Friday, August 7, 2009

Kenneth Goldsmith and Dale Smith in Conversation

For the entire exchange, go to Jacket Magazine here:

Smith, as the supporter of "Slow" poetry (really, just a nonsensical term to set it off from "fast" or "conceptual" or "Flarf"-- "slow", here, means tradition-bound or conservative, derogatory terms used as a given, though of course all poetry is slow to emerge, in a "revolutionary" sense), does a good job of elegantly deflecting the bizarre assumptions of Goldsmith. I'll respond to a few passages of Goldsmith's that particularly irked me.

"But conceptual writing is truly populist. Because this writing makes its intentions clear from the outset, telling you exactly what it is before you read it, there’s no way you can’t understand it. My books make a case for this" --Goldsmith

Trust the work, not what the author says about it in a preamble. This is one of the things that annoy me the most about poetry readings in general -- all "schools" are guilty of it, to some degree. A work of art must insinuate itself within the reader by surprise and by the ordering of its creation as is. To use "conceptual" props and explanations means that the poem (in this case) is only another poetic marker, no different than the putative art itself. In fact, any observer will note that the chief "excitement" in many avantists' readings, even published "texts", are those set-ups, justifications, prolix abstract jargon-saturated Chinese dolls within a Chinese doll. So many are enamoured of the process, but not the creation. And perhaps that's because the creation, the thing itself, is not, and has never been, exciting for them.

"Anyone can understand these books. But then the real question emerges: Why? And with that, we move into conceptual territory that turns away from the object and toward the realm of speculation. At that point, we could easily throw the book away and carry on with a discussion, a move conceptual writing applauds."--Goldsmith

If the "art" is only a throwaway ruse, a gambit or ice-breaker, what is different about it than, say, a journalistic essay with an intriguing angle? Nothing wrong with that, but I've been under the assumption that art is a loving transmission crafted (word that Goldsmith hates) to last generations since its qualities are timeless. Goldsmith's approach is to applaud oppositional poetics in order to instigate a conversation about art. But it's an endless dry maze with no cheese at the heavenly outlet.

"All types of proposed linear historical trajectories have been scrambled and discredited by the tidal wave of digitality, which has crept up on us and so completely saturated our culture that we, although deeply immersed in it, have no idea what hit us"--Goldsmith

Discredited? Wow. Linearity, order, meaning, tradition, slow connections (and I'm not using a metaphor for internet start-up), sanity, are not pitched out the Windows because our attention has been hitched by the digital age. Books are still important, even if they've suffered commercially with technological competition. So is reflection. Laborious writing and rewriting. Goldsmith is energized by the internet. Good. I like it, too, but I don't consider it a Gutenberg transformation for many reasons I won't elaborate on here. (Even were new technologies a permanent new paradigm, the staples of poetic worth would remain with the pre-1450, or so, tradition. Voice and rhythm, to name but two.)

"The very nature and materials of what we work with — language — is completely different than it was even a decade ago"--Goldsmith

Yes, to language's detriment, since reshapings of "found speech" (scroll up to see the "revolutionary" approach Goldsmith takes with his latest book of poetry), techno-soup scorings, superficial puzzles (Goldsmith applauds Bok's Eunoia, though curiously from a commercial success angle, not a "revolutionary" one), and ten-times-removed-from-experience references substitute for music, emotion, and intelligent thought.

"Kristin Prevallet proposes “reusing poetry as opposed to creating new poetry,” she goes to the heart of Conceptual Writing. We believe in recycling language. With all the existing language out there, what need is there to make more? Or she also claims “Is my thinking really so magnificent that I need to churn it out, not missing a single thought bubble?” It’s a sentiment which I completely agree with, hence my idea of the “uncreative” and my advocating for appropriation and plagiarism."--Goldsmith

I've read and reread the above sentences many times, looking for any sense of irony or flippancy, but I don't detect either. That's the saddest poetics I've read since .... well, I don't have a comparable. Creation may not be impossible, then (everything's been said, so what's the use), but it's definitely superfluous if not downright dangerous to the "advancement" into the entrenched enemy lines. "What need is there to make more"? How about: delight and thoughtful engagement with the contemporary world through crafted, idiosyncratic, personally stamped utterance rather than ripping off contemporary dull musings in a devolving coma-inducement.

One thing seems clear, piecing together Goldsmith's thoughts in this conversation. His underlying ambition is for recognition, for popularity, and he's hit upon a potentially successful formula: the uncreative assembling of existing flotsam into a disposable ark is right for the times, a commercial inevitability for those in all spheres, including the poetic O.

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