Essay

Only Connect

Blogs and the vertical integration of consciousness. Or whatever.

by Tao Lin
Original artwork by Paul Killebrew
Original artwork by Paul Killebrew

1. WHY DO I STRONGLY FEEL LIKE A CFO, A CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, IF I THINK ABOUT THE PHRASE “I AM A POET”?

“Poet,” when said without some degree of self-awareness, currently denotes to me things like rivers, deer, synonyms being contrasted with profound-seeming intent (“sadness is internal, but depression is on the inside”), intensely neutral facial expressions belying low-level confusion, and extreme yet somehow unintentional “sarcasm” directed toward others. Whereas “CFO” denotes to me “self-awareness,” inwardly directed sarcasm, a kind of tactfulness that manifests as kindness, and “decisions based on concrete reality.” I feel that many CFOs think “I’M A CFO / A FUCKING CFO” a lot of the time, whether at work or at home. I feel that I could “connect” with a CFO, to some degree, because CFOs exist in awareness of themselves, of the arbitrary “legitimacy” of their “roles,” and believe that “there is no good or bad in art,” and therefore feel meaningless when experiencing art, but, having lives mostly “controlled by hierarchies,” are not able to “enjoy” that meaninglessness. 

 

2. WILL I SOMEDAY PERMANENTLY LOSE THE ABILITY TO TALK SHIT WITH SERIOUSNESS? WHAT WILL THAT BE LIKE?

There is a blog post on the Internet by an art student in which she says, “I’M AN ARTIST / A FUCKING ARTIST.” I read the blog post and felt “connected” to the person, more accepting of death, and less “controlled by hierarchies.” I currently like to read poetry where “I’M A POET / A FUCKING POET” is expressed, to some degree, inside each poem.

But that is “simply” “what I like.” I honestly feel that people who like other kinds of poetry, or other kinds of anything, are as “legitimate” in their appreciation as I am in mine, and that arguing that one thing is “better” than another (without specifying contexts and goals “while aware that all contexts and goals are based on arbitrary assumptions”) is like arguing with a four-year-old that their favorite color should be “red” instead of “blue.” If I did that “with complete seriousness” I would view myself as “insane.” The four-year-old would probably feel severely confused and hate itself, since to get it to like “blue” instead of “red” I would probably say more intense versions of things like “blue is ruining colors,” “blue is what is wrong with the world today,” “blue is not important compared to red,” and “blue is what inferior people like.”

 

3. DO BLOGS HELP PEOPLE ACCEPT DEATH?

“Self-awareness” feels, to me, inherent to blogging in that it seems “actually less sarcastic” for a blogger to say “I'M A BLOGGER / A FUCKING BLOGGER” than “simply” “I am a blogger.” Because of that “inherent sarcasm” blogging feels, to me, to some degree, “literary”—defining “literary” as “exhibiting a level of acceptance, ‘size’ of context, and types of goals similar to my level, ‘size,’ and types of those things,” a judgment-free, not-qualitative, relativistic definition. I would feel okay, and have a feeling of “honesty,” telling large groups of people “I am a blogger,” like I’m ready to die, like I’m ready to be “taken back” into the complete hierarchylessness of unconsciousness, having “come closer” to it, by saying I’m a blogger.

Whereas when I think about being “a poet” I feel that it isn’t okay to die. I get the feeling that it’s really sad when “a poet” dies, because “the poet” doesn’t want to die. It is like a baby deer, or something else of that nature, in terms of “level of self-awareness,” dying, it seems excruciating, sort of, to see it happen. I don’t want to decrease my “level of self-awareness,” in my life, over time, causing hierarchies to more dominate my life, and then feel like a baby deer when I die. I want to feel like a blogger or CFO and “be fine” with dying.

 

4. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TREE, A POEM ABOUT A TREE, AND A BLOG, AND COULD I “GO INSANE” IN A BARNES & NOBLE POETRY SECTION?

