Posts Tagged ‘Kenneth Goldsmith’
The other day I listened to a lecture by [...] (afraid I can’t recall his name, or find the lecture now, although it’s online somewhere …) about lyricism in Walt Whitman. At one point the lecturer names Baudelaire and Whitman as the two poets who defined the modern(ist) era of poetry in the way that they wrote (about) openness. If I remember correctly he claims in this lecture that Baudelaire wrote a radically new openness of the body (in the sense of the sublime/abjection); and Whitman wrote (of) an openness towards America / the world. It seems like a pretty bold/sweeping statement to me, but I don’t know enough to (dis)agree with it. However, the question I want to take from this comment is how these forms of openness are being written (in/of America) today, recalling also Charles Olson’s great statement: “I take space to be the central fact to man born in America.” (And to that I would add woman, of course).
In particular I am thinking here of the Conceptual Writers, Vanessa Place, Kenneth Goldsmith, and Robert Fitterman. I think these writers similarly to Whitman are writing poems of America, and similarly to Baudelaire also explore notions of physicality. However, in the Conceptual poems this idea of America is not based on generalised, idealised, Romanticist notions, but on specific instances and places. The lyrical, which certainly is also present in Conceptual writing, is not abstract and idealized, but specific and subject to scrutiny.
A passage in a review of Vanessa Place’s sprawling, polyphonic novel (or: Conceptual poem?) La Medusa demonstrates a sort of clinical approach to the lyrical, very different than Whitman’s exalted expansiveness:
The book began as a procedural piece: to write down everything that occurred to me for 41 consecutive days, in 15 minute installments. As I was reading in cognitive science at the time, I had a suspicion that if I kept going after that time, narratives would begin to emerge. Or narrative fragments, some of which would ripen (or bloat) into narratives, some of which would simply stay shards.
What interests me here is the intersection of lyricism with conceptualism and empiricism. The book is obviously lyrical in that it consists of episodes of unmediated subjective expression: “everything that occurred to me for 41 consecutive days, in 15 minute installments”. But it is not naively and uncomplicatedly so: it does not assume that the lyrical subjective position is separate from the world and observing the world from outside. Instead it is (among many other things) a study of consciousness, of how we are prone to make stories from randomness, and of the situatedness of consciousness in a particular historical moment (in this case an American moment, more specifically Los Angeles). “At the novel’s highpoints, an appropriately messy narrative of the contemporary City of Los Angeles emerges from its pages.”
In any case, consciousness in La Medusa is no longer a pondering on/of the real, it is written as (already part) of the real; that is, Place was interested in the pertinence of cognitive science when writing (about) consciousness; in consciousness as a physical/material process. Perhaps we could say that Vanessa Place pursues further and consequently rejects, some distinctions that Baudelaire still upheld. If Baudelaire wrote with an innovative awareness of the openness of the mind to the body and the body to the outside world; Place writes of consciousness itself as a material phenomenon. And similarly, if Whitman, in his poem Leaves of Grass, created a figure who represented the ideal democratic man, a reflection of American society in the figure of one individual; Place, in turn, studies both her place and time by dissecting her mind ‘clinically’ (with empirical procedure) as part of the world, instead of the intuitive barbaric yawp, uttered from a distance to / projected onto the vast world (“I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.”)
This is also true of Place’s trilogy, Statement of Facts, Statement of the Case, and Argument, where Place’s subject position is reduced to the sorting of statements by defendants involved in court cases (Place is also a practising attorney). Instead of holding forth about a projected, ideal, imagined democratic American figure, Place bears witness to real/actual voices (of America). Place’s writing is ‘clinical’, then, in so much as it is empirical and analytical of the (un)healthy symptoms of society (this is a Deleuzian approach, since in his Essays Critical and Clinical he talks about writers as symptomatologists (analysts of the various (un)healthy symptoms of society).
In terms of formal aspects of the text Place equally confounds borders and therefore writes (with (a new?)) openness. Whitman smudged the line-break, extended it all the way up to the edge of the page and beyond. But, finally, he kept his enjambment. Place instead, creates prose texts in which enjambment is transposed to / replaced by the excess of language itself, and (in her trilogy) the exposing of the State’s ordering of / subjugation of language (of both victims and perpetrators).
It is interesting how, in The Guilt Project Place does not start from the position of the victim but from that of the perpetrator, and so showing the ambiguity and ramifications of be(com)ing an offender. The argument of The Guilt Project is that an increasing inclusiveness of the legal definition of rape
means there are now more rapists among us. And more of rape’s camp followers: the prison-makers, the community watchdogs, law-and-order politicians, and the real-crime/real-time entertainment industry. Vanessa Place examines the ambiguity of rape law by presenting cases where guilt lies, but lies uneasily, and leads into larger ethical questions of what defines guilt, what is justice, and what is considered just punishment. Assuming a society can and must be judged by the way it treats its most despicable members, The Guilt Project looks at the way the American legal system defines, prosecutes, and punishes sex offenders, how this Dateline NBC justice has transformed our conception of who is guilty and how they ought to be treated, and how this has come to undo our deeper humanity.
