Chapter 2 of my current book project — titled 1960: The Politics & Art of the Avant-garde — is about the delayed (post-traumatic) response to the mass killings of World War II precisely fifteen years later. Here, in presenting one section of this long chapter, I'm not going to describe in any detail why I think it took fifteen years before such a reckoning could occur. As I did my research and reading, I did discern such a rather sudden interest, saw it in fact everywhere. In this section I turn to a certain revival of Kafka in 1960. From this one can probably get a sense of the larger argument.
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.
I am honoured and humbled to continue to commentate on poetry and poets in Aotearoa New Zealand, which swerve away from so-called ‘traditional’ ways to write a poem and concomitantly, away from traditional topoi.