Of Patterns and Memories: On Tao Lin’s “Trip”


Tao Lin’s readership quantified him into fame at the end of this squalid century’s first decade when he stripped every literary conceit (abstracted lingual pretenses and absurdist Joy Williams / Lorrie Moore whimsies) from his work and governed the hip with a Gmail transcript they could all instantaneously relate to before turning thirteen. One method of throttling cliché is to be as incessantly literal as an online talkbalker. That is how Lin embarrasses his detractors: he repeats the terrible fact of who they are until their own passion against his mastery of the internet makes them seem quite the fuddy-duddy, quite the pernicious purveyor of literary empire. (The Bret Easton Ellis blurb was less personal, more backhanded across the zeitgeist.) Filling someone’s britches with the same extreme effort they employ to besmirch you ideally requires zero malevolence. Most unwarranted lashings-out leave a lot of evidence in your hater’s diaper and Lin doesn’t even poke a hole there: he lets the sloshing polymer bulk forward and speak for itself (right now, for instance, but, like any fan, I’m always ready to dirty my shorts). He is the (let this saying adorn my grave: there’s no such thing as disease appropriation) Asperger’s godfather of the monitor-eyed young, if monitors aren’t an anachronism, if everything in opposition to the man isn’t a damn anachronism. Just because I’d rather elevate a palette of clichés, using baby wipes on the statue of David, doesn’t mean I’m incapable of bowing before an icon of my time. As much as I dispense frowny-faces at the epoch (realizing there is no preferable human chronology), I have never mistaken the legend of Lin for his parasitical retinue of anti-literary, semiliterate influence. Movements are diluted over time to their most tepid follower. A genius dedicated to his field will often promote himself, beyond distinction, with a natural disgust for a large percentage of his colleagues, excepting a choice few inventive imitators: see the saucy, prepubescent monopolies constructed by the beats, Warhol (Lin’s factory is the internet), Bukowski and Mozart (writers my age are, game over, in the asylum stage, playing Salieri to Tao Lin’s Mozart boss). Lin commits to his work and can torque a weighty line when he chooses. He is a talent of monumental and nebulous consequence, of sneering control behind many a persuasive and grandmotherly pensée, one of the most lusciously petite self-helpists the net condensed into a voided singularity that might kickstart another universe free of disposition, unburdened by assault. Enviable in focus, practitioner of a hilarious table-saw minimalism that tucks itself into your pants (you may only defy Lin while saying cheers with a hemlock smoothie), his unevolved mainstay of influencing authors now replaced by drugs, Lin has culminated a talent forged above scandal (remember, he fought Gawker (pranking their offices for attention) before its passing spirit’s diarrhea took custody of journalism worldwide) with a ballsy self-subjection to each altered state. Begin adjusting all your pettily benumbed alt dork lit pride, or hatreds thereupon, because Trip is his masterpiece. (Till Leave Society, by perfect title alone, supersedes it.)

An alien robot might be the best crash test dummy to funnel a bunch of drugs and spit out a conclusion for the less intrepid partier. It is beautiful to see a superior being eat its own programming with chemical assistance, especially if that being has condemned everyone to dine in the corner of our brattiest flaw just by contrast. The introspective circuitry acclimated to multiple gnomish McKenna enlightenments must be what happens when a cyborg looks in a mirror (pertaining to Lin and reflected Lin, narcissism is not a feline enough implication). If only we, as a species, were predisposed to take such healthy, non-judgmental dominion over our lives, sweeping beneath the legs of a peace sign without one criminal glance upward, we could formulate the correct contagious delivery meets deceptively repackaged style (passed off as original) as anyone halfway famous. Communion, communication, readability and accessibility will forever come first with any text sold or said and whomsoever choses to counter that fact will be abandoned to sanitizing academies, or just abandoned. Lest I begin cuddling my own venom in a mediocre stew of resentment (you can’t spit on Christ’s pretty feet without suffering dehydration), I insist a major press offering of Lin’s botanical tweets across bent states of brain is indeed sumptuous to even my dumb, lawless predilections. (I tried not to join the ranks of the common schizophrenic book review, doling out diss and kiss, but sensual ambivalence is the proper path to pregnancy here.) The industry of his IQ remains unsurpassed, the legwork cues spotlessly, and the book is a fun, funny, and informative read (the appendix is a scholarly poem of biology, nutrition, and history) aimed toward a better world, which is why the same internet that made him simultaneously seeks crucifixion.

