I Hate You Muumuu House

Last Friday, HTMLGiant published a guest post from Jordan Castro on more or less Muumuu House. While, not definitive (Jordan Castro keeps on saying that it is not), it's a good summary of what Blake Butler (that's what BB stands for, right?) calls "absurdist emo."

Among what defines the works of Jordan Castro (aka Tao Lin, Jr), Tao Lin (aka Tao Lin, Sr), Megan Boyle (Tao Lin as a girl), and Noah Cicero (Tao Lin as Noah Cicero), among others like them are:

  • a lack of rhetoric, or claiming that their work has "no rhetoric":

In “mainstream culture” and in all “subcultures” that I know of, there exists a large degree of rhetoric and external, abstract “purpose” that drives the “core” of [said cultures’] existence.  In “mainstream culture” it is usually something like money, God, family, society, success or [something else].  In other cultures it is usually something like [form of government or lack thereof], anti-[something], pro-[something] or [something else].
This rhetoric and “purpose,” in my view, “stems from” the belief that there is an inherent, universal “right,” “wrong,” “good” and “bad,” and invariably contains paradoxes and contradictions that are not addressed and/or are justified in some way within [said culture].  Things are assumed and rules are applied.
I honestly feel that this is not the case with Muumuu House.

  • detachment:

Due to certain worldviews (or lack thereof) and [other things], our “emotional scope,” or range of emotions, while fundamentally similar to that of most people, I think, is significantly less extreme, “for the most part,” due to an almost constant state of detachment from external reality

  • depression
  • loneliness
  • alienation

Castro lays these out as unique attributes of the Muumuu House literary circle.

On Sunday (who blogs on Sunday?), Kyle Minor wrote a response:

Karen woke around 1:30 pm and saw no emails from Lettie. She made a Kombucha. She lay on her couch and stared at her iPad. She brushed her teeth and put on her muumuu and opened the Writer file of her catalog copy. She looked at her Tumblr. About an hour later it was raining. She uploaded jpegs to her Etsy store. She ate raw squares of tofu. She tried to break into Lettie’s Chase online banking account, but she could not guess the password. She stretched her calves. “Nice comment, Dad,” she mocked the Internet commenter deadgod on the website later in the day. “bro,” she typed. “sweet,” she fingered. Then she slept and ate. Then she thought about her neighbor. Then she logged into her computer. 737 pseudonyms had commented on her comment to deadgod. Several of them said “street” or “legit.” She checked her Etsy store. Some people had bought the bracelets she had made out of paper and string. A car idled outside her window. She could hear the radio. It said: “700 people died this afternoon in Gaza, Afghanistan, New Zealand, and Egypt. Unemployment rates are down because people have been out of jobs too long to be counted as unemployed. Civil War will break out tomorrow in Libya and many people will die. 73 babies were slaughtered this morning in the Sudan. Haiti has allowed the two worst butchers of recent history back into the country in a time of great instability. In Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Jersey, the rights of working people are being systematically destroyed as part of a nationwide effort by two rich industrialist brothers who sit on the boards of major cancer research institutes while trying their best to keep formaldehyde from being labeled a carcinogen because they make over a billion dollars a year from its unrestricted manufacture.” Karen shrugged. Karen ate some cereal. She called Lettie and said let’s go walk on some railroad tracks. Later, Lettie said, “We should have sex.” Karen said, “Okay.” They kissed and moved around a lot. Later, Lettie said, “I feel confused.” “I feel okay, or something,” Karen said. They looked up at the sky. There were a normal amount of clouds. Karen looked at them with a neutral facial expression.

While literary circles are nothing new (think Bloomsbury Group and Violet Quill), and usually serve only to help promote the people in it as part of some self-proclaimed movement, what I find the most annoying about Muumuu House (and Castro's piece) is that they seem to have no foot hold in the context of their writing. Also, their writing really bland (have you read any of their stuff?).

In terms of Castro's outline, he's horribly wrong.

The "No rhetoric" point is nearly impossible and his use of the word "rhetoric" is the same way politicians who claim their opponent is all "rhetoric." Yet rhetoric is writing is impossible to ignore. Rhetoric, simply, is words and how we use words. By definition, as a writer, you cannot escape rhetoric.

By further claiming attributes such as depression, loneliness, and alienation as part of their work (as something perhaps unique to their work), Castro clearly negates his first argument that emo absurdism has no meaning (no rhetoric). Rather, by staking claim in these, he's clearly pointing to something that others have analyzed as part of their work. Many, for example, see the work of Tao Lin as commentary on the boredom of the internet generation (I'm paraphrasing, but have no doubt that people have said things to stuff to this affect). Even if a writer claims to have no meaning, s/he has meaning because once the work is given to readers, they have no control over meaning: meaning is not theirs to define, rather the readers'.

Additionally, by laying claim to these particular aspects of their writing, Castro falsely stake claims on such attributes as something unique all together for writers at Muumuu House. Yet this weekend I couldn't help but wanting to write "I am Edna Pontellier" (even though I didn't [long story short: had a huge fight with the boyfriend]). Would Kate Chopin belong to Muumuu House having written of depression and isolation? (Arguably, she's a step towards the so-called realism of Muumuu House, but I personally don't think she comes close, and that's a compliment for Chopin).

And as Minor points out in his satire post:  Muumuu House writers are a young generation of college educated pseudoliberals who don't care for much. Muumuu House writers are hipster who live in cities and are vegetarian because they think it's cool. They spend time on the internet because they are the internet generation. This has brought them acclaim because they reflect this. (I would cite examples from their work, but I've sold all their books to the used bookstore after reading them...) Yet, do they reflect all this that age cohort? Hipsterism, including the literature, has always been about style. By paying attention to them, many are missing the bigger picture.

Mainly, I don't like them because there's no joy in reading Muumuu House. They're an insult: socially as well as to literature in general.

What I mean is: I don't like you Muumuu House.

But it would interesting to see the works of these writers once they're older. Almost.


  1. Eric,

    I don't think that "Muumuu House writers are a young generation of college educated pseudoliberals who don't care for much." I wrote the parody piece to open up a conversation about the aesthetic, and Tao responded kindly. Here is a summary of what we discussed:

    I have spent time with Tao and some of the other writers here, and they are decent people. I think Tao is an especially talented writer. Our disagreement is about a few aesthetic issues and a few philosophical issues.

    Kyle Minor

  2. I project...a lot...

    I haven't read the conversation at HTML Giant (the blog post was scheduled, I was asleep by the time this was up), but will.

    What struck me the most from your post is "the radio" scene, where everything is happening, but the character doesn't care. That's where I'm coming from (my background is not in literature, but sociology and activism). That's how I read it.

    Also, the aesthetic annoys me. I don't know Tao, but while I know he knows what he's doing (he's talented in that sense), that doesn't make it enjoyable to read.