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In Barry Bonds I See The Future of Poetry

By Kenneth Goldsmith

Bonds-788284.jpg
The inevitability of Barry Bonds serves notice to all poets invested in the Humanist tradition: your tenure is doomed. Barry Bonds is not only the future of athletics, but he’s also emblematic of the future of poetry. More machine than man, chemically enhanced, Bonds is our first mainstream Posthuman public figure. Moving awkwardly, robot-like, festooned with machines — a barrage of cameras following his every move and enormous noise-canceling headphones to silence the jeers — he’s a media-made technologically-supplemented Frankenstein. We dismiss him a as fraud, but we know in our hearts that his way is the way of the future; regardless, we cheer his accomplishment. We disdain his Posthumanism, but we shall soon come to realize that we created the phenomenon of Barry Bonds. We demand our athletes to be super-human and super-human they shall be. Bonds just points to the fact that being human has ceased to be enough: we demand the precision and complexity of machines, in athletes, in politicians, in business and in the arts. And what we demand, we now have.
Barry Bonds has become the embodiment of Posthuman: “the hypothetical future present being whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards.” We react in kind: we deny Bonds his humanness (“He is either unfazed by negativity or internalizes every hostile remark,” one newsman recalls) and call him cold, unresponsive, selfish (“‘I take care of me,” Bonds tells reporters). Futurism made flesh, Barry Bonds is a lovechild of William S. Burroughs (“We ourselves are machines”) and Andy Warhol (“I want to be a machine”).
Bonds’ milestone signifies an end to the humanist discourse. In the classic sense of Baudrillard’s “The Precession of Simulacra,” the idea of Barry Bonds has long preceded the actual event, hence predetermining the outcome. And the outcome is obvious. Barry Bonds is being crucified for the inevitable; he is a martyr for the future. And in the future, just as our children will reminisce about when humans beings still played baseball, we shall reminisce about the time when human beings still wrote poetry for other humans.

Comments (19)

  • On August 5, 2007 at 10:54 am Brian Gilmore wrote:

    I almost agree with this. But actually, the lawyer in me (I am a poet and lawyer) just says, that the law, and now clearly, our social mores, and rules (our law as a society), cannot keep up with technology. Our technologically advanced world, full of more and more ways to succeed and rise high quickly, is always ahead of the laws of our lives. We then try to revise the laws or something but it is too late.
    But it is heavier than that. Bonds was clearly on steriods but the laws of baseball were slow to the roll and in on this one because they thought it was profitable. Did you call him post-human? Brilliant! But I have to add that it is more than post-human, the entire deal is post-order, post-America.
    Bonds isn’t the point; it is America that is the point. America is on steroids because it has to be. Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron represented order, the former America: obey the rules, drink beer, be humble, and don’t cheat or cut corners. They didn’t either because they didn’t have to cheat.
    Bonds’ capture of the record is a complete crashing of that known order, the order that is America, democracy, freedom, etc., the wonderful ideals that they told us about that no don’t really exist anymore except to the extent that we yell for them. Today’s America is now not just against those ideals, they are openly against those ideals. Last night, another warrantless search law was passed. The President of the U.S. made fun of a law that provided health care for children.
    America has to be on steroids (puffed up, huge and scary looking, but inside, hurting, decaying) because no one is really that impressed anymore by it.
    America is Bonds, the over the top superstar, who only needed to be himself and we would have loved him even if he was flawed. Instead, he crossed the line, and now, he is at the point of no return. Can America get off steroids and not become an asterisk? Is America, post human?

  • On August 5, 2007 at 11:18 am toni asante lightfoot wrote:

    The future will tell how prescient you are about your predictions but I will tell you that your choice of picture to represent Bonds is indicative of something deeply inhuman about you. Show a picture of the machine doing something mechanical like hitting a ball instead of looking maniacal.

