Justin Dobb’s Interview of Tao Lin

Justin Dobb‘s posted an interview with Tao Lin on his current blog yesterday that is to my tin ears excellent for the most part, although Dobb’s asks Tao Lin about Northwest Writing and Lin really has no comment. But having no comment doesn’t stop either from generating text, such as this:

Dobbs: Do I frighten you?
Lin: Main Ho said that fear is something you feel when you feel afraid. Ithink that’s right. I don’t fear you.

Tao Lin will soon have a book(s) released from Melville House. He has been working the internet for that last couple of years. One of the (to me) interesting things that happened with him a year or so ago was a fizzeled project between him and Kevin Sampsell. Future Tense Press, Sampsell’s press, was going to publish a chapbook by Lin. Sampsell had some editorial changes (being the publisher). Lin (being the author) didn’t want to make any chanes. So Future Tense didn’t publish the book. While this is a standard kind of conflict, Lin published the entire exchange on his blog. I found the whole thing interesting in that it made the exchange completely transparent, it used the transaction between the two parties as a method of generating text around the project, and finally continued to emphasize ways in which the the virtual world creates new problems for publishers and writers but also by turning the virtual existence of the author into text created a cloud of extra-information around a book.

Anyway, here is Dobb’s interview on his site. If he removes his blog or post, I dropped the whole thing below.

An Interview With Tao Lin by Justin Dobbs

Recently I met a writer on the bus. She asked me what I was reading. I said that I was reading Tao Lin. She asked me to describe his writing. I said that his work was hyper-minimal, postmodern, and meta-fictional. He writes about googling. Also, his work is shocking. “In what way?” asked the writer. I said that it was sexual. “Sexual how?” “Sexually perverted.” “Oh,” said the writer, “I think I would like that.”

In the following interview, Tao talks about veganism, his favorite writers, and why he might like to write shockingly.


Who is your favorite Taiwanese writer?

My favorite Taiwanese writer is Main Ho. His first novel was about opening a Chinese Restaurant in Orlando, Florida. The title translates to “Indecision,” which is where Benjamin Kunkel got the title for his novel. I think if you want to know what a good writer is you just have to look at Granta’s list of best writers. They probably did a lot of research for that list. They probably researched semantics, epistomology, ontology, etc. to define “best” and then probably did scientific tests on each writer, on each of the 2,000,000 or whatever writers there are in America. We just need to click the link and read Granta’s list. I don’t understand why people even discuss who is”good” or “bad” when a list with answers exists.

Where do you live? Where does Noah Cicero live? Where does Ellen Kennedy live? Do you all live close together, like on a farm?

Noah lives in Ohio. Ellen lives in Pennsylvania. And I live in Pennsylvania. I think people with a “common aesthetic” find each other on the internet. There are millions of people in the universe and some of these people will be similar. Millions. The similar people find each other, like each other, and then move to be near each other

You just graduated from a university, right? Does this make you proud?

I have a B.A. in music theory from New York University. My favorite professor was James Chapman. He taught me that a half-cadence soundsgood. I didn’t like how it sounded but he taught me that it sounded good. That’s like Granta. Granta teaches me that Noah Cicero is one of the 25 best writers alive. I’m glad Noah made the list. I didn’t thinksomeone like Noah, who wasn’t born in America, but in Taiwan, would beon a list called “The Best American Novelists,” or whatever it was called.

Do I frighten you?

Main Ho said that fear is something you feel when you feel afraid. Ithink that’s right. I don’t fear you.

What is your physical reaction to my writing?

Neutral facial expression but ultimately life-affirming.

What is your perception of Northwest writing?

People I know from Washington are Matthew Simmons and the people involved with Alice Blue Review and Kevin Sampsell and some others. Matt Briggs sent me a myspace message once saying it was interestingthat I sabotaged my own chapbook with Kevin Sampsell, or somethinglike that. I’ve heard of Matthew Stadler and Stacey Levine.I think Nietzsche said not to drink alcohol, but to feel the loneliness or disillusion or whatever you are feeling, so that later on when youfeel happy you will feel even happier, due to contrast. I think my ownphilosophy, for myself, at this moment, is that it is irrelevant whatI feel; only the concrete and mathematically calculable effects of myactions on the world, in terms of how much pain and suffering itcauses or relieves, matter. I hope you understand. I tried to condenseit into one sentence. I think Clear Cut Press is from the Northwest also. Shya Scanlon usedto live there I think. Shya is my literary rival. Whenever people seeboth me and Shya in their range of sight they come up to one of us and point at the other one and say something about us being literary rivals.

What do you think of Seattle as a place, based on what you’ve seen in person or in the arts? What do you think is most common about these viewpoints?

When I think of Seattle I think of a giant, light-blue, obese hamster huddling against a beached blue whale for warmth and also to fightloneliness.

Are you still editing poetry for 3 a.m. magazine, and, if so, what are you looking for in a poem?

