UbuWeb UbuWeb Papers Open Letter: Kenneth Goldsmith and Conceptual Poetics
Barbara Cole & Lori Emerson
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 Mallarm, 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). Rubn 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'Ïil" 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
Bk 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
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.
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