Subterranean Technologies: Tan Lin, Pamela Lu, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Dorothy Wang, and Lucy Ives

by on Apr.27, 2012

Hey all, Triple Canopy’s Lucy Ives will be live-blogging our event at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop featuring Tan Lin, Pamela Lu, and Suejeun Juliette Lee (who Johannes quotes below). If you’re in NY, you still have time to make it. Details here. We’ll be back in an hour or so when the event starts. –Ken Chen


…and we are live!

Ken Chen has assumed the podium. Ken introduces himself and AAWW while brandishing a crepe-covered staff.

Ambient poetics: “All of our life is constantly a mishmash of … un-curated, found text.”

AAWW will launch three magazines very shortly. Exciting coverage of extreme hair and film. And (perhaps) Das Racist. And (and) Cathy Park Hong’s Engine Empire.

Ken begins to broach the topic of the reading: “…a kind of detritus language… .”

Sueyeun Juliette Lee: Up now. [Applause]

Juliette begins with a poem. “On Oct. 16 2006 … analysis of air samples … underground nuclear explosion … a magnitude of 4.2 … in Washington, White House … all the people of the country … .”

[Through the walls, vibration from bass/band rehearsing.]

“…muscular shock alloyed into a … event that brought happiness to our … if breath transforms water … .”

[Computer keys are very loud right now, too.]

“…was born into the system … what else stands against the DMC. A slow … no sign of emerging popular revolt.”

[Wine bottles clink.]

“I kind of love that there’s this base, ambient, subterranean coming through! I kind of feel like we should all take off our shoes!”

“…phase 7: the formation of new national leadership. Gnarly chaos … water: 130 square kilometers … .”

” … these frogmen that leap ashore … savagely mistaken I imagine how buildings collapse … crowds, fish.”

“17 years of age. Universal … .”

” … fear of losing one’s job … more suicides … looking back I think my body was not mine but the government’s … flag, flutter in the breeze.”

[Conclusion. Applause.]

Ken: “We hired a band to play upstairs and add some ambient poetics.”

Ken: The work of Tan Lin: “… a kind of manual about reading the book after the end of the book … “: Ken starts talking about what happens when you look at your phone or look at some wallpaper while cooking a steak. Ken is talking about contemporary reading. Now Ken is talking about how Tan Lin thinks about TV.

Ken is talking about high art and TV. How can we go beyond pastiche or, and/or, appropriation, in relation to the “strange, distracted texture of TV”?

Tan Lin comes to the podium. He is wearing a navy blue baseball cap and a button-down shirt. Tan talks about his aunts. He says that the “aunt” of his novel is a kind of “furniture” for him, what Raymond Williams calls “a structure of feeling.”

Tan Lin reads a section of prose in which there are Garfield decorations and TV watching occurs. There is some discussion of reception. There are game animals on TV. There is a female lion that has eaten a gazelle.

The “aunt” asks a riddle about “stool,” and the eyes of the gazelle are glassy. The aunt is not looking at the TV.

Death is either in the novel or it is not. It’s hard to tell. When the gazelle dies, it’s not clear whether or not something living has died or not.

Now there is a history of TV watching. The aunt’s TV watching is important. It has to do with war, cooking, furniture, conversation.

Emerson and Carlyle are also in the novel.

TV is boring but also it might be joyful? Don’t forget sex and sharks are on TV, as are people more experienced than you.

Competition on TV is very charming. It is like a kiss.

TV makes you think about cars. It’s time to change the channel!

The Boston Pops are in the novel.

Children are growing up. The TV is decorated with incense and doilies and the afore mentioned Garfields.

It’s difficult to remember the aunt. She keeps shifting into the form of the television, of the furniture. The narrator keeps remembering TV. He remembers TV as gentle. It is something reincarnated. It could be? It is re-runs. You don’t do anything when you turn the TV off, except that here the memory ends?

[Conclusion. Applause.]

Ken is introducing Pamela Lu. He is talking about new narrative. He is talking about books as a way to invent conceptual art projects.


Pamela Lu assumes the podium. “Hi.”