When I look at a tree I have thoughts about squirrels, kayaking, bears, and maybe some scientific things like “what is the smallest unit of a concrete thing, what happens after that, seems so weird, disturbingly weird” or “are particle-waves ‘bouncing’ off the tree in different frequencies causing me to ‘see’ the tree, seems weird, again seems ‘disturbingly weird,’ oh well.”

When I look at a blog I think about people being funny, mouse pads, LiveJournal buying out the New York Times in 2012, and social things like “how can I ‘connect’ with this person, what is the next step, what am I doing” or “is this a blog by a person that I can talk to in a reciprocally sarcastic manner, in a manner therefore non-sarcastic, due to the complete meaning, literal and otherwise, being ‘delivered’ to each other consistently?”

When I look at poetry sections in bookstores I think about how weird everything is generally, how a person becomes a poet, how I seem to “know” 30 to 60 percent of the poets (in certain stores), and things like “poetry, hmm, a lot of poetry” or “is poetry alive, is this poetry, is this not poetry, is prose poetry weird, can fiction be poetry, is there a way to discuss prose poetry vs. fiction vs. poetry without it ‘degenerating’ into ‘a matter of semantics.’”

I feel that the “information age,” or whatever I am in—defined, currently, for me, as “nearly always having two browsers open with two Gmail accounts, StatCounter, Twitter, Facebook, one or two writing projects, and an iPod and cell phone in use”—is probably not more intense, alienating, or “overwhelming” than a forest, zoo, or Barnes & Noble poetry section. Accurately, without “distorting” it with post-existential things, like sociology, or something, everything “outside” of me is “information” that “goes into me, causing me to feel or think things.” I can imagine myself “going insane”—I have concrete images for “losing control of reality”—in each of those four contexts.

 

5. WHAT DO I THINK WHEN I SEE SOMETHING? WHAT DETERMINES IF I THINK IT IS “ART” OR JUST “A THING”?

Ideally I think I would view “simply” “everything” as one thing with the properties and functions of what people conventionally view as “art,” like it is all one novel without rhetoric, in that it does not tell you how to act in concrete reality, as the universe does not tell you how to act in concrete reality (except through physical laws “which go in opposition, actually,” to existential demands resulting from “consciousness”). I try to do this, I think, by avoiding rhetorical thoughts, thinking “there is no good or bad in art” a lot, and thinking things in this essay repeatedly while alone, usually during showers while suppressing a lot of shit-talking.

Within that “everything” I think I currently perceive—in my “less-than-Zen” mode of thinking, with the knowledge that Zen would be a kind of conscious nonexistence I can’t currently comprehend—two “kinds of art”: (1) the kind created by specific humans, those “with which I think it is possible for me to have a non-sarcastic relationship,” and (2) the kind created by things not that, for example Associated Press news items, humans “really far from my tonal or physical context, like 80-year-olds in Mongolia,” things created by myself, and things created by animals or the physical laws of the universe.

Both those “kinds of art” are capable of the following two main “purposes,” to me, of “art”: to (1) “connect” with other humans and (2) to make me feel more accurately (with the belief that an accurate feeling is maybe more sustainable than a “distorted” feeling) the arbitrary nature of the universe in order to relieve “bad” feelings caused by “forgetting,” to some degree, that hierarchies are based on arbitrary assumptions, contexts, and goals.

To “connect” with a person, by way of mutual or not mutual “delight,” “confusion,” or “anything, really,” I can show them a funny Associated Press news item or a poem from the New Yorker or a poem on Hipster Runoff. I can take a picture of a toad that has a “messed up” facial expression and look at it, or show it to people, to remind myself, and other people, of the arbitrary nature of the universe.

In conclusion, I have a feeling that trees, blogs, poetry from blogs, poetry from the New Yorker, Barnes & Noble poetry sections, and various animals are among the things—among the things of “everything”—that can be utilized, by me, within my life, to achieve certain goals, which are as “baseless” as anyone else’s, and which, currently, in part, involve “connecting” with other human beings, of which those with “levels of self-awareness,” or “sarcasm,” similar to mine I feel more able to “connect” with.

