Northwest Thoughts, Notes, Photos, Posts

Tao Lin vs. Albert Camus

with 13 comments

Comparing Tao Lin to Albert Camus is like comparing apples and orangutans. Not apples and oranges, my friends, as two sweet round fruits aren’t really that different. Would Camus spoof a cover of Time Magazine (or the French equivalent) and parody the article? Would Camus solicit a James Frey type boob to blurb his book? Would Camus host a contest, and then enter the contest under another name, win the contest, and pocket the money (Tao Lin Wins His Own Contest Refuses to Refund Money). No way, Albert Camus was too busy cursing human darkness, opposing the Nazi invasion of France, and trying to decipher war and horror in the twentieth century. Tao Lin is no idiot, but he gears down. Some call him an existentialist. Existentialist my ass, Tao Lin has created a new form: narcissentialism. And contrary to this JMWW reviewer’s opinion, Tao Lin ain’t no Camus.

Let’s compare two versions of The Stranger. First, the parody written by Tao Lin:

He’s not the richest or most famous. His characters don’t solve mysteries, have magical powers, or live in the future. But in his new novel, Richard Yates, Tao Lin shows us the way we live now.” “Early readers of Richard Yates have found that the book has a narcotic quality.” “(Lin) likes megamouth sharks, toy poodles and, somewhat jarringly, that ‘ocean sunfish are like hamsters but fish and a lot bigger.”

Ha ha ho ho. Now, here’s L’Étranger:

“I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained was to hope that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.”

Albert Camus: Smokes, helped originate existentialism, and is a Nobel Prize winning author. He thought and wrote about 20th century guilt, war, capital punishment, and how to face a world without god. He compressed volumes of thought into novels such as The Fall and The Stranger.

Tao Lin and Camus both use short sentences and few words, but Tao Lin is not really a minimalist. Ten pages of thought hidden in 202 pages of Richard Yates does not qualify.The existentialist hallmark is uncertainty in context of larger ideas, not simple uncertainty. Lin’s blog, persona, publicity stunts (he offered investors a percentage of future royalties for $2,000), all spur many young authors in North America to read, and this is good.  He has an affect, as “Taolicophants” love to imitate his prose, though his books are tedious.

Let’s contrast: Albert Camus was French but grew up in Algeria, his formative childhood memory is of his father’s reaction to attending an execution. He witnessed French colonialism in Algeria and the Nazi Occupation in France, and was a contemporary of Sartre. When Camus began to question Sartre’s leftist views regarding communism their friendship began to deteriorate, but Camus’s doubts about Marxism have been validated by history.  After a time as a journalist Camus devoted himself to literary pursuits, including drama, where he sought moral solutions within an indifferent universe. His death in 1960 by car accident cut short an important life.

Tao Lin = Narcissentialist. Shoplifts, eats delicious vegan food, writes about hamsters, preoccupied with self-marketing, drops names of Nobel Prize winning authors like the vile pro-Nazi Knut Hamsun, wrote a review of himself in The Stranger.

Tao Lin, born of Taiwanese parents, grew up on the East Coast of the USA, and makes his home in New York City. He writes about the dislocated confused suburban/urban dysfunctional pseudo-suffering of today’s youth, but probably has never suffered, and I’m talking the living-in-the-Sudan-suffering orbeaten-and-violated-by-your-stepfather suffering. Though Tao Lin’s fictional alter-egos irreverently mention they may as well commit suicide…there’s no evidence that Tao will die anytime soon.

Tao Lin ain’t Camus. There’s no parallel, it’s all perpendicular. Sure, Tao Lin drops names or provides Cliffs Notes summaries of Camus and other authors such as Beckett, Bukowski, and Sartre. Though it must be pointed out, as far as I know, only Taolicophants and not Tao Lin make the comparison.

Bottom line, Richard Yates reads like two hundred pages of nothing but conjunctions, prepositions, and punctuation marks peppered with celebrity names (Tao Lin’s next book?). Tao Lin will, in the end, get what he wants, attention. Nothing wrong with that, all writers crave attention, but my taste is more grooved to a writer who displays consideration for the reader and doesn’t pander to the superficial side of his fans…in other words, a writer who is not so goringly effin’ boring.