“I’m going to read a bit from Ambient Parking Lot.” Pamela talks about the idea of the Asian American, in her book and elsewhere: Place, technology, and expression. “Technology as a substitute for expression.” “I was going to say something about the automobile and immigration.” Pamela talks about the MoCA museum downtown. The motif of the automobile; a roadtrip; suburbia and the big city; Chinese Americans. “… thinking about the automobile and migration … .” “… a certain notion of progress … ultimately they settled in the suburbs, which is where I grew up. … I’m really interested in this move to the suburbs that my parents did and their investment in this ideal of American space … this belief that they had, this investment really served as a kind of comfort for them … the ambient noise of traffic and consumer capitalism.” The “convenience” of suburban space to the vehicle, not to the person. An alienation.

Pamela will read an excerpt from the chapter, “Amplifier.”

“…the parking lot cooperated … ”

Description of the noise, the music, “the lusciousness of infinite loop.” SUVs were present for the recording. Those who participated in the recording get together to discuss their success. They undertake research. They go to “major garage structures.” They study parking.

Sometimes you have to walk a long way from your car. Architects have thought about this. There is a tradition of sound in the city. “The big box superstore our stadium rock band.”

Buffet eating happens after parking. During the meal, the researchers discuss their composition. They later look around in shrubbery. There is a lot of life near offices. People in offices like the nation. A lot of people are probably thinking about money. But after the crisis, it becomes necessary to begin thinking about something else.

Terrorists did not announce their plans. The parking lot was also open to them.

A dance is performed in the parking lot. It is Butoh. The researchers continue their research. The researchers make use of a white utility van to perform a sort of mobile exegesis of the dance performance, which is on-going.

There is one very skilled dancer. Or perhaps the dancer is not the most skilled, but her performance is the most evocative. She uses a keypad to type in an appeal. “Due to heavy network traffic her call could not be completed at this time.”

What is the “range of audibility associated with stillness”?

An audience is not speaking. There is no light. The only sounds produced are those of alpha-numeric keys.

The stage death of the dancer has to be met (acknowledged) by the audience somehow. The audience witnesses the living performer become a thing. ” … a collective look backward … .”

[Conclusion. Applause.]

Ken introduces Dorothy Wang, who will lead a Q&A.

[Tan Lin pours a glass of red wine for the blogger.]

Dorothy Wang: “Is there such a thing as an Asian American avant-garde coterie?”

There are links to long thematic and formal concerns [Tan says]; Pamela: “There may be social formations going on … probably what I would agree with is that there is a sort of Asian American avant-garde reading or interpretation that might be applied to certain writers or groups of writers … a convergent evolution.”

Dorothy: “Is there a way in which the avant-garde is coded as white?” Dorothy gives the example of the way in which K. Goldsmith discusses Tan Lin in Uncreative Writing, as a writer especially interested in “identity.”

Pamela: “There is a division between the various ethnic studies for a good reason. … Creative writing departments are left unmarked, but there are some divisions leftover from the 80s and 90s, the culture wars. But I feel like people are not so hung up on that?”

Juliette: “I think that Kenneth Goldsmith is a very white writer. … I think it’s about interpretive practices. Asian American writers’ names signify in a certain way, to begin with.”

Tan discusses his own reaction to “what Dorothy’s calling ‘the white avant-garde.'” “It was very hard to sort of speak sincerely for a long time. … An explicit concern of mine is softening certain conceptual poetics.”

Dorothy proposes that the way that irony works in the readers’ writing is of interest.

Tan: “The attempt was really to do sincerity. “Basically: Un-ironic. The gesture was definitely to be un-ironic, whatever that may be.”

Pamela: Kleist’s essay on the marionette theater. The necessity of entering paradise by the back door, after having traveled around the world.

Juliette: “There’s this return. It’s not a marketable kind of sincerity. I find that a very intelligent way to put claims in there.”

Tan: “I wanted to explore … half-formed feelings. This really comes back to Raymond Williams, the sort of structure of feeling.” An interest in the half-glimpsed. Tan says that he is not very interested in “ideologies” as a place to work from.

Dorothy: What is the place of emotion in the work of Asian American writers? The question of the affect of displacement, trauma, history.

