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The Tortoise And The Hare: Dale Smith and Kenneth Goldsmith Parse Slow and Fast Poetries

By Kenneth Goldsmith

tortoise-hare-1

Dale Smith: As a poet I’m invested in the history of poetics, its long lore, and its entanglements with philosophy, rhetoric, politics, and other modes of thought and conversation. For me, how we relate to history — our various understandings of it — is essential.

Kenneth Goldsmith: Any notion of history has been leveled by the internet. Now, it’s all fodder for the remix and recreation of works of art: free-floating toolboxes and strategies unmoored from context or historicity.

Read the whole conversation here

Comments (28)

  • On August 10, 2009 at 7:04 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    This is a fascinating document. It reaveals a great deal. People should read it.

    Kent

  • On August 10, 2009 at 7:20 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    And one of the (stunningly) revealing moments is, in fact, this: self-quoted, with no apparent irony, by Kenny, above:

    >Any notion of history has been leveled by the internet.

    Kent

  • On August 10, 2009 at 7:53 pm Bobby wrote:

    Agreed, on both counts.

  • On August 10, 2009 at 9:57 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks for posting Kenny.

    I wish that more people could talk like this. Who knows maybe it will urge discussion rather than the regular polarized discussions that tend to flare up here.

    Neither of these poets is offering a simplistic answer to conflicting poetics. Thankfully. I wish that more people could talk like this. Here’s an interesting quote from Goldsmith:

    “One thing I learned from Cage is to accept everything — even those things which we find distasteful.”

    And further to the above quote–there is a context for that point:
    “All types of proposed linear historical trajectories have been scrambled and discredited by the tidal wave of digitality, which has crept up on us and so completely saturated our culture that we, although deeply immersed in it, have no idea what hit us.”

    And an interesting one from Mr. Smith
    “The communal possibilities of the web are vast, indeed, but poetry in that quaint modernist sense asks questions about the subjective experience of these connected isolatos. Somewhere between the subjective search for meaning and the collective hive that organizes that meaning for others, I see art and technology symbiotically related…”

  • On August 11, 2009 at 11:56 am Henry Gould wrote:

    I hear trees & rocks are also on the way out – they’re being replaced by pictures of trees & rocks.

  • On August 11, 2009 at 12:08 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Didn’t that start happening when people drew pictures of trees and rocks on cave walls?

    Or when humans first saw trees and rocks?

  • On August 11, 2009 at 12:18 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Depends where you hang the picture.

  • On August 11, 2009 at 12:34 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    But seriously… I’m interested in Kenneth Goldsmith’s remarks on art’s independence from ethics, and Dale Smith’s agreement (citing the Duncan/Levertov disagreement, & siding with Duncan).

    The poetics of Celan (see his story “Conversation in the Mountains”), Montale, Mandelstam, & Geoffrey Hill take a different positon on this. Recognizing the inevitable distancing & alienating effects of artifice and representation, Celan seeks to take a further turn – through art, to “anti-art”, to truth. & this is a moral-ethical dimension, contextualized by suffering. & the central theme in Hill’s poetry & essays is a recognition of universal human complicity in sin, error, evil & suffering. He seeks out those poets & critics in various periods of English & American literature who can articulate a clear-eyed moral response – a crystallization of an ethos, through artistic expression – to the moral-historical challenges of their time.

    This is history, “context”, & intellectual substance : transmitted/transmuted by the poet’s gift into substantial works of art, which bear witness to, & seek meaning in, their times.

    Kenneth & Dale are certainly alert to technological changes in the means of communication. But I guess my whole bent would be to affirm the more basic conjunction between language & meaning as the true nexus or medium of poetic art. The traditional technology of poetry, like that of architecture (cf. the Parthenon, for example) is both deceptively simple & profoundly expressive.

  • On August 11, 2009 at 5:44 pm john wrote:

    Kenneth,

    thanks for posting this and making your position clear.

