Rude Remarks

Tao Lin: Who Needs Libel?

October 16, 2014

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Tao Lin

If I could get up the stomach to investigate particularly pretentious authors the moment they ping my nonsense detector, I might have a career in predicting literary scandals. Unfortunately, I tend to indulge the instinct to turn away in disgust”€”right before the arts media decide that said bad writer is a bad person as well and launch the feeding frenzy.

Back in the early aughts, for example, a little turkey called J.T. LeRoy was introduced to the reading public as a homeless adolescent male-to-female transsexual drug addict-cum-novelist”€”who, therefore, by some arcane function of P.C.-points calculus, was an important writer. A coworker at the newspaper where I was working dropped a review copy of LeRoy’s latest novella on my desk with a snicker:

“€œCheck it out, you”€™ll love this.”€

I skimmed a few paragraphs, muttered “€œBull,”€ and shoved it into the trash.

(A sample, in case you weren”€™t sure whether the NYC literary scene was steeped in affirmative action even a decade ago: “€œI could smell the baby powder scent of her bubble bath and felt excited to come home after a long night of trucker lovin”€™ and deserve my soak just like she did.”€)

“€œWe need to quit scrounging for ad hominems and stand behind the real reason Tao Lin should pipe down: I don”€™t care who he is, this guy’s writing is nonsense.”€

A year later, after piles of fawning reviews and invitations to write album liner notes for such critical thinkers as Courtney Love and Smashing Pumpkins, “€œJ.T.”€ was outed as a fraud. The “€œgirl-boy”€ who appeared at the author’s few public appearances was nought but a regular girl, a confederate of the books”€™ actual author: a whiny but vanilla grown-up lady called Laura Albert.

The books, now stripped of the gleam of identity politics, were suddenly seen for what they were: bad. That didn”€™t stop some former sycophants from trying to cover their tracks, sputtering about the fluidity of identity and, herm, don”€™t you philistines understand that what matters is the book, not the writer?

The latter would have been an excellent point”€”except it came from the same bunch who had made J.T. a celebrity strictly because of who they thought he was demographically. Albert and J.T. faded into merciful obscurity.

The more things change: So 10 years went by, and now you have this month’s “€œalt lit”€ scandals, starring Tao Lin, the dubious Internet writing movement’s poster boy. As the name “€œalt lit”€ implies, this clique thinks it’s alterna-undergroundish, but it also considers electronic and social media to be the ideal fodder for literary art in our age”€”in other words, publishing a bunch of your girlfriend’s emails counts as a novel, because that’s how we live now.

Anyway, I had almost gotten around to dutifully forcing myself to read one of Tao Lin’s books all the way to the end when, the other week, Lin’s ex-girlfriend pops out of the woodwork with a scandal. This girl (who’s now identifying as a boy, just in case things weren”€™t confusing enough) accuses Lin of statutory rape, emotional abuse, and stealing her written correspondence to print in one of his books.

This isn”€™t the worst story that’s come out of this clique in the past few weeks; editor and writer Stephen Tully Dierks dropped out of the scene completely after he was hit with a couple of full-on rape allegations, neither of which sounds obviously fishy.

Lin’s accuser, on the other hand … well, he/she isn”€™t even trying to pretend that he… it?… was forcibly raped. The accuser, who was female at the time of the tryst, was also at the age of consent in the state where it occurred, Lin claims.

As for the emotional abuse she suffered from Lin, while unpleasant-sounding, it seems to fall under the category of fairly garden-variety sociopathic manipulation. It sounds, in fact, a lot like some of the endearing romantic dialogue from Lin’s latest novel, Taipei:

At the party, which was mostly people in their 30s and 40s, Paul asked Amy an open-ended question about her parents. When she began, after a pause, to answer, he moved his phone from his pants pocket to his ear. “€œHello,”€ he said, and felt physically isolated …

“€œJust kidding,”€ said Paul. “€œNo one called me.”€

Amy had a glassy, disoriented expression.

“€œI don”€™t have a phone call,”€ said Paul.

“€œThat was good,”€ said Amy looking away.

“€œJust kidding,”€ said Paul grinning weakly.

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