Poetry News

Responses to Kenny Goldsmith's The Body of Michael Brown

By Harriet Staff

Michael Brown

A fragmented but informative report on the reaction to Kenneth Goldsmith's recent reading of Michael Brown's autopsy, positioned as a new performance for Brown University's Interrupt series, can be found at Jacqueline Valencia's blog. "For what looks to have been an interesting conference, I have found very little documentation of the event ... but it was certainly noticed all over twitter and social media threads," Valencia writes.

If he is just collating the data that is freely available to all of us, rendering it to make us think, well, he’s provoked a meaty discussion from the reactions. We can’t let Michael Brown’s death nor the events at Ferguson be forgotten because they are still happening every day. Is this what we are supposed to gather from a reading of Brown’s autopsy?

Scaling back, I have to think about the poet as a vessel of messages. In this case, Goldsmith is the vessel of the data of the autopsy report. We’re talking in a very clinical, conceptual state, where nothing that was read by Goldsmith was authored by Goldsmith. He is a computer capturing a state in time that we wouldn’t even think of placing ourselves in. From the reactions I gathered after the reading, it is clear that people were made uncomfortable by this idea. Maybe this is the reaction Goldsmith was looking for, if any, I can’t be sure.

Now think of Goldsmith again as the vessel of that report. He is not black. He is not from Ferguson. He is not related to Michael Brown. Did he speak to the Brown’s relatives? If he didn’t are we to think that Brown’s death, because that of that freely available autopsy report, are we to believe that Brown’s body is now freely available to the public? This is a black body that Goldsmith is rendering in his reading. That alone is the reason that concerned me. As a mixed woman with a black father who has had his rights (and life) questioned because of the colour of his skin, we both grew up subtly being told that our bodies belonged for appropriation. My Colombian dad is called negro in his homeland. I am still called negrita there as well. Negro there isn’t just the name of a colour, but it lives on as a derogatory term in Spanish. Slave labour is still alive and well for the blacks in South America. Black men still face great hardships in Colombia. Black suffering isn’t free and readily available to the public. Until the struggle is fought by those who suffer, we as people on the outside of it, must be allies and not silence black voices or speak over them.


I want to know what was said in Goldsmith’s reading. I want to know the aftermath in that room. I’m concerned that new divisions will be formed because we don’t know. Isn’t the work made more important by the discussion of it?

These are all questions I still have after posting these up:



Goldsmith messaged me and was shocked at my reaction. I was asked if I passed judgment. I would like to ask some questions because in the end I found the event to be viscerally upsetting. If people that were there weren’t as upset as the people that weren’t, why is that? We want to know more. I’ve been looking for information, essays, or reactive tweets besides, “I hate Goldsmith!” or “I love Goldsmith!” What did listeners get out of the reading? I want to know what his reaction is to the outrage considering that I know he would try his best to handle the subject matter with some form of compassion. At least, I still hope he did.

Until now, all we have is his twitter feed: https://twitter.com/kg_ubu

Edit: Or this facebook statement: https://www.facebook.com/kenneth.goldsmith.739/posts/354492771403205

The Inquisitr also picked up the story, emphasizing Goldsmith's response.