Tan Lin’s “The Patio and the Index”

Snap 2013-09-16 at 08.18.10

During next week’s class (on Sept 23) we’ll be talking about Tan Lin’s e-novella “The Patio and the Index.”  I want you to write a brief comment (approximately 150 words) to this post as a way of preparing for our class discussion; please do this by 5pm on Sept 22nd.  Here are some questions that you might want to answer in your comments: What is the relationship between image and text in this piece?  In what ways does Lin’s composition draw on both print and digital sources?  What do you make of this piece’s layout?  How does Lin present “Asianness,” “Chineseness,” and/or “Americanness”?  How does Lin treat memory?  How does the index work?  What is the tone of this piece of writing?  How would you categorize it in terms of literary genre?  How do you make sense of the title in relation to the subtitles? Feel free to pose your own questions in your comment–and you’re encouraged, of course, to respond to the comments of your peers.


17 thoughts on “Tan Lin’s “The Patio and the Index”

  1. The images add to the text in the piece by creating a visual for what is being said. For example, the author had a map of all his father’s projects that went along with the description of the each of the projects. Lin also relies on web searches that highlight key words such as the three searches on happiness and recovery located next to the hammer and looping shears. However, he also uses print articles and ads as well as the print of the novel itself. Lin presents “Americanness” when talking about the stores and products brought at Buckeyes Mart and Murphy’s Mart. The family almost buys their American identity by purchasing CDs such as “Beatle Mania” and tv. However, their Asianness and Chineseness still remains in the family’s language barriers and the creations their father makes. The index works in two ways. The first way being how the different stages in the author’s lifetime as well his fathers. The second is the index of happiness within the author’s family. The tone of the piece is a bit melancholy yet reminiscent as the author describes how misplaced yet still happy his family is. This piece is autobiographical because the author speaks of his lifetime and the events that occur within it. – Nicole Klock

  2. I’d have had a really tough time getting through this piece if not for two reasons. The first is the usage of images to flesh out the text by adding new perspective. My two favorite images were the album collection Lin owned as a teenager (several of these albums, especially Exile on Main St. and The Talking Heads: 77 are overwhelmingly American in texture, subtly expanding on Lin’s description of the strong American cultural influences of his childhood), and the pictures of the Chinese shack from Lin’s father’s childhood, which I felt better inspired the “feel” of the run-down shack than text. The second reason I enjoyed the text was the dry, whimsical humor (“A garden is just a garden inside another garden, but my father mainly got this backward”), which almost seems out of place in a story that can be described as being about a dysfunctional family with focus on the drug-using, depressive father. -Julian K

  3. Lin wrote this piece to describe reminisce about when he was a child, his family life, and most particularly about his father. The layout of the work is different than a “normal” internet selection. As opposed to scrolling up and down, the reader scrolls right and left. This style appealed to me because it resembled the layout of a printed book, a type of literature I am more familiar with than digital literature. However, at times this layout confused me. It took me a few minutes to get used to the layout. I would scroll left anticipating everything I had read would leave the page, leaving me with a new part to read, but instead only the next “column” would appear. The work itself also has aspects of print and digital literature. The text and the pictures were created digitally, and could be printed out in a layout that included both the text and the images. The work is also a digital work because the interactive nature of the piece would be lost if printed out–there would be no scrolling left to right. The work also includes hyperlinks, to bring the reader to another page, that could not be utilized if the work were printed. The images in the text served as a visual example to support Lin’s text. The use of the images made the text and his “story” more relatable because readers were given visual aid and could see exactly what Lin was discussing. He effectively depicts his life growing up with his family using those components–imagery and print and digital work.

  4. I absolutely enjoyed reading this novella, however I almost found the pictures to be unnecessary and actually would have rather had Lin simply go into more detail in describing certain items then simply referring to them as “the item below”. One glaring example was very early on in the text when
    Lin was talking about the “First Grade Ram” and Lin simply said that his father helped but did not really go much into describing working on it or how it ended up looking, but rather used a picture to do the talking. While it was nice to see a visual representation of said Ram, I personally would have enjoyed simply reading his words (since he was a great wordsmith) and painting my own picture of this little “First Grade Ram” in my head. One thing that I did appreciate, however within the digital text was the use of google searches of words that some people may not know; strategically placed further along in the novella. On multiple occasions this gave me an “aha” moment as I was able to go back to where I saw the word was and truly understand what Lin was saying.-Chris Salvatore

    • I definitely understand what you were saying about the pictures but I believe some how Lin is trying to create a ridiculousness of what his family was like for example the image of the American boy and the sweaters and his family love for shopping. I don’t know if that makes sense but its how I saw it

  5. Images in this literature bring more meaning to words on the page by providing readers with a visual. Even though this work is digital literature, it is reminiscent of reading a hard copy book, being that it scrolls form right to left. The pictures and layout give a personal touch by providing the feeling of flipping through someone’s intimate memoir. A 1970s photocopy advertisement and screen shot of a Google search, are just some of what Lin uses to incorporate digital and print sources into his composition. When describing the instances where his father’s difficulty with speaking English comes to light, Lin integrates pictures of American albums that influenced his teenage years. This indicates how he naturally grew to understand and adapt to the American culture. However, his father struggled not only to speak English, but also to understand and connect with him. As a result of this language barrier, an emotional barrier is created between them. Lin’s “Americanness,” or culture he relates to and identifies with the most, as a result of his disconnected relationship with his father, overpowers his “Chineseness;” which is a representation of his father’s contempt in not understanding his children, and the culture he afforded them the opportunity to grow up in. –Tatiana Vickerie

