Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Johnson vs Goldsmith

This is what Robert Baird wrote on Digital E.

Since Kent isn’t allowed onto the Buf­falo POET­ICS list, I thought I’d note a con­ver­sa­tion about this book that is taking place there.

Jonathan Ball wrote:

I pre­sume the “blurbs” in sup­port of Johnson’s book are also appro­pri­ated or fab­ri­cated. This is a clever joke, but I don’t see how it is con­cep­tu­ally inter­est­ing. Unlike Goldsmith’s DAY, which recon­tex­tu­al­ized text in an “uncreative” ges­ture (a Duchampian rais­ing of “journalistic” prose into the realm of poetry), and thus pro­duced a rich text, replete with pre­vi­ously dor­mant mean­ing, Johnson’s DAY does little more than repeat the ges­ture, and thus the only sig­nif­i­cance it seems to hold is to ques­tion the valid­ity of assign­ing such a work to any single, par­tic­u­lar author, some­thing already implicit in Goldsmith’s project and only super­fi­cially inter­est­ing in the first place.

And Skip Fox con­curred with the “superficially interesting” char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.

Here’s my response:

It’s inter­est­ing, Jonathan, that you’d defend Goldsmith’s DAY (and dis­miss Johnson’s DAY) in the name of orig­i­nal­ity (”produced a rich text, replete with pre­vi­ously dor­mant meaning”), when this is the regime of value that Gold­smith explic­itly and repeat­edly rejects. (See Gold­smith, inter­net, passim.) I pre­sume that you, like many other people, accept that rejec­tion as a pose, a mere mock­ery of public mod­esty, even though Gold­smith, appar­ently, does not see it that way. (”In fact, every time I have to proof­read [my books] before send­ing them off to the pub­lisher, I fall asleep repeat­edly. You really don’t need to read my books to get the idea of what they’re like; you just need to know the gen­eral concept.”)

Or maybe you take Goldsmith’s word for it that “In con­cep­tual writ­ing the idea or con­cept is the most impor­tant aspect of the work. When an author uses a con­cep­tual form of writ­ing, it means that all of the plan­ning and deci­sions are made before­hand and the exe­cu­tion is a per­func­tory affair.” If that’s the case, then tell me, please, what makes Goldsmith’s idea inter­est­ing? Given that the same idea has been had, and exe­cuted, by thou­sands of others, includ­ing Richard Prince, Sher­rie Levine, and anyone who’s “written” a found poem, why should we see Goldsmith’s project as any more or any less inter­est­ing than Johnson’s?

But here’s a thought: what if the dis­missal of Kent’s DAY as “superficially interesting” was exactly the point of his project? I don’t say that it is; Kent can speak to that (or could, if he weren’t banned from this list, though I’m sure he’ll find a way to par­tic­i­pate some­how). But what if? What if one took the annoyed response to Johnson’s DAY as exactly the reac­tion he wanted, since it proved the fact–which you may take to be obvi­ous, but which no one seems will­ing to pub­licly acknowl­edge [NB: I should have said "con­front" here]–that there is a bright line between the kind of people whose uncre­ative writ­ing allows them to reap every reward the cul­ture indus­try has to offer—publication, glossy mag­a­zine inter­views, fel­low­ships and tenured aca­d­e­mic posi­tions–and those whose *iden­ti­cal* uncre­ative writ­ing gets them shunned as wannabes? And what if that bright line has noth­ing to do with the work, or the ideas behind the work, and every­thing to do with the fact that one has gone to the right schools, lived in the right cities, and licked the right boots? I think you’d have to admit that it’s a super­fi­cially inter­est­ing thought, at the very least.


Blogger Ross Brighton said...

Excelent. I've just linked to this.

1:53 AM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

To these comments could be added the following, by Christian Bok, on Twitter:

"Quick!—get "Day" by the troll, Kent Johnson, who rips off "Day" by Kenneth Goldsmith, who rips off the New York Times: "

It comes a bit below the following message:

"They dislike "Eunoia"—but nevertheless find me charming at the Winnipeg International Writers Festival: "

5:52 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

What does that have to do with the discussion above, Kent?


6:38 AM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Sorry, confused by your question, Johannes. It seems pretty obviously related to the topic? Bok is commenting on my Day? His view is that my book is a "rip off" (the tone suggests Christian is in something of a snit about it, though could be I'm just not hip to the subtleties of Twitter talk).

Anyway, "rip-off" is an interesting way for a self-proclaimed Conceptual poet to put things regarding the matter, given the kinds of gestures he and Kenny are on record as advocating. I'd propose it's nothing of the kind!

Maybe I'm missing something in your question, though.


6:54 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Oh, I kind of read that as a compliment, but it might be that I'm the one who isn't twitter-hip.


8:20 AM  
Blogger François Luong said...

Maybe Kenny Goldsmith, having started as a visual artist (from what I've heard), played a joke on the American poetry scene, and people who might take themselves too seriously picked it up as conceptual writing, without much regard to the work of Lawrence Weiner. And maybe it is that stance that Kent is playing with.

Not that "conceptual writing" hasn't taken interesting directions...

8:48 AM  
Blogger Brennen Wysong said...

I'll agree with Ross here, Johannes.

Is there a tonal change, Kent, between the first "rips off" and the second "rips off"? In other words, do you think Bok views what you've done with an attitude any different than his attitude to what Goldsmith did?