Perhaps enough five year intervals have passed for a reevaluation from the mob’s trendsetting accusations and stymied blowback. Literature only poses as a table read (or discussion panel) of democratic, hive-minded siblings clover-picking each other’s acne so an enlightened, peaceable communicative advancement can peck its own wares. Literature is instead (ideally) a self-exploding pattern memory of other books trained backward from childhood stabs at literacy to the expansive embroidery of a discriminated style (the uncut coke steadily flowering in your brain) and this second proposal corroborates Lin’s usage, emboldens his best effects. The deadpan refactoring Tao Lin’s template inspired in a small amount of other great artists makes him much more of note than whichever arbitrary fad sustains or admonishes him. True artists are double agents for every cause. Eventual disaffiliation from the dogmatic swill that sponsored an author’s growth leaves other religious stencils to branch off from, whether through elaborated technique or a fellow baptized net guru (explicated by the tubercular chuckle of troll genius Sam Hyde – his sincere-irony fusion as a satire of advice he means seriously, but not seriously). Somewhere between old school MTV minimalism (disaffected cool across teen bedrooms) and the declarative new narrative (diary-making within minority communities), simple Lish truths met the New Sincerity (a term coined and stolen for prose from a corny Bukowski-heart poet earlier this century) next gen postmodern meta-sentiment-irony of Daves Wallace and Eggers. When I hear the word sincerity, I wish my wallet had an exoskeleton. The authentic feeling of a good deed helps the hydra lick itself larger (plus you can buy more of Lin’s books if you live a long and healthy life puritanically free of plasticine carcinogens and inflammatory carbs), but the logic involved should have we the indulgently humanist people accusing ourselves of supremacy every time a bug gets stepped on. Think of how ghosts feel…Every pregnancy infuriates ghosts.

Pardon: because the language I use blotches sonically between fragment and abstraction and is a peripheral offshoot in the wrong direction from the paint-by-numbers breed of paratactic meiosis spoken by Beckett (charred voice of the 20th century, his forsaken refugees) characters as they suffer senile purpose after purpose without attainable knowledge, and because minimalism has now, of course, according to public demand for relatability (due to the invention of comment cards, test audiences and workshops), had all that knowledge artlessly crammed back in verbatim, Lin himself (legendarily nonfigurative franchiser), among many others, would not waste the processing space to parse my nonsense (I’m with Donald, the zanier Barthelme brother, Frederick Barthelme, on the other hand, represented the less flashy side of the Lish coin, opposing Beckett inversely, more toward the drab palm of hand stories of Kawabata and sagas of Tanizaki or Kleist or Chekov – Lin, who finds Camus’s ultra-plainspoken The Stranger too melodramatic, might interpret me as an opera singer echoing off her own mammoth breastplate), and if someone that demonically altruistic (Lin can still loop a Lutzian adverb) won’t bother with your esoteric wingdings, why continue? To pay tribute, perhaps, as the slur of inflation and the compliment of amplification have eternally been at war with the slur of “beach read” and the compliment of “human empathy”: Gongora’s Culteranismo versus De Quevedo’s Conceptismo, Edgar Allen Poe versus John Neal, Faulkner versus Hemingway, Alexander Theroux versus his brother, style versus heart (or (direct) meaning). Since modernism, we’ve rotted thought on the vine in order to speak with protean purpose, excreting waste through our faces like a single cell organism performing testosterone karaoke. This new century requires the stool softener of an explanation. Tao Lin’s is a drone caught between acerbic Gen X ice queen (my favorite) and male millennial valley girl. His mellow and oversold modulation (his books should come with a Zoloft prescription) is integral to the calculated merchandising of the piece. If there was still some coherent unity protesting conglomerate companies (a mandated media realigning the foreseeable counterculture), we might fool ourselves into believing that a pocket-sized schematic hasn’t already trained all of us how to yearn, setting up our own automatically sold-out mom and pop organizations, as if going corporate on an individual platform wouldn’t destroy our debt-head collective years before college did anyway. Everyone’s the summation of their screen, dreaming themselves untethered, but that’s progress, literary and otherwise.

