Philadelphia Museum of Art

Preface to a book on/as Duchamp's infrathins

The seminar is a convergence of the two entities: right there where Marcel Duchamp’s infrathin space-between-spaces and the students’ own experiments with language meet. Where “The dictatorship of grammar” (#100) is only there to be overthrown. Where “The vibrations from sound, audible yet invisible” (#243) are nonetheless seen. Where the space “Between saying and meaning” (#385) is also known as the classroom. Where one is by design never forced to choose “Between passion and purpose” (#993). As Goldsmith has enjoyed saying to anyone within earshot, the poetry world is more than a half-century behind the visual art world; experiments in painting, sculpture and conceptual art have been doing things that most poets and poetics people have heretofore felt impossible or unnecessary. The term “behind” suggests a competition, but of course it’s not that. It’s not a course (as it were) with a finish line or single endpoint. It’s a means, a movement defying conventional academic evaluation, a way toward fresh conception through educational defamiliarization. The success of the project comes from putting the two worlds aesthetically — and pedagogically — together. Thus will emerge, we expect, a new generation of artists and arts-minded citizens who are actively uninterested in distinctions between the arts; they know it’s all one project.

Every other year Kenneth Goldsmith teaches a year-long seminar on writing about/through contemporary art. The 2017-18 seminar was held as a collaboration of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at Penn and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (in particular the Modern division) — and the students created their own version of Duchamp's infrathins. In a few weeks a book containing the students' Duchampian compositions will be published, and it will include the following prefatory statement by me.

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