The Transom caught a 5 o’clock Metro-North train up to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville on a recent Monday night and directed the cab driver to 45 Wrexham, a new building that houses specialty programs for graduate students. Not in the habit of auditing English classes, we remained silent as the seats filled with gradate students, all chattering before their workshop with enigmatic writer Tao Lin. The course? “The Contemporary Short Story.”
If you were wondering what kind of people fork over money for a class taught by the guy who live-blogged Hurricane Sandy for Thought Catalog while on Ecstasy, well, they’re pretty much what you’d expect.
“Suck it, Paul Dano!” crowed one young Williamsburg resident, referring to a play in which the actor had recently appeared. “I say ‘James Franco’ whenever something bad happens,” said another.
Finally, Mr. Lin arrived in his signature hoodie and plaid shirt. He kept his eyes cast to the floor and mumbled questions so softly that his students looked at each other, confused, until someone had the courage to ask him to repeat himself.
The topic of the night was George Saunders’s short story, “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.”
“I’m surprised that so many of you got the thing with the ghosts,” Mr. Lin said. “I didn’t get that part at all. I also felt like the language was too idiomatic.”
Later in the two-hour session, the author of Shoplifting From American Apparel explained that Mr. Saunders operated with the premise that art has a moral function, and questioned the effectiveness of stories written by a man who once claimed in an interview to “know nothing.”
“Saunders reinforces what I already feel. Curtis Sittenfeld [whose work was also read in the class] forces you to relate to someone else’s point of view,” Mr. Lin said. Additional words of wisdom included “selling out is very moral,” and “I think you are making the world a worse place,” in reference to something the Transom said about art, reality or some such.
Nevertheless, the dozen and a half students attending the class—who ranged in age from slightly younger than Mr. Lin’s own 29 years to a woman who talked about working at a bank “before you were born”—seemed satisfied. Later, on the train, Mr. Lin told the Transom that we should have come a week earlier, when he had taken “a lot more drugs” before his lecture. Then he tried to sell us some sunglasses he said he had stolen from LensCrafters before kneeling on the floor and scooping up the dust of an Adderall tablet, which he had accidentally stomped with his boot.