    Here’s the conversation your found poetry provokes in me:

    Framing a found object as an art object is a 95-year-old strategy.

    Other strategies are older, true, but they don’t make claims of novelty.

    I agree that your particular method of framing your found objects is your own. But that’s not conceptual — that’s a personal variant on an almost-century-old concept.

    I’m a grateful fan of your museum work, and find some of your curatorial work to be more fertile conceptually than the texts you print under your own name; I’m thinking particularly of your exhibit of found poetry and graffiti poetry. We as a culture have a limited consciousness of the always-mediated nature of language; unlike Sound (Cage’s medium) or Color and Line (Kandinsky’s), there is no “naked” language — it’s always mediated, by voice or by writing (or the body, in sign language, whether visual sign language or tactile sign language). Your found-poetry exhibits highlight this truth fruitfully.

    The composer Kyle Gann once asked me over drinks at a bar who the John Cage of poetry might be, and I had no answer. The reason for there having been no figure equivalent to Cage in poetry has to do with the always-already-mediated nature of language.

    Thanks also for your touting of Christian Bök’s book, which I got from the library today.

    And thanks for your blurb on the Saroyan Collected, which I got from the library recently. Long ago a poet I admired gave me their extra copy of “Pages,” which has often been a charming inspiration; I hadn’t known the other stuff and was glad to read it.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 1:47 am Vivek Narayanan wrote:

    Please forgive me, but I just wrote a found poem that I think has direct bearing on both Conceptual Poetry and its supposed rival, Slow Poetry, and this discussion between the two. I would like permission to include it in both camps. May I, or would I have to apply for membership / join the company first?

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  • On August 12, 2009 at 9:26 am thomas brady wrote:

    This is the Henry Gould I love.

    One more important issue this discussion brings to mind:

    Who gets laid more, Mr. Gold, or Mr. Smith?

  • On August 12, 2009 at 10:48 am thomas brady wrote:

    “I hear trees & rocks are also on the way out – they’re being replaced by pictures of trees & rocks.”

    This is what I liked by Mr. Gould.

    This, by Mr. Gould sounds good, too:

    “a recognition of universal human complicity in sin, error, evil & suffering. He seeks out those poets & critics in various periods of English & American literature who can articulate a clear-eyed moral response – a crystallization of an ethos, through artistic expression – to the moral-historical challenges of their time.”

    –But is actually boring shite.

    I think one needs to make these distinctions–or we are lost.

    One has to be careful with the ‘reply’ function; it lulls one into believing hitting ‘reply’ will reply to a specific post, but it doesn’t work that way.

    Further, the ‘discussion’ I referred to was not the little ‘reply’ discussion, but the entire interview between Goldson and Smith. I should have been clearer there.

    My query on that ‘discussion’ is very much to the point. Who gets laid more? Goldsmith or Smith? May I have an answer, please?

    And, of course, one could inquire also, who is likely to produce more children?

    And how will those children be raised and brought up?

    What shall they go on to do?

  • On August 12, 2009 at 1:19 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    You’re right, Thomas; that was a boring passage. Often when I try to say something important or complicated, it comes out merely portentous & cliche-ridden – you get phrases like “clear-eyed moral response”.

    But I’d hate to lose the substance in the faulty style. Kenneth & Dale’s discourses reflect on the social role(s) of the poet, & what poetry is (if there is such a thing)…

    & to my ear, anyway, they represent familiar modernist & postmodernist notions about art & poetry : such as the notion that art originates in a vibrant, caffeinated realm of aesthetic autonomy – of Nietzschean detachment from social mores & ethical norms, where art is about the production of “the new” above all…

    My sense of poetry is rather different, I think…

    When Keats, in his ode, has the urn conclude, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” I think he was having the urn set a kind of perennial challenge, to himself and to all poets : ie. how does one find or make the fusion of beauty and truth? & such a challenge is particularly jarring in relation to this concept of the artist as amoral Ubermensch, since the fusion of beauty and truth would necessarily involve something like “moral beauty”.

