The internet favors short content. No one reads novels on the internet and in fact the process of reading a long form book on a computer feels so unnatural that despite the computer specifically being a thing made to display text, special file formats have been created specifically to display them so they don’t look like the internet and therefore people might read them (.epub, .mobi, etc. etc.) The coveted item is time, not content; the content shortens itself accordingly to give the illusion it’s saving time, though taking in information in the extreme short form is probably far more redundant and repetitious. But it has that feeling of speed. It has a marching rhythm. Online games like Cookie Clicker and Click the Button revolve literally around just clicking a meaningless icon as fast as humanly possible, and have garnered considerable followings. Cookie Clicker has its own wiki.
The audience member, in whatever context, who may well have been bullshitting their responses to a performance or novel or film or historical event anyhow, now no longer has to compromise themselves in the old fashion of reading/watching/listening to the thing itself. They can now outsource this to a guerrilla flash mob of their friends, neighbors, randos, fictional characters, living or dead celebrities, and whatever else can make a Twitter account. These opinion producers in turn will produce opinions on these opinions. The internet is the decentralized panopticon of meta-surfaces. A desire to do the responsible thing becomes attached to the possibility of positive attention, or any attention. Sometimes this desire for attention looks like Buzzfeed. Sometimes it looks like Gamergate. Sometimes it looks like a mass shooting. Sometimes it looks like a lot of boring articles about Kenneth Goldsmith. Attention is parceled out. There’s only so much to go around. The old shame that used to be attached to paying for it isn’t there anymore.
Thoreau’s man of quiet desperation is no longer quiet and that much more desperate for the silence having been broken to little effect. The artist of the present seems less like the artist of even the recent past because the actual thing they’re selling is no longer the art but their audience. Now you get the audience first, then maybe the bit of money turns up.
Andy Warhol was probably an idiot, and as an idiot could touch the zeitgeist and not get burned-if we are living in Warhol’s future, the great disappointment and anxiety is that the 15 minutes of fame we were promised might be cut short or never come at all. Kenneth Goldsmith is probably an idiot and professes to be at least idiot aspirant; as he said in an essay for The Awl: “I am a dumb writer, perhaps one of the dumbest that’s ever lived. Whenever I have an idea, I question myself whether it is sufficiently dumb.”
The question to be asked in the Kenneth Goldsmith controversy, after the endless stream of short and long essays ranging from the dictatorial New Republic headline “How We Should Think About Kenneth Goldsmith’s Poetic Remixes” to the more subdued but equally mad-libsian “Thoughts On/About the/What’s the Deal With the Kenneth Goldsmith Kerfuffle”, is “Why do I give a shit?”
The shit is given because Goldsmith is an empty vessel who can proclaim himself as such; the emptiness nags but he can’t be attacked for being empty because he already attacked himself. There may well be nothing there. Kenneth Goldsmith is Cookie Clicker with a hipster beard. There’s nothing actually there but people keep clicking things.
Goldsmith rearranged Michael Brown’s autopsy report to end it with a dick joke. This was tasteless and offensive, yes, but within the context of the whitewashed academic poetry conference he read his “poem” at, hosted at Brown University, total cost of attendance $59,428 a year, he was the conference’s own convoluted and insincere claims to relevance reflected back at itself. He didn’t call out their bullshit because he was probably being paid good money to be their bullshit. Perhaps he just did too good a job at being their bullshit. And now everyone decided that’s what they were going to give a shit about this week. And as the old collegiate joke goes: Bull Shit->More Shit->Pile it Higher and Deeper.
Who the hell follows academic poetry? What actual cultural influence does Goldsmith have beyond offering a glimmer of hope to failed poets that they too might someday make a living regardless of talent or proficiency? Goldsmith is not a poet’s poet, Goldsmith is a PR man who’s very good at what he does. He provides clicks. The currency is clicks. The currency is rigged.
Kenneth Goldsmith is a self-professed charlatan, but in earnest. He’s what Zizek is talking about when he discusses the cynicism of the people who don’t actually believe capitalism works but continue to perpetuate it. And he owns it confidently. And yes, it’s off-putting. But we’re all reifying this system by talking about any of this. This article is, of course, hypocritical. I want a piece of the attention pie as much as anybody. Why do you think I keep writing these things?
See, I can call myself out too! Now where’s my big controversy so we can change the name of this site to Writers With Lots of Money?
You actually want to get back at Brown University and avenge Michael Brown’s memory? Take out a bunch of student loans from them then run off to Asia until they can’t legally collect them from you. Join a police force and fuck up as much shit internally as you can before they fire you. To borrow from Doug Stanhope, take jury duty and when it ends up being some black kid up on a bullshit charges, acquit or deadlock the jury.
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Dan Levine, you are the new Dan Ashcroft!! (The Rise of the Idiots) Yes. You need a follow-up: “The Re-Reification of the Idiots” by Dan Levine. Seriously though, very well done.