The drugs abet Lin further detached, speaking of himself in Taoist (ha, ha, effort is indeed lame) third person. (Editorial aside: In another bombastic reaction, with self-crucifying shibboleths (donning a t-shirt that reads: Tape Man), accompanying footage has been attached featuring Sean staring at the floor for twenty minutes, grazing on an overly-concocted salad, struggling to spring load ping pong balls in his pert rear, and lecturing about how the out-of-control grandiloquence of Frank O’Hara converted Coke into a sedative.) Flat prose is hard to boo because gaudy arabesques alert one’s prey, or taunt a potential predator, or are an audacious torpidity that ignores predation ever having been an issue – effort sans utility, decorative pastry, busy layers with mucho bust. Such elitist decadence elicits hatred by its very nature. Alas, if a sheep prefers blood in its wool, applause is not the point. Applause results whenever shared messages promote empowerment – good word for the catchiest possible price over a mindset. (I try not to cry over spilled milk. I emulsify my emo nubs.) Humanity was streamlined fin to fist via the basest pragmatics of the evolutionary process. Flashier appendages would hinder mobility. We tightrope the food chain with unenhanced gumption, not aesthetic perfectionism. We can, by now, in fact, sidestep the entire creative improvisation of surplus adages to our core structure and focus on technology for survival (technology: that surface cure; that stump evolution). Risky mutational creativities would only hang off of us, vestigial abstractions, honed pointlessly, like arty declaws. (Apparently I can get just as high off the recent taboo of biology as Lin can off swank hallucinogens.) Art for art sake is mostly unpopular, or popular despite itself (back when Victorians thought we evolved from angels), because the body, done sprouting gewgaws, dictates thought. Lin, inspired by Weston A. Price (perhaps I’m misreading, the intention is both informative and thankfully vague), transmutes the productive malformation from millennia of eating shitty food into a degeneracy responsible for Homo sapiens’ bent line of thought, including male-centric domination, commoditizing, and all art and its meanness: “The effects of society-wide degeneration included pain, confusion, dark humor, and, it seemed to me, a kind of restlessness. The more suffering built into the human body, the deeper human consciousness–squirming and uncomfortable inside malformed bodies–burrowed into the imagination, reaching stranger places and downloading subtler and more complex and grotesque and startling ideas and art and lives into the universe.”

Yet (before we cure ourselves of art), Lin’s reciprocal thrust lathes its thought bubble into a personality as psychedelically remote as most hypotaxis. There are heterogeneous phases of subtext between paragraphs, the same apneal wheeze occurring when you poke a hole in something parenthetical and let it fly around the room, like a kid Lydia Davis. (Not to scrape his traits with further negging, but cool kids rarely fuck me, another spurious issue for Lin the person. He’s the most frustrating tryst you could never deserve. His detractors (my mascara is way runnier) all sound like the bazillion jilted ex-girlfriends and groupies he surely had the dignity to desert.) Somewhere tangential to his own identity, a one-man Pessoa army deployed upon the toilet paper of every ideology, the Tao of Lin converges inside himself, luring tagmemic statuettes (we attend the recital of his finding purchase with anyone and their subsequent digital rendering: his pixels are comprehensibly legion) – rogue statistics crayoned over the milieu. A writer fully capable of occupying a paragraph, the substantiation of his consummate and productive artistry a decade and a half in still occurs as a natural line of thought portrayed, ironically, with the same idiosyncratic postulation as any other avant racket, and he accomplishes this, again ironically, by recording evidence, gathering research, and presenting it like a whale coo soundwave of boilerplate lawyer speak – meets burden of proof journalism, meets a nonfiction memoir livestream called “just the facts” (any hint of idiom gets imprisoned by his scare quotes) – while managing every imaginable pretense of sounding like an objective and unbiased witness, paddling the timidity of these acoustics until McKenna’s theory of non-belief is rightly believable and intentionally funny. A more playful chemical than Zen, I submit he could demolish a house with a tennis ball and stand on the ruins feeling bad, but not really. To say he’s numb would be an insufferable, histrionic diversion. How about this (in a nineteen forties voice): Lin’s a coma inside out. He’ll hum a flatline, yours or his.

