Tao Lin talks to Christian Lorentzen

Illustrations by Isabella Cotier

In August, the novelist, poet, artist and online celebrity Tao Lin flew from New York to London to launch his third novel, Taipei. At 30, he has published six previous books, including the much discussed Shoplifting from American Apparel and Richard Yates. In the New York Times, Clancy Martin called his writing “weird, upsetting, memorable, honest”. The day Lin landed, he met the writer and editor Christian Lorentzen for lunch at the Riding House Café in Fitzrovia. They talked over salad and lobster lasagne about sharks, mushrooms and deleting oneself from the internet.

CHRISTIAN LORENTZEN On Tuesday someone asked me if you had gone insane. He said you’d deleted your entire online presence: your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, your blog and personal website. What the fuck happened?
TAO LIN I was on mushrooms. I felt like I was possessed by an alien. I was going to tweet my Gmail password also. I threw away my MacBook.

CL Were they good mushrooms? How much did they cost?
TL They were dried, not in chocolate. Yeah, they tasted good. I kept, like, absently nibbling from a pile of them on my desk. They were something like $50 for 15 grams. I was weighing them because I accidentally ordered a drug scale when I was trying to order salvia from a website.

CL But that must be useful to make sure drug dealers don’t rip you off.
TL I don’t think I’d use it for that. Would you? I mean, not in front of them.

CL It would have to be in front of them, or else they’d get away with ripping you off. How did you throw out your MacBook? Did you just put it in a trash can?
TL I cut the cord connecting the internet to it with scissors and put it all in a trash bag and walked a few blocks. I was going to give it to a homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk.

CL What would a homeless person do with it? They don’t have plugs or cords. I suppose they could sell it.
TL I was conflicted on that. There were two homeless people. I ended up throwing it away in a garbage barge. One of those huge garbage things they have on construction sites.

CL So when you threw out your computer, all your email and social media and Tumblrs… were they already deleted?
TL Yeah. I deleted all that shit.

CL So now it’s all gone for ever?
TL Well, it’s impossible to delete Twitter and Facebook without 30 days’ advance notice. So I got those back.

CL What about Instagram?
TL I forgot to delete that. I never deleted that.

CL Was all your email deleted? What about old drafts of your books on your computer? Wouldn’t you want to sell it someday to, like, the University of Texas? You could make a lot of money.
TL I still have all my email.

CL But you must have lost some shit on your hard drive. That happened to me when my laptop was stolen. I used to like to fall asleep listening to recordings of poetry. So I put on some John Ashbery, lay down on the couch and started reading the New Yorker, which is very reliable if you want to fall asleep. Around 3:30 in the morning I woke up and saw a teenager in front of me creeping and holding my laptop. He said: “Don’t move or I’ll kill you.”
TL Jesus. What floor did you live on?

CL The second floor, above a Chinese place called Yum-Yum on Myrtle Ave. He ran back out the window and up the fire escape and was gone. I probably could have stopped him if I wasn’t so sleepy. I was bigger than him. I doubt he could have killed me.
TL Did he have a gun?

CL He might have had a knife. The cops arrested him after I figured out the IP address where he plugged in the computer. It was his grandmother’s house. My Gmail was still open.
TL He should have said he’d kill you if you tried to figure out his IP address. When you described lying on your couch I thought of Woody Allen lying on a couch in Manhattan. Do you know what scene I’m talking about?

CL It’s the penultimate scene. He talks about how much he likes Sentimental Education and shit.
TL I think the last movie I saw in theatres was Computer Chess by Andrew Bujalski.

CL I went to school with him. I’ve always been disappointed that he hasn’t cast me in one of his movies.
TL I think you would’ve been really good in Computer Chess.

CL I asked for an audition for the last movie he made in New York. Now I’m probably too old to be in his movies unless he starts making them be about people our age. How’s your lobster? Is there lobster inside the lasagne or just the claw on top?
TL I like it. There’s... shrimp in the pasta part. Never mind, it’s lobster. It’s shaped like shrimp.

CL They call shrimp “prawns” here.
TL So they don’t have the word “shrimp” here?

CL They never say it. Do you think you have a shot at the National Book Award this year?
TL No. I don’t think so.

CL The nominees could be you, Benjamin Lytal, Rachel Kushner, Adelle Waldman, and the author of Tampa. What’s her name?
TL Alissa Nutting.
CL Maybe William Gass and Norman Rush too.
TL Adelle Waldman and I both used the word meditat... meditavely...? Medita? How do you say it?

CL Meditatively.
TL Yeah. We both use that on the first or second pages of our books, I noticed. Did you see the news, I think it was yesterday, about the shark on the subway? Someone Instagrammed a dead shark, lying there. Associated Press, Wall Street Journal and Reuters linked it on Twitter. Someone said it was done to promote Shark Week. It’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.

CL I was in Bermuda in June and we jumped off a cliff, but the cliff was jagged and I cut my foot climbing and I was bleeding badly when I jumped in the water. Later I learned there were sharks everywhere.
TL Jesus. If you died by shark attack... I feel like...

CL It probably wouldn’t kill me, just bite my leg off. That would be worse in a way.
TL If you got bit in the leg but were able to fully recover, that’d be good.

CL What’s the strangest thing that happened on your book tour?
TL Um, I don’t know. Have you read The Millions’ review of my book?

CL Teju Cole tweeted that it was a negative review that made him want to read the book.
TL I retweeted that.

CL So did I.
TL Do you want some of my beer?

CL No, I have to work after this.
TL Did you see the piece about autistic novels? The New Inquiry published it.

CL I skimmed it. It seemed to be about autistic characters in novels rather than autistic writers.
TL It talked about Mark Haddon’s book, my book, and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

CL Is Haddon on the spectrum? I don’t think the other guy is.
TL I don’t think Foer is autistic. I should get diagnosed, though.

CL Me too. It would explain a lot about my childhood. All my ex-girlfriends think I have Asperger’s. But you can’t get diagnosed for it because they took it out of the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
TL I wonder what happened to all the people who had Asperger’s.

CL Maybe they’re in a diagnostic refugee camp somewhere. §

  • Tao Lin Talks to Christian Lorentzen