Commentaries - November 2007

Now available on UbuWeb: a short film about the work of Kenneth Goldsmith, Sucking on Words (2007), by Simon Morris. Filmed on location in New York City, February, 2007. Critical Commentary by Bruce Andrews, Barbara Cole, Robert Fitterman.

"The words of Kenneth Goldsmith, described by Juliana Spahr as 'the world's leading conceptual poet', and by himself as 'the most boring writer that has ever lived'. His ideas are being brought to the screen by artist and director Simon Morris in a film to premiere at the British Library in London on Friday 26th October. Christian Bök, one of Canada's leading poets and the winner of the 2002 Griffin poetry prize, said: "Goldsmith is our James Joyce for the 21st century."

'sucking on words' introduces 8000 of those daily words - a flurry of excitement as the climates of conflict and admiration come together around Goldsmith's pioneering conceptual poetics. Shot on location in Manhattan in February this year, 'sucking on words' features interviews with the leading critics and poets Bruce Andrews, Barbara Cole, and Robert Fitterman.

Goldsmith says: "I'm more interested in knowing language better in the way Warhol was knowing image better by simply turning the camera on to it and letting it run."

And Simon Morris adds: "Goldsmith is turning the literary world on its head by encouraging plagiarism and suggesting writers throw away existing notions of intellectual property." As Goldsmith says: "We don't need the new sentence, the old sentence re-framed is good enough."

Conceptual writing is the poetics of the moment. It fuses avant-garde impulses of the twentieth century with technologies of the present. The material morphs between the web and the printed page. It draws attention to the materiality of the word and the conceptual nature of this type of literature — the writing is the idea and the idea is the writing.

I've mentioned the late Bob Lucid several times already here: mentor, sage, quiet educational radical, great citizen of the university. We gathered to remember Bob's life and work on October 19, 2007. The talks were recorded and are available here — both the whole program and individual speeches. Above you see Ed Kane and Susan Small Savitsky, former Lucid students who revered him. Ed and Susan have made generous contributions to an endowment fund at the Writers House in Bob Lucid's memory. This fund will be used every year from now on to create an annual reading/program featuring a novelist of the sort that Bob championed.

If you want to contribute to the fund (we need your help!) please just write me at afilreis [at] writing [dot] upenn [dot] edu.

Our "We Remember Bob Lucid" web page includes all the links to sound files, photographs and remembrances from Bob's friends, colleagues and students.

Yesterday I complained about the way the Times wrote about Guy Fawkes Day celebrations in England. Today, elsewhere in the same esteemed daily, in the national political page, to wit, I find a delightful article about how libertarian GOP candidate for Prez Ron Paul is using Guy Fawkes as a symbol of good resistance against anti-individual government-uber-alles sprawl. Libertarian fans of Ron Paul know of Guy Fawkes through the futuristic graphic novel V for Vendetta. There a terrorist modeled after Fawkes takes on a fascist government that has taken over Britain. So the individual-freedom-loving Right reads Fawkes as anti-fascist. I'm not going to give the web address for Paul's fund-raising scheme, lest readers of this blog accidentally click it and donate, but you can certainly find it on the web if you are even just slightly inclined. The title of the article in today's paper is "Candidate's Pleased to Remember This Fifth of November." I'm fascinated. Terrorism as libertarianism. It makes some sense (and always has made sense as a matter of domestic politics [think Oklahoma City]), since the libertarian Right has been driven nuts by all the Big Government entailed in the neo-cons' response to 9/11.

A little more on modernist pedagogy.

I've pointed out here before, in various entries, that the irony of the lecture on modernism has become increasingly obvious and disabling. The problem will be to define or at least describe an alternative.

Although he was not writing about teaching when he wrote this, Bruce Andrews imagines a specific practice when he expresses the hope “for a revived radicalism of constructivist noise or athematic ‘informal music’” in the world of poetry and poetics. In the spirit of this, I wonder if the poetry classroom could be filled such noise. The “use” of new technologies to aid the teaching of poetry is not going to make a bit of difference unless some sort of fundamental pedagogy change accompanies it, and I believe the quality of that changed environment might indeed sound something like Andrews’s athematic informal music.

In modernism's materials must at least implicitly be a meta-pedagogy. The trick is in bringing out that implication.