The critic Terry Castle describes Les Figues Press (co-founded by Vanessa Place) as, “an elegant vessel for experimental American writing of an extraordinarily assured and ingenious sort.” Of Vanessa Place’s writing I think it could be said that it is on its way to becoming an elegant/uneasy ode to and portrait of America of an extraordinarily assured and ingenious sort.
Kenny G sings, with a personal twist, Nada Gordon’s eulogy for men: mp3 There is a place in the middle where he gets lost in the desert. He does not like women. I think, beyond sex or gender, what is most essential is unexpected combinations of soft, smooth, and hairy.
More Kenneth Goldsmith singing (Potter (Harry), Freud, Derrida, Benjamin) and other audio at PennSound
On 1 May, last Friday, there was a Conceptual writing symposium in Berlin in the old train depot the Uferhallen. It was part of Discover US a festival about ‘Art, jazz and lyrics in America now’ that started in January. It was also Labour day / May day, meaning annual riots in Kreuzberg (‘organized anachy’, huh?), and a Nazi gathering of 50 in Kopenick, (East Berlin) that met with an anti-Nazi demonstration of 3000. Although I didn’t hear of any major riots, there was still a total of 127 police officers injured.
Anyway, I didn’t go, I was at the Conceptual poetry symposium, but only for the morning sitting, unfortunately there was another round of papers and a reading (by Kenneth Goldsmith, Rob Fitterman, Vanessa Place, and Kim Rosenfield) that evening that I was unable to attend. Below are some brief, incomplete notes on this part of the symposium (missed out on a lot of what was said).
Rob Fitterman, short introduction
Context is everything. The importance of the collectivity of community for the sharing of ideas. In the discussion following the papers Kenneth Goldsmith reiterates this with the idea of Conceptual writing as a ‘platform for conversation’. If conceptual works do not reverberate, have no after-effect, then they are of no use.
A common feature of the Conceptual poets is that they reframe existing text instead of contributing new text. Fitterman by using Google search terms, Goldsmith most radically by pure transposition of text into new context, Kim Rosenfield by creating poetry with mixed texts from various disciplines, and Vanessa Place by allowing the notion of excess to work through her poetry.
The first part of the day consisted of four short papers meant to contextualize and introduce some main points of discussion. The papers were given by Ulla Haselstein, Andrew Gross, and Catrin Gersdorf; all associated with the JFK Graduate school in Berlin. And a fourth speaker, Vanessa Place, who was the only poet in this panel.
Vanessa Place, ‘Gone With The Wind: The Cantos of Nothing’
Very beautiful paper. Part essay, part long prose poem. Instead following Goldsmith’s idea of not producing more language, because there is already more than enough, Vanessa Place explores the other option to its extreme; that of producing an excess of language.
The fact that Vanessa Place is a lawyer as well as a poet became clear in her use of legal register and information. For example, she went into great detail about someone’s death sentence last week (ironically, these are details I did not note down..). She mentions time of execution and quotes the prisoners statement, ‘I did not go into the house to kill Mrs …’.
These strings of detailed, concrete information are embedded in endless repetitions of sentences about ‘nothing’; sentences like (paraphrase, not quote); ‘it means nothing to me, you mean nothing to me, nothing is left’. A finite argument and story thus emerging from a seemingly anonymous text about nothing.
In the second half of the essay/poem the emphasis shifts from nothing to the notion of verdict/judgement. We judge, not only people on death row, but each other, all of the time.
Some quotes from Place’s text:
‘The negative capability of weeping search engines…imagination is a failure of the imagination… this I has nothing to do with you… you read me as potential, that is to say the nothing to come…I is a utility like electricity’
Ulla Haselstein, ‘On Gertrude Stein’
Bit of a disappointing reading of Gertrude Stein as a forerunner of Conceptual poetry. Talked about how Stein’s work questions labels of poetry and prose and the boundaries between the two. Mentions how Stein breaks down communication in order to focus on the materiality of the language; for example with her conceptual ‘poem’ ‘Five words in a line.’ (1930)
Discusses ‘Orange In’, from Tender Buttons as about 1. object (the orange), 2. ‘Origin’, 3. And thirdly as a poem that places ‘Orange’ in a context, that of the poem, in which it is immediately subsumed. The repetition in ‘Orange In’: ‘a no, a no since, a no since when, a no since when since…’, as 1. Innocence, 2. A nonsense
Catrin Gersdorf (Berlin), ‘Objectivity and Conceptual Writing’
Asked to what extent conceptual poetry is informed by objectivity. Makes analogy to scientific methodology of enlightenment (Francis Bacon), talks about Donna Haraway’s tripartition of objectivity into: 1. Ontological: epistemological concern, 2. Mechanical (prohibition of judgement, suppression of wilful intention), 3. A-perspectival (elminating individual idiosyncrasy from moral philosophy, so not scientific objectivity, but a non-personal immersion in knowledge). For Donna Haraway objectivity is about situatedness ≠ free-floating transcendence. Social identity as a source for objective knowledge.