(If this essay is perceived to be in opposition to something else I would like to remind the reader that, ideally, I view my thoughts and actions to be as arbitrarily “driven” as anyone else’s, and, therefore, from my view, it is not in opposition but more like a pinecone next to a Kmart manager, in that the pinecone “doesn’t care about itself” in terms of dominating or influencing other things, but “is just there.”)

Originally Published: May 15, 2009

COMMENTS (48)

On May 13, 2009 at 2:00pm Don Share wrote:
Pinecones, like Kmarts, exist to spawn, however.

On May 13, 2009 at 2:13pm audrey wrote:
@donshare huh

On May 13, 2009 at 2:31pm klaus kinski wrote:
Is Tao Lin severely autistic?

On May 13, 2009 at 3:37pm Adam wrote:
Is Tao Lin's father a convicted felon?

On May 13, 2009 at 3:37pm ron toussad wrote:
i wish you'd just say what you mean instead of beating around the bush, tao. i know there's some great stuff in that noggin of yours – you've just gotta let it out!

On May 13, 2009 at 4:11pm zachary german wrote:
pretty funny

i get where you're coming from

On May 13, 2009 at 5:26pm god wrote:
Tao,
Thanks for not making any presumptions or value judgments. Let me know when you finally decide whether or not free will exists.
See you soon,
god

On May 13, 2009 at 6:57pm tao lin wrote:
@god see you soon

On May 13, 2009 at 7:11pm adron wrote:
this is my favorite thing by you that i have
ever seen, superfluous quotation marks
notwithstanding. do more like this.

On May 13, 2009 at 7:44pm schizo wrote:
i was going to comment on the similarities with hipster runoff, but you made that allusion yourself

On May 13, 2009 at 8:01pm schizo wrote:
okay this is just freaky.. i haven't gone to the site in several months, so since this reminded me of it i did.

...there are two tracks by Tao Lin in his playlist thing.

IS CARLES TAO LIN?

On May 13, 2009 at 8:41pm ryanchang wrote:
previous comment deleted, didnt make
sense any way, this comment has
nothing to do with this blog post ^__^

On May 13, 2009 at 9:34pm schizo wrote:
since i know you all were waiting in rapt attention, apparently not:

http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2009/02/tao_lin_is_maybe_probably_not.html

but i guess they're friends

On May 13, 2009 at 11:04pm Kevin wrote:
This is wonderful, and you should write about behavioral economics.

On May 14, 2009 at 2:58am Reynard Seifert wrote:
today i was walking on the sidewalk and i
walked over a piece of plywood that was
acting as a replacement for a section of
sidewalk, written over the plywood in
chalk was the word 'sidewalk,' i thought
about section five of this essay and went
'haha.'

On May 14, 2009 at 2:59am Christopher wrote:
I smell a brat.

On May 14, 2009 at 9:41am chris moran wrote:
The four-year-old would probably feel severely confused and hate itself, since to get it to like “blue” instead of “red” I would probably say more intense versions of things like “blue is ruining colors,” “blue is what is wrong with the world today,” “blue is not important compared to red,” and “blue is what inferior people like.”

gosh

this was great good job with this

On May 14, 2009 at 9:43am chris moran wrote:
half of my comment was deleted, 'fuck,' just wanted to say this was great good job with this

On May 14, 2009 at 9:43am chris moran wrote:
nm

On May 14, 2009 at 11:55am 1979 wrote:
The quote marks aren't superfluous, they're used pretty deliberately.

But srsly guys, what are all these kids doing here? Don't we have some poetry manifestos from the 80s to explicate?

On May 14, 2009 at 12:22pm davidpeak wrote:
"I feel that the 'information age,' or whatever I am in—defined, currently, for me, as 'nearly always having two browsers open with two Gmail accounts, StatCounter, Twitter, Facebook, one or two writing projects, and an iPod and cell phone in use'—is probably not more intense, alienating, or 'overwhelming' than a forest, zoo, or Barnes & Noble poetry section."

- this is why tao lin speaks to my side of the generational gap. or at least my stance on my side of the generational gap.