Tan: “In high school I had this nickname, they called me ‘Ho Chi Lin.’ … but I didn’t live my life as a traumatized person. Yet I’m interested in these half-formed, subterranean emotions.” The invented aunt does not process emotion. “She’s a shallow person. She’s a piece of furniture.”

Dorothy: “Yes. I didn’t think it’s about thematizing traumatic experience. It’s about a sort of flatness.”

Tan: “Childhood sort of disappears in these kinds of ways. My childhood is mostly sort of forgotten. It was uneventful. I was playing with these ideas of the sort of flattened childhood in general, not these ideas of trauma as related to race.”

Juliette: “I’m not sure about this stereotype of  inscrutability. We may have many different models.” The trauma of living in contemporary America is not necessarily particular to the Asian American experience. “The kind of like eruptive-ness … there are certain things about Asian American identity that might seem to accrue these interpretations more, but I don’t think it’s necessarily specific to race.”

Pamela: “I think it’s interesting to go far into the robotic, I mean, personally. … I went to the MoMA/PS1, and they’re having this Kraftwerk exhibition. They fully go into the android, how it touches on various aspects of human existence.”

Dorothy: Let’s revise this question. The story about Williams College, that the reason that Williams [the Berkshires] does not have a department of Asian American studies is that it was not “fought for.” A stereotype of passivity.

Juliette: “To have a sort of Asian American sensibility you have to be sort of initiated into that politically.”

Pamela: “For myself, I couldn’t with all honesty sort of claim an angry political position, at my base, as opposed to say, if I was, African American, if I was working class, if I was working class Latino, I think all movements need to have a sort of an edge, an edge of anger. I think of my own background as being from the suburbs, I can’t claim that link to historical oppression. Like Juliette, I ‘ve been sort of ushered into a sort of political consciousness. The Asian American political consciousness is sort of constructed, because all sorts of positions and structures have to be united. So there could be a danger of a kind of political flattening out that could come from an attempt to come to a sort of pan Asian political consciousness.”

Dorothy: Is there danger of reading ambient writing as depoliticized?

Pamela: Mine is not an explicit critique. My version of the ambient is an implied sort of subversiveness.

Tan: Ambience raises issues about group affect in general. A question about how affect is transmitted in a social way. “I think there is a critique in the ambient position.”

Juliette: When you really start listening and inquiring into ambience, something starts to emerge.

Tan: There’s room for at least stepping back.

Pamela: About reading Juliette’s book: I was getting the sense that “she’s trying to walk toward a mystery. … There’s this sense in which she has to just collect what’s in the air. Short of actually going to a place, you have to just sort of collect emanation from the air. Something that’s incarnation but not articulate yet.

[Discussion is opened up to the audience.]

Cathy Park Hong: A question about ambient writing and music as something very much a part of the contemporary. How can technology be incorporated into writing , perhaps through procedural work or otherwise?

Pamela: Human = animal + technology; a working thesis. “I haven’t gone deep into the robot. I’m not sure, but I think it’s an interesting project for somebody.” [Laughter]

Tan: Studies of television he’s been reading. Let’s think about TV-watching behavior, a sociology of TV. How TV is tied up with institutional norms, yet many people who watch TV use it creatively, “… it’s sort of an object that’s used in certain types of identity formation.” Other technologies might be understood in this way, as “… a part of a process of forming an identity.”

Juliette: “I’m not a technophobe or a technophile.” “Any kind of creature that’s social will have technologies.” Another question to turn to is, beyond identity formation, nation formation and television.

New question: Tan’s use of imagery (b&w)  in Insomnia and the Aunt, both documentary and cultural.

Tan: “The past event is regarded as this sort of highly reified construct.” The aunt dies, but she has no historical component, so she has to be reconstructed. “In this case the aunt is clearly sort of invented, so I have to go to the internet to create her past, to recreate her past.” ” … a contrast with a sort of official historiography.” “The history part is faked, and the pop-cultural elements are supposed to be sort of real, but they’re all sort of invented.”


2 comments for this entry:
  1. Patrick

    This was great. Thanks for blogging this event. I would love it if a transcript or audio file emerged at some point!

  2. Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

    Wow Lucy—

    I wuv fast takes.