agree with this — I don’t think that he’s really trying to say anything.
When asked if his writing was culturally significant because it’s accessible, for instance, he replied that his writing is not culturally significant … or accessible. “I didn’t really think about that.” One audience member asked how his use of Gmail-Chat affected his writing of the novel: “Was it a joke or was there something more to it?”
This question really reverberates for me, as though it stands for the whole presentation. I see this event as something of a performance piece, a marketing tool, something to help sell the book. And while that’s clearly what author readings are, you don’t normally wander into one this … strange or compelling. Again, I was pretty outraged. But it begs the question: am I inclined to read the man’s book(s). Yes. But why?
What I value is honesty and hard work. I don’t want you to sell me something. What I want is prose that makes me say hot damn, that makes me stop what I’m doing and leave the room because I’m too inspired to hear or see anything that is not of my own choosing.
What I see here is an interesting equilibrium trying to form between being popular/understanding how to communicate, and actually having something to say. For me, in a certain small circle in San Francisco, there are a lot of people who want to listen to me, who shut up when I’m in front of the microphone. Why is this? I haven’t published any stories or poems; I never really claimed to have anything to say; I spend all my time filming other people. Is Presence enough to instruct us? What I’m wondering is if Tao Lin has something to say or if he just knows how and when to comment on blogs and how to speak to a generation of people who spend all their time doing so.
Check out his blog. He’s asked people to identify what drug he was on during this reading. There is a long and somewhat ridiculous conversation going on over there. Some good points are raised, particularly the one in which @Andy has recommended Lin present himself with a modicum of self-respect. I don’t know how far that gets you these days. Last night in Phone Booth talking with Kruger and Andrew Paul Nelson, Kruger said that writers in this country aren’t respected because there are no patrons anymore and we are all poor—look at Bukowski, he said. People respect the poor lowlife artist, the one who is a loud and proud degenerate (that summation is my own). Where/Who is the modern writer with self-respect that has an impact on the current generation? (Oh, there are plenty, I would argue. But can you name some?)
Maybe I’ll pick up a book by Tao Lin some time. The man made me think. Thanks, Tao Lin.
I’m currently rendering videos from the panel: Virtual Reality: The Effect of Fiction on Your Mind and from Porchlight: Tales of Hollywood Hell. I’ve actually already out-rendered my video capacity for the week on Vimeo, even though the week starts on Wednesday and I have a Plus account, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all these videos. Can you wait until next week? I’m also loading Lit on the Lake and Charles is loading vids from Bawdy Storytelling.
Speaking of additional coverage, check out these fine reports (with additional video) by Mr. Kruger:
- His thoughts on the Barbary Coast Award ceremony
- The Literary Tour Stops Here
- Stay tuned for coverage of Surf Lit, Radar and Bawdy
Now, here’s what’s up on Friday, the last day before the crawl!
(stay tuned for crawl suggestions)
Jonathan Lethem on Chronic City,11 am-12:30 pm. Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California Street, San Francisco. Admission: $20 general public, $17 JCC members, $10 students, available only through subscription at jccsf.org
TeenCrawl, 1-7 pm. Various locations.
- Published Teen Authors Panel, 1-3 pm: San Francisco Public Library’s Koret Auditorium, Main Branch, 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco. Admission: Free for school groups—teachers must sign their classes up in advance.
- Writing Workshops, 3-5 pm: San Francisco Public Library’s Teen Center, Main Branch, 100 Larkin St., 3rd Floor, San Francisco. Free. Taught by rganizations working with Bay Area youth to encourage their literary pursuits, including WritersCorps, Streetside Stories, and contributors from the recently published 826 Valencia Young Authors’ Book Project, We the Dreamers.
- Not Your Mother’s Book Club, 5-7 pm: Books Inc. Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Free.
Kristen Tracy, Cameron Tuttle, Katie Williams
Life, Death, Love, Lies…and Cupcakes: Litquake’s All-Memoir Women’s Night, 6:30 pm (Doors open at 6 pm). Hotel Monaco, Paris Ballroom, 501 Geary St., San Francisco. Admission: $5-10 donations requested. No host bar. 21 and over.
It’s All Over But the Crying: A Night of Authors on Sports, 7 pm (Doors open at 6:30 pm). Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk Street, San Francisco. Admission: $10 in advance at brownpapertickets.com.
Litquake in the Bikestore: David V. Herlihy at Public Bikes, 7 pm. Public Bikes, 123 South Park Avenue, San Francisco. Free
Litquake in the Bookstore: Steve Roby and Brad Schreiber at Book Passage, Corte Madera, 7 pm. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Boulevard, Corte Madera. Free
You could have checked that last part out here. But you probably know that.
(I’m having a hard time deciding between Litquake’s All-Memoir Women’s Night and It’s All Over But the Crying. Because on one hand I love Alan Black and David Henry Sterry, but on the other hand I hate sports (that hasn’t always been the case, so lay off). Plus, as I said earlier, Litquake (I mean Jane Ganahl?) always puts together a quality all-women’s night. They call it, in Jack Boulware’s words, the estro-fest. Or the testro-fest. What are you doing?
ps. a quick addendum as I run out the door:
- Tao had this to say in response: “‘What I’m wondering is if Tao Lin has something to say or if he just knows how and when to comment on blogs and how to speak to a generation of people who spend all their time doing so.’ I think i say most accurately what i want to say in my books. i’m able to, and do, edit a book hundreds of times. That is where what i want to say can be found.”
- And Charles wanted clarification: “I am complimented that you quoted me about his “childlike” qualities but I want to clarify. I do not think he was like a “smart child” (that sounds belittling); I think he has found an authentic childlike voice in writing like Picasso and other modernists found a childlike vision in painting. My intent is to be very complimentary and I fear you didn’t capture that.
I think Tao Lin’s ability to capture child-like simplicity of vision and diction is astonishing and extremely potent. It gives a mystery and depth to the writing because it seems closely connected to something primal.
I think that what he is saying is less important than the way he is saying it – he is using that childlike mentation to evoke something like it in the reader and I suspect that is the point. It is not information he is conveying so much as the experience of a certain way of being in one’s mind.
Hearing him read, for me, was like taking a mind-altering drug.
I thought this was brilliant.
- I have now enabled comments on this post. I’m not sure if that’s cool with the Litquake committee, so get them in while you can!