  • On August 5, 2007 at 2:38 pm david-baptiste chirot wrote:

    I’m with Toni Ashante Lightfoot–
    your discourse completely ignores a very human one that Barry Bonds has made clear over and over again for some years now–that the record he wanted to shatter was Ruth’s (and for single season homers, Mark McGwire’s)–that is, a Black Man holding BOTH home run records–career & single season. The issue of the steroids is not soley one of Barry Bonds’ issues–you are forgetting the great number obaseball players who in a very short period of time ten to twelve years ago, right in plain view, suddenly grew much much larger, beefier, more muscle bound–and began their assaults on the recrod book accompanied by an immense fanfare and adoration–Mark McGwire being portrayed as an image swathed in the American Flag. No one cried foul about steroids at the time–it is only now that Bonds is about to break the two recrods–that the crescendo re steroids has reached such a point. During congressioanl hearings, it became obvious that McGwire has used steroids, and his Hall of Fame chnaces now are much dimmed. Rafael Palmeiro, usually s rue fire Hall of Famer, was even tested positive after his vehment testimony to Congress of his innocnence and the flase charges of Jose Canseco in his book Juiced. (Canseco ironically has turned out to be the honest voice speaking out against steroid use and using himself as an example. Of course he is also seen as exploiting his being such a good guy to repair and sell anew his burned out, scandal riddled, often ridiculed career’s public image.)
    In this context, what Bond is doing is in part saying–the thing you all most fear is a Black Man holding both homer records, and not only that, a Black Man who never conformed even in his early career with the expectations of the media for a “nice interview” or “outgoing personality thankful for coverage”. When Bonds began using/not using chemical and vitamin supplements, it was in the midst of a massive wave of ball players all doing the same thing. I think part of Bonds’ postion now is that–see I told you all along–a Balck Man doing the same as the others in chasing the records–and a “surly” Balck Man at that–will cause more fear and condmenation than any other athlete. The point is not the mechanization of the ball player at all–but the ball player using mechanization to show the hypocrisy of the syetem they are involved in. When it immensely benefitted basebal to have the greate homer record races going on over a couple years, to draw back fans who had been leaving in droves, especially after the strike year–basball turned theother way and let rmpant use of every kind of supplement go on. Now that it seems better for baseball’s image and poularity–they are trying to look “tough” and who better to treat toughly, most toughly of all, than a Black Athlete on the verge of owning two of the most legendary, hallowed records in the sport.
    Barry Bonds is not the end to anything–but the continuation of things very long in the society, confronting these in huge public forum, and by being the anti-Jackie Robinson–questioning the whole idea of the “color line” having been erased. Barry bonds in his own way is saying –you stil think of me as America’s worst nightmare, not America’s Dream. As for the machines and chemicals–Barry Bonds isn’t any different from hundreds of other ball players and thousands and thousands of athletes world wide. Each one has the human hope of having any kind of tiny extra edge over the opponent–if being vegans gave one an advantage, yo would find a mass run on conversion to veganism. Barry Bonds is not pushing the machine/human interface envelope–he is pushing the buttons of a whole society and it’s attitudes across the board, not only in sports. Again, Barry Bonds is not the end to anything, but the continual confrontations in a struggle that goes on continually in a society that is always declaring that it is over with, a scociety that would rather Barry Bonds just went away–
    or–could be turned into a machine–and not have to be faced as what he is, what he proclaims himself to be.
    Remeber how hated Muhammad Ali was for quite some time, before finally being accepted–
    Barry Bonds is a reminder that alot of those attitudes are still alive and well, including the proclaiming of him as post human, a robot.

  • On August 5, 2007 at 5:07 pm Brian Gilmore wrote:

    I am deeply disturbed that Barry Bonds is being compared to Muhammad Ali, a man who risked everything including his life, to stand up for others. How can this be? Barry Bonds? You are not serious? Barry Bonds risked his life for selfish gains. If he had any ounce of dignity, he would have retired and confessed to the world. Pete Rose, the disgraced baseball star of not so long ago, finally came clean about his transgressions. It is time for Barry to ante up and say, I am sorry, I have been living a lie. I starting taking steroids in 1999 or something like that. He will soon, I assure you, especially when they return an indictment against him for perjury. It is sad and disturbing as well that such a great ballplayer (Bonds is great without steroids) felt he had to risk his health for absolute greatness. But no one thinks he is great anymore. Hall of Fame? It won’t happen. I know, I know, it is racism. Yes, this is an opportunity for racism to act without impunity but that is because Bonds disgraced himself. And Bonds still acted for his own selfish reasons, to make himself great. It isn’t like this is not well known either. He told his ex-girlfriend all of these things. He was jealous of Sammie Sosa (a black guy who was on the stuff) and Marh McGwire (a white guy who was on the stuff). It is crazy to think this guy has any political motivations; he didn’t.
    I totally agree that others who are on roids (and other enhancers) and were on roids have not become the poster child for this stuff, but Bonds wants to be the poster child for this era. He wants to be hated, to be despised, he actually gets off on this, because he knows now what his fate is and it isn’t pretty. It is not his identity.
    As for the comment about Ruth, is Bonds ill, or something? Last I checked as well, the guy named Henry Aaron risked his life as well, to break Ruth’s record, and he did, under great pain, if you read his memoir, and did not resort to steroid cream or human growth hormones, or anything other than his heart and his principles. People said they could shoot him and he moved forward and destroyed the myth. Bonds didn’t need to destroy the myth; it is dead already. And if that was the case, why didn’t he stop?

