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Caleb Powell Interviews David Shields at Gulf Coast

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The last of my three interviews with David Shields came out today at Gulf Coast. Thanks goes to Hannah Rebecca Gamble, Interviews Editor, for working with me to prepare the final draft. Shields’ book, Reality Hunger, the primary topic of the interviews, turns out to be one of the more discussed books of 2010. My own take…I disagree with at least half of his views, some quite strongly, but…it’s all good.

Click to read review at Biblioklept

The book helped solidify, for me, why fiction is, if not the best, as good as any literary art in tackling reality. I wrote more than one unique review, including this at, as well as the interviews at The RumpusThe Quarterly Conversation, and Gulf Coast. That’s what a quality read does, it gets you thinking and keeps your attention.

Tao Lin vs. Albert Camus

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Comparing Tao Lin to Albert Camus is like comparing apples and orangutans. Not apples and oranges, my friends, as two sweet round fruits aren’t really that different. Would Camus spoof a cover of Time Magazine (or the French equivalent) and parody the article? Would Camus solicit a James Frey type boob to blurb his book? Would Camus host a contest, and then enter the contest under another name, win the contest, and pocket the money (Tao Lin Wins His Own Contest Refuses to Refund Money). No way, Albert Camus was too busy cursing human darkness, opposing the Nazi invasion of France, and trying to decipher war and horror in the twentieth century. Tao Lin is no idiot, but he gears down. Some call him an existentialist. Existentialist my ass, Tao Lin has created a new form: narcissentialism. And contrary to this JMWW reviewer’s opinion, Tao Lin ain’t no Camus.

Let’s compare two versions of The Stranger. First, the parody written by Tao Lin:

He’s not the richest or most famous. His characters don’t solve mysteries, have magical powers, or live in the future. But in his new novel, Richard Yates, Tao Lin shows us the way we live now.” “Early readers of Richard Yates have found that the book has a narcotic quality.” “(Lin) likes megamouth sharks, toy poodles and, somewhat jarringly, that ‘ocean sunfish are like hamsters but fish and a lot bigger.”

Ha ha ho ho. Now, here’s L’Étranger:

“I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained was to hope that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.”

Albert Camus: Smokes, helped originate existentialism, and is a Nobel Prize winning author. He thought and wrote about 20th century guilt, war, capital punishment, and how to face a world without god. He compressed volumes of thought into novels such as The Fall and The Stranger.

Tao Lin and Camus both use short sentences and few words, but Tao Lin is not really a minimalist. Ten pages of thought hidden in 202 pages of Richard Yates does not qualify.The existentialist hallmark is uncertainty in context of larger ideas, not simple uncertainty. Lin’s blog, persona, publicity stunts (he offered investors a percentage of future royalties for $2,000), all spur many young authors in North America to read, and this is good.  He has an affect, as “Taolicophants” love to imitate his prose, though his books are tedious.

Let’s contrast: Albert Camus was French but grew up in Algeria, his formative childhood memory is of his father’s reaction to attending an execution. He witnessed French colonialism in Algeria and the Nazi Occupation in France, and was a contemporary of Sartre. When Camus began to question Sartre’s leftist views regarding communism their friendship began to deteriorate, but Camus’s doubts about Marxism have been validated by history.  After a time as a journalist Camus devoted himself to literary pursuits, including drama, where he sought moral solutions within an indifferent universe. His death in 1960 by car accident cut short an important life.

Tao Lin = Narcissentialist. Shoplifts, eats delicious vegan food, writes about hamsters, preoccupied with self-marketing, drops names of Nobel Prize winning authors like the vile pro-Nazi Knut Hamsun, wrote a review of himself in The Stranger.

Tao Lin, born of Taiwanese parents, grew up on the East Coast of the USA, and makes his home in New York City. He writes about the dislocated confused suburban/urban dysfunctional pseudo-suffering of today’s youth, but probably has never suffered, and I’m talking the living-in-the-Sudan-suffering orbeaten-and-violated-by-your-stepfather suffering. Though Tao Lin’s fictional alter-egos irreverently mention they may as well commit suicide…there’s no evidence that Tao will die anytime soon.

