An Asian American Concession
If Tao Lin is “a new literary voice to watch, and reckon with,” there is little to see and less to reckon with. The notion of watching a voice is a signal of 21st century taste, of the failure of many contemporary critics to ponder their reasons for glorifying trash. You have to give Tao Lin credit for exploiting the malaise that infects contemporary American literature and for pandering to readers who are passively paranoid, easily gulled by the hypertextuality of minimalist experimental writing. In this sense, Lin’s novel Eeeee Eee Eeee (2007) is a cheap fix. You have to give Lin credit also for understanding, in ways only the very young can understand, how American society progressively devalues its cultural capital. He knows that you can’t expect better in a society that wears an aura of self-deception. A society that worships a god who is only green paper. Why try?
Lin’s novel is a generous toilet into which he dumps the pure products of the WASP imagination:
David Lynch films, Honda Civic, Denny’s, Batman, Domino’s Pizza, Wal-Mart, Lucky Charms, Cheerios, MTV, Mel Gibson, Target, Kmart, Schopenhauer, Jean Rhys, Spiderman, SUV, Braveheart and Mulholland Drive, a president who utters what everybody already knows ----“Politics is a pretend game where it is very important to block out the information that it is a pretend game”(195).
After you finish reading Lin’s novel, flush the toilet.
Flushing the toilet accomplishes little more than the sound of rushing water, but you feel better for having given sound to the silence of this ethnic American novel. Lin does not have to underline the Asian presence you find in fiction by Amy Tan and Gish Jen. That presence is announced by the fact that the most intelligent characters in the novel are a bear, a dolphin, and a moose. The signifying monkey of Lin’s imagination speaks his mind.
Born in 1983, Lin belongs to a generation of writers who create under the influence of hip hop, a generation programmed and predisposed to make cynical critiques of post-everything. Their literature of exhaustion secures a fragile referentiality in a gumbo of brand names and clichés, seasoned with a few grains of cultural literacy. The exceptions are works that avoid the potholes of pretend naturalism and realism by walking along the pathways of speculative fiction and by pulling up the primordial roots of story. Lin is young. If he is smart and more than tendentiously witty, he will recognize what a dead end the aesthetics of trash is. He has begun his journey to what from the perspective of Asia is the Far East. If he is smart and a genuine writer, he will recognize the gift ethnic American literatures can make to the republic of letters in the United States. Eeeee Eee Eeee is exotic wrapping paper, an Asian American concession looking for a box to decorate.
September 8, 2012