Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 in Shit: Taipei

“That is a pity. You should insist. Berma in Phèdre, in the Cid; well, she's only an actress, if you like, but you know that I don't believe very much in the 'hierarchy' of the arts." As he spoke I noticed, what had often struck me before in his conversations with my grandmother's sisters, that whenever he spoke of serious matters, whenever he used an expression which seemed to imply a definite opinion upon some important subject, he would take care to isolate, to sterilise it by using a special intonation, mechanical and ironic, as though he had put the phrase or word between inverted commas, and was anxious to disclaim any personal responsibility for it; as who should say "the 'hierarchy,' don't you know, as silly people call it." But then, if it was so absurd, why did he say the 'hierarchy'? A moment later he went on: "Her acting will give you as noble an inspiration as any masterpiece of art in the world, as--oh, I don't know--" and he began to laugh, "shall we say the Queens of Chartres?" Until then I had supposed that his horror of having to give a serious opinion was something Parisian and refined, in contrast to the provincial dogmatism of my grandmother's sisters; and I had imagined also that it was characteristic of the mental attitude towards life of the circle in which Swann moved, where, by a natural reaction from the 'lyrical' enthusiasms of earlier generations, an excessive importance was given to small and precise facts, formerly regarded as vulgar, and anything in the nature of 'phrase-making' was banned. But now I found myself slightly shocked by this attitude which Swann invariably adopted when face to face with generalities. He appeared unwilling to risk even having an opinion, and to be at his ease only when he could furnish, with meticulous accuracy, some precise but unimportant detail. But in so doing he did not take into account that even here he was giving an opinion, holding a brief (as they say) for something, that the accuracy of his details had an importance of its own.

Is it weird to claim that Taipei put me in mind of Proust? Not in the way of the previous quote; I only stumbled across that, having entirely forgotten it, looking for something else. What called In Search of Lost Time to mind was this:
In the distance, Cleveland’s three tallest buildings, each with a different shape and style of architecture and lighting, were spaced oddly far apart, like siblings in their thirties, in a zany sitcom. After spending their lives “hating” one another, in a small town, they moved to different cities and were happy, but then got coincidentally transferred by their employers to the same medium-size city. They were all named Frank.
Which, of course:
Alone, rising from the level of the plain, and seemingly lost in that expanse of open country, climbed to the sky the twin steeples of Martinville. Presently we saw three: springing into position confronting them by a daring volt, a third, a dilatory steeple, that of Vieuxvicq, was come to join them. The minutes passed, we were moving rapidly, and yet the three steeples were always a long way ahead of us, like three birds perched upon the plain, motionless and conspicuous in the sunlight. Then the steeple of Vieuxvicq withdrew, took its proper distance, and the steeples of Martinville remained alone, gilded by the light of the setting sun, which, even at that distance, I could see playing and smiling upon their sloped sides. We had been so long in approaching them that I was thinking of the time that must still elapse before we could reach them when, of a sudden, the carriage, having turned a corner, set us down at their feet; and they had flung themselves so abruptly in our path that we had barely time to stop before being dashed against the porch of the church.

We resumed our course; we had left Martinville some little time, and the village, after accompanying us for a few seconds, had already disappeared, when, lingering alone on the horizon to watch our flight, its steeples and that of Vieuxvicq waved once again, in token of farewell, their sun-bathed pinnacles. Sometimes one would withdraw, so that the other two might watch us for a moment still; then the road changed direction, they veered in the light like three golden pivots, and vanished from my gaze. But, a little later, when we were already close to Combray, the sun having set meanwhile, I caught sight of them for the last time, far away, and seeming no more now than three flowers painted upon the sky above the low line of fields. They made me think, too, of three maidens in a legend, abandoned in a solitary place over which night had begun to fall; and while we drew away from them at a gallop, I could see them timidly seeking their way, and, after some awkward, stumbling movements of their noble silhouettes, drawing close to one another, slipping one behind another, shewing nothing more, now, against the still rosy sky than a single dusky form, charming and resigned, and so vanishing in the night.
Is it safe to say yet that I don’t have much to say about Taipei? It sure isn’t as good as Richard Yates. It does include Tao Lin’s “when i was five i went fishing with my family” which is a really incredible thing, though. So there’s that.

I suspect that I could get a lot of mileage out of pulling a quote and dissecting it; one of the few pages that I dog-eared in my copy was for the following:
At some point, Paul vaguely realized, technology had begun for him to mostly only indicate the inevitability and vicinity of nothingness. Instead of postponing death by releasing nanobots into the bloodstream to fix things faster than they deteriorated, implanting little computers into people’s brains, or other methods Paul had probably read about on Wikipedia, until it became the distant, shrinking, nearly nonexistent somethingness that was currently life--and life, for immortal humans, became the predominate distraction that was currently death--technology seemed more likely to permanently eliminate life by uncontrollably fulfilling its only function: to indiscriminately convert matter, animate or inanimate, into computerized matter, for the sole purpose, it seemed, of increased functioning, until the universe was one computer. Technology, an abstraction, undetectable in concrete reality, was accomplishing its concrete task, Paul dimly intuited while idly petting Erin’s hair, by way of an increasingly committed and multiplying workforce of humans, who receive, over hundreds of generations, a certain kind of advancement (from feet to bicycles to cars, faces to bulletin boards to the internet) in exchange for converting a sufficient amount of matter into computerized matter for computers to be able to build themselves.
I suspect, also, that everyone knows exactly where a “critical” reading of a passage like that would go; straight to didacticism. Is there a way to talk about Tao Lin’s writing, critically, without pathologizing or pedagogizing him? Certainly there must be. And since I have little interest in declaring Tao Lin a technological determinist or “correcting” his views on the way in which society is structured. There seems to be little room to engage Lin in a way that Gawker doesn’t already dismiss him, and what a dull game to play.

”What do you mean?” said Paul vaguely.
“I think he died,” said Juan, and they slowed to a kind of loitering, as a policeman, behind them, walked past. They stood in place, then continued walking.
“When did they die?”
“I’m not really sure,” said Juan.
“He died,” said Paul grinning. “How?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why did he die?”
“I don’t know. I just know he died.”
I could talk, again, about his work, I suppose. About how his apparently monovalent voice is always navigated through a set of differences in his different approaches to forms. How that strict formal approach seems to totalize into the technological determinism of Taipei, maybe. I could talk, too, about how what really reminds me of Proust in Taipei is the structural metonymy, the way that the universal is presented only to be usurped by the particular, and with no clear moment of transition.

I’d rather, though, let someone else figure out for what Tao Lin is holding a brief, as they say.

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