I Look to Theory Only When I Realize That Somebody Has Dedicated Their Entire Life to a Question I Have Only Fleetingly Considered
I used to be an artist; then I became a poet; then a writer. Now when asked, I simply refer to myself as a word processor.
Writing should be as effortless as washing the dishes and as interesting.
Hunter S. Thompson retyped Hemingway & Fitzgerald novels. He said, I just want to know what it feels like to write these words.
Obama regularly copies his speechwriters’ work out in longhand on legal pads in pencil: It helps organize my thoughts, he says.
If you’re not making art with the intention of having it copied, you’re not really making art for the twenty-first century.
From producer to reproducer.
The internet is destroying literature (and it’s a good thing). Plagiarism is necessary, Lautréamont insisted. Progress implies it. Authenticity is another form of artifice.
It is possible to be both inauthentic and sincere.
The moment you stand up in front of people, you are no longer authentic.
The telling of a true story is an unnatural act.
Conceptual writing is political writing; it just prefers to use someone else’s politics.
I always had mixed feelings about being considered a poet. If Robert Lowell is a poet, I don’t want to be a poet. If Robert Frost was a poet, I don’t want to be a poet. If Socrates was a poet, I’ll consider it.
A child could do what I do, but wouldn’t dare to for fear of being called stupid.
Futurism made flesh, Barry Bonds is a lovechild of William S. Burroughs (“We ourselves are machines”) and Warhol (“I want to be a machine”).
REPORTER: How do you feel when you are greeted by a resounding chorus of boos when you step on the field?
BARRY BONDS: I turn it into a symphony. Gravitas is obsolete.
Boring & long-winded writings encourage a kind of effortless non-understanding, a language in which reading itself seems perfectly redundant.
The internet is of no relevance at all to writing fiction, which expresses verities only found through observation & introspection, said Will Self.
Jonathan Franzen famously wrote portions of The Corrections wearing a blindfold and earplugs to reduce disruptions.
Jonathan Franzen is America’s greatest novelist… of the fifties. The new memoir is our browser history.
Writers are becoming curators of language, a move similar to the emergence of the curator as artist in the visual arts.
Sampling and citation are but boutique forms of appropriation. Remixing is often mistaken for appropriation.
Our poetry has eerily begun to resemble data trails.
Poetry is an evacuated and orphaned space, begging to be repurposed. The new poetry will look nothing like the old.
The internet is the greatest poem ever written, unreadable mostly because of its size.
An article in China Daily refers to a young worker who copied a dozen novels, signed his name, and published a collection of “his works.”
Alphanumeric code, indistinguishable from writing, is the medium by which the internet has solidified its grip on literature.
The future of writing is the managing of emptiness. The future of writing is pointing.
The future of writing is not writing. The future of reading is not reading.
The human entity formerly known as “the reader.”
John Cage and Morton Feldman in 1966–1967. Feldman was complaining about being at the beach, annoyed as hell by transistor radios blaring out rock and roll, and Cage responded, You know how I adjusted to that problem of the radio in the environment? Very much as the primitive people adjusted to the animals which frightened them, and which, probably as you say, were intrusions. They made, drew pictures of them on their caves. And so I simply made a piece using radios. Now whenever I hear radios—even a single one, not just twelve at a time, as you must have heard on the beach, at least—I think, well, they’re just playing my piece.
The writers’ desk is beginning to resemble a laboratory or small business office rather than the contemplative study it once was.
A good poem is very boring. In a perfect world all sentences would have that overall sameness, said Tan Lin.
Yohji Yamamoto: Start copying what you love. Copy, copy, copy. And at the end of the copy, you will find yourself.
Cory Doctorow on copying: It’s not a bug. It’s a feature.
Bob Dylan on appropriation: Wussies and pussies complain about it.
The regulation of intellectual property is a euphemized form of corporate control—and a futile one at that, said Barbara Kruger.
They spoke of the idea that in China new books are written and inserted into extant canons. There are ten Harry Potter books in the Chinese series as opposed to the seven penned by J.K. Rowling.