    People think poetry is easy to write; they also hold to the “big tent” theory of hybrid forms, in which anything you want to call art or poetry is such, by fiat. In my view, on the other hand, poetry inhabits a paradoxically austere medium (language) – a medium which creates space for the apprehension of Dante’s “ben del intelletto” (intellectual goodness) : a beauty involved with justice & truth.

    With these things in mind, my concept of the poet & the role of poet tends toward this : the poet is a kind of COMPANION to humanity. This was Whitman’s sense of things. The poet travels WITH people, through time & history & experience. & by finding an austere means of expressing the hidden beauty enclosed in suffering life, the poem achieves its END (as an aesthetic object, as a work of beauty). “Beauty is difficult, Yeats” writes Pound. In this he was speaking in the same (Whitman’s) vein.

    The beauty found in art is a difficult achievement, involved with austerity & exactitude : because it is a struggle toward the harmonization of beauty and truth, of art & experience.

    The companion of the people speaks their language, & brings it to its full flowering, as he or she walks in their shoes…

  • On August 12, 2009 at 1:38 pm john wrote:

    Henry, by characterizing the poet as a companion to the people, you imply that the poet is not a person and is instead . . . an Ubermann?

    I’m one of those who holds that “anything you want to call art or poetry is such, by fiat.”

    That sounds trivial, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. My view of art is that it’s religious, even someone’s quoting of the phone book, even a country-western song’s monumentally hyperbolic self-pity. The people experiencing an artwork seek communion.

    Fiat artworks, such as Duchamp’s Readymades and Kenneth’s homages to Duchamp, are no less about communion. The communion they seek takes place at the altar of art history. The novelty of Duchamp’s conception gives me a charge, a jolt, a vital experience, a communion; homages to Duchamp don’t give me nearly the same charge, but they may give other people a deep charge, and that’s cool.

    Maybe work like Duchamp’s and Cage’s and Kenneth’s is about “expressing the hidden beauty enclosed in suffering life.” Kenneth’s hope for conversation, and his exemplifying of it in his dialog with Dale, sound communal to me!

  • On August 12, 2009 at 1:57 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    John, I think you’re splitting hairs in your first sentence. A “companion to the people” (pardon my stodgy 1930s phrasing) is simply one of them.

    My imaginary companion Mandelstam writes about this. In one of his essays, he criticizes the Russian Symbolist concept of the poet as exalted spiritual being. Mandelstam lived out the Whitman-concept, & gave his life for it.

    & hey, that’s fine if people get a deep charge & communion from Duchamp or whatever they decide to have an aesthetic experience with. Beauty is where you find it. I don’t happen to find much of it in these arch self-conscious inside-art games.

    I like the austerity of poetry.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 2:17 pm john wrote:

    And that’s the thing about religion — different strokes for different folks. I have a greater attraction to the altar of art history than you do, but my attraction is limited — it ain’t the only or even the most important altar for me; and, on an even more personal note, I’ve been struggling to de-art-historify this sequence of poems I’ve been writing; I’m constantly self-consciously explicitly placing the series in relation to that altar, and I want to get away from that space and go places more akin to what you’re talking about.

    Didn’t mean to be picking nits or splitting hairs — it was a gut reaction; I didn’t like your formulation, but no big deal, I see what you’re trying to say, and please accept my apology for being combative about it.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 2:44 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I’m having the same struggle. & no need to apologize – I think my unfortunate phrasing justified your reaction.

