Tan Lin’s Insomnia and the Aunt
…was published in the spring of 2011 as a limited edition artist’s book, with covers designed and letterpress printed by Rebecca Cooling-Mallard and interior composition by Patrick Durgin. As well as gaining notice from, among others, Brooklyn Rail’s artist’s books columnist, and featuring with Printed Matter, the world’s preeminent dealer of publications by artists, Insomnia and the Aunt was then known mainly to an equally “limited edition” of literati. Yet it was nominated for the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association Award in the summer and enthusiastically lauded in literary journals, such as Constant Critic. Now the book is being re-printed and re-launched as a deluxe paperback book suitable for the trade, libraries, and a general audience of readers. The book uniquely yokes avant-garde risk and biographical intrigue. It is poignant, arch, challenging, and accessible, all at once. Alongside its recent adjunct, the online “Patio and the Index,” Insomnia and the Aunt ushers in a new form of essay-narrative-poem: an “ambient novel.” In Lin’s increasingly influential oeuvre, it extends a project he dubs “ambient stylistics” into the evolving category of literary nonfiction, i.e. “life writing.”
…is an ambient novel composed of black and white photographs, postcards, Google reverse searches, letters, appendices, an index to an imaginary novel, re-runs and footnotes. The aunt in question can’t sleep. She runs a motel in the Pacific Northwest. She likes watching Conan O’Brien late at night. She may be the narrator’s aunt or she may be an emanation of a TV set. Structured like everybody’s scrapbook, and blending fiction with non-fictional events, Insomnia and the Aunt is about identities taken and given up, and about the passions of an immigrant life, rebroadcast as furniture. Ostensibly about a young man’s disintegrating memory of his most fascinating relative, or potentially a conceptualist take on immigrant literature, it is probably just a treatment for a prime-time event that, because no one sleeps in motels, lasts into the late night and daytime slots.
…is one among many works. Tan Lin is the author of Lotion Bullwhip Giraffe, BlipSoak01, Ambience is a Novel with a Logo, Heath (Plagiarism/Outsource), 7 Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking, and Heath Course Pak. His work has appeared in numerous journals including Conjunctions, Artforum, Cabinet, New York Times Book Review, Art in America, and Purple. His video, theatrical and LCD work have been shown at the Marianne Boesky Gallery, Yale Art Museum, Sophienholm Museum (Copenhagen), Ontological Hysterical Theatre, and as part of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Soundcheck Series. Lin is the recipient of a Getty Distinguished Scholar Grant for 2004-2005 and a Warhol Foundation/Creative Capital Arts Writing Grant to complete a book-length study of the writings of Andy Warhol. He has taught at the University of Virginia and Cal Arts, and currently teaches creative writing at New Jersey City University.