Individual creativity is a dogma of contemporary soft capitalism, rather than the domain of nonconformist artists: fiction is everywhere.
We don’t need the new sentence. The old sentence reframed is good enough.
Today’s plagiarism and copyright battles are to the twenty-first century what the obscenity trials were to the twentieth.
At Tony Oursler’s retrospective at the Williams College Museum of Art, upstairs, buried deep within the galleries, the artist had set up a microphone into which anyone could step up and speak. What they said would be broadcast into the entrance atrium of the museum. There were no restrictions on what you could say, only a small note reminding the speaker to be sensitive of others and a gentle suggestion to refrain from swearing. When it was my turn, I said in my clearest and most radio-like voice, “May I have your attention. May I have your attention. The museum is now closing. Please make your way to the exit. Thank you for visiting.” Although it was hours away from closing time, I repeated the announcement again and saw, in the video monitor that was provided, people streaming toward the exit. Again, I made my announcement. At once, a frantic, elderly guard came running up to me, grabbed my arm, and said, “You’re not allowed to say that!” When I told him that there was nothing prohibiting me from saying it, he again told me that I wasn’t allowed. “Why?” I asked. “Because it’s not true,” he replied. “You must stop saying that right now.” Of course I repeated my announcement once again. This poor man was really struggling with what to do with me. He knew that while I wasn’t breaking any real laws, by questioning the institution’s authority I was breaking an unwritten social contract.
There are no “correct” readings. Only reproductions and possibilities.
Literary criticism is too closely intertwined with newspaper journalism. Book reviewers are usually newspapermen who fancy themselves literary critics. Obsessed with journalistic notions of verifiable sources and verity, it’s no wonder that the writing world’s notions of plagiarism in the digital age are so stuck.
Being well-enough known to be pirated is a crowning achievement. Most artists want first and foremost to be loved and secondly to make history; money is a distant third.
Information is like a bank. Our job is to rob that bank.
The idea of recycling language is politically and ecologically sustainable, one which promotes reuse and reconditioning as opposed to the manufacture and consumption of the new.
We don’t read anymore; instead, we skim, parse, bookmark, copy, paste, and forward language.
We spend much more time acquiring, cataloging, and archiving our artifacts these days than we do actually engaging with them. The ways in which culture is distributed and archived has become pro- foundly more intriguing than the cultural artifact itself. As a result, we’ve experienced an inversion of consumption, preferring the bottles to the wine.
Interest has shifted from the object to the information.
People insist upon self-expression. I really am opposed to it. I don’t think people should express themselves in that kind of way.
If you do something wrong for long enough people will eventually think of it as right.
The necessity of bad transcription: working to make sure that the pages in the book matched the way the high-school typist had transcribed them, right down to the last spelling mistake. I wanted to do a “bad book,” just the way I’d done “bad movies” and “bad art,” because when you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something, said Andy Warhol.
The act of moving information from one place to another constitutes a significant cultural act in and of itself. Some of us call this poetry.
Toward a disengaged poetics: writing books without the need to have any relationship with the subject that we’re writing about.
Our writings are now identical to writings which already exist. The only thing we do is claim them as our own. With that simple gesture, they become completely different from the originals.
I am a dumb writer, perhaps one of the dumbest that’s ever lived. Whenever I have an idea, I question whether it is sufficiently dumb. I ask myself, is it possible that this, in any way, could be considered smart? If the answer is no, I proceed. I don’t write anything new or original. I copy pre-existing texts and move information from one place to another.
Quantity, not quality. With larger numbers of things, judgment decreases and curiosity increases.
Words now function less for people than for expediting the interaction and concatenation of machines.
In China, after I had finished giving a lengthy talk about conceptual poetics, plagiarism, and writing in the digital age, an elderly woman in the audience raised her hand and said, But Professor Goldsmith. You didn’t discuss your relationship to Longfellow.
