when an author writes a memoir, (or an autobiography, or an autobiographical fiction) they open themselves up to the danger of being ‘known’. Not the danger of increasing their fame (although i bet that has its own perils), but the danger of allowing their audience the pleasure of interpreting and understanding and psychoanalyzing.
Granted, the audience will never see the whole picture. They do not know if the author is the type of person who stood up their prom date, unless they write about it. They do not know if the author is the type of person who chronically lies. Unless they write about it. They do not know if the author is the type of person who becomes secretly aroused by images of centaurs. Unless they write about it. In the end, the authors have chosen which details of themselves to expose – which can reveal more about a person than said person intended to reveal, or is even aware of themselves.
I’ll admit, my main reason for wanting to read Tao Lin’s, Richard Yates, stemmed from general buzz of whether he is a ‘deep thinker’ or just a complete douche bag. Is his writing ‘good’? ‘unique’? ‘boring’? is he just another spoiled NYU ‘art’ student? of course like any other consumer, I had to know for myself.
My own reactions to the book remain conflicted. I definitely think he is talented. His writing style is unique and compelling. His characters depict the identifiable and narcissistic growing pains/ennui of youth, in a way that brings to mind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. Published when Fitzgerald was 23, there are some striking parallels between these two – maybe not in style of prose, but both published young; both went to good schools and suffer from intellect; both suffer from a certain self interest and tortured relationships; both seem to separate themselves from much of humanity, and bask in their ‘unique-ness’; and both have become famous for writing autobiographical fiction depicting ‘modern times’. This Side of Paradise is timeless in a way that (looking past the outdated cultural references) any young privileged/tortured creative soul can identify with, just as Tao Lin seeks to make Richard Yates timeless in a way that speaks to human relationships.
I think Tao Lin’s is compelling in the way that his writing speaks to the anonymous voyeurism provided by modern communication and the internet. We can peek into his ‘profile’ – the ever more common narcissistic device we use to shape our identities to the global exchange. Reading Richard Yates, is like hitting the google jackpot when guiltily stalking someone. We all do it. I know you’ve done it. The character of ‘Haley Joel Osment’ is Tao Lin’s fictional stunt double. You get to read Tao Lin as he wants to be experienced. Which, honestly, is a scary experience. That’s one dating profile I’d skip the hell over. Thanks for the well written heads up!
The disturbing part of reading Richard Yates, is realizing that this book is in fact a reflection of Tao Lin’s sense of self. His character (how much of it is really him, and how much of it is fiction?) displays characteristics of a compensatory narcissist. (He demands that his girlfriend give him some unquantifiable amount of attention knowing full well that she has other obligations in her life. School, etc. If she doesn’t spend all of her time devoted to him, she ‘doesn’t like him as much as he likes her’. All the while he himself doesn’t devote all of his time to her. WTF? Any self-respecting girl would not put up with that manipulative bullshit.) He is emotionally manipulative/abusive (He demands that his girlfriend write down everything she does during the day, and asks that she recite it back to him in order to determine if she is lying or not. He tells her what to eat. He becomes psychotically obsessed with ‘fixing’ her. When she doesn’t do things the way he wants he threatens her with ultimatums.)
In the end, there is no reconciliation of this behavior, and there is very little indication in his interviews that he is self-aware enough to have grown from re-visiting this period of his life.
“What really depresses me is when I like a girl and they’re not responding as much to me…Yeah! Like if I’ve emailed a girl that I like a lot and they haven’t responded in a few days, I feel really bad.”
–Give me a break! No girl should put up with this treatment.
Is our ability to identify with this narcissistic and abusive behavior masked as ‘loneliness’ what makes Tao Lin such a compelling writer? Many of his critics talk about ‘detachment’ and ‘boredom’ as cultural indices. Very few go into the grab bag of psychological issues in the book. Even in the one major article that talks about Lin’s narcissism, the behavior is condoned as natural behavior of the modern everyman. In Hua Hsu’s article in the Atlantic, he states
“What does it mean to be narcissistic enough to be branded a narcissist, when we are all in the business of cultivating online followers and friends, issuing steady streams of news releases about our wavering moods? There’s something refreshing to me about Lin’s writing, the way it manages to be wholly about him, but deny our craving for interiority or motive.”
I guess that says it all. We’re all narcissists folks. And I’ve wasted 927 words on my personal blog to let everyone know exactly what I think.