The Raw Dolphin Texts: An Interview With Tao Lin
TL: I do not have feelings toward n+1. Ideally, I do not have good feelings or bad feelings toward n+1. n+1 is an abstraction. If you bring me an issue of n+1, in concrete reality, and point at a sentence, I can read that sentence and tell you how I feel and tell you what I think the causes and effects are of that sentence on me and on the world. Benjamin Kunkel is an editor of n+1. If you bring me Benjamin Kunkel, in concrete reality, and let me talk to him and follow him and look at what he does and where he spends his money I can tell you what I think about Benjamin Kunkel and what I think is his effect on the world. Ideally I will not “like” or “dislike” Benjamin Kunkel except sarcastically, with the knowledge that “likes” and “dislikes” are irrelevant to and distract from “facts”.
3:AM: What are you doing to promote your book?
TL: I have interns. I am paying 2 interns like $10 an hour. Mostly they aren’t doing anything. I tell them to tell Elijah Wood fans I have a novel that in it Elijah Wood gets beaten to death by a dolphin. Things like that. I tell them to review my books and to email Gawker things so I can get on Gawker. One intern is a friend who has $100,000 debt from college. One intern is a fan who emailed me asking if they could be my intern. One intern is also an intern for Bear Parade. I have other interns. I have between 2-8 interns right now I think. I got the interns off Craigslist. I encourage everyone to get interns off Craigslist. There are college graduates sitting at home right now masturbating or watching the same movie fifteen times or eating entire pizzas or giant boxes of ice cream.
I am doing things also myself. I am supergluing my flyers to corporations in Manhattan. I passed out flyers. Melville House paid for 2000 glossy two-sided flyers and I passed them out and superglued them to corporations. I also got a bearsuit off eBay and wore it and made videos and put them on Youtube. I went into American Apparel with it and Whole Foods and other places. Melville House paid for the bearsuit and to get a guy to help film. I liked wearing the bearsuit, because people couldn’t see my face.
3:AM: How many interns do you have now?
TL: Between 2 and 7. I think I have 3 right now, but had up to 7 at one time. I’m not sure how many. Some stopped emailing me and I stopped emailing them. That is okay. There is supply of interns, in the world, they will keep coming. 120 or so responded to the Craigslist posting asking for interns. One was an MFA student in poetry from NYU. Most were NYU, Sarah Lawrence, or Columbia students I think.
3:AM: You have situations in Eeeee Eee Eeee where nothing much happens. A man goes to the bathroom. He leaves the bathroom. He opens the fridge. He drinks a Coke. The television is on. Etc. Did you feel existential writing these parts, or keeping them in during editing?
TL: All those things you said are things that happen. Opening the refrigerator requires an arm movement. Stabbing a person also requires an arm movement. Both things require an arm movement. Arm movements are real things that happen.
Eeeee Eee Eeee is written from an existential point of view, meaning it tries not to block out any information. Or that is how I wanted it to be. In order to have morals one must block out information and make assumptions. Eeeee Eee Eeee does not have morals. It doesn’t teach you anything. Or maybe it does. Since I wrote it instead of killing myself or taking anti-depressants and watching TV every day maybe that means the book is life-affirming. If you look at both me and the book then maybe the book is moral and teaches you something. If you look at just the book, it doesn’t teach you anything. I don’t know. When I write a non-fiction book I will think about all these things for a very long time and create charts and then write clear, direct sentences organized into ten chapters with three sections per chapter, and then I will be able to tell you these things better. I will be writing a non-fiction book for Melville House in the future. So that will really happen. For now I don’t know.
3:AM: How do you like doing readings? Do you get nervous? Do you get good audience reactions? Do women ask you for sex?
TL: I like reading. I get nervous sometimes. If I read certain poems in a certain order people laugh a lot. If I read something that isn’t funny to begin, people do not laugh at the other things as much. If there are a lot of people I look at my poems and stories and I create a strategic order of things to read to get the audience to like me and want to buy my books. If there aren’t many people, I read new things. Women do not ask me for sex. Sometimes people buy my books and ask me to sign them. I drew a hamster for one person and wrote “fucked” on the hamster’s forehead for a signature. I would feel like a meaningless asshole if I signed books with my signature. I would also feel like I am contributing to this thing that exists, in the world, where people place value and “invest” time and energy and emotions in abstractions rather than in conscious beings with actual feelings and the ability to feel pain and suffering. From an existential point of view — a view without assumptions — it is not good or bad to place value in abstractions. But it is impossible, I think, to be a conscious being without assumptions. I don’t know though. Non-fiction book soon.
3:AM: Do you think about sex much?