Yes. I am their poetry editor. What I look for in a poem is whether or not I like it. I think a lot of people don’t like their own writingbut also think that it is a rule that a writer does not like their own writing, or something. I like my own writing. The writing that I don’tlike I delete or something. I’m a person, you are a person, and thewriting is on the computer screen. It doesn’t matter whose writing it is. If you write something and don’t like it that is the same asreading someone else’s writing and not liking it.

Having read a wide variety of your writing, I have found that you can both really minimal and effusive, even Nabokovian. But how do you know which to turn on?

I’m glad you have read a wide variety of my writing and found that I can be both “really minimal”and “effusive, even Nabokovian.” Thankyou. When I saw “turn on” in your question I felt sexual.I’ve said before that I have two basic modes of writing but I’m not sure if that’s true. It changes over time. Nabokov said that Humbert Humbert was a “monster,” which is a derogatory abstraction. Thereforehe wrote Lolita just to incite controversy to get more attention for himself, or else for reasons he can’t articulate.I think if I wrote Lolita I wouldn’t call Humbert Humbert a “monster.”I wouldn’t call anyone a monster. I would try to use concretespecifics instead of value judgements in all of my sentences.

Pretend we are in a cafe drinking coffee. A jukebox is playing. Ispill your coffee and distract you while I steal your telephone. Ithrown my telephone at my friend sitting behind you? I say: what is the role of one’s personal health in one’s writing? Why are you vegan?

Being vegan is moral, can make you live longer, can make your brainwork harder and longer and therefore can create more art. Eating meat supports factory farms. Factory farms cause severe pain to billions of animals, severe discomfort to hundreds of thousands of people who livenearby and breathe the toxic fumes, and long-term damage to areasaround them and to areas around rivers that are near the factory farms.It takes something like 100 calories of non-meat substance to create 1calorie of meat. Those numbers are wrong, but they are something like that. Also, factory farmed animals are fed corn and corn is grown,now, in a way that uses up energy inside the Earth and energy frompetroleum, which is converted to fertilizer, as opposed to justnaturally using the energy from the sun and being neutral in relation to the Earth’s energy.Therefore meat is not sustainable. In the future oil will run out,there will be no fertilizers to grow unnatural amounts of corn, andnot enough corn to feed cows and other animals. By that time the toxic shit from factory farms will have destroyed the Gulf of Mexico andother places. Land where corn was grown will have no “energy” left inthe soil to grow other crops with.Eating meat is a circuitous way of punching a small child in the face repeatedly, injecting someone with diabetes, taking a shit on anendangered animal, torturing animals in your backyard in a torturechamber, throwing toxic shit into a river, or creating a machine thatconverts soil into toxic shit and putting batteries in it and turning it on. Eating is very moral. It isn’t just about being “healthy.”In terms of “art” though the person who is healthy will have more timeand brain power to create more art. People who drink and smoke and do drugs who also say that they are devoted to art would stop doing thosethings if they thought factually about their situation, if they arehonest about being devoted to art. Eating meat isn’t just about saving animals. Vegans save human lives and prevent human suffering also. It is irrelevant whether or notanimals feel pain. If a meat-eater him or herself feels pain then theyshould stop eating meat, because eating meat kills humanscircuitously, by ways I’ve described above. From a comprehensive view there are no morals that are not arbitrary,though. But a human being does not live comprehensively, but withgoals and meaning. A human being is alive and continues to live eachday. Which means they have morals, even if those morals are onlyimplicit in their actions. Therefore there’s no way that I know ofthat a human being who is alive and conscious can unsarcasticallydefend him or herself from eating meat. But people can live contradictorily. A person can process the factsabout eating meat, say, “I’m just an asshole,” and eat a turkey, andthen go home and blog about the outrage they feel that a small boy has been murdered or tortured and then vote in an election with sincerity.For some reason people can do that and still continue existing.Probably because they do not truly live a paradoxical life, but onlychange worldviews and philosophies many times per day.

I like that you’re explicit in your writing. Can you tell me why write like this?

Thank you for liking that I’m quite explicit. I think whatever taboos a society has, if those taboos are expressed in a neutral, unweightedway, someone will say that the person is being “explicit.”

Finally, what are working on? What do you read? Are you real or are you a robot? What would you liketo say to writers living in the pacific northwest? Is it really so hopeless?

I am working on a sex book called “HOT ASIAN SEX.” It has eighteen essays on sex. I’m also working on a collection of poetry called”ORGANIC COLD-PRESSED VIRGIN COCONUT OIL.” I read Main Ho, Ha Jin, andBono Bos. Bono Bos was a 12th century novelist who grew up in Taiwan and later died in the Crusades after he moved to Constantinople to benear his friend.I’m real. I was born in Taiwan. I would like to say to writers in thePacific Northwest that I’m real and was born in Taiwan.

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