Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
reviewed by Ben Mirov
I was drinking beer with my friend, and I told her I liked Tao Lin's writing, and she said, "Tao Lin is the Jessica Simpson of poetry." I think this is a good critical statement to make about Tao Lin's new book. Many of the poems in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are very similar to the work of Jessica Simpson. The poems address a range of subjects from love and death to dietary choices and ugly fish. Most of the poems obliquely offer an ethical point of view. Many Jessica Simpson songs also offer an ethical point of view. For example, here are some lyrics from "Push Your Tush" by Jessica Simpson in which a moral point of view or system of values is subtly implied:
All these farm boys ya wanta se somethin slick Girls turn your hips like a joystick Gotta do the round house but don't move it too quick Ya wanta impress a hick Then make it go tick tick tick tick tick
The narrator believes an agrarian social structure and an emphasis on promiscuity and fornication are both desirable values. The simile "turn your hips like a joystick," reinforces the previous statement by comparing a woman's body to a tool used for entertainment purposes. Notice that the line does not read, "turn your hips like a pen writing your innermost feelings," or "turn your hips like a woman who enjoys monogamy." In these lines there is a clear effort to establish a matrix of values. Now here are some lines from a Tao Lin poem called "room night":
i held the cruelty free soap to my arm and moved my arm in various directions a kind of meat eating liberal was making me move my body that was the day i argued against publicly owned companies on my blog (…)
These lines also attempt to define a system of values. The narrator's use of "cruelty free soap," is a reaction to or against "a kind of meat eating liberal". Nuanced political contradictions between "meat eating" and "liberal" have caused the narrator to feel dirty in both a figurative and literal sense. In order to rid himself of this dirty feeling, he must apply the "cruelty free soap". The following lines, "that was the day i argued against publicly owned companies / on my blog (...)" puts the narrator's values in opposition to traditional capitalistic business structures. In these lines there is a clear effort to establish a system of values in favor of hygiene, a primarily vegan or vegetarian diet and probably communism.
Despite the apparent similarities between Jessica Simpson and Tao Lin, there are also nuanced differences between the two artists. Jessica Simpson's values, which can be characterized as "sexy populism," are appropriate to her simple verse / chorus / verse / chorus structure, and the wide-ranging appeal of her sexy subject matter. Ostensibly, Jessica Simpson's aesthetic choices support her beliefs that provincial living and making it go "tick tick tick" are both desirable sociopolitical values. Tao Lin's values in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which can be characterized as "unsexy individualism," are similarly reinforced by a set of aesthetic choices. Many of the poems in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy do not have titles. Those poems with titles have long, unwieldy ones or terse self-evident ones. Many poems recycle their lines from other poems in the collection. The tone of most of the poems can be characterized as a flat affect. These choices cohere into an aesthetic argument that the subject matter of the poems is very unsexy and probably will not appeal to most of the people living in Ohio or frequent readers of publications such as Men's Health, Cosmopolitan and/or Teen People.
By comparing Tao Lin and Jessica Simpson, it should be clear that sexy populism is a more successful, and therefore lucrative, system of values than unsexy individualism. This is evident in the perceived incomes of both Tao Lin (who lives in a multiple tenant apartment in Brooklyn, New York) and Jessica Simpson (who dates Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys). If Tao Lin would like to sell more books, he should try to be more of a sexy populist. He could do this by appealing to people in rural farming communities and or people who enjoy frequent ephemeral social interactions and popular forms media. One suggestion would be to create a monthly periodical called Tao!. Much like Oprah Winfrey's well-known publication O, Tao! could feature various articles about Tao Lin's beliefs, favorite books, and dietary and hygiene habits. Other possible names for Tao Lin's publications: All About Tao, Tao Now, and Tao of Tao. If Tao Lin were to do this, people who don't like his writing would like his writing and he would be rich.