On May 14, 2009 at 2:47pm zachary zimmermann wrote:
good to see 1979 here

think it is pretty funny that tao lin talked to god in a comments section on poetryfoundation.org 'of all places'

not surprising that poetry foundation has a lot of h8ers on it

On May 14, 2009 at 2:52pm zachary zimmermann wrote:
maybe just a few h8ers

feel afraid now

will my comments here affect my thought patterns for a few hours/days in a negative way, probably

On May 14, 2009 at 3:09pm 1979 wrote:
Zachary, you just ruined your poetry career!

ATTN: Zachary Zimmerman claims that there are "h8rs" at the Poetry Foundation. NOBODY READ HIS POETRY which is at PESSARYHAMMOCK.BLOGSPOT.COM

This young man would have benefited from the recent discussions of critical negativity.

On May 14, 2009 at 4:36pm Paul Squires wrote:
It make me sad when I read Tao Lin's work. It seems like such a waste. There is a deliberate attempt to undermine and underplay his obvious intelligence and ability to write. It is like he feels he must always play to his audience of inane commenters and I see his career as the kind of tragedy that the internet can cause. This piece becomes almost unreadable because of the silly overuse of "these" "little" "fellers". There are other ways to create a sense of irony, Tao Lin. You should turn the computer off for at least six months, go on a road trip and write for yourself.

On May 14, 2009 at 5:29pm "Paul Squires" wrote:
You know, those quote marks mean quite a bit more than irony. As Mr. Zimmerman has explained in a previous context, they imply a voice outside of yourself, providing a vocabulary that you still have to use.

Think about the way contemporary theory has destabilized concepts we have taken for granted: you can't talk about an author's intention without calling it his 'intention.' Likewise, you can't talk about a Self without calling it the 'Self.' To not call attention to the word with quote marks seems much more 'intellectually suspect' than if one were to just use the word. To put words into quote marks is at least admitting that they're problematic, but that the speaker is still trying to get a productive meaning out of the words.

Lin writes:

Ideally I think I would view “simply” “everything” as one thing with the properties and functions of what people conventionally view as “art.”

The quote marks around "simply" and "everything" seem "superfluous," but by quoting the individual words he is saying that neither "simply" nor "everything" should imply that the issue is "simple" or encompasses "everything."

Perhaps I have been speaking for Tao Lin too much, but my guess is that he's not too concerned. He's probably enjoying the trouble he's caused.

On May 14, 2009 at 10:10pm Reynard Seifert wrote:
i think what 'paul squires' is saying is
totally true. using quotations is a more
honest way of confronting certain
prose. if you get a chance anyone and
everyone should see trihn t. min-ha's
short film 'reassemblage' which
includes a section of narration that
goes, 'i do not intend to speak "about"
just speak near by.' i think that is what
tao maybe tries to do; the uncertainty
that it suggests is not a mere
subversion for its own sake but more
like an admittance of fallibility: it's
literally 'anti-authoritarianism' in action.
although admittedly, i'm being sort of
'authoritarian' in saying this, but then
it's like whatever.

On May 15, 2009 at 9:46am Matt wrote:
"It make me sad when I read Tao Lin's work. It seems like such a waste. There is a deliberate attempt to undermine and underplay his obvious intelligence and ability to write."

Paul Squires, I don't know what you mean by this. I don't think he undermines anything in his writing. I see a lot of intelligence and ability to write--the opposite of what you see. His style might not be the kind you like, but you don't have to write in what people think of as a traditionally "intelligent" style to write intelligently.

On May 15, 2009 at 9:50am Matt wrote:
"I see his career as the kind of tragedy that the internet can cause."

Considering the fact that he's already published several very good books, I'd hardly call this a tragedy. Even if he stopped writing today, what he's done so far constitutes a pretty decent career. Some people only write one book and are still household names.

On May 15, 2009 at 11:11am a patron of major grocery chains wrote:
what horrible gibberish.

had to force myself to finish this
garbage.

i'd rather read the national inquirer if
that rag still exists.

it certainly has a better right to than the
person who wrote this.