  6. At first, I was a little confused by this piece. I loved the images, but I was slightly confused as to when they came in or where the numbers and Google search images matched up. This is was probably just me, since I am slightly clumsy in reference to these things, but I soon figured it out and loved the idea. This gave the piece a more digital, and personal, feel, at least in my own opinion. I can imagine Lin trying desperately to find something to relate to, and search for it on Google; especially since I have seen my own family members have the same response. Combined with the family photos, and personal pictures from his childhood, the novella felt more like a memoir. The context of the story I also felt was really interesting, for Lin did not just go in chronological order, he skipped around his childhood to tell a story that came together really well. I felt like he explained the blending of “Chineseness” and “Americanness,” in a way most people could understand, and helped the reader understand the dysfunctional ways of his home life. -Jess P-F.

  7. Not only was this piece intensely personal, but also displayed an interesting, and different view of life than the one I have. Or rather, put ideas that may have been general into words. While reading Plan A, there were many times when I had to reread his views on love, life, and happiness. “The happiness inside a family is already there, and the most unhappy thing a family can do is talk about it” (Lin), and “Our loves are exceedingly ordinary and they live forever in ordinariness.” (Lin), were thoughts that had never come to my mind. How can love be ordinary? To me, love is this potent, intricate, and certainly not an ordinary emotion. Though, gaining perspective on his life, it gave light to the potential meaning for these thoughts. Even though his family was quite dysfunctional, the love for each other commenced from simplistic and ordinary activities, such as the making of the patio. As Lin intertwines the meaning and creation of the patio, throughout the whole novella, this memory transforms into something that follows him throughout present day. The patio became this never-ending presence of his childhood, and somewhat of its own being, that will never change or die.

    • I agree with Jess and Julian about not being able to fully follow the piece. The pictures and web searches were a bit out of order for me and I had to go back to see which section each went with. However, I did enjoy those additions because it was a unique way to understand what the author and his family were like. It added a whole other dimension to the text.

  8. I found Lin’s Article interesting and very insightful because I was able to view another culture in a different perspective. His writing is honest and I found humor in this intense and personal telling of his family especially his father. He presents “Americanness” in the form of shopping especially shopping for things that his family doesn’t need which I believe is a typical American family trait. He also brings in his culture, “Asianness” in forms of the cuisine at home and his communication with his father. His views on happiness and unhappiness, while most may disagree, is some what truthful or at least is something I can understand and identify with. This article’s style different and easy to understand. In this piece, When Lin introduces a new discussion or a new subject he want to talk about, he provides an image so that the reader can get an idea of what he is trying to portray, that is to say that the image supports his text. However, some of the images I found a bit obscure and yet, somehow fit the whole picture of what his family dynamic was like. I found the images obscure because I felt that he probably searched for this images on the internet and felt that they fully conveyed the idea of what I like to call “Americanism”. In total with the pictures from his child hood and other obscure pictures, I felt this piece was more than that a recording of his childhood but struck me as a comedic and yet heartfelt story of a boy who loved his typical dysfunctional family. I believe the patio is like the underlying foundation for this story….. Chinyere Ugbana

  9. The relationship between text and image was very nice for me. My eyes were drawn to the pictures before the text. This allowed me to then read the passage, which then connect the meaning of the passage to the text. I felt more invested in the piece of work because the images were all sentimental places or pieces of art to Lin. It also helped me to break up the text, which made it easier to stay engaged in the story. It was nice to see how the clay was used and where it came from since that is the basis for the story. If I were to print out the story it would loose the effect of the layout even though it was sort of like reading a book. I thought I was going to enjoy the layout way more then I actually did. I thought that when clicking the plus sign it would appear to a whole new page and it did not. To me it made the piece of literature more drawn out. This piece describes the relationship Lin had with his family and his experiences as a child. He was not shy of sharing how his childhood was different because of his Chinese culture and how his father did not conquer the English language and therefore, he called items by different names. He successfully wrote a digital piece of literature by using text, image and even playing with layouts.

