Taipei: A Novel About Nothing For Trust Fund Hipsters

Taipei may be Tao Lin’s most mature work, but that isn’t saying much considering that the thirty year old author has made a literary career out of immaturity. And yet, Lin’s third novel and seventh book has been critically acclaimed more than it has been criticized. Jonathan Kyle Sturgeon of The American Reader even makes the grandiose claim that “Taipei is beautifully cut, to be sure, like a diamond.” Critics from a wide range of pulpits have seemed to come to the conclusion that Lin’s parenthetical comma-filled and dash-riddled run-on sentence style is not only unique, but somehow representational of the millennial generation’s collective thought process.

However, claiming that Taipei best reflects the perspective of an American growing up in the digital age assumes that a majority of the newest generation are try-hard apathetic artists with comfy allowances from mom and dad. This is especially frustrating considering that many young Americans are primarily concerned with financial hardship, (unlike Lin’s proxy, Paul, who does not have to consider monetary troubles). Even critics with negative responses to Taipei (such as Ian Sansom of The Guardian and Annalisa Quinn of NPR) miss the point that “Generation Y” does not mainly consist of pseudo-intellectual, faux existentialist, bourgeois pill-poppers, but rather that this specific audience merely has a significant internet-presence.

Clancy Martin’s overtly positive review of Taipei in the New York Times Book Review refers to the protagonist’s interminable travel throughout the novel as “…Paul’s way of being, much more than his pill-popping (which is also nonstop, but doesn’t seem to have much influence on his way of thinking).” After reading Martin’s review, one wonders whether he had actually read the book at all, because the entire plot of Taipei revolves around Paul experimenting with drugs in order to experience life differently (and consequently perceive, or think differently), relieve himself of boredom, and in order to act “normal” when doing readings for his book tour across the country.

It’s understandable that reviewers get excited about a novel that celebrates alternative consumerism with avant-garde, sometimes even skillful prose-poetry. However, the author’s beautiful but clumsy writing does not mean that at Taipei’s conclusion Paul has believably grown from a self-absorbed womanizer into a human being capable of feeling compassion. Regardless of whatever revelation the main character has, the final passage does little to satisfy the reader, who has endured 248 pages of insignificance in order to find out that Paul is “grateful to be alive”. What is clear is that the protagonist has journeyed from a state of inexplicable dreariness, (signified by the opening words of the novel: “It began raining a little from a hazy, cloudless-seeming sky…”) to a state of semi-awareness, (brought on by a psychedelic trip nonetheless) which still falls short of compassion for other human beings.

The fact that critics are claiming Lin’s style to be delineating of his generation is absurd in that it overlooks the novel’s solipsism (in spite of its third-person narration). Yet this narration is a ruse, as Tao Lin, the internet-obsessed and ironic self-publicizing NYU alumni, has openly admitted to merely transcribing “25,000 pages of memory” into roughly 250 pages of a thinly-veiled diary posing as fiction. Through this, Lin is able to convey to the reader his not-so-profound message that other people’s emotions matter, if only in regards to how he, himself, feels.

gawker
Lin has once again been able to change his diary from first to third person and get it published as a “novel”.

This Flame Consumes Water

Yes, I am one who wastes far too many

of my sparse thoughts on the daily mundane,

so who am I to offer remedy

for beauty sprouting seemingly from plain

brown eyes? I watch as you try to get high

off residue, and you, my love, are far

from pathetic. Our flame is dignified

while licking cannabis in lieu of water.

Your tepid tongue intertwines with mine and

the ashes of my flesh combine with spit,

creating words I never thought I’d send

from my mind let alone my mouth and it

feels good, us. We felt good, we’re still good

at times, yet our mouths have been filled with blood.

Precarious Everything

Feeling no wind

flames flicker

in palpable air

 

addiction

intransigence

take risks again

 

painful longing for days

taken for granted

 

Will this moment in time

be romanticized?

Surely not.

 

abstract serenity until silence

is broken by the roar of jet engines.

 

Backyard Genocide

-over one hundred tadpoles in a broken pool.

-what will happen when they grow legs?

Will it be the ten plagues all over again?

This star is shrugging off rays of light now shining

on this roof, but only for a little while.

 

While my heart strings spread

each root will overtake me,

and all of these thoughts

will be for naught.

The Sage and the Green

Thorns around edges of

sage leaves and green fruit

on a gray tree.

If a storm were to pass

you could find shelter

within.

And yet you do not know

the name of this tree, nor

do you know many

names of trees. Though

you know the names of the

artificial, the

manufactured,

the digital data

streaming throughout

everything and

penetrating cells.

The storm is coming

and you’re not safe.