CUTBANK REVIEWS: "Heath Course Pak" by Tan Lin














Heath Course Pak

by Tan Lin


Reviewed by AB Gorham


no ambient citation is a caricature of itself


there are no readers here

eyeswide in a wide stare

“As cinematic display, the magazine/book today functions vestigially i.e. most people who read them are looking at the titles of a movie very slowly, i.e. with slightly more retention than film images. Retention studies indicate that students who read books on computer screens forget or mis-remember content at twice the rate of conventional readers…People don’t read text so much as look at it…skimming, fanning, page flipping, reading books about books, blurb reading, browsing or locating a book in a spectrum of colors, binding styles, shelf-heights, and library floors, or even simple forgetting, etc., constitute earlier non-reading, pre-digital formats of text processing.”

SO if Lin translates these originally digital images onto a book’s paper page, will the content prove more memorable? The materiality of this book is puzzling. For a book that seems to, by all means, dismantle the assumed sanctity of the book form, the decision to place primarily internet and computer screen information onto a flat, stationary, permanent page juxtaposes the frivolity of the book’s initial inquiry by giving it tenure, staying power between covers. The internet is mutable, it can disappear quicker than the time it takes to burn a book.

Can this book be about tempting memory?

“reading is regarded as a format of forgetfulness.”

The enactment of celebrity theory: our obsessions over the unattainable, the untouchable

The abstract line between respect and dissect


Legible but not readable

An artist’s book, Heath wears the veneer of the anti-aesthetic, a lá Dieter Roth, in that Lin also employs organic substances… it makes me think that the internet does have its version of organic processes, and much the way people struggled to find ways to preserve and prolong the shelf life of food in home storage, we are now faced with ways to contain the internet. A word typed into the search bar can lead purusers into a field of knowledge and interpretation that, after a punctuated amount of time, will take the shape of mold covering a slice of American cheese. The anti-aesthetic never promises delight, joy, any facet of pleasure, but ensures a statement will be made, usually about the nature of the form of the object in question. This 4”x7” book, with waxed covers, slick paper, and at times unreadable pages does manage to contain a large amount of information, including information that can be further researched on the internet, as can any book, but at the time that some of these website pathways are followed, many of them may be defunct. I suppose even a defunct webpage can house a link furthering the lineage.

This is not for reading,

beginning with Samuel Pepys’s diary

“and their emotions approximate / windows and function as labels // and this is true. and this is not true”

I have to say, though, that I don’t particularly enjoy thinking about the internet in this way. So much of the internet is tedium to me, and Lin’s book does very little to alleviate that tedium. This book is a container as a jar is for a science experiment, and many of its internal parts, workings, are dead by their very existence on the page. Doesn’t the internet die when photographed and printed on a page? Or is this like saying that a life dies when it is recorded onto the page? Much information & little knowing. What is interesting is the very nature of this book as a diary, which is a direct record to a particular span of time. In this way, the ads and emails are the purest, most precise way of replicating a period of time spent on the internet. Then again, this is precisely the way in which this book deviates from the usual format of a diary, in that a diary often contains the most important/memorable information from the day; the events that fall away at the end of the day into the tedium abyss of non-remembering. If I think about the possible parallels between Pepy’s diary and the nature of Lin’s Heath, I am most alert to the concept of churches burning in London and the death of Heath Ledger as being a kind of church-burning, that is, under the assumption that being a celebrity constitutes being sort of a religion.


we can ask who wrote this

but how can we answer that if we don’t

“looking at someone else reading”

“Lin’s interest in works authored by a network”

“a derivative work”

