Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Kenneth Goldsmith and Uncreative Writing part 2

This is a follow-up post to my first encounter with Kenneth Goldsmith's Uncreative Writing.  In the present post I would like to highlight, as much for my own benefit as others', some of the influences from whom he suggests we, as new writers of the digital age, can learn.

To recap, Goldsmith advocates the use of text as material, rather than as expression. He rephrases Douglas Hueber, saying "The world is full of texts, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more". 

Writing, Goldsmith believes, is at the juncture that painting was when photography arrived. As a result

"writing's response [to the internet] - taking its cues more from photography than painting - could be mimetic and replicative, primarily involving methods of distribution, while proposing new platforms of receivership and readership. Words very well might not only be written to be read but rather to be shared, moved, and manipulated, sometimes by humans, more often by machines".  (p. 15)
The internet is a vast archive that's ripe for literary exploitation, to be used as material.

What he leaves unstated, perhaps because it is out of scope for his thesis, is that text will increasingly be processed by computers for commercial and business purposes.  Big Data methods will look at the same text the new writer looks at when he or she searches for raw material, but instead use it to learn about the online habits of users in order to monetise their interests and desires. The textual territory is therefore no virgin wilderness, but a problematised space in the service of commercial and other influential interests. The flipside is that the writer-artist is no more privileged than any other user to distinguish between "authentic" text and text inserted specifically to serve commercial and business interests. This includes marketing material camouflaged to look like casual commentary, and other tricks of the trade.

However, this does not invalidate Goldsmith's suggestion. If anything, it suggests we may have to look even deeper into the workings of the medium to see beyond the inevitable onslaught of digital politics, commerce and ideology. This would be a continuation or parallel development to the situationists' critique of capitalism and consumption. Understanding the medium (the technical side of information and technology) and its stakeholders (commerce, politics, consumers) will become of paramount importance to the new writer. That, however, would have to be explored in greater detail, and may eventually form the topic of a future post.
Without further ado, let us look at the influences Goldsmith recommends. My approach has been to leave out unnecessary explanation, and where possible to link to an authoritative resource. Headings are those in the book.


Chapter 1: Revenge of the Text

Chapter 2: Language as Material

  • Materiality as primary goals: concrete poetry and situationists
Situationists, 1950s:
Concrete poetry:

Chapter 3: Anticipating Instability

Chapter 4: Towards a Poetics of Hyperrealism

Chapter 5 : Why appropriation?

Chapter 6: Infallible Processes

Chapter 7: Retyping On the Road

Chapter 8: Parsing the New Illegibility

Chapter 9: Seeding the Data Cloud

Chapter 10: The Inventory and the Ambient

Chapter 11: Uncreative Writing in the Classroom

  • The Hitler Downfall Meme
  • Retype 5 pages
  • Transcribe a Short Piece of Audio
  • Transcribing Project Runway: transcribe TV show in chatroom with other classmates
  • Retro graffiti: take old political slogans and graffiti non-permanently in public space
  • Screenplays: take a film or video that has no screenplay and make one for it

Chapter 12 Provisional Language
  • Words are cheap, language is the new frontier


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