So Tao Lin "accidentally" called me a faggot the other day. Or maybe his friend Zachary German called me a faggot, or maybe they both did.
I guess last week Tao and Zachary German said on their blogs that German's book was being published by FSG, which is clearly a put-on if you know that Tao regularly says his books/stories are being published by "corporate" magazines and presses when they aren't. (This is what Zachary German's writing is like.) But a writer from Ohio who neither of us knew, this fellow Eric (I know him a bit now from emailing, and he seems thoughtful, reasonable, and intelligent), read it and wrote a baffled/unimpressed post on his blog, believing the FSG claim to be true (as did many other readers, apparently). Tao linked to that post, so his friends went to Eric's site and "defended" him and German, saying "eat a dick" and calling him a fag and asking how dare he criticize geniuses.
I just read a little of that right before going to a reading at Melville House where Tao was in the lineup--I hadn't seen him in maybe six months. Weirdly, he read a story with me in it as a character, incorporating my emails and gmail chats. Afterward I finished reading the comments and they seemed so exasperatingly stupid/ugly that I posted, "Judgments of quality aside, many people posting here in "defense" of Tao could stand to be a lot less obnoxious about it..." A couple minutes later--although I didn't see it until the next afternoon--Zachary German wrote, "you are a faggot...you have sex with other gay men like yourself" on my blog, and then "syke."
On Eric's blog, Tao said, "i don't approve of calling people faggots..." When I noted that his friend Zachary German had just called me a faggot, Tao said, "he typed that as a 'joke' just to show me on the screen then i accidentally pushed 'enter' or something." Accidentally! I'm laughing.
Anyway--what he means but isn't capable of saying, I think, is that he intended to do it at the time, but then felt stupid. The word "faggot" doesn't insult me in its literal meaning--would anyone in a modern liberal city be ashamed of being gay?--and I'm not hypersensitive to it (I've uttered it in my life, although never in a fight or argument), but the intention of using the word to someone's "face" in this way is clearly to insult/be aggressive toward them and the explanation of it as an accident takes the whole thing into the more absurd and vaguely comic zone of passive-aggression. *
*He was passive-aggressive when we were roommates, too, especially when it came to women. That is, he actually tried to harm my relationships. An example: around the time he moved in, I was seeing this woman who lived in the building. That ended, and then I started dating someone else, EJ. Much later she told me that early in the relationship we were at a reading and I got up from the table for a second. Tao took the opportunity to ask her, "Are you the one who lives in our building?" Now, he had met her before and knew exactly who she was and how I knew her. A different kind of weird thing--sometime before that, I once went to a reading with a woman, LA, who I was seeing at the time. Tao was there. He talked to LA for maybe a couple minutes. He seemed withdrawn as always and maybe intimidated (she was really tall and, well, kind of intimidating). Then LA and I left. Much later, I read his novel EEE, which I liked but which contains a scene based on that evening. The LA character is called "Lelu" and I'm called "Sean" and Tao is called "Andrew." As Tao wrote it, Sean is quickly disposed of and then Andrew and Lelu have a long, detailed conversation and go out for dinner with friends. Which, for obvious reasons, is a little weird.
He was also, I think, developing his "philosophy of life" during this time. His relativistic, "there is no good or bad and saying one piece of art is better than another piece of art is the same as racism" philosophy seems to come from impulses similar to those that lead to passive-aggression. He can't tolerate criticism so he constructs an elaborate philosophical justification for dismissing all criticism. He wants to publish people's emails, which he knows they'll consider a betrayal, on his blog so he claims that no information should ever be private because the absence of privacy reduces pain and suffering in the world. He wants his internet friends to attack people who don't like his writing, so he fumbles for philosophical defenses of their attacks.