[           Copyright: an image or idea or work that is in a


appropriated material, material appropriate for this particular work

a terrible, dirty word                                                                           ]

appropriate is

the pure attention that reviews demand

& this book refuses to open itself up to the being of Ledger

instead writhes in his been

rumors lisping in the corners of a great hall


I SUPPOSE WHERE I’M GOING WITH THIS is to think about the final section of the book, the interview between Lin and Chris Alexander, Kristen Gallagher, and Gordon Tapper, and how their insightful, thoughtful, intelligent and academic questions and responses to Lin’s work constitute an interesting take on what I’ve come to view (over the last couple of months of moving through this book and researching all that I can about what the superiorly smart have already said about Lin and his work) as a mass-distributed artist’s book. The concept of “non-reading” is nothing new to the book arts world, and really, when we think of this book as more of a deviation from the book arts world than a deviation away from the world of literature, the themes begin to align with the recorded history.

Pepy’s diary functions within the book similarly to the number of artist’s books Johanna Drucker explores in her book A Century of Artist’s Books, more specifically in the chapter on “Book as Document”, when she cites the use of diary entries as a means of building an identity. Drucker’s examples all employ the diary as a means to excavate the self, but this doesn’t coincide with Lin’s use of diary entries as a stand-in for personal revelation. In the case of Lin, incorporating diary entries is more an act of documentation of the Gutenberg Project kind (its position as the ultimate broker for all things literary and accessible. If not a broker, then more of a library for people lucky enough to be able to afford access to the internet.) Lin’s use of diary entries works more as a form of expression than it does reveal actual content. While the collage of time and space markers that is Lin’s book reveals something about the attention span and interests of the author, it is more the experience than commentary on the experience. Drucker continues her exploration of artist’s book that feature diary entries, mentioning a project by Christian Botlanski titled Object Belonging to an Inhabitant of Oxford, in which he does what Drucker terms “demographic mapping,” or, the “sense that person-ness and individuality are inflections of a generic and socially constructed sense of identity” (337). Here is where Drucker’s ideas help illuminate and contextualize Lin’s work in Heath. Lin’s book also catalogues numerous forms of expression, including screen shots of Blimpie ads from the internet, Wikipedia articles, but does so in a way that never fully reveals the detailed nature of the author’s memories. Instead, Heath catalogues the line of inquiry Lin follows within a certain span of time. In fact, time is warped within Lin’s text, in that the second half of the book exists as a revealed version of the first half of the book. Heath uses “process” as its organizing aesthetic. Beauty as a play-by-play, intimate internet trajectory, as an unraveling of weblinks, computer associations. The book doesn’t follow a traceable sequence that in any way resembles a narrative. Rather, it moves like a lens focusing in on its subject: at first wearing a veil of photographed or screen-captured pages including post-it notes and editorial marks, and then a peeling away of that veil, leaving a finale of clean drafts and raw data.


Discourse / Heathcourse

Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, as is whirlpools around one celebrity’s death in an attempt to reconcile with what it means we don’t know at all. Discourse documentation of life&death in one package the life of a death as it unravels on the internet.

“Can it be a read and written text simultaneously?”


