Tom Beckett

A Note on Heath Course Pak by Tan Lin

Tan Lin
$17.95; 4.75 x 8;
128 pgs.
ISBN 978-1933996-27-1
Counterpath Press

In Otoliths 14 Thomas Fink reviewed Tan Lin’s plagiarism/outsource. Tan Lin’s “Plagiarism: A Response to Thomas Fink” appeared in the same issue. Additionally, in Galatea Resurrects #12, there is an interview with Lin conducted by Chris Alexander, Kristen Gallagher and Gordon Tapper which deals explicitly with plagiarism/outsource. For a variety of reasons, I can think of no better starting points for thinking critically about Lin’s project than the sources just noted. If possible, please start with these texts before coming along on this brief journey with me. Because I’m not going to recapitulate those pieces for this context.

Context. Now that’s a word worth mulling over and returning to in a bit.

Heath Course Pak is the revised second edition of plagiarism/outsource. The major difference between the two editions being the addition of the interview with Lin mentioned earlier. Thomas Fink’s succinct description of the earlier book’s content is still applicable to Heath:
“In plagiarism/outsource Tan Lin presents a massive accumulation of language and graphics from diverse sources, nearly all available from the Web, including commercial ads (i.e. Jackie Chan hawking green tea mix), information for theatre programs at the Museum of Modern Art, blog, RSS, Facebook, and MySpace news about and reactions to the 2008 death of Australian actor Heath Ledger, material pertaining to the Gutenberg Project’s online version of Samuel Pepys Diary, and bits of academic articles. There are corporate logos, pictures of the drug Ecstasy, and a great deal of print common to internet platforms (and not books of poetry). Lin’s eight students in an Asian-American Writer’s Workshop are listed on the back cover, presumably as co-authors, and index cards with their personal information are reproduced, along with a few other references to some of them.”
Still thinking about context? I know I am. And I suspect that context is the virtual subject of Heath and of Lin’s overall project as a textual artist. The social contexts of reading, that is. Lin’s book projects are about the varying ways in which attention is fed and contextualized in the age of the internet.

Heath is comprised of appropriations, mostly from the web. It is not a “unified” work of art. It doesn’t progress as it unfolds. There is no sustained elevation of style in a classic sense. Its language is “gray” in the way of “assembly languages, source codes, and/or compiling languages, etc.—something in a dynamic processing environment” (Interview). Heath will, for many readers, be conceptually interesting but boring as a reading experience. For many more, I suspect, it will be thoroughly boring (on all levels). Lin seems OK with this: “…I’ve been interested in boredom as it relates to everyday reading practices for quite some time” (Plagiarism: A Response to Thomas Fink).

How one feels about the issues raised by Tan Lin’s work often comes down to how one is oriented toward what Roland Barthes called The Pleasure of the Text. Do texts merely exist, like water within water, in a swirl of numbers—an all pervasive sea of ones and ohs? Or is writing and reading, like all human intercourse, more than the sum of its codes?

Tom Beckett lives and writes in Kent, Ohio.
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