One Version of ‘One Version of Terence McKenna’s Life,’ by Tao Lin
The public story of Terence McKenna’s life—in my view, and by my estimates—is a ~450-page book, which could be titled One Version of Terence McKenna’s Life. It’s composed of Terence’s memoir, True Hallucinations (1993), his essays “I Understand Philip K. Dick” and “Among Ayahuasqueros,” certain sentences and anecdotes in dozens of his interviews and talks, and ~15% of The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss - My Life with Terence McKenna (2012) by Dennis McKenna, Terence’s younger brother by four years.
In a lecture called “Surfing Finnegan’s Wake,” Terence referred to a book of literary criticism that told James Joyce’s 656-page novel, Finnegans Wake (1939), in a one-page version, a ten-page version, and a 200-page version. The following biography (which to some degree presupposes knowledge of Terence McKenna’s Memes) is my eight-page, fractal-inflected, short-story-esque version of One Version of Terence McKenna’s Life.
The world which we perceive is a tiny fraction of the world which we canperceive, which is a tiny fraction of the perceivable world. – Terence McKenna, 1987. [“Understanding and Imagination in the Light of Nature”]
1. Paonia, Colorado (1946-1962)
Terence Kemp McKenna was born on November 16, 1946, in “a Colorado cattle and coal-mining town of 1,500 people named Paonia,” he said in an interview in 1993. He elaborated:
They wanted to name it Peony but didn’t know how to spell it. In your last year of high school, you got your girlfriend pregnant, married her, and went to work in the coalmines. An intellectual was someone who read TIME.
David Shapiro Isn’t Much Use to Anyone
David Shapiro and his Tumblr Pitchfork Reviews Reviews once felt “big on the internet.” Roughly five years ago, Shapiro—then fresh out of college with a shitty job and some self-esteem issues—started writing meta-reviews of the music reviews published on Pitchfork each morning. As he commuted to a conservative clerical gig, he’d frantically type out ranting but sharp essays on his Blackberry memo pad (sans-capitalizations and with few paragraph breaks), deconstructing the music critics’ arguments and logic, and even commending certain reviews a “Best New Review” tag—a play on Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” symbol of indie gold status. From his office bathroom, he’d often write colloquial personal essays in the afternoon about his relationship with music, which are the only remaining fossils of his site today.
The website got very popular, earning Shapiro over 100,000 followers, writing gigs at The Wall Street Journal, Interview Magazine, and The New Yorker, as well as a profile of his Tumblr in The New York Times. Shortly after he stopped posting on Pitchfork Reviews Reviews, he wrote a screenplay and a novel, both which sold and made it out of production limbo. Despite the success, Shapiro has sworn off writing (save the occasional New Yorker piece), and has since finished most of law school and now works at a white-collar firm in Manhattan.
His new book, You’re Not Much Use To Anyone, which comes out later this month, is a semi-autobiographical account of Shapiro’s life right out of college. It details the creation of Pitchfork Reviews Reviews and what was going on in his life at a time when he was especially insecure and looking for a form of authority and influence.
The book’s main character, David, is both anxious and hyper-analytical—fanatical with trifling metrics of success like how many Internet followers he has, or ways his life doesn’t compare to the lives of Pitchfork writers he both idealizes and envies. So even though his Tumblr is just a Tumblr, he feels validated and important when people he was once infatuated with start paying attention to his thoughts and ideas.
On a surface level, You’re Not Much Use To Anyone, sounds nominal: a physical book about a Tumblr about a music reviews website. But the story is a punchy and sometimes poignant read for any young person trying to figure out how he can become significant or simply noticeable to the people he/she admires. Over the course of a boozy, four-hour interview, we talked about his book being “almost desperate” to get you to finish it, feeling guilty about writing a semi-factual story about friends who didn’t sign up for being characters, and on his relationship with Pitchfork today.
VICE: The inspiration for your Tumblr and writing came from an unlikely source, but can you tell me about the actual inspiration for this book?
David Shapiro: I was seeing this girl who was working on a novel and she wouldn’t tell me anything about it. I felt a little resentful that she wouldn’t share it. Later, she broke up with me. And I thought, what better way to get back at her then to write a book myself? It was months after I stopped posting on Pitchfork Reviews Reviews. I refilled my prescription for anti-anxiety medication prescription and wrote a draft in a week.
This must have been insane to pitch to a publisher. It’s a physical book about a meta-Tumblr. How would you describe it to someone with zero context?
[Laughs] I still don’t even know how to describe it. I don’t know how to talk about it. I don’t have an elevator pitch. It’s a book about a blog about a popular music reviews website—after a certain point of shopping it around to publishers, I realized it was better to stay quiet during meetings and let my agent talk.
To me, I mean, if you read the book, in many ways, Pitchfork is not the focus.
Definitely. You could say Pitchfork is incidental. In another time, it would have been… I don’t know, like a car a magazine? It could have been written about any fountain of authority.
That’s what I found really interesting. In a lot of ways, your book details the rise of social media as a platform for anyone to assert their opinion and influence.
Yeah, or throw rocks at the throne.