Post-It Note Erasure

Post it: censorship: pale-yellow sharp-edged curtain

Post it: mundane page for miniscule writing

Post it: post it; what’s slipped past you, what do you hide

editor’s marks in pencil = documentation of process


the experience not of reading but of passing time

ideas flinging themselves off of the rocks

monkeys cooling their fur bodies

in water then swimming back

Screen Shot: smiling ox

not to be read but to be investigated

Heath Ledger / Health Leger

a derivative work: pastiche: collage: collection

how long does it take to read a text

how long is my attention span

recall empathy reward understanding

Lin’s avoidance of identity maps nicely onto Rem Koolhass’s fretting in his essay “Junkspace” in that “’Identity’ is the new junk food for the dispossessed” (1). By avoidance of identity, I mean a refusal to pair oneself down; and eclectic sense of self that is more collector than the sum of the collected parts. A virtual pawnshop where the value of the online page changes by This book is utterly dated, from the screen shots of emails and internet ads, to the photos of cell phone screens. Heath balloons into a space saturated with internet noise and a cacophony of product labels shouting superlatives. “Their eyes were made of search engines like a search engine.” The redundancy of repetition inflates its own skin, making room for rumination. “Museums are sanctimonious junkspace; there is no sturdier aura than holiness” writes Koolhass towards the end of the essay, tapping into the upward momentum that re-contextualization can offer an object or idea. Museums preserve, even elevate and object’s status in history by giving it an assigned space as long as the building stands. “Junkspace” describes a particularly cluttered, claustrophobic view of our compartmentalized lives, one that Heath seems to perpetuate. The record of process does not utilize editing. We also know that no diary record can be complete, down to each shift in weight, each nostril flare.

Heath Ledger enters as interruption, and sends another portion of my brain spinning.

This is multi-tasking and to find meaning is to contain all processes at once and impossible.

Lin’s “anti-aesthetic” approach to a book reminds me of Dieter Roth’s daily mirror book 1961 in which he cut out and blew up sections of a newspaper, including ads, parts of stories, titles, and made the ink appear in its vector form (pixels, matrix), rendering the book “unreadable,” and simultaneously asking the reader/viewer to question the roll of the book, more specifically, the codex, in our everyday lives.

The experiential terrain of this book does not necessarily demand an in-depth knowledge of the internet. On the contrary, seeing the advertisements and internet-scripted pages out of their original context estranges the otherwise mundane information, and as a result, initially tricks the reader into paying attention to detail to which they would not otherwise pay attention. This attention, however, only lasts until the skimming mode takes over. It is in this mode that I traverse through this book, looking for bits of information and interesting language on which I can land for a while among the noise.


“someone said you are already dead so stop singing”

“someone said you are already transparent so stop glistening”

I said

he never wanted me to read

he only wanted my attention

which is much more to ask for


my tendency to skip/skim

the photo of a doll’s head with blacked-out eyes

oversized coffee mug with watered down coffee remnants

a red fly swatter that sings each time it strikes a surface

a black iron teapot well seasoned with rust

socks folded into a cloth fist

fruit flies scavenge stark the white curtain

that separates my inventory from the floating leaves


Heath inventories a new nature



The magazine feel of the pages

The cover: waxed paper, tacky, and is quite unpleasant to the touch

while the waxy book covers may help some with the book’s durability, I find it difficult to enjoy holding it.

The fifth page of the book following the title page is the initial instance of a book infiltrated by computer layout. On the bottom of the page lies a screen capture from the internet , which includes Google’s browser bar and a Web hyperlink to a cut-off definition to “The Arts of Contingency.” While this screen capture isn’t aesthetically pleasing, I’m going to assume that aesthetics, as in the measurement of beauty, is not the book’s foremost agenda. Using the landscape (a new landscape! What would Bachelard say of this landscape? It is fleeting! It can be a difficult place in which we find reverence.) of the internet, i.e. a pop-up ad, as the vehicle in a simile that drives a comparison to beauty and utility. Conveying information can be beautiful, as the record of an internet moment can be beautiful in the same way that memory is beautiful in a very utilitarian way.

The front cover, as is most of the text, is printed in courier font, which is a monospaced typeface originally developed for typewriters. Lin’s choice to utilize this typeface seems at odds with the otherwise “high-techiness” of the integrated internet fragments and other screen caps. Courier gives the appearance of an outdated form of written expression that even Congress has moved beyond.

This book has done away with transition, yet it does maintain the formal structural element of endsheets—stained endsheets—a well-worn book grease stains on the endsheets

Lin’s book has a pastiche quality to it that is further punctuated by photocopied notes written to him by hand. The hand-written notes are the most human of all the moments in the book. Although the notes are seemingly indirectly related/linked to Lin’s ideas about celebrity, they do offer a brief moment of biographical insight, a formulated token that reaches out to a product beyond the book’s capacity, and points with a human finger back to the book’s author. The handwritten notes serve as a catalogue of handwriting samples. I try and assume personality traits associated with a person whom sharpens the curves in their ‘s’s’, and in this way, I’m outside of the book while working through the book. If good writing really makes you stop and look away from the page, then good formatting can do the same. The handwriting worms through the otherwise technologically focused pages; they stand as hieroglyphics, palimpsests of the past. As they point to a time before moveable type, they also work as a very timely marker of the technological advances that have allowed bookmakers to scan in and print images of handwriting. Within these pages nests the heart of the artichoke: we are skilled at drumming up the past, at presenting direct references to times passed, because we have the ability of the future to do so.

