At a reading of Tao Lin’s most recent novel Richard Yates, we asked him about his current relationship to New York University. “I went to NYU,” he said. “They don’t acknowledge me really. I never get mentioned in alumni newsletters.”
NYU has its PR golden boys–Baldwin, Scorsese–and then there’s Tao. While Scorsese is a textbook kiss-and-tell, you-heard-it-from-the-tour-guide situation, Tao Lin is NYU’s drunken, single-serving sex partner with a deleted phone number. And the most internet-famous grad NYU ignores entirely.
Tao is known for his writing (Shoplifting from American Apparel, EEEEE EEE EEEE) and his gimmicks (too many to list here). Richard Yates has been reviewed by The Village Voice, Time Out New York, and The Huffington Post. He was recently profiled in The New York Observer and Salon. We’ve covered him here and here. If one had to pick a body of work that screamed “millennial” the loudest, his would be the go-to. So you’d think that searching his name on the alumni page would yield more than zero results.
There are two simple explanations for the lack of an official NYU Tao Lin endorsement. The simplest, first. Tao was caught shoplifting a pair of in-ear headphones from the NYU bookstore, from which he has since been banned (he is also banned from Whole Foods and American Apparel). He was recently arrested for violating his ban by buying iced coffee at Think. He wrote extensively on the experience, which likely clinched the feelings of animosity. The irony that the NYU bookstore sells Tao Lin’s novels has not been overlooked.
He puts NYU in an awkward situation, considering Richard Yates is easily his most acclaimed and best work to date. At some point, they’ll have to take official notice. That said, you have to filter him. Looking past the publicity stunts and prose gimmickry — he names his characters “Haley Joel Osment” and “Dakota Fanning” — the novel reaches a startling level of cross-platform (Gchat/IRL) emotional realism. It’s self-conscious, flashily minimal, and undoubtedly “hipster lit,” but it’s heartbreaking. Any hyperconnected NYU student who’s had some semblance of a quarter-life romantic crisis will relate. The narrator of Richard Yates — the “Tao” character — spends much of his time in Bobst. Reading the novel provokes some odd twinges of recognition — he describes the LL1 lounge in surprising detail, and much of dialogue occurs over Bobst’s broadband connection via Gchat. The explicit NYU references are the most telling:
“My mom saw a package from you and asked if you were a creep,” said Dakota Fanning on Gmail chat about a week later. “I said you were not a creep. I said you were a graduate of New York University.” Haley Joel Osment said the only purpose of going to New York University was so Dakota Fanning could now tell her mother he was not a creep, but a graduate of New York University.
This spoofing of the weight of the NYU name does everything but declare this education useless. But he is right, in part. The label “graduate of New York University” means nothing specific. It certainly doesn’t preclude creeps. A perennial John Sexton welcome week phrase goes something like “NYU is in and of the city.” This lumps us all together in the loosest possible way — we live in it, learn in it. Tao Lin occasionally removes pieces of the city and covertly places them in his bag without paying for them. On second thought there may never be a viable relationship there.
Richard Yates is out now. Tao Lin will be reading from the novel tonight at Spoonbill & Sugartown on Bedford Ave.