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Eeeee Eee Eeee: An Attempt at a Review

I've been getting a lot of mileage out of talking about this book in person, so I guess I will do the same here. Eeeee Eee Eeee is an avant-garde novel about depression: not Depression with a capital D, but different manifestations of major clinical depression which are represented in the novel by different animals. For instance, people who often worry about contributing to the sum total of evil in the Universe - who don't eat at MacDonalds because they know the money will go towards opening more MacDonalds franchises in Japan where formerly healthy middle school students will get fat and die - are Dolphins.

The authorial stand-in(?), Andrew, is a Bear... I was reading some reviews of Tao Lin's work that said it's about the Major Problem of modern life in the Web age, which is that we can do anything but end up doing nothing. I don't really agree - more on this later - but I could see it in a scene where a Bear rips the roof off Andrew's car, then promises "$100 and a free laptop computer" if he'll follow down a trapdoor.

I read this and I thought, Oh my God! That's the pop-up ad bear!! You know, the "hit the bear and win a free laptop computer" bear. And then I could see the author struggling late one night with his writing, in a dark room, lit only by "the soft blue light of Internet Explorer" (that's a quote from another book by Tao Lin). And then the bear pops up, and there is Tao Lin's inspiration and a device for moving the action along.

It's like this: each Bear gets three wishes, and they all wish for Teleport, first. So Bears can go anywhere they want to. They can see interesting and amazing things, whenever they want to. And they can probably do anything they want to as well, because who's going to stop a 500 pound bear from doing what it wants? And yet, Bears are lonely and bored all the time. This is kind of like being on the Internet, with the ability to read amazing and interesting things every second of every day... and yet finding yourself clicking on the stupid pop-up bear over and over in a trance, feeling bored.

It's kind of like that, but it's not really like that. Because that feeling eventually passes. For lots of people, it passes as soon as they get up from their computers and walk outside in the fresh air and sunshine. This is why I don't agree with reviewers who say that Tao Lin is trying to write about Modern Life. If I had to guess, I'd say that Tao Lin is trying to communicate a mental state. But communication is tiring, especially when people misunderstand you and you have to repeat yourself. Therefore, Tao Lin strives to never be misunderstood, by writing only in the simplest and most direct terms and eschewing all metaphor and metaphorical language.

(But he's also self-protective, in that 90s indie way, where you mask an underlying and painful sincerity in "irony" and dumb in-jokes. Tao Lin's totem animal is probably not the bear, but the turtle. Anyway, end tangent.)

The result is that his writing is always simple and concrete, even when he's summarizing complex ideas gleaned from many many hundreds of hours reading great works of classic literature - see the author's blog, "Reader of Depressing Books," for proof. XD; Anyway, Tao Lin's writing requires much less effort to process than the authors he is relating would require, and I believe this to be the source of his Power. (She says with fake-authority.)

Back to Eeeee Eee Eeee. Dolphins care intensely about everything. Bears don't let themselves feel much of anything. All their non-shallow thoughts are cut short. It gives the prose in sections from Andrew's POV a brutal, jumpy, ADD style -- which reminds me that ADD might have roots in anxiety, not following through on thoughts because you've been trained that the results will be bad.

The two other kinds of depressives in the book are Moose and Aliens: Moose have given up hope (they'll only be disappointed) and thought (their thoughts will only be negative). They live robotically. You wonder why they bother at all. You wonder why anyone bothers at all Woah, woah, let's not go there. Even Tao Lin doesn't go there. (Re-reading, I think Moose might be obese. They're all about not taking up space and not being noticed.)

There's a scene at the end of the book involving Aliens which is a highlight, so I won't spoil it for you, except to note that while Eeeee Eee Eeee has Dolphins and Bears and Moose and Aliens, what it does not have is: any character who is not depressed. XD; There's a very funny joke about this revolving around the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa.

What else. Sabina and I talked about the resemblance between Tao Lin' writing style and the Hipster Runoff writing style, and whether it was a coincidence or whether one inspired the other. Her take was that "the argument against the hipster thing is that they're faking it because they're afraid of committing emotionally. but if you can't commit emotionally because you're super depressed, it might sound the same but it comes from somewhere different. and anyway, I'm sure lots of hipsters are depressed."

R's take on all this is that she's disgusted with the author, who has obviously given up on ever not being depressed. She says that if you make something like depression a core part of your personality, you're never going to be able to put it aside.

Jony's take is that she's sick of hearing about Tao Lin just because he went to NYU (she's a student there).

My final thoughts on Eeeee Eee Eeee are that it's short, interesting... and infectious. It's idea-rich and it made me want to write - the way idea-rich novels always make me want to write. So I wrote - fifteen hundred words that I threw away because they sounded too much like Tao Lin. omg I've been infected.

If there's a "flaw" in the book it's that it takes you to a sad lonely place, and doesn't tell you where to go from there. This might be a cult book but it's not the kind of cult book you can use as a recipe book. There are no solutions - except maybe to open a new tab in Internet Explorer and start writing.

****

What a post for Christmas Eve. ^^; But I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. Merry Christmas, everyone! PS I reserve the right to edit this post sometime that's not 4am.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
imanewme
Dec. 25th, 2009 01:59 pm (UTC)
which reminds me that ADD might have roots in anxiety, not following through on thoughts because you've been trained that the results will be bad.

I can see this. I've not explored it but I might now. You have the most thoughtful posts. You make me want to read this book. I'm not sure a takeaway lesson is required, though. I mean, people read the news every day. . . :P

Merry Christmas, Sub_d. Thank you for the book suggestion.
sub_divided
Dec. 25th, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC)
Merry Christmas!