Gersdorf argues that Conceptual writing refurbishes objectivity not as epistemological, but as a poetic virtue. Says that ‘sobject’ (proposed in Place/Fitterman’s recent Notes on conceptualisms is still dominated by the object). Vanessa Place disagrees. Not sure what point she makes.. I think: ‘sobject’ is just a way of sidestepping the subject/object dichotomy.
Andrew Gross, ‘Prose Poems and Line Breaks. Some Limits of Verse in Modern Prosody’
Asks where the border lies between prose and poetry. Where does poetry stop and prose begin? Concluding that the book as object is the new line break.
Argues that lyrical poetry is writing that ‘pretends as if no one notices’, ‘eloquence is heard, poetry is overheard’. This is like ‘absorption’ in painting: painting as if people do not notice painter. Gross calls this ignoring of the reality of the situation by the poet, ‘insincere’ and calls transcription of conceptual poetry content neutral and a ‘lyrical poetry that has overcome insincerity’
Gross talks about David Shapiro’s notion of ‘dramatization’, poetry is absorbed into subject matter in a move away from the lyrical. And the replacement of ‘absorption’ with ‘decorum’. Gross mentions as examples: Yeats’ appropriation of a passage of Pater’s Renaissance in his 1936 anthology the Oxford Book of Modern Verse (in which a passage of prose is included as free verse. See here for enlightening quote about this by Yeats); The Waste Land as a ‘gameshow’ Marianne Moore indexing a book of poetry under subject matter (a ‘decorum’ that was incidentally, satirized in Zukofsky’s ‘Poem beginning ‘The’’ for which the index was alphabetical, instead of in the order the entries would appear in the poem, which made it nearly impossible to use; see Mark Scroggins’ biography Poem of a Life, 56).
Gross concludes that conceptual poetry fully achieves this absorption of poetry into subject matter, as in Kenneth Goldsmith’s Day. Day is not the same as ‘simply information’ because it is published in book form. Gross thinks the margin of the book is the new line break and that the book as artefact will continue to play an important role for poetry (and the discussion about poetry).
Vanessa Place expects this to be less so, but thinks that the book form might be maintained because in there are particular examples in which poetry might need the materiality of the page.
Kenneth Goldsmith thinks she is ‘acting her age’ and that the days of the book are over, that we are the last generation who, including himself, will place such an emphasis on the book as object. He thinks that those who grew up with internet, ‘the ‘digital natives’, will skew the entire thing beyond our imagination.’
UPDATE: Forgot an interesting note. One more point that bears mentioning: Michalis Pichler commented in the discussion following the papers that the distinction between visual arts and poetry seems reactionary to him, in the same way that the distinction between sculpture and painting used to be. Vanessa Place disagreed, Kenneth Goldsmith disagreed.
And although I find it an interesting notion to entertain, I also still see can’t help but see an essential difference between the two. The only way I see this conflation working is from the idea that everything is text, but that still is not the same as language (which in my book is still an essential and fundamental ingredient of reflection in/for poetry..).
Video poetry is perhaps a good example: video-poet Tom Konyves points to just this when he talks about what for him is the difference between video-art and video-poetry (in the comment box of this recent post on the topic by Ron Silliman, Tue. May 12).
“What differentiates videopoems from experimental (non-narrative) films is that videopoetry is based on the considered, sometimes curious juxtaposition of language (spoken or visual text) with images and sound. It is the text that drives the work; its presence is the essential link between the identifiable parts (edits or scenes). It is also the source of inspiration for the work.”
UPDATE: I neglected to put up Michalis Pichler’s full quote, which sheds a bit more nuanced light on his position:
“To insist on modernist premises and a categorical division between visual art and poetry strikes me as reactionary, as reactionary as was insisting on a categorical division between sculpture and painting around the turn of last century.”
Michalis Pichler added and specified later that, “The example of Vito Acconci was discussed, I said to me his sixties stuff is clearly visual art and poetry/writing. Kenny [Goldsmith] said that he [Acconci] by then refused to be called a poet, was exclusively directed towards the art world, and that that makes him a visual artist. I said it doesn’t matter, and today we should be able to clearly see that that was poetry (,besides maybe being something else, too).”