Speaking of rip offs, considering the stickers on Kent Johnson's "Day," I'm going to say it's Pop Art in the vein of Warhol's Velvet Underground album cover.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Bobby said...

I don't think "troll" is a compliment in Twitterese or any other language.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I thought it was said affectionately because he also says "quick get the book." Or was that ironic?


9:41 AM  
Blogger Bobby said...

Sounded ironic to me...

9:42 AM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

I put this comment up at Digital Emunction and thought I'd share it here.

I wanted to pose a question on something I think has gone missing so far in the conversation around the "legitimate" Authorship and property of my new book (though it's entirely appropriate, of course, that this be focused on, as the "problem" is at the heart of it):

What about the *publisher* of my Day? Isn't the publisher as much the Author of a book like this as I am? And what *of* a publisher who has the temerity to market a wholesale appropriation of an entire, much-discussed book? And not only that: for this publisher has put the name of his press right on the work's spine, above that of the original publisher, The Figures, a venerable imprint in "post-avant" circles. In other words, the anterior publisher is now relegated to the status of assistant co-publisher of the new, more conceptually advanced work. Thus, one could say, the anterior publisher's (and Author's) reliance on perfectly conventional, "natural" forms of packaging and paratext is brought into the foreground.

Isn't this worthy of prominent notice, inasmuch as it constitutes a thoroughly iconoclastic and unprecedentedly conceptual act in poetry "publishing"?


11:42 AM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Now here's something curious.

Jeffrey Side, who's been blogging on this Day issue, just wrote me to say the following:

>Charles Bernstein emailed me about 15 minutes ago asking if I was aware that he'd appropriated a work by Goldsmith called 'Weather" and reproduced it with his own name attached. He said he did this in 2006. That's all he said. [...] I've just emailed him to say I wasn't aware that he had done this, which is true. Here is the link he gave me to it: <

I wrote the following back to Jeffrey:


There is an important difference, though. Bernstein announces that the work is by Goldsmith, and he seems to add his name in a playful sort of gesture, a kind of "afterthought" beneath the attribution at the top: "Kenny Goldsmith's The Weather."

It's a "half-hearted" ironic tweak, so to speak.

I'm not doing that. I'm *erasing* Goldsmith's name and affirming myself as the book's Author! I'm affirming (sardonic though the affirmation is) the book as my "property." Which is to say that the category of Authorship is bracketed in uncomfortable sorts of ways.

This is great. Feel free to send this on to Charles.<

Isn't this getting interesting?


12:47 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

I'm going to post on this within the next couple of days, arguing that Kent's is better.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

A new post, titled Charles the First, is just up at Digital Emunction:


2:32 PM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

for sake of discussion, posted at Digital Emunction:

Brennen said:

>Kent, I never made the claim that G's "Day" is writing.

OK, Brennen, but if it isn't, then what is it I might have "plagiarized"? I'm not saying I haven't, I'm just curious what you mean.

I see that you are thinking about this at your blog in terms of recent art history and theory, quoting Danto, and I think that's great (Kenny should think it's great, too, since he's supposedly all about reflection and discussion).

In their writings on the Duchampian readymade and its neo-avant-garde recyclings, I find critics like Buchloh and Foster more interesting than Danto. Though they take strong exception to Burger's complete dismissal of the neo-avant-garde, they're also very critical of ways the original readymade move has been cut and pasted ad infinitum into the art market since, say, Nouveau realisme-- recycled gestures with this or that generic tweak or novelty, that is, emptied of any radical, anti-institutional charge-- ready-made, as it were, for rapid capture and incorporation by the networks of "Museum Culture."

This recycling, I'd say, is transparently the case with the work of Kenny Goldsmith (Goldsmith and Bok, to be sure, who despite their polemics for the benefits of ego-less "uncreativity" seem to have been drunk for the past few years on some kind of secret Author Function Ego juice, are quite exuberantly open about their desire for the Museum). The work is "uncreative" and "boring" not just as affective extension of its proclaimed poetic and "ontological" premises; it's boring because it's so damn old hat: an attempted importation of decades-old gestures into a Po-Biz scene that, as Goldsmith himself puts it, "is forty years behind art," and thus likely (at least part of its crowd) to take his "conceptual" banalities as exciting and new. In some circles, they call it snake oil.

But it's MY Day, Brennen, that is truly new, you see. The Authentic Item. Because no one has ever done it quite like this before. I've taken his whole bookum and made it mine, in single decisive act. And doing so, I've put his plagiarized bookum into the dustbin of sub-poetic sub-history. I am being both funny and serious, in saying that. Doubled in my intent, so to speak, like the red-hot "Doubled K" poker that K. dreamily mentions in his blurb to my Day, where he acknowledges me, his mirrored K, as his master. And it's why he's going to put my book up on UbuWeb.

And one more thing, though here I'm not kidding around: What they call "Conceptual poetry"? It's forty years behind Broodthaers and Institutional Critique.


4:32 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

As far as institutional critique goes, it seems strange that I haven't seen anybody mention that one of the main targets of Kenny Goldsmith's supposed critique is "Creative Writing" programs. But the question is what kind of critique it is that puts an "un" in front of "creative writing".


5:03 PM  
Blogger Lemon Hound said...

Clearly poetry, the entire movement, has too much time on its hand, is too old to do anything interesting but bite at it's own ankles.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Actually Lemon Hound, I think your question is not a mere rip but a good point. Time is of the essence in this question. I've got to go.


2:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home