[Kenneth Goldsmith’s] position on writing is as follows: Modernism and postmodernism are over, and the literary arts have entered a new technology-driven paradigm. Originality is out the window. “Writers don’t need to write anything more,” he says. “They just need to manage the language that already exists.” […] Goldsmith explaining his monumental tome Day (2003)—for which he retyped an entire edition of the New York Times, including all the ad copy, cover to cover—that to be Kenneth Goldsmith is to have vanquished writer’s block, because there are countless texts just waiting to be retyped. It’s just as reassuring to hear that Goldsmith doesn’t actually expect anyone to read Day or his recently completed American trilogy, Weather (2005), Traffic (2007), and Sports (2008)—transcriptions of, respectively, a year’s worth of radio weather reports; a twenty-four-hour traffic cycle, every ten minutes from 1010 wins; and the radio broadcast of a long and dull Yankees game, ads included. “You can’t read these books,” he says, with ebullience. “I can’t read them. People tell me they do, but they’re absolutely impossible.” He just wants us to think about them. “These are the things we don’t think about,” he says, “and they’re very profound when we do.”
Go ahead: Try the link. I’m not making this up!
I don’t find it especially disturbing that Kenneth Goldsmith exists: con artists abound in every field. Nor am I disturbed that he has managed to con some publisher into sacrificing a tree or two on behalf of his … well, is it fair to call it “work”? I’m not even terribly exercised that this guy teaches writing at the The University of Pennsylvania (we all know that lots of phonies find a home in higher education). No, what really singes my grits is the fact that Goldsmith is taken seriously by people who should know better—in particular, by the managing editor of the Paris Review and the proprietors of the Poetry Foundation, whose Harriet blog occasionally features Goldsmith as an “author.” Now, Goldsmith by his own admission is not an author: he is a typist. A typist and a con artist.
If Rod McKuen or Susan Polis Schutz were reviewed approvingly by BookForum or given a spot on the Harriet blog, we can only imagine the attacks of apoplexy that would (rightly) ensue. But Goldsmith’s presence has been treated as not only legitimate, but respectable—a genuine cultural contribution. Why this mysterious deference? And what does this deference say about the so-called intellectual class in America?