TL: Yes. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t think of sex at all though. When I see someone pretty I imagine having sex with them. But sometimes I imagine just touching their face or kissing them or looking at them from very close. I think about oral sex more than sex, I think. I think about getting oral sex more than having sex with someone. Sometimes it feels interminable to think about having sex with someone. To think about moving my body into a position and focusing on what to do and things like that.
3:AM: Do you masturbate often?
TL: Yes. Or maybe average. Some weeks I do it every day or more than once a day if I’m somewhere where I’m at home the entire day, like if I’m at my parent’s house. Some weeks I do it every couple of days. Some weeks I do it once a week or not at all. If I’m in a relationship and having sex almost every day I masturbate on the days I do not have sex, I think. I can masturbate just by applying pressure to my crotch.
3:AM: How often do you feel totally fucked when you are writing?
TL: When I wrote Bed and Eeeee Eee Eeee I often felt existentially fucked but in a good way. Usually I feel a little bad, then I sit at the computer and feel more bad. Then I drink a giant coffee and still feel bad, but also a little creative, then I begin to feel very alone. Then I feel completely alone and existentially fucked. After I feel completely alone and existentially fucked for a few minutes, and if I don’t go to communicate with anyone, through email or gmail chat or something, but just sit there feeling the loneliness, I begin to not feel bad anymore, but sarcastic and a little good. I think maybe because I feel, during those times, like I don’t “need” anyone else. That I am completely alone and no one knows what I am thinking, or something, and that I was not here, in the world, before I was born, and I will not be here anymore, in the world, after I die. Being completely alone and existentially fucked while also having just had caffeine is a good feeling to me. I think I feel most good, though, when I am being very creative and entertaining myself in some way. When I feel uncreative, I feel bad.
3:AM: Do you think coffee is unhealthy?
TL: I don’t think coffee is unhealthy. Coffee makes blood go faster and helps prevent kinds of brain and nerve diseases, I think. Coffee has fiber in it and minerals and no calories and if you drink organic coffee it’s all organic, with nothing artificial, no sugar, or anything like that.
3:AM: Looking forward to the summer?
TL: I do not like summer that much. I do not like walking around sweating. I don’t like to sweat. I don’t like to feel dirty. I prefer cold weather. I like to be clean and not sweaty.
3:AM: I understand that you have a unique contractual relationship with Melville House. Can you elaborate?
TL: Melville House is “my publisher”. Publishers used to “take on” authors instead of just signing one-book or two-book deals. For example Richard Yates had his publisher, who was some guy. I read his biography. The guy published all his books whether they made money or not.
Melville House has “taken me on” as an author, I think. I am very happy about that. I have talked to everyone at Melville House and had lunch and dinner with them. They have come to my readings. I talked to Dennis Loy Johnson about Lydia Davis, Frederick Barthelme, Ann Beattie, Lorrie Moore, Richard Yates, and other people and he knew what I was talking about. Dennis Loy Johnson read my novel like 5 times. Melville House publishes books that I like and recommend to people. I am happy that Melville House likes me and is publishing my books. They are publishing my second poetry book next year and my second novel the year after next year.
3:AM: In Eeeee Eee Eeee, as many people know already, the famous actor, Elijah Wood makes an appearance, befriending a dolphin, acting stupidly, and letting the dolphin murder him. I liked that part. I have nothing against Wood. I thought Lord of the Rings was fascinating. Have you gotten any mail about this scene, from Wood or anybody else?
TL: I have not gotten any mail. I want to defend what I wrote in Eeeee Eee Eeee. Fiction is not concrete reality. Eeeee Eee Eeee has no rhetoric. It doesn’t tell you to kill Elijah Wood. I will explain one function of books in which characters do things that the author, or the reader, would not condone people in concrete reality to do.
In Eeeee Eee Eeee Andrew lies on the floor feeling depressed while listening to emotional music. That is not productive. It does not help other people. But in concrete reality I wrote Eeeee Eee Eeee. I did not lie on the floor feeling depressed while listening to emotional music (during the time I was writing Eeeee Eee Eeee). Instead of lying on the floor, I wrote Eeeee Eee Eeee and then felt better. Now other people can read Eeeee Eee Eeee and feel better. Andrew is not real. The people in Eeeee Eee Eeee who are not being helped by Andrew are not real. Fiction is not real.
In Eeeee Eee Eeee a dolphin killed Elijah Wood to relieve severe depression and loneliness. That is not real. Elijah Wood, in the novel, does not exist, and so did not feel pain or suffering when the club hit him in the head and legs and body. I wrote that scene to relieve my own severe depression and boredom and loneliness. Instead of killing Elijah Wood I wrote a scene of a dolphin killing Elijah Wood. The book does not say, “Go kill Elijah Wood if you feel bored.” But the book in combination with me, Tao Lin, has the message: “Go write something to relieve boredom instead of lying on the floor listening to emotional music.”