Cataloguing Leary’s “turn on, tune in, drop out” into a testimonial of yuppie purpose repackages one of the baby boomers’ most remunerative vogues (started under the guise of a counterculture) free of each experimental excess he and they pretend to encourage. Climb any satellite to get a haircut now, because this is a generation bred to speak with their thumbs full, not their mouths. Along the aloof and dead-eyed intonation, a master of one note still finds range. Lin’s a better annotated dayglow, or the funereal iteration thereof, the concept of control revenging the concept of chaos in the same cycle culture unzips itself with and starts over every thirty years or so when “what or why” must replace “how” and vice versa. (Hippies already sold themselves our decade decades ago.) The last thing Lin is is mentally unsound. He’s so sane you want to do him favors. There’s a scintillating juxtaposition in his taking topic with a touchy feely drug hero whose creed grants language top priority, who invokes plump fertility goddess worship, flake irrationality in place of the stern fifties (zombie) dad logos with which McKenna’s legacy is hence recanted, irony reverting back to practice again because the stance was tiring. Regardless, McKenna discussed elves forthrightly (vomiting symbols of entelechial light that sentences, in their limitation, merely abridge) and Lin enters the spirit tunnel stating statements, never expulsing, a rubber band around the tail of grammatical exacerbation. Tao Lin is our Andy Warhol; McKenna plays the soup can. George W.S. Trow said it better, transcribing the soul of the internet (the television medium just grew horns) line for line in his essay Within the Context of No Context years before me, Lin, and our vegetating peers were spilled here: “Andy Warhol looked like a little god. It was so comforting the way he made everything uncomfortable. And the way the damage rose to the surface around him. The people around him had this in common, at first: the sense of sin. They knew what was damaged and what was whole. Andy Warhol knew, too. But sometimes he was coy. Sometimes he wouldn’t tell. People around him wondered if they had got it right. People around him wondered if they should be more damaged or more whole. It was hard to tell.”

Lin’s lineage might call forth the wriggling quidnunc in anyone, but at least he’ll snare that urge in you and provoke a folie à deux. He also won’t leave you too stranded in his politics, though he’s well-versed in that rhetoric, perhaps a savior lefty (fair enough, fiat justitia ruat cælum) guilty of hanging his passivity on the Wes Anderson twee (stripped of the flowery production design proving Anderson’s labor too ostentatiously uncool) typical of this or that fey era, but, having shifted beyond it, he has prevailed as a punk mutation against marketing, devolving past shoegazing (you want him to be the first major son of the No Wave artists, but his anger’s too foggily nonexistent) into a deadlier commodity – a humble feedback whisked above reverb. His fragmental notation suicides into an overarching lucidity, a polyrhythmic Chopin fractal transcending the buzz. His droll paranoias excuse him of having taken one disciple or a thousand. Repeatedly, suspiciously, he uses “download” to refer to the human brain taking in info, as if the CIA had him built and the agents monitoring the results might flip an off switch (I’m out of work and hunt him here for free). Tao Lin is an efficacious symbiont providing maximum extrinsic purpose, dispatching units to the gestalt that, by dotage of his grueling fiats, has thrived into some kind of witenagemot across the age. From Jean Rhys’s quiescent drunks to Miranda July’s antic chorusing, Lin sculpted himself from what was already in the air, the latest urban outfitted approximation. Sequential plot devices are as melodramatic as flashy language – why the need to stick a frame around a facsimile of the random occurrences of life? Why the need to drown the account of an experience by stuffing your tongue into a tuxedo? But his books aren’t literary dogma, even if they’re treated that way by idiots (ahem). There’s simply no room for the passions of hawkish genre and baroque poetry within the tradition of his voice, and that aesthetic choice alone does not warrant punishment – the obese compendium of its readership, however, should stay supine, forever essaying about how lucratively they’re supposed to hurt.


by Tao Lin
Vintage; 320 p.

Follow Vol. 1 Brooklyn on Twitter, Facebook, and sign up for our mailing list.


    1. All’s well because soon thereafter your mother stepped in and filled the gap.