RELATED RESOURCES:
Kenneth Goldsmith's EPC Author Page
Kenneth Goldsmith's PennSound Page
Kenneth Goldsmith in UbuWeb Contemporary



We first began discussing the idea of a journal issue devoted to Kenneth Goldsmith and Conceptual Poetics in Spring 2002. Confident that Goldsmith's prominence in North American poetic practices warranted consideration, the question became how such a dialogue might best be facilitated. The uniqueness of Goldsmith's work as well as the fact that his publishers, contributors, and audience exceed the typical coastal wars or national borders, combined with our commitment to a forum that would invite both critical and creative contributions demanded a unique context. Open Letter's ongoing tradition of exploring innovative writing in innovative ways made it our first-and arguably only-choice. And, much to our good fortune, Frank Davey-demonstrating the openness that Open Letter is named for-agreed. If there had been any doubts as to the relevancy of this issue, Juliana Spahr's declaration in response to The Weather (2005) that "Kenneth Goldsmith is without a doubt the leading conceptual poet of his time" confirmed that we were on to something.

In the Oulipian spirit of Goldsmith's poetics, our original call for work proposed an A-Z listing of potential contexts; this initial catalog of topics varied from Joycean influences to the Kootenay School of Writing, the Toronto Research Group to Goldsmith's behemoth online archive, ubu.com. What we never could have predicted was the enthusiastic surge of proposals which came flooding in. Despite the diversity of approaches this A-Z list might have aspired to, we were even more delighted to discover that the submitted essays spanned an even farther reaching scope, orienting Goldsmith in an avant-garde tradition which includes MallarmŽ, Andre Breton, Gertrude Stein, Guy DeBord, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, John Cage, Jackson Mac Low, and Language writing. We are grateful to all of the loyal Goldsmith readers who submitted proposals and, most especially, to the contributors whose words appear here.

The enclosed pieces analyze the conceptual question from a variety of angles: close readings of single texts; comparative studies; and creative responses. Craig Dworkin's essay begins with a redirection of Goldsmith's critical reception and, thus, it is with this essay that our collection begins. Through his reading of the "concept of the interval," Dworkin offers a productive analysis of Goldsmith's oeuvre. So, too, Molly Schwartzburg, in her consideration of "Encyclopedic Novelties," assumes an encyclopedic approach in her discussion of a broad range of Goldsmith's texts. Addressing the length and supposed difficulty of these tomes-deflections often hurled at the avant-garde-Schwartzburg takes on the writer himself as well as his critics, questioning the accolades as much as the accusations of Goldsmith as "jokester." Bruce Andrews offers his own response to the notion of writer as jokester in his Goldsmith-inspired "ollapalooza," in which the first letter is removed from words and then reshuffled in alphabetical order, thereby deconstructing "umbo-jumbo" and offering an Andrews "anfare" of sorts to the surrounding "owwow" on Conceptual Poetics.

In turning to specific Goldsmith texts, Geoffrey Young's retrospective piece reflects on Goldsmith's segue from sculptor to "word processor," offering particular insights into the early works, 73 Poems (1995) and No. 111 2.7.93-10.20.96 (1997). RubŽn Gallo and Derek Beaulieu both address Fidget (2000) in relation to the body but in vastly disparate approaches. Extending the Deleuzian concept of the "body-without-organs," Gallo reads the "organic unconscious" of Fidget as a "literary trompe l'Ďil" while Beaulieu compares Goldsmith's representation of the body to crime scene photography. Aptly-suited to the task of unpacking the language game at work in Soliloquy (2001), Christian Bšk refutes the accusation that Goldsmith's poetics commits an "act of literary temerity," and places this text in a literary history that spans from Wordsworth to David Antin. Jason Christie employs Chris Cutler's theory of "plunderphonia" to examine Goldsmith's conceptualist praxis in plundering The New York Times in Day (2003). In so doing, Christie examines issues of ownership and originality as they pertain to high and low art. Marjorie Perloff lends her expertise to Goldsmith's most recent book, The Weather, offering a political reading of this text's implicit critique of the bombing of Baghdad and the United States involvement in Iraq.

A recurring theme throughout Goldsmith's work as well as this collection of essays is the city of New York. Employing questions adapted from Proust's questionnaire, Caroline Bergvall interviews Goldsmith on a "tour of his idea of New York." In a fitting poetic tribute, Rob Fitterman's "W. 3rd St-W. 26th St" chronicles the pastiche of cityscape and wordscape that is quintessential NYC as much as quintessential "Kenny G." Even more quintessentially Kenny G is Goldsmith himself who provides his own contribution to our discussion in "Paragraphs on Conceptual Writing."

The comparative approaches included in this issue each identify significant connections between Goldsmith's poetics and his modernist predecessors as well as his contemporary peers. Joshua Schuster reads Goldsmith's exploration of "boredom" in the context of Walter Benjamin's material historiography whereas Carl Peters considers Goldsmith's conceptual poetics in relation to Duchampian indifference and Steinian repetition. Making a necessary leap, Johanna Drucker extends the consideration of Goldsmith's work to Darren Wershler-Henry's Tapeworm Foundry as an instantiation of Conceptual Poetics.

As the remaining essays demonstrate, Goldsmith's work raises a number of crucial questions regarding the relationship of theory to poetic praxis. Analyzing his oft-quoted manifesto, "Being Boring" in lieu of Jacques Ranciere and Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Christine Wertheim examines how "gender anxiety" figures in Goldsmith's work at the intersection of aesthetics and politics. In a piece inspired by Goldsmith's oeuvre, spanning from his early chapbook, Gertrude Stein On Punctuation, to more recent works such as Soliloquy, Day, and The Weather, Simon Morris offers a transcript of his debate with psychoanalyst, Howard Britton, on the psychoanalytic definition of poetry as an "attack on language" as it might (or might not) pertain to Goldsmith's poetics. Darren Wershler-Henry concludes the collection with a range of questions apropos to a twenty-first century consideration of Conceptual Poetics. Reading the fluidity of language in Goldsmith's work as operating according to the logic of "software and the flow of the digital text," Wershler-Henry opens the discussion to the role of the writing subject in digital culture.

In reference to his prolific poetic projects, Goldsmith likes to quote Beckett's "I can't go on. I'll go on." In that spirit, it is our hope that the essays appearing here mark the beginning of an ongoing conversation.



Kenneth Goldsmith and Conceptual Poetics
UbuWeb Papers | UbuWeb