  • On August 6, 2007 at 2:02 pm Dante Micheaux wrote:

    Mr. Goldsmith–as a white member of our highly racialized society, you should be more careful about publicly dehumanizing a Black man, whatever the sarcastic, pseudointellectual phrasing (Posthuman) may be. On a poetic note: not all of us require machines (i.e. radios for weather reports or printing presses for the daily paper) to produce our art. The next time you want recruits for the Uncreativity Movement, please spare us Blacks from your propaganda.

  • On August 6, 2007 at 3:30 pm Aaron Fagan wrote:

    I have no opinion about baseball, but I do think it would be interesting to take such an obsessive inventory of literary history in relation to substance use. Publishing is probably one of the only sectors that doesn’t have some form of drug policy. Did Ginsberg or Burroughs have to take drug tests before signing contracts? Blake? Sartre? In fact many of the thinkers and writers that have shaped the social and political thought of the ages have all been chasing the dragon in one form or another. It is universally disdained and criticized in almost every aspect of of culture, but in the arts . . . it reminds me of Cary Grant (who was a big fan of LSD) in The Philadelphia Story when he addresses Jimmy Stewart saying, “Ah! A writer… the only profession where drinking to excess and beating your wife are a part of the job description.” Mailer stabbed his wife and Burroughs shot his in the face. In any other corner of living they would be demons, but we experience them as eccentric trickster gods. Clearly a lot more can be said about all of this. The suicide sheik of Sexton and Plath and Berryman and a laundry list of others. A professor of mine once said quite simply: It’s an occupational hazzard. I’m no angel this is just an observation.

  • On August 6, 2007 at 4:22 pm Kenneth Goldsmith wrote:

    Gee whiz, Mr. Michaux. I find the Posthuman to be a thrilling and positive development, regardless of race: Mr. Bonds is a hero. It’s hard for me to believe that think my post sarcastic. It is far from it. I believe in every word I wrote and would say the identical things about a Caucasian, Asian or Hispanic person. I see the future and couldn’t be more thrilled by it.

  • On August 7, 2007 at 9:45 am Stephen Russell wrote:

    I’m curious about the crossed out “hypothetical future.” Didn’t Heidegger cross out words, or am I confusing him with Derrida?

  • On August 7, 2007 at 10:22 am Dante Micheaux wrote:

    It’s Micheaux. And though you have the luxury of being thrilled, I do not. In our very recent history, individuals like myself and Mr. Bonds were everything but human. Pardon me, if I want to relish in my humanity a bit longer before the avant-garde decides to go post-.

  • On August 8, 2007 at 7:19 am Brian Gilmore wrote:

    Bonds is, indeed, human, but I urge everyone to read “Game of Shadows,” (only a few chapter will suffice), you will probably come to realize that his version of human is so flawed and absurd, he is not worthy of anyone’s defense. You will know that this one is going to play out (and it will) and it is going to be sad and ugly, folks, I assure you, it always ends up badly. I do hope his health holds up because history says it won’t; steroids is a mutha on your body. It is package deal, everyone knows that, but for the fleeting glory they seek, the athlete takes the chance that it won’t get them. That they are one that will escape its nasty course on the body. His hair has fallen out, and he has other issues but I hope he is able to get around it. And lets hope he doesn’t go out of his mind. The good thing is, he has lots of money, but I wish him well even though I think the bad place he is in now, is lonely and pathetic.

  • On August 8, 2007 at 9:41 am Albert Min wrote:

    I’m in agreement with Dante Micheaux. Nothing against the notion of the Posthuman, but this is definitely the wrong approach. So says Adorno, “To say ‘we’ and mean ‘I’ is one of the most recondite insults.”

