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Kenneth Goldsmith's Theory.

This very morning I came across, on one of those 'how to revolution' free book sites, K Goldsmith's Theory which turns out to be a confection of maxims, quotes and anecdotes, each one on a single page, promoting the Goldsmith View. Now, I get frustrated by this particular Guardian of the Conceptual because part of him is absolutely correct whilst another is very much Part of the Problem.

For those readers who have missed out on the Goldsmith self-promotion campaign over the last 10 years, this is my initial reaction from 2009 written for the bebrowed blog in which I express unbounded enthusiasm for work that appeared to me to be Quite Important strategy-wise. As will be seen below, this view has modified over the last 7 years but Goldsmith still says and does some things that we may do well to pay attention to.

The difficulty in most of Goldsmith's work (which isn't his work) is that there isn't any. It is as it appears. The only significant readerly challenge is the onset of boredom but we'll get to this later. What first caught my eye was Traffic which is a sequential set of radio traffic reports over a single day in New York. This is 4.11 am:

Ah, you're not going to find too many tie-ups out there, plenty of orange cones though if you are making your way onto Grand Central Parkway going west, watch for some work going on just before LaGuardia Airport. And if you're heading north on the Van Wyck Expressway you've got some construction here coming north here at Atlantic Avenue closing two lanes. Two lanes also blocked north on the Bronx River Parkway from the Cross Bronx Expressway to Boston Road. And it looks like you've also got construction on the BQE, eastbound there's two lanes blocked Atlantic Avenue to Hamilton Avenue until five a.m. Looking at the bridges and tunnels, if you're going to the GW Bridge on Manhattan's East Side, the FDR Drive, or rather the Harlem River Drive portion, has the ramp to the bridge closed. You are forced onto the Amsterdam Avenue approach. Inbounders have the lower level closed but no delays upstairs. Don't see any problems right now at the Queens or Brooklyn crossings, despite any construction.

There's one of these every ten minutes so it may be seen that the tedium kicks in pretty quickly. However. the attraction to me was this super-abundance of language and its absolute challenge to The Poem. As in:

All of the above leaves those with an interest in maintaining Things as They Are (aka reactionaries) foaming at the mouth with righteous indignation dressed up as derisive scorn, somehow symptomatic of these dumbed-down times. I'm never swayed by shrill polemic and this 'feels' fairly akin to the almost hysterical venom directed to those poor deluded relativists- which is defo a case of protesting too much.

The more recent work, unlike that of Vanessa Place, seems to have gotten fat and a little bit lazy. This is from Goldsmith's Seven American Deaths and Disasters

The best meat from the farmer goes to Armour and from Armour to the butcher to you. If you want the best from the farmer ask for Armour and do what the butchers do. Be sure it's Armour, the meat the butcher brings home. Say, if you fix lunches for the family every day, there's a mighty happy solution to the variety problem. Armour Star lunch meat. Why, there are so many varieties, you could go for a couple of weeks without ever repeating. Nourishing? Four slices of Armour lunch meat in a couple of sandwiches pack all the wallop of a bowl of beef stew. Get Armour Star lunch meat for the kids. The sandwich meat that sticks to your ribs. Lots of different kinds. Easy to make. So for goodness sake, be sure it's Armour. The meat the butcher brings home.

Six minutes away from the hour of one o'clock right now on the Rex Jones show. This is Tommy Roe. He includes just about everybody.

Everybody, everybody,

Everybody's, had a broken heart now...

Here is a further report after we have just received word that shots have been fired at the Kennedy motorcade. We just talked to the police department. Here is that conversation.

Several persons arrived at Parkland and no information is being given at this time.

But you did have a report of shots being fired.

We have reports, yes sir.

Seven is a collection of seven radio transcripts as news comes in of a Bad Thing occurring. As a conceit it's easy, as a read it's flaccid. That may or may not be the 'point' or it may be about the relationship between the banal and the Very Dramatic but I'm not sufficiently interested to find out.

Moving gracefully on to Theory, set out below are some of the texts together with the equally pithy arduity view.

Hunter S. Thompson retyped Hemingway and Fitzgerald novels. He said, "I just want to know what it feels like to write these words."

Yes and yes again, writing about poetry for the web involves a lot of typing out extracts and this can kick start the above feeling as well as, this is important. give a clearer view of how the thing was put together. This is not to suggest that the copyist is suddenly imbued with the skill contained in the material but it is an Immensely Pleasing Thing to do.

Writers are becoming curators of language, a move similar to the emergence of the curator as artist in the visual arts.