Despite the clunky page design of the collaged computer images and courier text, this book manages some really beautiful, poetic moments. Most of my reactions to Lin’s book involve thinking about the form rather than the content. I become obsessed with what the existence of this book says about the role of a book in general, and how this tedium/non-reading makes me question the act of reading anything. I am rarely enthralled in the words on the page.

I believe we are no longer calling this literature, although:

Mining through, “they are un-specific with sand” I’ve found something I can roll around in my mouth for a while. I believe this phrase lovely for the way I remember sand is un-specific and therefore makes me feel so un-specific, finding sinking footing along the water line, and un-specific because sand as a body is comprised of billions of tiny and very specific particles that refuse to overlap one another, and never will assume one another into their hard-bordered bodies, but will organize their allotted space, their container as perfectly as possible to be seen with the eye. A body of sand is organized like a network, and so, un-specific because of its multitude.

The great reveal that occurs towards the end of the book, in which I slowly realize that the pages I’m reading are the pages that I first came across in the beginning of the book, except for this time they are sans post-it note cloak. I feel both duped and curious as to the meaning within a book that cycles back on itself. This, of course, is where we find out that “meaning” lies mainly within the form of the book, and less so within its content.

The interview at the back of the book works like an extended colophon that incorporates the details of the project’s evolution, down to that the fact that book both contains the notion of evolution of a thought, of a search, of the transition of a celebrity entering into his historical context as a figure of the past. This book without the final interview is all the more mystifying, although it’s difficult to speak of any book without immediately thinking of the book’s accompanying web results. Every book can be Googled, and Lin’s book is Google.

“Here it seems that the non-artists got it right and the artists got it plagiarized.”

There is so much to say about this book, and I believe people will continue to grapple with its strange existence for years to come.

I don’t think he is saying, here, look at this, look closer, isn’t this interesting? Because it seems that so much of internet writing is a means to an end, the way computer code stretches across a screen and demands that the computer function. Ambient electronic noise contained in a book.

“In the end, it did not matter which newspaper I began or ended with or which sit-com I happened to be watching or re-watching. All physical activity, like a spike on and EKG monitor or prime time viewing habits, shall be inserted after the fact. All images shall materialize from a database with a date stamp and a physical cue and all this shall be prefigured by an earlier occurrence, an interval, a product, a memoir, a linked page, a pre-recorded format, a typeface, a digital genre, a promise, and so it was in this particular instance—”



Author Bio:

Tan Lin is the author of Lotion Bullwhip Giraffe (Sun & Moon Press, 1996), BLIPSOAK01 (Atelos, 2003), ambience is a novel with a logo (Katalanché Press, 2007), HEATH (plagiarism/outsource) (Zasterle Press, 2009), Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking [AIRPORT NOVEL MUSICAL POEM PAINTING FILM PHOTO HALLUCINATION LANDSCAPE] (Wesleyan University Press, 2010), INSOMNIA AND THE AUNT (Kenning Editions, 2011), and HEATH COURSE PAK (Counterpath Press, 2012). His work has appeared in numerous journals including ConjunctionsArtforumCabinetNew York Times Book ReviewArt 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.


Reviewer Bio:

AB Gorham is a book artist and writer, originally hailing from Montana. She recently graduated from The University of Alabama, where she received her MFA in Poetry (2012), and her MFA in Book Arts (2014).