Tao Lin ain’t Camus. There’s no parallel, it’s all perpendicular. Sure, Tao Lin drops names or provides Cliffs Notes summaries of Camus and other authors such as Beckett, Bukowski, and Sartre. Though it must be pointed out, as far as I know, only Taolicophants and not Tao Lin make the comparison.

Bottom line, Richard Yates reads like two hundred pages of nothing but conjunctions, prepositions, and punctuation marks peppered with celebrity names (Tao Lin’s next book?). Tao Lin will, in the end, get what he wants, attention. Nothing wrong with that, all writers crave attention, but my taste is more grooved to a writer who displays consideration for the reader and doesn’t pander to the superficial side of his fans…in other words, a writer who is not so goringly effin’ boring.

Related:  Tao Lin: American Dork – book review at

Tao Lin’s Richard Yates vs. the 2006 Dodge Caravan’s Owner’s Manual – at The Nervous Breakdown

Written by Caleb Powell

October 25, 2010 at 11:34 am

Rio Grande Review: Poem in the Form of Che

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The Spring Rio Grande Review is out with my poem/art/statement, if you will, about Che Guevara. Thus allow me one last post to put my views into context. Twenty years ago, in university, I had quite a different perspective of Che. He seemed an enigma, a revolutionary, and perhaps a hero. He received praise from the likes of Mandela, stood up against brutality and right-wing dictatorships, and dedicated his life to fighting for the oppressed.

And yet, as years went by, I came across deeds and words performed by the man that seemed, well, er…odious. Killing without asking questions. A simplified Marxist view of economy, and prejudicial hatred against classes. A parallel or two: The fuedal systems in China along with the corruption of the Kuomintang led to a backlash. Simply, what unfolded in Mao’s China or Stalin’s Russia in terms of human lives cost were examples of a very evil system being replaced by one far viler. Che, though never behind genocide, abhorred atrocity, but did not understand it. And for someone who became soldier, judge, and executioner, this is a lethal combo. I lived in Argentina. The left looks at Che as a hero, the right looks at him as a thug, but there are those who see him as simply a man who went too far, and ended his life as one more entity firing shots into bodies. I claim the latter opinion.

At any rate, my poem on the topic is out, published by UTEP’s literary magazine. The original poem is on the right. If, for some strange reason, you are in El Paso, you can pick up a copy for free. If not, you can buy one, shipping and handling included, for $8. Either way, click here for details.

Written by Caleb Powell

June 9, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Che vs. Pinochet: Who’s the Bigger Asshole?

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El juez Baltasar Garzón defendió en su momento para abrir la causa sobre los desaparecidos en España que el delito de “detención ilegal, sin dar razón del paradero, en el contexto de crímenes contra la humanidad” es “permanente”. – MADRID (AFP) Abril, 2010

Judge Baltasar Garzón defended the opening of a case against those who perpetrated the disappearances of civilians in Spain, saying that the crime of “illegal detention, without giving notice of the whereabouts of the missing, in the context of crimes against humanity” is “permanent.

In 1998 Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón issued a warrant for the arrest of Augusto Pinochet. (Good on Señor Garzón, may he kick the pants off his adversaries). I was in London at the time and wandered outside Parliament, and thus had the opportunity to talk to some Chileans.  They were demonstrating, voicing support for Garzón’s warrant.

The protesters were correct, of course, in their concerns. Pinochet’s victims have been without recourse. US support for Pinochet was a bloody shame, and the fact Pinochet was allowed some peace and semblance of diplomatic immunity is a travesty. Though Pinochet never stood trial, he is reviled, a foul stench in the pot of 20th Century saga. With the exception of dorks such as the derechistas, Pinochet is universally considered a goon…a murderous, slavering asshole. Yet why are some of the people that hate Pinochet often on the side of Che? These dipshits  wear Che T-shirts and post his image on their notebooks and bumpers. Ok, not all are dipshits…some are well-educated and possess intelligence that trumps mine. But the question still merits asking: Is Che a symbol for atrocity?

