I recently published an interview I conducted with Kenneth Goldsmith – the poet laureate of the MOMA, former writer for the New Yorker, professor at UPENN, the author of many books (published in Verso, Harper Collins, etc) and the person behind the bastion of language poetry and avant garde poetics UBU Web – for Berfrois. Here is the intro to the interview. For the interview, click here.
Ever since I first read Leaves of Grass, I have been searching for a latter-day Walt Whitman. I loved the radical idea that, for Whitman, everything is poetry. One didn’t have to be poet to be poetic; one simply had to celebrate life in each of its details. Freedom meant embracing everything and everyone. But the idea that everything is poetry in the digital age, is, for some, disturbing. Many see the Internet as a dehumanizing and isolating medium. It turns Whitman’s “roughs” into zombies and turns his resounding “Yawp” into a tweet about your lunch. To the nay-sayers, Kenneth Goldsmith – in the most Whitmanesque and Joycean way – says Yes to social media. He asks us to read some of the greatest innovators in avant-garde art as prophets of the digital age. Goldsmith suggests that we are living in the greatest age because everything really has become poetic. Our machines are constantly reading and writing code. We are all part of this great poetic unfolding.
Goldsmith is prolific. He is the author and editor of over twenty books – such as Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age (Columbia University Press, 2011), Capital: New York, Capital of the Twentieth Century (Verso, 2015) and Seven American Deaths and Disasters (PowerHouse Books, 2013). He teaches writing at the University of Pennsylvania. In May 2011, he was invited to read at President Obama’s “A Celebration of American Poetry” at the White House, where he also held a poetry workshop with First Lady Michelle Obama. (In this video clip he reads from Whitman’s poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”) Goldsmith also runs UbuWeb. Founded in 1996, it is the largest site on the internet devoted to the free distribution of avant-garde materials. And, in 2013, he was named as the inaugural Poet Laureate of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
His most recent book is Wasting Time on the Internet (Harper Collins, 2016), a meditation on digital culture. Wasting Time and Uncreative Writing both stirred a lot of controversy. In his class at the University of Pennsylvania – entitled “Wasting Time on the Internet” – he suggested that students could earn credit for a course by simply “wasting time on the internet.” Instead of writing, they would use the media and repurpose it for the course.
I recently met with Goldsmith in Manhattan at La Pecora Bianca on 26th St and Broadway. I wanted to dig deeper into the meaning of his latest book. Since we are both interested in the intersections of critical theory and philosophy with modern art and digital culture, I knew we would have plenty to discuss.