Tao Lin’s loyal cult following has grown beyond the fringes of the underground. When he pisses in a back alley at night his adoring fans cry, “Look! He’s streaming golden light into the darkness!” He may not be pushing art forward, but he’s giving it a good shake, and for this he deserves credit. However, much of his output resembles mad dross, yet critics (see here) call him existential and compare him to Hemingway and Camus. I’m not saying such pundits are stumpdumb, but Tao’s no existentialist, and he ain’t Camus. Perhaps these reviewers are confused because Tao cleverly peppers prose with “faux existential” messages. Example (from Shoplifting from American Apparel): “Sam questioned Hester existentially while lying nearly face down covered completely by the blanket.”

Deep, man.

The only thing Tao has in common with existentialists is a preponderance of uncertainty. Therefore, last year I pitted him against Camus: Tao Lin vs. Albert Camus. Camus’s victory was decisive, yet Tao’s not done, not by a “long shit.” This time, seeking a fair opponent, I’ve matched Richard Yates with the anonymous genius of the 2006 Dodge Caravan Owner’s Manual. Let’s see from where lyric mastery comes!

Tao Lin’s Richard Yates vs. 2006 Dodge Caravan Owner’s Manual

ROUND I:

Richard Yates: He walked to the post office. He mailed packages. He walked over the steel bridge. He stood on the train tracks looking in both directions. He walked on a street parallel to the train tracks. He walked behind a grocery store to the train tracks. He stood on the train tracks. He walked on the street. He walked on the train tracks.

2006 Dodge Caravan Owner’s Manual: To the left of the instrument panel cup holder are two 12 volt power outlets. The upper outlet is controlled by the ignition switch and the lower outlet is connected directly to the battery. The upper outlet will also operate a conventional cigar lighter unit (if equipped with an optional Smoker’s Package).

RESULT: Tao Lin’s six repetitions of “he walked”  indicates competence in S-V, but could not overcome the lingering poetic resonance of “instrument panel cup owner.” Winner – 2006 Dodge Caravan Owner’s Manual.

ROUND II:

Richard Yates: He thought about Dakota Fanning and other people. He orgasmed into toilet paper. He carried the toilet paper to the bathroom and put it in the toilet. He peed into the toilet. He flushed the toilet. He washed his hands. He washed his face. He went to his room and read a few sentences from different books. He ate dark chocolate.

2006 Dodge Caravan Owner’s Manual: Air comes from the floor, defrost and side window de-mist outlets. This mode works best in cold or snowy conditions. It allows you to stay comfortable while keeping the windshield clear.

RESULT: Tao Lin’s masturbatory scene no match for a relatively tame epiphany about de-mist outlets. Winner – Richard Yates.

ROUND III:

Richard Yates: Around 5:30 a.m. they were in a booth again. Dakota Fanning was asleep with her head on the table. Haley Joel Osment held her and looked at things. He went to the opposite seat and lay and slept. He woke and saw Dakota Fanning’s head under the table with a shy facial expression asking if he was okay. It was around 6:45 a.m. They left Price Chopper. They walked over the field onto the parking lot of school buses.

2006 Dodge Caravan Owner’s Manual: Under certain conditions, the cellular phone being On in your vehicle can cause erratic or noisy performance from your radio. This condition may be lessened or eliminated by relocating the cellular phone antenna. This condition is not harmful to the radio. If your radio performance does not satisfactorily “clear” by the repositioning of the antenna, it is recommended that the radio volume be turned down or off during cellular phone operation.

 

RESULT: In a closely fought round, Tao Lin writes a genuine scene, tender, yet lacking in appropriate weight, as, with a stunning glimpse into the emotional ramifications of cellular technology, the Dodge Caravan Owner’s Manual squeaks out victory. Winner – 2006 Dodge Caravan Owner’s Manual.

Final Words: The 2006 Dodge Caravan Owner’s Manual defeats Tao Lin’s Richard Yates, much to the delight of the tens of thousands ofsatisfied Dodge owners. Yet Tao’s future shows more promise than that of any car manufacturer. Tao’s star, as cliché-lovers say, shines brighter every day.

 

 

A light bulb dangles in a Northridge, California motel room. Streetlights glow through cracks in the blinds. Trembling hands dump a bottle of Bacardi 151 on the head of a shirtless Philip Seymour Hoffman. Said hands strike a match. Enter the flames. The screams.