Tao Lin’s Taipei: Are You Smart Enough for the Taipocalypse?

June 7, 2013 2:37 pm
Tao Lin's

Shine bright like a book cover?

June 6th 2013 Tao Lin‘s third novel “Taipei” was unleashed upon the world.

Left and right reviewers have attempted to make heads or tails of what Lin described early on as his magnum opus – a claim he recently confirmed to Entertainment Weekly: “Yes, in that I didn’t save anything for a future book. I used, as source material, everything I know or have felt or experienced, or could imagine knowing or feeling or experiencing, up to this point in my life.

To the lazy, he is a vapid figure, contributing nothing besides an inane brand carried on the backs of gimmickry and the gullibility of cliquey hipsters on the internet.

To the smart, the purveyor of literary revolution.

Lin is frequently identified with Alt Lit, the online subculture preoccupied with the publication of literature from, on and for the internet. It seems he would prefer the association with K-mart realism: his personal brand as well as his writing are marked by overwhelming sterility and bleakness. Both are equally valid associations to draw, but looking forward it is the first – even if at times adulterated with values radically different to Tao’s own – which is the most relevant.

The Guardian has picked up the story, proudly exploring New Alternatives for Alt Lit. The title seems to highlight an association with being ‘alternative‘, despite Alt Lit not actually being, y’know, alternative literature per se. There are other errors – one ought, perhaps, to replace ‘cartoons‘ with macros – most notably the definition of Alt Lit as ‘firmly wedded to self-publication‘.

Author and Alt Lit poster boy Tao Lin

Author and Alt Lit poster boy Tao Lin

A closer look reveals a community and genre more vehement about its right to self-determination, than to any ideal of self-publication. There is no backlash for Tao Lin having published with a major publishing house – celebration, perhaps, but no backlash. The growing number of Alt Lit authors being picked up by small presses and the growing number of Alt Lit-centric online publishing houses dispel any residual doubts. What Tao Lin and the rest of Alt Lit have in common is the unwavering desire to be accepted on their own terms. Alt Lit is eager, maybe even desperate, for outside attention – so long as its Gmail chat logs and image macros and blind bleakness/positivism  are embraced wholesale.

Apocalypse is defined as an uncovering, the lifting of the veil and the disclosure of all that is to come. The release of ‘Taipei’ should more properly be referred to as the Taipocalypse – the revelation of a literary future unable to exist independently of the internet. A future where writers are invariably molded by the use of social media to convey all manner of ideas and concepts – a future where maintaining active Twitter and Tumblr accounts is more crucial to one’s success than accruing credits in respected publications and completing your MFA. Futurebook frames the Taipocalypse as an ‘if’ question – pondering whether or not the publishing world is about to engage with this burgeoning underworld of young people making literature on their own terms.

When the relics currently in power fade away and retire, it is the Tumblr generation who will replace them. Tao Lin’s increasing notoriety is but a prelude of what is to come.
There is no alternative.

Resistance is futile.

Alt Lit is here – and it’s here to stay.

(TAIPEI is out now on Vintage in the US and Canongate in the UK. For more information on the author, visit his official website www.taolin.info).

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