  • On August 9, 2007 at 2:06 pm Rich Villar wrote:

    It is pointless to bash or defend Barry Bonds as an athlete or a baseball player, at least in this forum, because this conversation isn’t really about sports.
    Mr. Goldsmith, if your post isn’t sarcastic or racist, then it is at the very least behind the times (ironically enough). Chemically enhanced, you say? Moving awkwardly, festooned with machines? Cameras following his every move, immune to criticism? Then where within this rubric is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger? For that matter, where’s Mark McGwire? I’d say you missed the boat by quite a wide margin.
    I second the thoughts of Mr. Micheaux. I would add that if THIS is the avant-garde future, where a black public figure in the United States is held up by an academic as some sort of superhuman, steroid-juiced machine (in much the same way that slaves were prized for broad backs and stong shoulders), then I’m content to find myself another way forward.

  • On August 9, 2007 at 6:17 pm Aaron Fagan wrote:

    I am still mystfied about what this blog has to do with poetry or literature or language or humanity or truth or beauty. Take your pick, it’s just typing. Like someone speaking into a tube that loops around to their own ear. Fiction or prose has gone from metafiction to medifiction in the sense of medicated dissociation and so has poetry. Why hasn’t the L=A=L=A poet done some mathematical wordplay with: Prozac (prose) and the symtom of aprosodia and language cognition and the idea of poetry and POETRY and the Lilly gift. Fertile ground for something really interesting. Did Ruth Lilly have some sort of vision that poetry could be the spiritual corrective from the insanity of her uncle’s invention?
    THE ADDICT
    Sleepmonger,
    deathmonger,
    with capsules in my palms each night,
    eight at a time from sweet pharmaceutical bottles
    I make arrangements for a pint-sized journey.
    I’m the queen of this condition.
    I’m an expert on making the trip
    and now they say I’m an addict.
    Now they ask why.
    WHY!
    Don’t they know that I promised to die!
    I’m keeping in practice.
    I’m merely staying in shape.
    The pills are a mother, but better,
    every color and as good as sour balls.
    I’m on a diet from death.
    Yes, I admit
    it has gotten to be a bit of a habit-
    blows eight at a time, socked in the eye,
    hauled away by the pink, the orange,
    the green and the white goodnights.
    I’m becoming something of a chemical
    mixture.
    that’s it!
    My supply
    of tablets
    has got to last for years and years.
    I like them more than I like me.
    It’s a kind of marriage.
    It’s a kind of war where I plant bombs inside
    of myself.
    Yes
    I try
    to kill myself in small amounts,
    an innocuous occupation.
    Actually I’m hung up on it.
    But remember I don’t make too much noise.
    And frankly no one has to lug me out
    and I don’t stand there in my winding sheet.
    I’m a little buttercup in my yellow nightie
    eating my eight loaves in a row
    and in a certain order as in
    the laying on of hands
    or the black sacrament.
    It’s a ceremony
    but like any other sport
    it’s full of rules.
    It’s like a musical tennis match where
    my mouth keeps catching the ball.
    Then I lie on; my altar
    elevated by the eight chemical kisses.
    What a lay me down this is
    with two pink, two orange,
    two green, two white goodnights.
    Fee-fi-fo-fum-
    Now I’m borrowed.
    Now I’m numb.
    ANNE SEXTON

  • On August 11, 2007 at 12:41 pm tom meacham wrote:

    What Mr. Goldsmith is saying is very simple, poets who choose to ignore the advent of Duchamp are doomed to mediocrity. Duchamp brought with him post-modern self awareness and to deny it as opposed to working through it or with it is to pretend to be living in the 19th century.

  • On August 12, 2007 at 5:16 pm Dr. G wrote:

