I come to this book already having read a couple of interviews and biographies of Tao Lin and therefore, already have a sense of his whimsical attitude toward writing and the employment of the internet and other information technologies as an apparatus for his aesthetic inspiration. To read Tao Lin’s “novel,” Eeeee Eee Eeeee is a little bit of a trip into the postmodern surreal, if we might call it that, except that I have a tendency to find the use of the term postmodern problematic simply because it has been wielded so promiscuously. On one level, I’m tempted to say the work is nihilistic, that there is a belief in nothing, but the conclusion of the novel leads me to finally argue otherwise. It ends with a very realistically detailed series of events, one that undermines the inanity of previous chapters where dolphins, hamsters, bears, and moose appear and most even have the ability to speak and wreak havoc on characters. Because the novel tends to start out rather “realistically,” the appearance of these animal-characters at first strikes as odd; one almost wants to rationalize their emergence as an effect of a drug-induced haze. In any case, reading the novel beyond nihilism, I think, is extremely important because it ultimately lets the reader know that his or her time hasn’t been wasted. Why bother reading something that doesn’t have a point? When the novel concludes with its rather pedestrian narrative about one individual’s life and the “postmodern” emptiness that he feels, we have something to work from as readers and then the novel takes on a greater shape and heft.
The heft, I believe, is much like Pamela Lu’s self referential, Pamela: A Novel, which conditioned the ways in which the contemporary moment is buffeted by a constant intrusions where fragmentation is the norm and indeed what is even to be expected. The stream-of-consciousness style that Lu foregrounds in that work is also at play here where seemingly random thoughts interrupt narrative flow, ones that do not often have a segue. At the same time, what is perhaps most frightening about Lin’s work is that characters who try to break out of suburban apolitical ennui can’t seem to do it; they are too mired in their own self-absorbed lives that even encounters with animal and alien beings don’t do much to really alter their course. This absurdity is perhaps Lin’s comment on our own moment where absurd things can and do happen yet there is no sense or impulse to change things. Characters still apparently will have murderous fantasies or shout problematic epithets or engage in politically ambiguous acts. Here is a common “psychic theme” related throughout the book:
“We should go on a killing rampage,” Steve says. “In my front yard.”
“Good idea.” Andrew wishes he were one of the little sisters. He feels depressed suddenly; and bored (61).
The novel’s main character, Andrew, typically has such responses to seemingly ironic remarks that nevertheless bespeak the contemporary moment’s insensitivity to violence in any form. The constant repetition of this trope throughout the novel does necessarily remind one of the “celebrity culture” that has been spawned around mass killings—one almost desired a reference from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers at that point. The chilling way in which violence is casually introduced and bandied about as if something to do for fun is largely more symptomatic of the characters and their inherently desultory lives. There is very little sense that any of the characters, with the exception of Ellen, attempt to contextualize their lives in a larger global context, nor do they engage a fully realized sense of their privilege (although there are moments where there are inklings of this). In this way, Lin’s novel seems to be much more of a horror story than anything else.
In terms of reviewing this book for Asian American Literature fans, the book is highly anomalous in terms of the way that Asian American narrative has been traditionally defined. To be sure, there are racialized moments all throughout this text, but the focus on an Asian American experience or an Asian American character is absent. The one way in which Asian American literature is readily invoked by the novel is through a constant reference to Jhumpa Lahiri; here is a typical excerpt:
Steve on a killing rampage; mass grave in the side yard. “It won every award,” Andrew says. “Because the director is a hundred years old or something. It’s the Jhumpa Lahiri of movies.” Doesn’t make sense. Oh well.
“You’re the Jhumpa Lahiri of stealing shit from Wal-Mart,” Steve says.
“I bought it.”
“You bought it with cunning and speed,” Steve says.
“Yea. And a ten dollar bill.” Andrew turns on the car. Sara. The music is loud and depressing. Andrew turns it down. “Jhumpa Lahiri makes me want to kill a blue whale or something. I told you about her right? Yea. I don’t understand her . . . anme. Her name looks like a killing rampage.”
“We should hunt her down,” Steve says. “With cunning and speed.”
“She probably lives on a diamond boat with her Pulitzer Prize.” Sara lives in New York City. They had classes together. She drew a penis on Jhumpa Lahiri’s face” (55).
Now, on a certain level, Lin simply goes for the throat here and doesn’t refrain from converting Jhumpa Lahiri’s ubiquity within the “ethnic literary” realm as fodder for novelistic meta-fiction, and yet at the same time, the references are couched within an obvious xenophobic attitude toward “foreign” sounding names. This fact couched with Steve’s inherent tendency toward the violent continually resound sagainst the humor of the passage. It is this dissonance that is the hallmark of Lin’s text. You might laugh, but then you wonder what that means. And yet, despite the very unstable ground that the novel treads, its dark humor and nihilistic borders nevertheless do resonate strongly against the literary traditions that have grounded ethnic literatures. In the move toward a liberalist inclusive philosophy, Lin’s novel asks various fields to consider what foundations they do stand on and on this level, I think the work does serve a purpose.
Tao Lin’s Eeeee Eee Eeee then might be called the Jhumpa Lahiri of a contemporary gothic surrealism.
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