Simon Morris at Information as Material has just released a DVD entitled "Sucking on Words"—a documentary film that introduces viewers to the career of Kenneth Goldsmith (a provocative contributor to discussions here at Harriet). Goldsmith has gone on to make the entire film freely available for viewing online at UbuWeb….

Morris takes the viewer on a grand tour of "uncreative literature," showcasing excerpts of work by Goldsmith, including (among others), such notorious endeavours as No. 111., Fidget, Soliloquy, The Weather, and Traffic. Goldsmith answers questions in interviews and recites passages from his entire oeuvre, while Morris intersperses, among these samples, numerous comments made by the likes of Bruce Andrews (who offers a venomous diatribe against creative writing), Rob Fitterman (who offers some very thoughtful commentary about the necessity of reading itself), and finally Barbara Cole (who discusses the act of teaching uncreative literature in the classroom). The film might serve as an interesting, pedagogical tool for academics who might want to introduce students to some of the principles of "conceptualism" in millennial literature.
Goldsmith has, of course, earned much notoriety for his argument that poets have so heavily invested in the idea of artful labour that they no longer consider writing according to some of the most difficult, but otherwise forbidden, constraints—like being “uncreative” or being “unengaging” (two of his own, apparently impossible, poetic values, in which one must write by restricting oneself exclusively to the repetition of both the already said and the totally dull, doing so in a way that still creates surprise and engages interest). Goldsmith describes such “nutritionless” documentation as an act of “uncreativity” on a par with the readymade exercises of Warhol (who records the ennui of events themselves)—and consequently Goldsmith has described his own practice as a kind of "word processing" or "data management," suggesting that, for writers in the arising century, poetry itself has evolved to the point where it has now become a hybrid subset of both kleptomania and stenography….

Originally Published: November 10th, 2007

Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial...

  1. November 11, 2007
     Lord M. Flatley

    Thanks for the heads up. Love the "100% teddy bear" comment; Kenny is very funny and very necessary. But what is up with Bruce Andrews?!! Zoiks! Not sure his "venomous diatribe against creative writing" is all that venomous. It's pretty much just crap. What century does he live in? Does he just trot out the same diatribe, decade after decade, without taking stock of what's actually happening around him? Christ, and that hair! He has a fin! He needs a stylist.
    Frevr yr srvnt,
    Lord M. Flatley

  2. November 13, 2007
     Cuitlamiztli Carter

    Kenneth Goldsmith's voice is like rich, rich butter. Thanks for posting this, I intend to share it with others.
    Still, to assert (as the filmmakers do) that conceptual writing is the poetics of the moment, they must be referring to folks over, say 35. While it's not hard to construct an argument that shows that many leading poets are not following the path of modernism, it's difficult to say that this is them being out of touch. Why can't we assume that they're purposefully avoiding modernism? One of the recent trends in mainstream rock, started years back by the underground punk rock revival of rockabilly and ska, was mining the abandoned styles of yesteryear to express the sentiments of today. I feel there are respectable poets of a decidedly non-conceptual strain who are doing exactly that.
    I am just not sure why it would be a faux pas for an individual to stall just before the trappings of modernism and stake her or his claim on those styles. I would rather poetry not buy into the mainstream attitude that new is better. Instead, I'd like to read good poetry. No matter what it takes to produce it.
    Beyond that, many academic poets concerned with "the poetry of now" haven't quite realized that post-modernism is on the way out, and those of us under the age of 30 are not scowling in horror at what those older are doing, we're just beginning to explore new modes of thinking beyond post-modernism. Conceptual poetics is, while still very important to Western poetry, nothing new.

  3. November 13, 2007

    You seem to forget that Goldsmith in his manifesto of conceptual poetics here on the Poetry Foundation disclaims newness or originality:

    "Conceptual writing obstinately makes no claims on originality. On the contrary, it employs intentionally self and ego effacing tactics using uncreativity, unoriginality, illegibility, appropriation, plagiarism, fraud, theft, and falsification as its precepts; information management, word processing, databasing, and extreme process as its methodologies; and boredom, valuelessness, and nutritionlessness as its ethos."

    The effect, then, is a paradox in the Duchampian tradition -- you can call it nothing new and it agrees with you. Smart, yet infuriating.