“Para enviar hombres al paredón de fusilamiento el poder judicial no necesita demostrar nada… Estos procedimientos son arcaicos y burgueses. ¡Esta es una revolución! Y un revolucionario se debe convertir en una máquina fría de asesinar motivado por el odio puro. Debemos crear la pedagogía del Paredón.” Ernesto Che Guevara cuando ordenó la ejecución del Coronel Rojas sin proceso judicial en 1959.

To send men to be shot by firing squad at The Wall, judicial power does not need to prove anything…these procedures are archaic and bourgeois. This is revolution! And revolution must transform itself into a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate. We must create the pedagogy of the Wall! – Che when he ordered the execution of Coronel Rojas without judicial process in 1959.

Che died a vile man, not a hero. In Cuba he presided over the arrest of over 200 prisoners incarcerated by the Castro regime. In a prison outside of Havana he signed off on executions without trial. Some of the prisoners were bystanders, guilt by association being their sole crime (Mao & Pol Pot honed these policies). He continued, becoming a fanatic, as he waged war in Latin America (he started out on a noble cause, and evolved into an executioner who only saw black and white…and damned straight, his foes were equally culpable and capable of atrocity).

Che’s T-shirts outsell Pinochet’s. Why? Crimes against humanity, whether committed by the right or left wing, remain crimes against humanity.


 (Nice Poster…but it’s Che Guevara!) ¡Viven Che y Pinochet, juntos en el infierno!

Written by Caleb Powell

May 2, 2010 at 5:52 am

Posted in Genocidal Maniac, Review

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Zyzzyva & The 12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark

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The phenomena of why Pollock and Rothko and Warhol et al garner legions of sycophants (I’m not saying anyone who likes this trio is a sycophant. Rather, I direct this comment to the tabloid media that pollutes the art world) fascinates me. I marvel and wonder what the heck in mind-boggling fumblebuck is going on…I look at nature and see a random and superior beauty, and then look at the amazing visions of the masters, and wonder why these other “artistes” are famous. Whatever happened to talent? Perhaps when an artist realizes their talent has limits they change their work ethic toward a concept and promotion. Chance seems to trump talent. An excellent take on this is the book The $12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark.

The Spring Zyzzyva  (thanks to editor Howard Junker) is out, and has published one of my works of “art” a spoofs on Jackson Pollock reminiscent of my other spoof published at the site Yankee Pot Roast.

If you’re on the West Coast pick up a copy of Zyzzyva, dammit! Also, check out this reaction to the poem at The Tottenville Review.

Narcissism, 1950



Written by Caleb Powell

April 15, 2010 at 2:45 pm

descant: When I Am Dictator

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When I Am Dictator, winner of the National Writers Association award for best short story, has been published by descant: Fort Worth’s Journal of Poetry and Fiction, the literary magazine of Texas Christian University.

When I Am Dictator

            In Paris in 1951 during a meeting of communists, Saloth Sar, a Cambodian man, told comrades:  I will control the ministers and I will see to it that they don’t deviate from the line fixed in the people’s interest by the central committee.  In 1976, when this man emerged as leader of the Khmer Rouge, he had changed his name to Pol Pot.

            Though I was no Karl Marx, I figured I could go further with less…

The stories in descant are excellent (no conflict of interest in this objective statement!), to read them along with When I Am Dictator, and to support literature, click here.

Written by Caleb Powell

September 10, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Review

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Monkeybicycle & Word Riot

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Two more works out in July. The poem Cao: An Etymology in Word Riot, and flash fiction Leaving Aisha in Monkeybicycle. See article on Monkeybicycle in The Stranger.

“Aisha and I paddled a canoe between willows at the edge of Lake Washington, amidst spring flowers pink and yellow. She described herself as a liberal Muslim. We fell in love; became engaged. Then she said we could not marry unless I converted. For it is haram. Not permitted in Islam. And so Aisha requested I go to mosque…” 

 Cào: An Etymology


Written by Caleb Powell

July 20, 2009 at 9:24 pm


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