Read the whole interview
The Tao of Terence: Beyond “Existentialism”
I learned of Terence McKenna (1946-2000) on September 14, 2012, when I was 29 years old. It was the day after I had completed the main final draft of Taipei, my first book to include psychedelics and which ends with a scene in which a character wonders if he has died after eating psilocybin mushrooms. I was in my room, zombielike and depressed after a period of time embodying a “whatever it takes” attitude regarding amphetamine use and completing my book. I had somewhat randomly clicked a YouTube video in which Joe Rogan (whom I was vaguely aware of as the host of Fear Factor, the TV show, a long time ago) was aggressively, excitedly talking about DMT, a neurotransmitter-like, illegal, psychedelic compound found in human (and other animal) brains and in at least ~50 species of plants worldwide. I did not have firsthand experience with DMT at the time, and had only read about it online.
At one point Joe Rogan began referencing someone in a “if you think I sound crazy, listen to this other guy” manner. He was talking about Terence McKenna, a person who would smoke DMT and, after ~15 seconds, without fail, find himself in an “unanticipated dimension” infested with “self-transforming machine elves”—also called “fractal elves,” “self-dribbling jeweled basketballs,” or “little self-transforming tykes”—that spoke English and a kind of visible language while jumping into and out of his body, “running around chirping and singing.” These entities, which McKenna described in a word as “zany,” were maybe either “dead people” in “an ecology of souls,” “human beings from the distant future,” or things with their own hopes, fears, problems that inhabit a parallel universe.
All the Books Blake Butler Read This Year
A Day in the Strait by Emmanuel Hocquard
The Obscene Madame D by Hilda Hilst
A close friend of one of my favorites, Clarice Lispector, Hilst isn’t a far cry from the fragmentary, mutative mindset of that relation. This brief 57-page meta-monologue is stuffed to the gills with ideas of madness from a mind you actually want to see run rampant. It gushes in a somehow more intimate and raving Beckett-ian mode. I wish there were a shitload of little shattering novellas like this everywhere, available in gas stations, as a drug.
The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe
Prostitution by Pierre Guyotat
The Use of Speech by Nathalie Sarraute
The Box Man by Kobo Abe
Reflections by Mark Insingel
The Moon’s Jaw by Rauan Klassnik
Tenth of December by George Saunders
Red Doc > by Anne Carson
Three by Ann Quin
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Castle to Castle by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Taipei by Tao Lin
No disappointment after the hype for this new novel from someone whom I’ve always looked to as an icon just ahead of the curve. Taipei takes everything Tao Lin was always astounding at—intricately bizarre observations of social contexts and the moment-to-moment shades of one’s emotions—to a newly effective depth. The book holds nothing back, fusing Wallace-sized sentence structures with Tao’s masterful minimalism, while somehow managing to infuse the mutative energy of the internet in what may end up being the most open look at the inner workings of a young person in whatever social era we’re currently trapped in.
The Face of Another by Kobo Abe
Read the whole list
What’s It Like to Be Tumblr Famous?
“How do you know if someone is kind of flirting with u thru Tumblr?” read an email forwarded to me by my friend group’s resident internet expert, about an acquaintance I’ll call “Heather.” Shortly thereafter Heather herself messaged me with a slew of questions so twee, we vow to share them only with each other and invisible audiences online.
Her email elaborated, “I have been rapidfire trading likes all day since I reblogged him on my Tumblr and now he’s following me.” I pause, my fingers poised over my keyboard, then respond, “so hip so dumb” and reassure her that “he prbly wants yr bod.” Hers is a problem meant to be as self-effacing as it is flattering: Hey, we’re 23.
When you’re 23 and you’re online, you speak in other people’s voices. Heather’s coquettishness on Gchat and Tumblr is a parody of girlishness, amplified through feigned ignorance (“kind of flirting”) and corrupted through artful typos, ploce, and paroxysms of lucidity.
Taipei Metro – Tao Lin’s iPhone Photos of Taipei
For the past couple of months, in celebration of last week’s release of Tao Lin’s latest novel, Taipei, we have been featuring a weekly selection of photos taken by the author during his recent trip to Taipei, Taiwan. While there, he took thousands of pictures with his iPhone, pictures which he has divided into albums titled things like “Taipei fashion,” “Taipei carbs,” “Taipei babies,” and “Taipei signs,” among others. In the final installment, Tao takes us inside Taipei’s extensive subway system.
Taipei is out now from Vintage and you can buy it here. To read an excerpt from the novel that we published a while back, click here.
Yesterday Tao told us via email that he has “confirmed probably 15 ppl plan on using it [the book launch] as a chance to get really fucked up” and “several ppl have planned to die from drugs that night also.”
Tao Lin’s Book Launch Is Tonight in Brooklyn
Taipei Public Art
For the past few weeks, in celebration of the forthcoming release of Tao Lin’s latest novel, Taipei, we have been featuring a weekly selection of photos taken by the author during his recent trip to Taipei, Taiwan. While there, he took thousands of pictures with his iPhone, pictures which he has divided into albums titled things like “Taipei fashion,” “Taipei carbs,” “Taipei babies,” and “Taipei animals,” among others. In this selection, Tao shares some of the great public art around Taipei. He lets the photos speak for themselves.
Taipei will be released on June 4 from Vintage and is available for pre-order now. To read an early excerpt from the novel that we published yesterday, click here.
It’s too big to load on tumblr/we can’t really figure it out, but you can view it here (and also read an excerpt).