On May 15, 2009 at 7:26pm David Byrne wrote:
"a patron of major grocery chains," your subtlety is showing.

Is Tao Lin is Carles is Jimmy Chen is 1979 is A Patron of Major Grocery Chains?

On May 15, 2009 at 11:29pm John wrote:
Why do I get the
feeling that Tao Lin
wrote all of these
comments

Sincerely,
John
(not Tao Lin)

On May 15, 2009 at 11:52pm tao lin wrote:
ok, "David Byrne"

john, i am the real tao

this is my second comment here

On May 16, 2009 at 5:51pm lao tin wrote:
this is not
an ad
4
a book by
lao tin
it is
called

M O R P H E U

blazevox.org/bk-ac.htm

On May 17, 2009 at 1:30am Hayley MIlls wrote:
Capitalist pig. Keep pretending everything
is okay. There are desires beyond the
market.

Sometimes poetry is offensive. Yours is
not.

On May 17, 2009 at 9:52am matilda juan wrote:
Wait: life mirrors art and art mirrors life? And we are free to make those distinctions as individuals? This is some mind-blowing stuff here!

On May 17, 2009 at 11:59am moloch wrote:
1) poetry is a capital idea!
2) who the eff gives a shit?
3) what the fuck is poetry?
4) fuck poetry.
5) wait. again.
6) poetry iz back.
7) poetry is funnier than u r.
8) poetry is fun. zoomy zoom zippy
bonk
†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††
9) purchase poetry. recession
stimulus.
10) buy buy buy.
11) start here:

dear Potential Consumer (PC):

This product, Morpheu, provides a
method of inducing cognition
enhancement in a mammal by
administering to the mammal
experiencing a cognition impairment
(such as boredom or retail therapy) an
effective amount of polysemic
polyphonic fucking psychedelic
madness (shawty) of the following
structural formula: ##BUY1## in which
B is a moiety of the formula ##OR2##
wherein the dotted line represents
optional unsaturation...

published by BlazeVOX [ books ]

copy/paste hav yr credit card out:

http://www.amazon.com/Morpheu-
Alejandro-
Crawford/dp/1935402064/ref=sr_1_2?
ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1241812316&sr
=8-2

12) poetry foundation gets it. no
seriously. keep writing on message
boards cuz it's like dreaming right?

13) unlucky number

14) keep dreaming

On May 21, 2009 at 10:10am bearfish wrote:
this essay makes me feel less lonely and
like, maybe there is a god.

On May 22, 2009 at 12:34pm P. H. Madore wrote:
Everybody stop.

On August 5, 2009 at 3:50pm EKSwitaj wrote:
Like the part about the colors, but isn't it really pink that a four-year old is most likely to be told only inferior people like and that, if the four-year old is a certain kind of four-year old, also instructed to like?

On October 19, 2009 at 1:44am Tae Lin wrote:
The interesting thing about the statements he made is that he makes all of these assertions about various things but do not take ownership of those assertions. But viewed another way, it can be said that he is taking ownership by not taking ownership--a sort of paradoxical way of speaking. At the end of the day, his point is that everything is subjective. Our assumptions, beliefs, and thoughts about various things that supposedly matter to us as individuals or as a group or on a wider scale, as nations, are "arbitrary" as he puts it. Arbitrary because those things are part or a part of the "hierarchies" in our respective societies.

But this is just my interpretation. The assertions he made are so vague and opaque that it is open to interpretation, which is, undoubtedly, what art depends on--an openness to interpretation. As soon as art becomes "objective" it becomes a part of a hierarchy and given enough time, art becomes meaningless in the sense that it is no longer experienced by the individual. Now you have panels of people from art museums or art institutions telling you what is "good" art and what is "bad" art. Again, this goes back to the idea of not adhering to hierarchies. Hierarchies are bad in the sense that it robs art of all of its meaning--assuming that art in and of itself has meaning.