No, but. Even here in this avowedly provincial throwback we've become familiar with the c word, your humble servant has been invited in the recent past to do some Community Curation which turned out to be the usual mix of production and promotion with some selection thrown in. I'd point out that writers of every hue have always been curators of the work that is around them just as there is nothing 'emergent' about curators being producers of art. However, I don't think this is what Goldsmith means which is that the current and inevitable trend is to make direct and unabashed use of the work of others. This is fairly self-evident to me but I can envisage it causing further frothing by those who Should Know Better.

Remixing is often mistaken for appropriation.

Yes it is but that's not about prejudice or stupidity, it's about the moveable line between these two activities. It is perfectly reasonable to do both in the same piece of work. Some of us do it all the time.

Individual creativity is a dogma of contemporary soft capitalism, rather than the domain of non-conformist artists: fiction is everywhere.

Yes except that it's an inherent dogma that's been around for a V Long Time. Bourdieu demonstrated this about thirty five years ago. I don't understand the last three words, they sound, as with Eliot, portentously empty, a worrying and recurring feature of this material.

The problem isn't piracy. The problem is obscurity.

Complete Bollocks. The problem is mediocrity.

The poet as anti-hero.

No, such self-dramatisation and vainglorious prating are major Bricks in the Wall. The poet as just another schmuck trying to get by?

We spend much more time acquiring, cataloging and archiving our artifacts these days than we do actually engaging with them. The ways in which culture is distributed and archived has become profoundly more intriguing than the cultural artifact itself. As a result, we've experienced an inversion of consumption, preferring the bottles to the wine.

Yes, except for the last sentence, it's not 'about', has nothing to do with, preference. We can't help it.

Leaving the White House after the reading, Joe Reinstein, the deputy social security to the president, slung his arm around me, smiled, and said, "Well, we got the avant-garde into the White House."

Hopeless, preening, childish, pointless. We know Kenny went to the White House, Kenny made sure that we did. Note the use of 'slung' to indicate familiarity. Pathetic.

Unfortunately creative writing is very much alive. I;m doing my best to kill it.

Yes and yes but only if he intends that the idea and consequent behemoth that is creative writing, an ill-advised and introspectively self-serving piece of fraudulence that should have died at birth.

Easy is the new difficult. It is difficult to be difficult, but it is even more difficult to be easy.

No it isn't.

What if the poetic has left the poem in the same way that Elvis has left the building? Long after the limo pulled away, the audience was still in the arena, screaming for more, but poetry escaped out the back door and onto the Internet, where it is taking on new forms that look nothing like poetry. Poetry as we know it -- the penning of sonnets or free verse on a printed page -- feels more akin to the practice of throwing pottery or weaving quilts, artisanal activities that continue in spite of their marginality and cultural irrelevance. Instead, meme culture is producing more extreme forms of modernism than modernism ever dreamed of.

No, but. The poetic hasn't left the building, the poetic isn't even getting ready to leave the building, it's still waiting for the lights to go on, for the music to stop. I am astounded when I make similarly gratuitous quips to the pottery throwing analogy that intelligent, sensible people that I admire want to argue this point. The Poem on Paper is finished, the internet killed it. Oh and whatever 'meme' culture might be (discuss), this point undermines the entire piece because the use of 'modernism' belies a decidedly naive view of Where We Might Be right now. I could go on about this for a very long time. I really could.

The voice hydrates the driest of texts.

Yes, but haven't we always known this?

No quality judgments. Things just are.

Maybe. We still need, require, to be informed by our own quality opinions. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the areness of things.

I want to live in a world where the smartest thing you can do is the dumbest.

I don't, this praise of the dumbe feels deliberately provocative but mannered, there are several other pro-dumb maxims as if to over-egg the pudding. It's obvious that the demarcation between these two is ill-defined, to say the least.

(David) Ogilvy deplored creativity, a word he professed not to understand.

Yes and yes, Ogilvy was one of the most talented chancers of the twentieth century and, on this one, he was absolutely right. It's also without value.

A radical statement used to be a beginning, middle, and end, but not necessarily in that order. Now there are only fragments.

Yes, but 'radical' is superfluous. All statements are fragments. Now.

My conceptual aesthetic does not serve my affect: it does not convey my feelings about this or that to the world.

Yes, this is why Kenny still has some strategic importance, the deliberate emptying out of affect is a vital move away from the glut that has infected us since Lyrical Ballads. Not sure that it's an aesthetic, more of a tendency.

A Conclusion

All of the above are taken from the first half of the book, the second half contains much about ubuweb (a good but now overcrowded thing) and many anecdotes about Goldsmith's encounters with others. I am therefore staying with the first half because it seems to contain some snippets that might gesture in the right direction. Having read Theory and copied and pasted some of it, it would appear that I'm a little more extreme than Goldsmith in terms of perspective and I do despair with his abject need for validation but I can't deny that he gets noticed and that is a Good Thing.

One final note, he refers to this poem grouping as a 'movement' of presumably like-minded souls. This noun says a lot and none of it is good.