    The question of populism (maybe especially in Russia) is complicated. But it seems to me that poets like Akhmatova & Mandelstam in a sense justified the high-art traditions of their (Russian) poetry, through their personal identification & solidarity with the sufferings of everyone, their unwillingness to compromise…

    Is all this irrelevant to the American situation? I don’t think so. Keats’ challenge (of the Grecian urn) is still there. & this is a “Whitman/Mendelstam” model of the poet as traveling companion & beautiful-truth speaker : it’s not just an idealized Russian import.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 4:49 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Henry,

    I suppose one could say that Keats’ ‘Truth = Beauty’ is a ‘challenge’ to future artists; to say so makes the formula seem less pedantic, but I don’t know that this says anything new about ‘Truth = Beauty.’

    We accept this formula or we don’t; I do, but I don’t think it’s a ‘moral’ formula, as you say; in fact I would say the opposite; ‘Truth = Beauty’ excludes the Moral.

    Keats wasn’t didactic, and truth = beauty is not didactic.

    Mathematics = Music is a similar formula, and there is nothing moral here, and I feel like Keats might fancy this formula.

    It’s like the difference between 6/8 and 2/4 time signatures. There’s nothing moral about it.

    As for your ‘conservative’ view of language and human history as the two essential elements of poetry, to put it more simply than you might wish, I concur. The wish to drag poetry onto the cement slab of the solid arts I always thought was imbecilic; Goldsmith holds little interest for me.

    Thomas

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:49 am thomas brady wrote:

    ‘click to read’ comments are so dangerous, so hot!!!!!

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:53 am thomas brady wrote:

    ‘click to show’ not ‘click to read,’ sorry…

    but yea…click to show…I like it…

    Go on…click to show…you know you want to…

    ‘Click to Show’ is even HOTTER than ‘click to read…’

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:54 am Jeffrey Side wrote:

    I was rather perplexed to see Kenny so supportive of the idea that anything should go in poetry, yet admit that UbuWeb is not a democracy and that he decides “what goes there”, and that:

    “99% of what is submitted is not accepted. But that’s why it’s so good. The bar is set very high according to Ubu’s standards, which are quite rigorous.”

    Yet, I wonder what criteria are brought into play when deciding what is the best of “anything should go”, or arbitrarily collaged texts etc. I suppose, there isn’t one, and that it is all personal taste.

  • On August 15, 2009 at 1:24 pm David Baptiste Chirot wrote:

    Dear Vivek Narayanan:

    Thank you very much for your comments and examples from “branding”, which I would go further than yourself with in calling these poetic projects “rebrandings,” in that by tchaning the names itis hoped that no wil notice the game is stil the same.

    I find it intersting that both Smiths–Mr Smith and Mr Goldsmith–are pushing the aspect of a “crisis” in order to draw thei examples for “saving poetry” as a commodity to be “intersted in invseting in,” each gentleman has decided todraw innspiration from examples outside poetry. Mr Smith seeks itin the Slow Food movement and Mr Goldsmith truns to his art education, thinking that his 100 year old andmore ideas will be “ahead of poetry,” becuase as everybdoy knows fifty years ago brion Gysin told William SBurroughs that paiting was fifty years ahead of writing.

    However, if on is turning to ideas at least a hundred years old to pretend to be fifty years ahead of poetry/writing, then writing is back in the age of Bartleby the Scrivener, who says “I prefer not to” to the activities which Mr Goldsmith endorses–copying, filing, moving data about, as though one’s existence by being suddenly viewed as that of an aetheticized “representation” of a copy clerk wil make one feel happier in the work place, and so bring pleasure also to the dayof the bosses who will observe with pleasure (aesthetic pleasure, to be sure, nice & distanced)– the aesthetics of their drones busy as ants working in the ant farm run by themselves. By being conscious of their statues as “poets” instead of file clerks,workers whil feel grateful and so not rebel or think or question at all the directives of the bosses, who think of themselves now as Artists of Production, Showmen of Industriousness, while Mr Smith’s poets concern themselves with the art of consumption, healthy and nutritious consumption, slowly masticated, which enables them, too, to turnout the products that need to be produced to keep those slow jaws working and reciting aloud slow poetry classics (the interval between the work being seen as turning from ugly to beautiful, from the laughed at to the classic, as Gertrude Stein observes in “Composition as Explanation,” grows ever smaller, until there is barely an intant at all–and voila! the Instant Classic aspect of these new meals and models of poems!) –and al of this to be audio taped digitally for the listening pleasure of the drones busily filing and copying away in Mr Goldsmith’s white collar version of a sweatshop. As Walter Benjamin noted in writing about the Neue Sachlicheit Photogrpahy of late 20′s early 30s Germany, the aestheticization of the public sphere as though it were the private, creates an aestheticization of the politics of representation, in which fascism turns existence into a nice clean image which distances the viewer from the actuality of the scene, and instead makes room for the artificiality of the presence of a populace no longer “free to think and act on their own,” but one turned into anonymous actors in a mass movement parading through carefully manipulated and constructed sites and “scenes.”
    Both gentlemen argue for the Utility the Use Value and the Gallery/Market value of Poetry,in an effort to pronounce the works “good for you” rather than just “empty words/calories” and so rebrand the continual rebranding of the Puritan Ethic in American life and culture.