Translation is the ultimate humanist gesture. Polite and reasonable, it is an overly cautious bridge builder. Always asking for permission, it begs understanding and friendship. It is optimistic yet provisional, pinning all hopes on a harmonious outcome. In the end, it always fails, for the discourse it sets forth is inevitably off-register; translation is an approximation of discourse.
Displacement is rude and insistent, an unwashed party crasher: uninvited and poorly behaved, refusing to leave. Displacement revels in disjunction, imposing its meaning, agenda, and mores on whatever situation it encounters. Not wishing to placate, it is uncompromising, knowing full well that through stubborn insistence it will ultimately prevail. Displacement has all the time in the world. Beyond morals, self-appointed, and taking possession because it must, displacement acts simply—and simply acts.
Unfortunately “creative writing” is very much alive, but I’m doing my best to try to kill it.
The beauty of misfiling.
A new ecstasy of language has emerged, one of algorithmic rationality and machine worship; one intent on flattening difference: meaning and nonsense, code and poetry, ethics and morality, the necessary and the frivolous. Literature is now approaching the zero degree of blunt expediency—a thrilling, almost Darwinian opportunism in action. Writing, it appears, at this scale at least, is dead.
Easy is the new difficult. It is difficult to be difficult, but it is even more difficult to be easy.
The reconception of art as networked power, not content, is the true death of the author.
At this point in time, it’s hard to verify authenticity, singularity, or proper sources for anything. Instead, in our digital world all forms of culture have assumed the characteristics of dance music and versioning, where so many hands have touched and refined these products that we no longer know, nor care, who the author is—or was.
At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop recently, they were experiencing a crisis. The remoteness of the location traditionally offered the writer two choices: either look into thy heart or look to nature. But once they had the internet, they began looking into the screen, thereby able to escape the confines of their binaries.
The idea of celebrities adopting art strategies. They are so bored with their “creative” acts that they’re ready to be uncreative.
The recent durational performance pieces by Jay-Z, Tilda Swinton, and The National are making boring mainstream. Soon, we’ll have to find another line of work.
Acting is plagiarism.
I had never heard of Shia LaBeouf until the he started quoting me extensively on the web, claiming my words as his own, claiming me as his collaborator.
Normally when these kind of scandals break what we see is a James Frey—going out and apologizing; he’s shamed and everybody’s shamed. LaBeouf plagiarized and instead of apologizing, he decided to tap into the vast body of strategies around free culture that have been developed really over the last hundred years, and used that as a defense.
Today, we face what I will call the LaBeoufian moment: the limiting point at which all art based on questioning authorship is pointless.
But what must it become? What is art post-LaBeouf ?
Just before a reading at the White House, Obama passed through the green room where we were sitting. He stopped, looked at us, pointed a finger and said smilingly, “You guys behave.” Suddenly, the voice of god boomed, “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.” As he was about to take the stage, he turned heel and popped his head back into the room, stared at us and said, “No. You guys are artists. Misbehave.”
Nam June Paik said once that the internet is for everybody who doesn’t live in New York City.
I always joke with my students that poetry couldn’t possibly be as hard as they think it is, because if it were as hard as they think it is, poets wouldn’t do it. Really, they’re the laziest, stupidest people I know. They became poets in part because they were demoted to that job, right? You should never tell your students to write what they know because, of course, they know nothing: they’re poets! If they knew something, they’d be in that discipline actually doing it: they’d be in history or physics or math or business or whatever it is where they could excel, said Christian Bök.
Getting it wrong is a privilege that happens only after you get it right.
There is freedom on the margins. We’ve become interested in practices that exist on the edges of culture where there is little light, those which revel in the unpoliced freedom of what’s permitted to happen in the shadows, where few people bother to look. Why would artists rush to the hot white center?
Auto-tune your next book of poems.
Overwhelmed by so many requests to blurb books, I began a system of conceptual blurbing. I say to an author, write or steal the blurb of your dreams and sign my name to it. I don’t wish to see it until I receive the book. That way, I can be surprised just like anyone else by what I’ve “written.”
Love art. Hate the art world.
The art world is cleaved between the market and the academy. A third way: become your own self-invented institution.
