Repetition with Tao Lin and Lorrie Moore

With no particular view or agenda, I feel compelled to talk about repetition in literature and art.  I was watching this video from Tao Lin's YouTube channel the other day, which is from a reading he did in Brooklyn four years ago.  I normally like to consider videos optional, as one of my least favorite things about the Internet is how easily online friends and acquaintances can simply stop talking to you and start linking you, or sending pictures and videos in lieu of conversation.  But because of the nature of the subject matter, you should probably just watch it before you proceed, or else deal with the insidious lack of knowledge which will become more and more apparent not only as you continue to read this blog entry, but as you go about your daily activities  in the coming days, weeks, and months (which, to be fair, is a totally legitimate option).

My first instinct, when I realized what was going on, was to stop watching.  Why continue?  With no feelings of anger, annoyance, or cynicism, I simply decided, "Oh, this is what this is," and closed the window.  Later that night, though, I became aware that I was hearing the sound of Lin's voice repeating, "the next night we ate whale," in my head.  Potentially annoying, like a song that had gotten stuck there, but also no less pleasant than a song I like.  By the next day, the urge to watch it again was apparent.  So I did.

The camera is on the audience rather than the reader, and for a person watching the video, the variation in the performance is provided by the audience members.  We get to watch them shift nervously, burst into laughter at random intervals, and finally give up, each in their own way, around 3 minutes.  There are many levels to this that can be picked apart, some more interesting than others, but what I started thinking about immediately afterward was repetition itself.  In short, pretentious bullshit or some category of meaningful?  I'm inclined to think either answer could be fine as long as it's an honest judgment of a thing that has actually happened.

There are probably a lot of examples of repetition ad nauseum in literature, but the one that comes to mind immediately for me is the story "Real Estate" by Lorrie Moore, which involves two pages of nothing but the exclamation "Ha!"  I have never questioned it, the same way you don't necessarily rely on practical factors like physical strength, height, fighting skill, etc., when provoked to brawl by a crazy person.

When I was a kid, I would annoy my mom every year during the holidays by playing the carol "Good King Wenceslas" over and over on the piano.  Ten, twenty, thirty times.  I never ceased to find it funny, which might tell you something about me.  I don't know if there is a place in everyone's head where they can lapse back into that age of repetition, when it's amusing to ask "why?" again and again of a person who tries for a time to answer diligently, but sometimes I feel it, and there's something more behind it than car trip boredom.  Sometimes it feels profound.

In life, excessive repetition on an external level is a sign of insanity.  On an occasional, internal level, it is a device for the achievement of inner peace.  In art, like anything else, its effect depends on its surroundings.


  1. Tao Lin is a horrid abomination to literature. I can, in fact relate with you. I humored "Shoplifting from American Apparel" for about as long as I could stand the juvenile writings. His dialogue consisting of "What do you want to do?" "I don't know I think we're fucked" "Yeah things are fucked" "everything is fucked" "fuck everything" "we're fucked because its all fucked", "I'm just gonna go steal a shirt because I'm a vain selfish hack that is hoping to ride an image long enough to be able to stay in America."

    Tao Lin is the epitome of the death of the written word. That he even gives readings is an abomination to literature. He is a business con artist and everyone eats him up because he's vegan.

    But he is not the sole perpetrator of the murder of thought provoking writing. Chuck Palahniuk I would say, is ring leader. His "Cult" and his "Writers workshop" are the things that made Bukowski drink, they're what Hemingway was thinking about when he blew his brains out, they were why F. Scott Fitzgerald just wanted to die, why John Fante thought: what's the fucking point?

    I got an inside view on his little workshop, read some of the essays that are for members only (members being people who fork over $45 to be part of what is essentially a pyramid scheme). He had essays talking about grudges he holds against bullies from highschool, he says that THE WAY to write is to trick people using little methods. Hiding the gun, he used that term as a plot point, which he actually stole from FUCKING HOLLYWOOD! It's the classic screenwriting trick of alluding vaguely to the resolution of the story at the beginning, so that when the guy shoots his wife you think, OH so THAT'S why there was a scene devoted to him reading a handbook on the model of pistol he used.


    He literally says to submerge the "I" so that your writing will become vague enough to relate to the masses.

    He laid out plans to make best sellers. Not minding that most best sellers are sheeeeer shit, and that the business of the best seller is as corrupt as every other form of capitalist promotion.

    Please be harder on Tao Shit. Do not be afraid. We are working, we are taking back the art world from the business men hacks that write like grammar school students.

    Tao Lin only started writing because he did not want to have to move back to his native country with his family when they had to leave. He's coldly calculated trends and banked on them so he can stay in America and do nothing while our economy struggles because of so many ENTITLED folks like him.

    Also, though I believe in a right to shop lift in a robin hood sense, that he gained notoriety through bragging about his stupidly failed attempt to shoplift from a fucking trendy clothing store makes me want to vomit myself to death. My brother works at Urban Outfitters, where as I do not approve of those stores or capitalism in general, I do sympathize with him in that the big bosses will take money from the workers with every loss of inventory.

    Thanks Tao Lin, you almost stole a shirt which would have been taken out of worker's salaries so you could look chic while reading your infantile scribbles.

    No thank you. Sorry for the rant, but I enjoyed this blog.


  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and sorry it took so long to get this comment posted. I'm a little slow sometimes -- I think I'm going to just change the settings so comments don't need to be moderated.

    I actually had no intention of trashing Tao Lin, as I haven't read enough of the man's work or done the research to have much of an opinion on what you mentioned. I do remember that there were some things I enjoyed about his short stories, though I would be hard-pressed to mention right now what they were.

    Authors' opinions or commentary on their own work don't tend to affect my feelings about the work itself much, anyway. People will say all kinds of shit if you shove a microphone in front of them.

    I don't have a radar out on Chuck Palahniuk's activities, but I don't find his writing offensive, just not terribly interesting.

    I think Bukowski drank because he liked to drink, and I have no idea why Hemingway shot himself, though I have somewhat snarkily speculated on this blog about why Kafka wanted his work burned, so to each his own.

    I do think it's funny how on the one hand literature is seen as something outdated but on the other hand it needs to be absorbed into popular culture like everything else. This is part of capitalism too, of course. And I think it's ridiculous when people exploit the system by deriding it, so I'm right with you there.

    Thanks for posting your rant here. Cheers.