Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Concept of Kenneth Goldsmith

The Spectacle of a Drip

Michel Serres in Genesis (translated by Genevieve James and James Nielson): “Indetermination is of two kinds: it is either chaotic or blank.” Too full, info-satiated, noisy; or skint, featureless, void: all and both delivering up a null signal. With all the imperturbability (inscrutability) of white noise. Under the subheading “Money” Serres adds:
        Sometimes one reads pages that are full. So full, so saturated with meaning that they are noisy with it. No one understands the chaotic, no one understands pure singularity. Those pages cannot be exchanged.
        One sometimes reads pages that are empty, so light in meaning that they circulate with ease. One has seen and one sees ultimate pages, as if at zero meaning, the pages of money. Blank pages, null and void of meaning, indeterminate, they are pure capacity. Money is the general equivalent, it is worth everything and it is worth itself, money is the joker, it has all values, it has all meaning, having none, smooth as a subject, white as a whore, an abstraction, a politician.
        The text nearest money is the one that is blankest.
        Money is what one writes when one no longer has anything to write, money is what one sends to people when one no longer has anything to say to them.
        Money is indeterminate, it is everything, a kind of general equivalent, it is nothing, a kind of blank meaning.
        Information, as blank meaning, is in the process of taking its place, as general equivalent.
That circa 1982. A quarter of a century later, the lines fit perfectly “our” (us four percent in the rampant and rapacious imperium norteamericano who’re busy “appropriating” some forty percent of total world resources—our daily aching belly hunger is, no doubt, what moves us to call for “nutritionless” texts, ja?) current crop of untroubled aesthetes (aesthetes, by definition, remain ludicrously untroubled; they are egregiously self-satisfy’d, and all their vanity—they are exceedingly vain—is swamp’d by effluvial smarm). One notes how the pure insensitivity of “our” concept-freight’d latest “avant” riles my Dictaphone, makes my savage rejoinders jump off they tracks. Spittin’ cotton, is what I am. (Here is the paradox of writing, human writing: that it defies its agency, it mocks the human will. A blood slippery in its platelets, it will not clot. The constant struggle between human intent (ah, that conceptual jism) and writing’s own spunk, determined to befoul and thwart and tender its musicks howsoever it shall—that incompliancy and refusal of simple complicity—isn’t that what writing is?)

I’d say Kenneth Goldsmith is a kind of money, with precisely the moral dimension of money. It’s a gay day in paradise when one is so blithely ready to see the world turn’d to nothing beyond a pile of info-pixels, all, apparently, equal, each “white as a whore, an abstraction, a politician.” Stuck in a continuous use policy of whatever “noise” comes down the pike (distinction-making and agency verboten, Herr Commandant—“byte macht frei”)—all of it turning into a kind of slurry, a porridge keeping nobody and nothing afloat (except for Kenneth Goldsmith, bouncing along in the gooey muck of it, a cork, a corker, a narcissist, a playa). It’s all rather akin to the hula-hoop craze of 1958, or the cabbage patch kids, adorable crud to keep one’s mind off any honest-to-God problem in the world. Against the increasingly cynical stances (and methods) of such toy writers (and they ever-wuttering proprietary groupuscules and mascots), one’d put some lines out of Semezdin Mehmedinović’s Sarajevo Blues (translated by Ammiel Alcalay). Out of an interview:
The war brought a very specific state of being with it. For me, it was the first time in my life that I had a lot of time and it gave me the chance to work. I wrote. It was the first time in my life that I could just write, so I was very happy about that, and fulfilled because of it. The war also brought with it something I didn’t have before. Before the war I was filled with doubt, stops and starts, not sure about my writing—was there a purpose to it, what was the purpose of it? During the war I saw that it really did have a purpose because that primal instinct of the storyteller continuing even though the flames were all around came into play. I could see how people reacted to what came out. At first there was a passion for information, the desire to inform the world about what was going on here developing into a kind of reflex among people. But when everyone realized that dialogue with the outer world had ceased, there was an even greater need to interpret what was going on here to ourselves. An this is a way in which writers were truly enriched, by returning to this primary function. Things were read. So it turned out that the doubts I had in my work were not grounded on anything. The relationship between reader and writer was very complete.
(Of course, one could argue that American poetry is not unlike Sarajevo under siege (“dialogue with the outer world had ceased”) and so “we” mutter (snarl) here amongst ourselves, in a conceptual agony of inutility, pure supplement.) Here’s the “ego effacing” Goldsmith again: “Conceptual writing is more interested in a thinkership rather than a readership.” And Serres:
I think in general, I am a capacity to think something, and I am virtual. I think in general, I can think anything. I think therefore I am indeterminate. I think, therefore I am anyone. . . . I think, therefore I am Nobody. The I is nobody in particular, it is not a singularity, it has no contours, it is the blankness of all colors and all nuances, an open and translucent welcome of a multiplicity of thoughts, it is therefore the possible. I am, indeterminately, nobody. If I think. I am nothing and I am nobody. I think, therefore I am not. I think, therefore I do not exist. Who am I? A blank domino, a joker . . .
Two of Goldsmith’s claims—“Conceptual writing is good only when the idea is good” and “Conceptual writing obstinately makes no claims on originality” seem somewhat incompatible. If I repeat R. Mutt’s “good” “idea” of 1917 with a urinal, is that a “good” “idea”? Mehmehdinović notes that “every form of freedom is inevitably connected to risk” and proceeds to talk about a picture of four skydivers descending, join’d to make “the figure of a dancer in the air”:
They smile, overwhelmed by a feeling of freedom, conscious of the fact that they’re flying. But there is nothing angelic in this spectacle: the smiles are almost hysterical, maybe because of the packs on their backs that skydivers still have to reconcile themselves with. . . . And even though their faces are clearly different, their individual fate is wiped out by the signature beneath the photo: Produkt von Kodak What remains, then is an ad for the photo itself, for the incomparable quality of its color.
And Mehmehdinović notes how one now inhabits “an age in which advertising has definitively replaced criticism”:
        A constant discomfort derives from this—writing these sentences, or any other for that matter—I am writing an ad for the war.
        With that every utterance about freedom finishes.
Every sentence Kenneth Goldsmith (metonym alert, if one so desires, there is a bevy of other machinists and machine-mongerers out there that’d fit the “bill”) “writes” is, too, an “ad for the war.”

Michel Serres
(Photograph by A.-M. Guérineau)

Semezdin Mehmedinović
(Photograph by Gerard Rondeau)