Related:  Tao Lin: American Dork – book review at

Tao Lin’s Richard Yates vs. the 2006 Dodge Caravan’s Owner’s Manual – at The Nervous Breakdown

Written by Caleb Powell

October 25, 2010 at 11:34 am

13 Responses

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  1. LOLOL. You’re an idiot. Read the Time profile and you’ll realize that the parody is not just of the concept but also of the content, style, and language. That kind of ridiculous prose is exactly what Tao Lin is making fun of.


    October 25, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    • Hello “No”, otherwise known as Taolicophant #1, if you read this post you’d notice I wrote this:

      “Would Albert Camus spoof a cover of Time Magazine (or the French equivalent) and parody the article…”

      Caleb Powell

      October 25, 2010 at 3:33 pm

      • I think everybody is important.

        ps. I think Albert would win in a ‘fist fight’ with Tao but only because Tao would feel too ‘bleak’ to fight back. This would make Tao the ‘technical winner’, as he ‘lives’ the ‘meaninglessness’ while Albert just ‘thinks’ and ‘writes’ about it.

        Also I enjoyed three of your witticisms/neologisms.

        Taolicophant #2

        October 25, 2010 at 8:30 pm

  2. It is a pity that you only have the translation into English for Camus. There exist CD’s of him reading L’Etranger, made in the 50’s that are terrific, in every sense of the word, because the lack of emotional involvement combined with the penetrating view of the characters is fundamentally terrifying.

    Susan Litsios

    October 25, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    • “De l’éprouver si pareil à moi, si fraternel enfin, j’ai senti que avais été heureux, et que je l’étais encore. Pour que tout soit consumé, pour que je me sente moins seul, il me restait à souhaiter qu’il y ait beaucoup de spectateurs le jour de mon exécution et qu’ils m’accueillent avec des cris de haine.”

      Thanks for stopping by Susie.

      Caleb Powell

      October 26, 2010 at 3:45 am

  3. criticising tao for being dissimilar to camus is, to use your analogy, like criticising an orangutan for being dissimilar an apple. criticising a penis for not being a vagina, a beard for not being a iphone. the list could go on. why did u choose tao and albert? i don’t understand what triggered this comparison…
    also why do you criticise him for not having ‘really suffered’ in the manner that oppressed Sudanese people may have? is it fair to criticise anyone for that? have you ‘really suffered’? this is all just really confusing to me. lolz. dont mean to be so defensive just really confused.

    Taolicophant #3

    October 26, 2010 at 3:43 am

  4. oh sorry didnt see the ‘contrary to this reviewer’s opinion’ part. sorry for my comment before.

    Taolicophant #3

    October 26, 2010 at 3:45 am

    • Right. People who grow up abused, poor, etcetera do suffer, and this is important. Dakota Fanning’s problems are real and deserve empathy, but I wasn’t satisfied in how they were resolved.

      His interviews and articles are so much better than Richard Yates:
      Q&A with Tao Lin
      The Stranger: Levels of Greatness

      Tao could heed constructive criticism. The New York Times review by Charles Bock hits it exactly:

      “In attempting to explore boredom, Lin recreates boredom. In attempting to write about obsession, he embraces narcissism. If this was his goal, mission accomplished. But the achievement is a low-hanging fruit, and its rewards are limited.”

      Anyway, Taolicophant, why not find your own style and “Capitalize”.

      Caleb Powell

      October 26, 2010 at 4:09 am

  5. #2. Fair enough.

    Caleb Powell

    October 26, 2010 at 3:50 am

    • Oh this is not the ‘real’ Tao—just what I am, a ‘taolicophant’. I saw on his twitter, “someone has ‘shit-talked’ me intensely in a context of ‘pitting’ me in a battle against ‘albert camus’ on their blog” and I thought it was funny that someone would do that. I mean I always thought Tao more of a ‘sincere’ nihilist than existentialist; I think ‘existentialists’ are more hopeful, more passionate. At least, in his writing Tao tends to mention nihilism rather than the other.

      Taolicophant #2

      October 26, 2010 at 7:11 am

  6. now that tao is married, he can really outdo richard yates

    Taolincophant #53

    January 14, 2011 at 7:58 am

  7. […] 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 […]

  8. […] Beatrice Powell to them is, as I like to hammer redundantly and self-indulgently, comparing Apples to Orangutans. (Apples and orange are both round sweet fruit, they are similar, so why not compare apes to apes […]

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