When the art world can produce something as compelling as Twitter, we’ll start paying attention to it again.
The gallery and museum world feels too slow, out of touch with the rest of culture, like an antiques market: highly priced, unique objects at a time when value is in the multiple, the many, the distributed, the democratic. In this way, the art world is quickly making itself irrelevant. Soon, no one will care.
Sometimes I feel that guys sitting in cubicles understand contemporary culture better than most curators and critics do.
To construct a career based on the ephemerality of the meme is at once thrilling and terrifying.
What if the poetic has left the poem in the same way that Elvis has left the building? Long after the limo pulled away, the audience was still in the arena, screaming for more, but poetry escaped out the back door and onto the internet, where it is taking on new forms that look nothing like poetry. Poetry as we know it—the penning of sonnets or free verse on a printed page—feels more akin to the practice of throwing pottery or weaving quilts, artisanal activities that continue in spite of their marginality and cultural irrelevance. Instead, meme culture is producing more extreme forms of modernism than modernism ever dreamed of.
Artists may be crazy or terribly uninformed about their practices, but they are never wrong.
When artists become accountable for ethics in their practice, they fall under the same scrutiny—and are held to the same moral standards—as politicians and bankers, a regrettable situation.
If I raised my kids the way I write my books, I’d have been thrown in jail long ago.
In the digital age, how odd that many prefer to still act like original geniuses instead of unoriginal geniuses.
Before going on the show, Stephen Colbert stopped into the green room to chat. His mother had recently passed away, and the night before, he went on the air and became so overwhelmed with emotion that he couldn’t speak. So he just sat there in complete silence for what seemed like an eternity. When I mentioned how moving and how unusual his use of silence was, he stated how important it was to employ dead air in media. He recalled hearing an innovative radio show when he was a child that aired a full hour of dead silence, most likely as a prank. But it changed his life, he claimed, and he became dedicated to using silence in mainstream media. He then told me how much he enjoyed my book and the uncreative writing that was used to construct it. He paused for a moment, cocked his head, and said, referring to himself, But that guy out there on the set is going to hate it.
Short attention span is the new silence.
Every word I say is stupid and false. All in all, I am a pseudo, said Marcel Duchamp.
Beckett in 1984 on Duchamp’s readymades: A writer could not do that.
I recently was in a public conversation with my dear friend Christian Bök. If I am the dumbest poet that’s ever lived, then Christian is the smartest. His projects are very complicated, taking years to complete. During our talk, Christian went on at length about a project he’s been working on for the past decade, one which involves basically giving himself a PhD in genetics. In order to compose two little poems, he had to learn to write computer programs which went through something like eight million combinations of possible letters before hitting on the right ones. And then he injected these poems into a strand of DNA, which was ultimately designed to outlive the extinguishing of the sun. The whole thing involves working with laboratories and has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Christian is super-articulate—really more like a robot than a person—and had the audience’s head spinning. When my turn to speak came, all I could muster was: …and I transcribe traffic reports.
There’s nothing that cannot be called “writing” no matter how much it might not look like “writing.”
All text is used, soiled, and worn. All language presenting itself as new is recycled. No word is virginal; no word is innocent.
Bertolt Brecht said, I wish that they would graft an additional device onto the radio—one that would make it possible to record and archive for all time, everything that can be communicated by radio. Later generations would then have the chance of seeing with amazement how an entire population—by making it possible to say what they had to say to the whole world—simultaneously made it possible for the whole world to see that they had absolutely nothing to say.
Any paper today is a collective work of art, a daily “book” of industrial man, an Arabian Night’s entertainment in which a thousand and one astonishing tales are being told by an anonymous narrator to an equally anonymous audience, said Marshall McLuhan a half century ago.
My muse is the fluorescent tube. It is cold and affectless; unflattering and functional; bland and neutral; it flattens all it touches; it is harsh and ugly; industrial and efficient; cheap and economical; ubiquitous, universal, and global.
Like morality, politics seems an unavoidable condition when engaging in the reframing of language and discourse.
