Hamster-Proxy, I’ll Be Right Back: Matthew Simmons On Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy by Tao Lin

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Tao Lin, Melville House



Rummaging through one’s psyche for one’s animal spirit, one’s lower kingdom anima, can lead one to the oddest places. Sometimes not. Thus it is with my friend Tao Lin—young writer and internet provocateur—and his hamster-proxy. The creatures are unassuming where Lin is minimalist and deadpan. They make a negligible impact on their environment where Lin’s choices as a consumer similarly are made to reduce the footprint of suffering he—and we all—inevitably leave on the people and animals around us by the mere fact of his existence.


The hamster has been known to consume its young, as Lin has done his level best to consume the content of his poetic and prose output, to eat his generation, to devour the technologies available to him, and shit forth a body of increasingly impressive work:

The hamster conceived this philosophy by observing that it did not commit suicide.

The spidery, wall-crawling hamsters of Eeee Eeeeee Eee were underused—perhaps underappreciated—in that novel. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (with a brief, fishy interruption) is all hamsters, all the time. Hamster paws scrabble poetic line, they scratch an image of themselves on the cover (the hamsters of Lascaux), and they mask and stand in. They learn and unlearn behavior. They accept, refuse, go vegan, and steal shit from American Apparel. The hamster squeaks are the sound of Lin’s searching mind in motion, the erupting electrical impulses of an interior exploration.


And, oh my heavens, are they dear. Some might say twee and cloying. But, no. Fragile and wide-eyed, perhaps. But, never twee.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy suggests that one’s thoughts control one’s emotions, and one’s thought can through training be modified to improve one’s emotional stability. Lin’s Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy follows this process. It begins with “i will learn how to love a person and then i will teach you and we will know,” a poem-as-topic-sentence strategy of surprisingly enormous success,

seen from a great distance i cannot be seen

i feel this as an extremely distinct sensation

of feeling like shit…

And so the work begins.


What is interesting about this process poetry is how bolstered it is by familiarity with Lin’s blog (www.reader-of-depressing-books.blogspot.com). What is remarkable is that it is not entirely necessary. Also remarkable is that although the blog has been another leg in the three-legged monster of Lin’s self-exploring writing (his prose-for-print writing being that other appendage). They live together, they live apart, one functions as a promotional tool, an unabashed propaganda tool, one splits the inner world of Lin up into characters within narrative frames, and one (this one) let’s the writer poke and poke and poke around his brain searching for lines with breaks. Packets of thought.


Packets of self-directed thought. Make no mistake: Tao Lin writes about himself.


This is not a bad thing. Stop thinking that it is. The human mind—all by itself, always sitting up there above our spines all by itself, always (until the moment sparks no longer fly around within it) defining and redefining the world around it—holds within it every single other that it encounters. You are out there, but only in that you are within the mind of the person gazing upon you. Accept that this is what’s happening, and stop complaining when someone points that out to you by delving ever farther into their own mind when putting pen to paper (What an absurd cliché, especially in this context. Typing on a keyboard, watching images appear on a screen. It reminds one of Lin’s desire to divorce himself from the familiar clichés of others. But, then, Lin has also developed a very real series of his own clichés. He even posted about it, giving his readers a list of lines that define him.)

when you kill yourself

the universe learns how to console you

nothing i type is true; for example

i am going to go outside

and meet interesting people


Why the hyphen in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy? I’m, frankly, not sure. So, I will leave it alone. Cognitive behavioral therapy puts me in mind of a large open room with a podium, and a gray-haired woman in flowing clothes who is telling people to change the way they think to change the world around them. Then, I imagine Lin with a neutral facial expression taking the podium away from the woman in the flowing clothes, and speaking calmly to the audience about how they won’t change the actual world around them, but maybe they can change something. Something inside. Maybe they will be able to learn about love and then bring it to someone else. Then, the woman in the flowing clothes will try to take back the podium and Lin will headbutt her,

…i am repressing the urge

to headbutt the computer screen


notice how my forehead approaches you at high speed

notice the contortions on my face…

…in 1952 a DSM copy-editor removed ‘headbutting’

from the entry for ‘psychopathic behavior’

thereafter the headbutt has thrived

across all social, political, and elementary school gym classes

today the headbutt is a sign of friendship, stability, and inner calm…


…at jamba juice i headbutted someone’s  wheatgrass…

It is possible that the great accomplishment of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy will be that it contains in the fourth section the finest ode to the headbutt ever written. There are few acts of violence as self-reflective as the headbutt. To punch someone may hurt your hand but to headbutt will very likely hurt your head. It is, in its way, the power move in Lin’s personal form of martial arts, “‘[T]he perfect headbutt’,” Lin points out, “destroys both participants…”


What an odd, and oddly revolutionary, way of viewing the act of reading. Or maybe it’s just too familiar. I read, and I am consumed by the voice of the author. I write and send out my words and another reads it and within their minds they create their own proximate version of my voice, but it is their own; I disappear. The poem destroys both participants.

But, really:

…the rhetoric if this book

can only be conveyed with this book

And maybe that means no one should be discussing it like I am. Maybe this is a cover, a way to undercut criticism. Maybe not, though. Maybe nothing makes sense.



The arbitrary nature of the universe.









One response to “Hamster-Proxy, I’ll Be Right Back: Matthew Simmons On Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy by Tao Lin