I haven't been feeling very thoughtful lately, so thanks for this. *g*
(Deleted comment)
sub_divided
Dec. 25th, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
I don't know the author's purpose. Maybe he'll come by and tell us himself, he's a self-googler like Alexander O. Smith . But it doesn't seem very cathartic, to me... I honestly think it's just so that people will understand. Where he's coming from.

I might have overstated the sad loneliness. Actually a lot of people say that it's soothing like the white light you see before you die, that it takes you to a Zen places where nothing seems to matter very much. I dunno, it's weird, it definitely affects your mental state. I am all for things that affect your mental state without using chemicals.

But you and R might be right. XD;
(Anonymous)
Dec. 29th, 2009 12:00 pm (UTC)
wait, am I being quoted here?
I feel like I should add necessary disclaimers, such as: 1) I have never read this book, 2) my impressions of the author's intentions are solely based on subdee's second-hand descriptions of the author's prose style and personal philosophies.

I don't actually remember saying anything like "Tao Lin has obviously given up on not being depressed, what a loser"; it sounds like an unnecessarily mean thing to say given that I haven't read the book. Maybe I said something in response to a specific attitude about Bears (?) and Dolphins (?) ('some kinds of people are depressed and some aren't?') that indicates the resignation of yourself AND everyone else in the world to crippling depression. If this was indeed his attitude, then it would disgust and enrage me!

What I said about depression was, I think, that if you accept depression the core part of your personality and the wellspring of your creativity and competence/brilliance, you're never going to be able to overcome it until you relinquish it as part of your identity. Which I think is pretty tautological and self-explanatory.

sub_divided
Dec. 29th, 2009 03:19 pm (UTC)
Re: wait, am I being quoted here?
I was paraphrasing you but "obviously" is all me, you would never have used that word. XD; I don't think we talked that much about the plot. I was telling you my theory of the evolution of the author's writing style, and you rolled your eyes at "Reader of Depressing Books."

Bears and Dolphins are both depressed. The message I saw in this was that it's no good trying to be all cool and detached - as opposed to passionate and lame - you'll hurt just the same. But that's obviously not the lesson the author took away, given that he's totally embraced to the point of near-parody the "everything is shit" hipster attitude.

...that is, judging from excerpts from his latest book, Shoplifting from American Apparel. The excerpt I read was all "And then we talked about how much we hate people who are not depressed. And then I ate cereal" kind of stuff that aggressively refuses to see a deeper meaning in anything. The book's taken off -- or maybe the cult of the Tao Lin's personality has taken off -- and is being stocked at Urban Outfitters. I'm curious about it but not sure I really want to read it. I might skim through it to see whether Tao Lin was really able to maintain this kind of radical anti-meaning stance for the entire novella.
tarigwaemir
Dec. 25th, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC)
Wait, so what are Aliens like?

I can't make up my mind whether to try him or not. Didn't find Shoplifting at American Apparel all that compelling when I skimmed through it but maybe I should sit down and read it properly.
sub_divided
Dec. 25th, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC)
You could try the short story collection, Bed, instead. I haven't read it but from accounts it's a lot more fantastic. The stories start variously but they all devolve into INESCABLE DOOM, I heard.

I don't know what's going on with the Aliens, man.
bladderwrack
Dec. 25th, 2009 10:43 pm (UTC)
... What your writeup makes it sound like is the kind of book written by someone who has thought very much in a literary/intellectual sense about being depressed, but has never actually been depresssed. In which case ... eh. I think I've read enough of those books already.

OTOH regarding Sabina's quote re: "they're faking it because they're afraid of committing emotionally" -- reading in the opposite direction, the refusal to commit is a huge part of the aesthetic, the consciously frivolous subversion of undermining /everything/ in the same manner i.e. refusing to accord standard value or what have you. For the depressive hipster the only idiom available to them might be this 'insincere' one, whether or not they ahaha 'mean' it. Tao Lin seems pretty smart so he's /probably/ tapping into this on purpose but by the same token the smarter you are the more you obfuscate eh.


p.s. I read afaicr a KHR fic in the style of Tao Lin and it was funny and clever and generally v pleasing; possibly the man needs to be pastiched in order not to be insufferable idk
bladderwrack
Dec. 25th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)
ion if this sounds like it was written while I was drunk, well ... you get the picture ok orz
sub_divided
Sep. 24th, 2010 02:28 pm (UTC)
repost
(Please excuse my neuroticism in reposting this comment 9 months after it was originally posted.)

Are you drunk? XD

If my writeup makes it sound like Tao Lin's a poseur, then... I messed up on the write up. XD; Dude comes across as someone who is very depressed, AND has spent a lot of time thinking about depression. Now he is going to share what he has learned with you. At least that's what seems to be going on in this one: Eeeee Eee Eeee is not as disaffected as his latest, Shoplifting From American Apparel, which is the one people are talking about in the context of "Oh my God hipsters Suck".

The book is about being surrounded by fantastic things, yet being unable to feel any enthusiasm for them because everything is basically the same as everything else. In Shoplifting From American Apparel, you have to guess whether this is a pose or whether there's anything deeper going on, but Eeeee Eee Eeee name checks philosophers so you know there's something to it, even if you're not sure what that is.

I think he's got a good writing style - direct and concrete, with short, repetitive sentences that even the most hardcore tl;dr -er should be able to follow easily. If the KHR fic seemed better it's probably because it is less nihilistic.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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