Innovate only as a last resort, said Charles Eames.
Writers try too hard to express themselves. We’re working with loaded material. How can language— any language—be anything but expressive?
In a time when cultural materials are abundantly available on our networks, there is no turning back: appropriation and plagiarism are here to stay, but it is our job to do it smarter.
Choosing to be a poet is like choosing to have cancer. Why would anyone ever choose to be a poet?
I had gotten in the door when no one was looking. I was in there now and there was nothing anybody could, from then on, do about it, said Bob Dylan.
INTERVIEWER: In an interview with Michael Palmer, he testifies that he prefers writing by hand over typing because the former is a more intimate physical experience. How do you feel about doing everything by computer?
GOLDSMITH: I honestly think Palmer’s statement is the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard. He must be living in a cave.
Writing on an electronic platform is not only writing, but also doubles as archiving; the two processes are inseparable.
Linearity is prescriptive; lineage is subjective.
After giving a reading in Los Angeles, another reader on the bill came up to me and exclaimed, “But you didn’t write a word you spoke tonight!” It was true.
The author’s biography, the back jacket copy, the publisher’s list, the acknowledgments, the dedications, and the Library of Congress information are all more interesting than the part of the book that’s supposed to be read.
Somehow during Christmastime in a small house crammed with extended family, reading the Sunday paper is acceptable, but reading a book is considered antisocial and rude. Many times I’ve been asked while reading, “Is everything alright?”
Driving down a Los Angeles boulevard, a billboard was legible from a half-mile away. It said one or two words. In Los Angeles, people are used to reading single words, very large at far distances, and passing by them very quickly. It’s totally the opposite in New York where we get our information by reading a newspaper over somebody’s shoulder on the subway.
Pointing at the best information trumps creating the best information.
Pre-loading—constructing a flawless writing machine before the writing starts—alleviates the burden of success or failure, mitigates the ego, and annuls the small-mindedness of authorship that invariably comes with more conventional modes of writing.
The moral weightlessness of art.
Many years ago, on the way to England to work on a museum project, I was seated in the plane next to a young man who was a classical lute player. We got to talking and I asked him what he was listening to on his Discman. He showed me the CD and began to talk about the music. It was a collection of a minor composer’s music played from transcriptions of broadsides that were sold on the street for pennies in the Middle Ages. The composer, however, was clever and included beautifully hand-drawn images on his scores. Over the ages, they were framed and preserved, not so much because of the music, but because of how beautiful and distinctive they were as objects. While his peer’s music—printed and distributed in the same form without decoration—vanished, this composer’s scores remain as the only examples of the genre. By default, they are now considered classics.
We don’t really seem to believe that copyright exists, nor do we particularly care.
If you make something good and interesting and not ridiculing someone or being offensive, the creators of the original material will like it, said Christian Marclay about not clearing any permissions for The Clock.
W.G. Sebald’s advice to creative writing students: I can only encourage you to steal as much as you can. No one will ever notice.
A new metric for poetry: text by the square inch.
A new metric for literature: not the line, sonnet, paragraph, or chapter but the database.
A new metric for appropriation: not the object, but the oeuvre. How much did you say that paragraph weighed?
Contemporary writing is a practice that lies somewhere between constructing a Duchampian readymade and downloading an MP3.
Poetry is an underutilized resource waiting to be exploited. Because it has no remunerative value, it’s liberated from the orthodoxies that constrain just about every other art form. It’s one of the great liberties of our field—perhaps one of the last artistic fields with this privilege. Poetry is akin to the position that conceptual art once held: radical in its production, distribution, and democratization. As such, it is obliged to take chances, to be as experimental as it can be. Since it’s got nothing to lose, it stirs up passions and emotions that, say, visual art hasn’t in half a century. There’s still a fight. Why would anyone play it safe in poetry?
Life can only imitate the web, and the web itself is only a tissue of signs, a lost, infinitely remote imitation.
When asked at the end of his life how it was being an artist, Jean Dubuffet said, I feel like I’ve been on vacation for the past forty years.