Tao Lin is not like other touring writers. He hates reading his own work, doesn't respond well to the question and answer format and seems a little like he'd prefer to be somewhere else at his own event. Okay, okay, he's probably a lot like other touring authors, but there is something about his obvious apathy that is either utterly affronting or back-thumpingly heroic. The crowd that attended the NYWF event hosted by Alaska Projects, for the most part, belonged wholeheartedly to the latter school of thought. They laughed when he awkwardly sidestepped answering questions, empathised about the mainstream critical response to his books, endured with great humour a long slideshow of seemingly random images and commented over and over again about how much his work resonated with their lives. Tao Lin is the author of three novels, two books of poetry and one short story collection. He runs his own publishing house called MuuMuu House (which mainly accepts content found on the internet) and according to Bret Easton Ellis "is the most interesting prose stylist of his generation".
According to other critics, Tao Lin is either the end of the modern novel, a "Kmart-realist", or he is the voice of his generation and a playful minimalist.
Taipei is Tao Lin's latest novel. The book follows the meanderings of Paul, a writer. We go from Manhattan to Taipei, along the way experiencing love and pain with unexpected consequences; connections are made via technology and many a drug are ingested with careless ease.
When NYWF author, Wilfred Brandt asked Tao about the autobiographical nature of Taipei, Tao agreed that much of the first draft of the book was drawn from his memory. When he was further drawn on the topics of sincerity and irony, Tao responded that he believes everybody misunderstands the true nature of the terms. "You don't know what you are intending when you say something" - sincerity and therefore love and romance don't make sense. "I'm interested in writing about relationships without such simplistic definitions".
Questions abounded from the enthusiastic audience and whilst Tao didn't answer a lot of those questions directly, the evening threw up some interesting fodder - from what are Tao's influences (he's been reading the same book for 10 years The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, and mostly reads those books he first encountered in college), how does he place himself in the American canon (no response), how does he feel about the critical response to his work ("If I didn't know me, I wouldn't like me either", but doesn't let readers' responses affect how he writes), how does he work (almost stream of consciousness writing, then labours over the editing), to the eggplant motif of Taipei (he didn't know about this, but "I think it has enough").
There were also questions about the author's ability to articulate the altered state of his characters. Tao brushed these aside mostly, but did allude to a scene in Taipei where Paul does a book event whilst high. What Tao himself meant by this can only be guessed at, but the twitterverse quickly made the leap - one tweet claiming "the author is superhigh".
Twitter, blogs, online forums, Tumblr - these are the worlds of Tao Lin and his readers and where Tao Lin shines. His is an intertextual universe where more than one medium is employed to tell the whole story. Other authors, such as Sheila Heti and Miranda July, similarly incorporate social media into their writing and novels, which sometimes gives them the feel of a collaborative art project. Tao Lin's Taipei is strictly a novel and is written with little elaboration. It may authentically capture the mood of a "connected" generation, but it feels like it is authenticity in a bubble as Taipei is a book about a generation of adults who don't know how to act or talk to each other face to face. When the real world beckons, just like it was for Tao Lin at Alaska Projects, awkwardness and boredom ensue and mistakes happen. No matter how you see the work, there is no denying that Tao Lin is showing us how a new generation lives and engages with the world. "Reading makes me feel less alone" said Tao Lin that night and it's obvious that many of the large crowd agreed with him. One only wonders if it would be his own work that Tao himself would reach for when looking for solace.
Granta interview with Yuka Igarishi
Sydney Morning Herald review by Mark Tewfik
National Young Writer's Festival programme (Oct 3-6)