    I think Ms. Patricia Smith’s commentary about the potential posthuman future is a brilliant warning to us all. I disagree that it must be accepted. More and more I am beginning to unsee some of what passes as normal for U.S. insular contemporary American poetry. A poem like Allen Ginsberg’s “The Lion For Real” recently blew me away when I read it for the first time, and I bet it will blow people away years from now. Many posthuman highly technical poets hopefully will not matter.
    If Ms. Smith is that Boston-based slam poet, than I remember her well when I lived in Boston in 1991, 1992 and saw her perform her poetry as an amazing actress (and once lost to her). That performance I recall was human and humanist to the core. In contrast this steroid-laden, machine-wearing posthuman future that Barry Bonds and others represent need not be embraced. If obscurity to the machine’s media and awards is the price, I’d say not a bad price to pay. To put it in baseball terms, be Derek Jeter, not Barry Bonds.
    As some have pointed out, this posthuman machine future has been long in coming, and John Ruskin described capitalism as attempting to make people into “animated tools.”
    For instance I just read Theordore Roethke’s “Highway: Michigan” poem written in the 1930s from his “Collected Poems”; it might as well describe today. Here are the first two stanzas:
    Here from the field’s edge we survey
    The progress of the jaded. Mile
    On mile of traffic from the town
    Rides by, for at the end of day
    The time of workers is their own.
    They jockey for position on
    The strip reserved for passing only.
    The drivers from production lines
    Hold to advantage dearly won.
    They toy with death and traffic fines.

  • On August 13, 2007 at 10:35 am Richard Villar wrote:

    That would be interesting insight, G, but it actually wasn’t Patricia Smith who made this post. It was Kenneth Goldsmith.

  • On September 3, 2008 at 12:44 pm E. Bruce-Jones wrote:

    Mr. Goldsmith’s post was dangerous, and this discussion is very important. I stumbled on this discussion by chance, please excuse if this sounds pedantic, since I don’t know you, Mr. Goldsmith.
    What Mr. Goldsmith aims to point out may be about poetry, maybe the omission of Duchamp, maybe the aspiration to transcend an aesthetic form of humanism. But as poets, we have to be willing to look critically at the choices we make, the images we choose to broadcast, and the world we create with those images. The original post ondoes (in advance) what posthumanism aspires to do, making posthumanism itself (ironically) a simulacrum.
    Mr. Goldsmith demonstrates two things:
    1. The posthuman subject is white. First, the message about theory gets lost when its aesthetic of it is washed out with dirty water; the image of Barry as maniacal (see Toni above) and the roboticization narrative do more to, as Micheaux (above) phrases, DEhumanize Bonds than it does to POSThumanize him. These renditions of Blackness are not new or benign–they are steeped in modern discourses on race–nor are they applicable with the same degree of saliency in the American imagination to everyone, particularly not to our white brethren. We don’t need details, we know the examples, and we know that a maniacal image of a white person is taken to represent an exception rather than the rule. Said differently, De-(again, not post)humanizing images like the one painted of Barry trick the careless reader into believing that we’ve already slipped into having this discussion from within a universalist utopia, instead of one where white is the universal, the only subject of posthumanism. In order to get to a discussion on posthumanism, we have to first survive the legacy of humanism. And to be able to imagine having already survived humanism, we have to be extremely careful about the aesthetic worlds we create as entry points. It can not be Barry Bonds.
    2. Technology facilitates oppression. Let me explain. Posthumanism is a continental European philosophy of the technocratic way of looking at life, humans. It is, among other things, a strategic attempt to erase and exhonorate other flawed European taxonomies of life. To be swept by an inevitable flow from somewhere inside our humanity to a place beyond it. The strategy to erase and exonerate ideologies of oppression born out of European Enlightenment is part of the content, defining the flaw. We can not be posthuman robots transcending through technology that is itself enabled and structured by racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, etc. Foucault uses the term “technology” to express how institutions enable certain ideologies of power and thus narratives of authenticity around having access to “the truth”. Scientific advancement is immersed in racist (and other –ist) epistemologies. The dirty secret delight that some see in Bonds winning—is that because he is a robot or is it because we control the robot that we’ve made him? What other robots do “we” enjoy seeing win? Tiger woods when he’s in a zone? Probably not menacing enough. And we don’t “dismiss him as a fraud.” The Barry Bonds phenomenon is not because of his phenomenal baseball skills alone. His performance is a total picture, a racialized picture of contemporary humanism doing what it does best—allowing a bit of biological determinism in through the window.

  • On September 3, 2008 at 3:16 pm Michael Robbins wrote:

    Man, dudes so serious. I miss Kenny.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 10:17 am Kenneth Goldsmith « The Rabelaisian Web wrote:

    [...] In Barry Bonds I See the Future of Poetry, Kenneth Goldsmith http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2007/08/in-barry-bonds-i-see-the-future-of-poetry/ [...]


Posted in Uncategorized on Saturday, August 4th, 2007 by Kenneth Goldsmith.