    Something else which strikes me is that the word “populsim” comes up–as i recall “in these very pages”–i.e. this blog– Mr Goldmsith lambasting the idea of a revival of the WPA for poets and artists, the invocation here of the very uncouth louts formerly given the boot from the hallowed halls of Art and Poetry seems to be the case of the usual Elitist position, in that the populace are banned one moment from being present in the presence of the Mysteries, and welcomed the next to demonstrate how loved the priests of the mysteries are by their obedient followers. A kind of demagoguery raises its head to tower above crowd and start barking orders, while at the same time conducting a staged conversation with the Agricultural Representative of the State Arts brigades and drones. The mood of a threat to security, of a crisis so necessary to keep the Sate running cleanly and the drones and gardeners humming at their tasks, is exactlythat situation which since 9/11 had continually been presented as “change” which now needs to be “changed” some more, al the while moving steadily backwards into ever safer ever more “tried and true” gimmicks in order to hide the fact that the language itself in the USA has become absolultely so riddled with compromise, hypocrisy, ‘denial” and self absorbed skirmishes for attention that
    has nothing to offer other than an adherence to the kind of conformity propagated by Jacques Ellul’s “technological Society.” Itis the confromity of the “business of America is business” being marketd as “the new digital apolyptic change” as something “new and exceiting” insteadof being one of the greatest tools there is for the porudction not only of conformity but a fascism thatis going unnoticed while al are self pre-occupied in sparring over the watermelon rinds of ideas long ago moved along from, andnow being rebranded as the laatest thing–the newest version of the Whole Earth Catalogue and thelatest paen to turning persons into drones for the benefit of the clever few who think they “are realy on to something” at least in terms of profit, profit being one’s name up thereinlights as one of the technicains of the new Sate Detention centers for those, according to the Obama adminsitration, need not be charged for crimes they have not comitted yet might in the future for them to be detained indefintiely and held without trial, lawyers or ny visitors . . .
    While persons begin to vnish, the Bread and Citcuses of poetic “movements” and “concerns” wil keep the drones to busy to notice . . .
    just as the new administration rebrands its continuations and goings-further than the previous one, so these rebrandings operate to make one think that “change” is on its way–
    “ceci n’est pas une pipe”–
    david-bc

  • On August 16, 2009 at 3:50 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    “Beauty is difficult, Yeats” Pound wrote. Where please HG?

    cheers.

    Fascinating discussion on truth, beauty, morals and good ole American poetry being stuck up and worn on the sleeve of all our knowings.

    Pound is dispatched onto the baize, as the voice of worth, to bolster Goulds position of being turned on by the austere and hard to do beauty and truth, that hurt, or certainly hurt Pound – far more than Yeats – whose wit didn’t equal Oscar Wildes enough for three words be introduced, without a lay context being present for the casual bore.