Art is supposed to be experienced from the individual's perspective and his or her feelings alone are what determines what art is and what art is not--but again, according to Tao, this is also arbitrary. Art isn't supposed to be anything nor is it not supposed to be anything. Art is art. That's it. This leads us nowhere--for the rational and objective thinkers--but for the purely subjective and relativistic thinkers, like Tao, perhaps this is the point. But maybe that is arbitrary and meaningless too? Who knows.

But if the point is that there is no point, that is, arbitrary, what is the point of asserting that there is no point? His assertion presupposes a point to be made, one that he believes deserves attention, and so thereby contradicts himself without realizing it or he realizes that it is a contradiction but doesn't care what others think. In that case, there's no sense in continuing any kind of dialogue with this individual.

That's my two cents.

On October 28, 2009 at 11:49pm sugar wrote:
I think Tao Lin is the most sane poet I
have read. He seems always kind. He
seems to respond to people in a polite
manner. He seems not to be interested in
"right" or "wrong" kind of poetry. He
seems to use no cliches, idioms, or stock
phrases unless he puts them inside
quotes. I have never seen him brag or
"cut someone down." I like his philosophy.

On November 6, 2009 at 8:47pm louis_nth wrote:
i predict tao lin will get a major prize in
the next 2 1/2 - 15 years, and the poet
humans who 'poo-poo' him now will feel
regret for not reading his essay above
carefully where tao gives away his 'modus
operandi' for free

On December 23, 2009 at 8:34pm davidkrump wrote:
I agree with louis_nth, but place the date on which Tao Lin will be awarded a major prize closer to... one of the next 365 days. So, before Christmas Eve 2010.

He's the only poet of my generation, so far, who I am confident will appear in, say, the Norton Anthology of Contemporary poetry in his lifetime.

I haven't figured his work out, and I'm not trying to figure it out. It's just damn good. There's some stuff I could write about it in relation to X or Y or honoring and expanding tradition Z and AA, but that's not what makes him truly good.

The problem with having Tao Lin writing on earth is that there is only one Tao Lin writing on earth (and we should remember this when all the Tao Lin imitators come around).

It's much like when you open your fridge after a long day pounding nails in the cold and there's only one beer and it's label says Tao Lin, so you drink it and like it because the Tao Lin Brewing Company is small compared to the billion sub-par breweries just wasting grain and water and a thirsty person's time.

Tao Lin should already have won a major award. I hereby offer Tao Lin a small award the committee of myself has just announced--The Tao Lin Award for Literary Behavior, named after Tao Lin, America's greatest less-known poet.

No kidding, here.

On February 16, 2010 at 7:53am Karanam Rao wrote:
These statements on the art of writing poetry are nothing but unbelievable shenanigans.The writer seems to regale in these perceived inanities rather than coming to terms with the accepted and viable truths.Poetry is both personal and inclusive, and it's this inclusiveness that gives it both authenticity and a wealth of wisdom.

On August 27, 2010 at 11:18am hmmmm wrote:

This is a very interesting article... Especially Tao's distinction between the 'Poet' and 'Blogger' and their perspectives... The blogger it seems is in a very defensive situation to begin with. His position calls for nothing but 'sarcasm'... He cannot commit to any world view, he is forced to view the arbitrariness of it all. For him death and life are meaningless. For him a commitment to a meaning entails certain weakness... The 'poet' or artist on the other hand is in quite the opposite situation. He is free. Free to embrace life, to embrace emotion with all its follies... he sees profundity in everything... and death is certainly a part of his life and just as meaningful... An artist will never die until he has lived... the blogger is already dead

On November 6, 2010 at 12:20pm nil oat wrote:
I am not tao lin.

On January 7, 2014 at 1:31pm "jeremy" wrote:
I bought Tao Lin's book at Barnes and Noble

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Biography

Tao Lin was born in 1983 and earned a BA in journalism from New York University. Known for its flat, affectless style Lin’s work is loaded with references to pop culture and new media and communication technologies. He is the author of the novels Taipei (2013), Richard Yates (2010), and Eeeee Eee Eeee (2007); he has also written the novella Shoplifting from American Apparel (2009), and the short story collection Bed (2007). His . . .

Continue reading this biography

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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