  10. After reading this piece, I would have to say I really enjoyed the general layout it was presented. For example, how to proceed through the story the reader would scroll column by column from left to right. If the piece was read column by column as intended, it allowed the reader to visualize Lin’s memories generally before an actual picture was shown. Once the picture was shown, the reader, I feel, was transported into the one setting in Lin’s memory in which he was describing. I didn’t, however, liked the way he placed the Google search links in the piece. In chapter two for example, there were multiple footnotes besides the words “325, woodlands, sinks, and marble.” These footnotes in a book would be at the bottom of the page, but with this “scroll left to right” layout, the reader had to continue clicking right to view the footnotes or in this case the Google search images. This I thought was a flaw ruining the flow of the text. It provided a creative point to include pictures of the Google search of what he was trying to depict without actually writing descriptions, but I personally would have liked it to have been placed better so I would not have seen the future images that my eyes were attracted to viewing while scrolling ahead. -Courtney Lam

  11. At first, the format of this digital literature felt more familiar to me, as the layout resembled a book. I find this way of displaying a story online interesting, it might be something I would want to try in the future. As I continued to read, however, there were digital lit. parts of the work that really began to stand out strangely. For example, sometimes when the author gave us an image, instead of describing it along with the image, he would just indicate the reader to look at the image. I couldn’t help but feel that the author should not have relied of an image, and that wasn’t very creative. It did feel very “online,” as that’s what many people do in online articles and blogs, but I have never seen that in a literary work. Maybe I haven’t fully grasped digital literature’s aim. Is it to create something easy to read? Since when people read online they tend to skim and have a shorter attention span? It might be because I’m not use to this type of work, but I can’t feel that summaries and shortcuts, like in this example’s way, is some kind of a contradiction to the meaning “literary”. -Khaya R. Dillon

  12. The multiple layers of meaning in this piece are introduced in the title and its many subtitles. The “patio and the index,” the central images in the piece, are used to represent Tan Lin’s memories of his family. In Lin’s mind, the identity of his father is strongly tied to his work in clay and stone, particularly the patio that he built with the rest of the family one summer. As the story progresses, Lin describes his family, not by their personalities, but by their relationship with the world around them. The layout of the story, with its interesting mix of print components, such as the written texts, and digital components, such as hyperlinks to websites with more information, helps the reader to imagine what it was like to live in the world of Lin’s childhood, and enhances the effect of presenting “a field guide to a family” as a series of loosely linked memories of their interactions with each other and the world around them. The scrolling of the page from left to right allows the reader to view blocks of text and images and web searches in slightly varying combinations, which resembles the way in which a person remembers things in chunks that may be related to various other memories at different times, creating a spotty recollection that leaves the reader to wonder what was forgotten and left out. In this way, the patio and the index come to be understood as symbols of Lin’s memories of his family, rather than simple physical objects from his childhood.

  13. This digital narrative by Tan Lin is quite interesting. One theme I enjoyed reading about was whenever Lin talked about childhood. He explained the purpose of childhood in detail, and it feels like it has a philosophical grasp such as saying that childhood belongs to childhood itself. Even the first sentence of the piece felt otherworldly and deep. The layout of the narrative was unique in that the reader would have to scroll through the pages horizontally. It made the narrative look more like a book rather than a generic article where the reader would have to simply read downwards. I think making the presentation resemble a book would allow readers to get a stronger grasp of Lin’s story. Also, the way he made his pictures fit into the narrative was really well done. I find the way Lin made a blank space in the middle of his first Chapter was noteworthy. He said he left it there for a potter who can “complete a break in textural medium that is a family and perhaps make it into something more like a rite of passage.” I guess he left the blank space there because he wishes to fill it in with a picture of something specific his father made once he finds it. I am not crazy about this piece though, but, overall, its content is something to touch upon.

    – Matt Chin

  14. I wasn’t a huge fan of this piece by Tan Lin, but I felt it was interesting in twist of genre and use of media. The title, I feel, is a way of encompassing both the nature of the story’s content as well as the nature of the story’s literary electronic genre. “The Patio” part of the title gives a glancing overview as to Lin’s story between a child and his father and the platform, literally and figuratively, for their relationship. “The Index” is the way in which the audience will observe the story, not only how the content gives a kind of systematic breakdown of the narrator’s life with his family and his father growing up in rural Ohio, but how the author has made the choice for the layout of his “sampled novel”. Not only is there the actual, unnecessary for the novel genre, index and bibliography at the end of the text, but the categorized use of photos that, as an index, tell a story of their own. The photos work as their own story in a way, and the way that they are frequently placed so that they break up sentences and passages within the text, I feel, helps to support this idea, as well as to make them an indicator of their being an index in and of themselves.

    -Mason Bolton (sorry this is late)

  15. I found this piece of e-lit very interesting and complex. There were a lot of elements packed in there, and sometimes it was overwhelming to process. But I think there were some central themes around which the content was centered, including the concepts of family, childhood, happiness, and the immigrant experience. As the child of immigrant parents, I could sort of relate to some parts of the text, specifically the part where he was talking about language and the difficulties of communicating with one’s parents. What I also found fascinating was that throughout the story, he talks about very abstract, intangible, and complex concepts, and he connects them with very real, tangible things like pottery, plants, rocks, and patios. What I found particularly intriguing was how the visuals were placed/used in connection with the written text. There weren’t just landscape photographs or photos of home or pictures of pottery or old photographs of people. There were also snapshots of old newspaper articles, maps, and other web content (such as text from Wikipedia that relates to the content of the story itself). All these visuals served, I think, to amplify the story and give it more substance. Specifically in terms of those snapshots of written web content taken from other websites, it’s almost like cutting out text or headlines from different sources, text that describes your life, and pasting them together. Both these and the photos illuminate the text.

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