    I think the Roman love is present here: the need for an empire in order to measure greatness, at the expense of the truth and beauty, men – mainly – find sexy as a concept of power and controlling all in the polis by the size of the scare; the thrill of the fright that facing gods we are as they into whose eyes we seek to find on our travel intot he Word y’all Gould mon amis Harry old chum.

  • On August 17, 2009 at 3:24 am goo wrote:

    Absolutely brilliant comment, Mr Chirot.

  • On August 17, 2009 at 8:35 am Henry Gould wrote:

    It’s in Cantos LXXX. He is quoting Aubrey Beardsley – a Roman general, I believe, from late 19th-cent. Gaul.

  • On August 17, 2009 at 9:28 am thomas brady wrote:

    I feel a bit of a ghost in this discussion, spoken to, but not there–and yet you can see me if you wish; I wonder, does this foreground me, or make me a lulling background presence? I really love what the ‘dislike’ button is doing, adding a kind of third dimension to discussions…kudos from this mere actor to director, producers, stage managers, lighting, design… gosh, I just want to thank everybody…

    Des, I love this:

    “the need for an empire in order to measure greatness, at the expense of the truth and beauty…”

    Yes, one really gets a sense of ‘art and empire’ at a major art museum, where this reality flashes upon you immediately as in a dream; ‘truth and beauty’ as Empire loot. I spent six hours in one yesterday drinking art until I was drunk; as a poet I’m always humbled by the painters…always amazed at the idea of how great paintings EXIST, and I don’t mean the sugary impressionists who painted the weather, but the Titians and the Copleys and the Greuzes and the Corots and the Geromes and the Tintorettos…

    But great art uses empire not ‘at the expense of the truth and beauty,’ but rather it interrupts empire with truth and beauty, great art rapes empire with beauty…

    Of your remark, “the need for an empire in order to measure greatness, at the expense of the truth and beauty,” I think more of Claude Monet’s silly ‘La Japonaise,’ a garish horror of Camille Monet in a Japanese costume, or those large Japanese vases manufactured for the New England rich in the late 19th century…

    Thomas

  • On August 17, 2009 at 10:22 am thomas brady wrote:

    Goo,

    But isn’t Chirot’s complaint the same Frankfurt School beef which gets rolled out over and over again? In essays like this, which appear regularly in the ‘New York Review,’ a pose is struck against ‘conformity’ in the name of Walter Benjamin, easing carefully into a sanctimonious analogy of U.S.A as Nazi Germany: orderliness and cleanliness turn us all into unthinking drones. Nazism and conformity are bad. Put on your intellectual beard and glasses mask, grab your sack-cloth wearing lover, and storm the barricades. Be hip, daddy-o.

    Chirot questions Smith and Goldsmith’s political creds: they are ultimately and unknowingly working for the elitist, capitalist program in a two pronged way of ‘making file clerks happy little techno-artists and enslaving the ant colony to the anthology poem ideal.’

    Not only is this nothing more than generalized chatter, but it gives Smith & Goldsmith far too much credit. First, they have no political existence. None. By using the broad brush of poltics, we err in every manner possible; we assume political significance and political connections where none exist. We water down the very idea of politics. Chirot is handing Smith and Goldsmith the gift of a political critique, allowing Smith & Goldsmith to retort that either Chirot’s brush is too broad, or Chirot’s views too severe, or that Chirot himself is lacking in political creds; Chirot is like one who complains of worms while opening up a can of them. He must like wrestling with pigs.

    Chirot’s approach gives Smith and Goldsmith ammunition. The proper approach to Mssrs. Smith & Smith is to ignore them until they show a minimum of aesthetic competence. Mere talk never helps mere talk, even when mere talk features the loud (quiet) desperation of Walter Benjamin.

    Thomas

  • On August 18, 2009 at 4:48 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Thanks very much Henry.

    Cheers Tom.


Posted in Poetry News on Monday, August 10th, 2009 by Kenneth Goldsmith.