That is one reason for fiction not to be censored. Pain and suffering do not exist in the metaphysical world. And we can “exploit” this by writing scenes. We can also detach from situations better when we see, on the computer screen, that a person is lying on the floor listening to The Get Up Kids. Detachment allows us to be outside of our own despair a little, so that we can then begin to focus on other people. Focusing on other people is a cure for depression. Focusing outward is a cure for depression.
I am also going to include all these things in the non-fiction book I will write and Melville House will publish in the future. The book will be very detached and calm. More detached and calm and direct and clear than what I’ve typed here.
3:AM: Who is your favorite writer, besides Noah Cicero?
TL: I don’t have a “favorite” writer. I like Joy Williams, Jean Rhys, Lydia Davis, Richard Yates, Todd Hasak-Lowy, Matthew Rohrer, Ben Lerner, Noah Cicero, Ellen Kennedy, Ofelia Hunt, Mazie Louise Montgomery, Michael Earl Craig, Rebecca Curtis, Deb Olin Unferth, Lorrie Moore, and some other people.
3:AM: Who is Noah Cicero?
TL: Noah Cicero lives in Youngstown, Ohio. He has written like 6 books. If a publisher published Noah’s books and marketed them Noah would be famous probably and sell many copies. Noah’s books you can give to most people and they will like it. Noah’s books are readable and make me feel strong emotions. They are existential. Some parts become political, and start telling you what to do, but elsewhere he says that everyone is just confused and doesn’t know what to do. They are funny and have little or no cliches of language and when they do have cliches of language, it is sarcastic and self-conscious to me. If Ernest Hemingway had sex with Jean Rhys and they had five sons and four of the sons created an emo band and the fifth son talked shit about the emo band and then got beat and from then on felt alienated from human beings, but then later created his own emo band that was both sarcastic and serious (because of his own alienation), but then quit that emo band and moved near a lot of crackheads and started writing, that might be Noah Cicero.
3:AM: Can you tell me about your upcoming sex book, Hot Asian Sex?
TL: It will be factual accounts of sex scenes I’ve been in. I will try to write without preconception. For example, if a penis is moving around I will write it in the same way other people might write about arms. People write, “I put my arm in the basket,” but they do not write, “I put my penis in the vagina.” They write things like, “I slid my hard cock into her wet cunt,” or something. I don’t know. I haven’t read much erotica. So maybe people do write, “I put my penis in the vagina.”
3:AM: Does Salman Rushdie frighten you?
TL: I heard him read at a PEN/World event. I think he was dramatic. It was like watching a Hollywood movie. It was “inspiring” or something. Or to most people, I think, would be “inspiring”. That is not good or bad. I like listening to people read in a detached monotone.
I like reading detached accounts of relationships, depressed people going to work, or people in situations of unrequited love going to work. Things like that. For example Lydia Davis’ The End of The Story is a detached account of a relationship and the end of a relationship and after the relationship. I like that novel.
3:AM: What was your childhood like?
TL: I will talk about middle school. I got A’s and B’s and cheated a lot. Almost everyone I knew cheated a lot. It was fun and exciting to cheat. I think many people cheated just to relieve boredom. In middle school I got angry at a friend because he got annoyed at me and tried to cover his test when I was looking off it openly. I remember almost standing up in my chair to see his test and thinking something like, “What are you doing? Let me cheat off your test”. I had friends in middle school.
I will talk about high school. In high school I had some friends but I didn’t talk to them. In college I had some friends the first two years. Then my girlfriend and I “ended” our relationship and we had mutual friends and I stopped talking to all of them and focused on writing. I didn’t have friends for most of the last two years of college. The friends I had in middle and high school were not close friends. I spent a lot of time alone in high school and college. I think the only close friends I’ve had have been girlfriends and internet friends and one friend from elementary school.
I just copied and pasted that answer from another interview. It was edited out of the other interview.
3:AM: What do you dream about?
TL: I dreamed about peeling tape off a wall and feeling pleasure when it peeled off. That was one dream I had.
3:AM: Do you think this is a good interview?
TL: Yes. Thank you.
3:AM: A bear is on fire. What do you do?
TL: Stand there and look at it. If I can help it, I will help it.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER:
Justin Dobbs is part of a group based in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, led by novelist Matthew Stadler, that is attempting to change the old narrative of the city into a new idea called the Zwischenstadt, the city-in-between. The group has already been successful in changing the way cities are organized, including Seattle. Justin himself lives in Seattle, although sometimes in New York. His work appears in Elimae and on Billy Sauce’s Fortune-Telling Blog.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, May 26th, 2007.