‘Assume No Readership’ – Kenneth Goldsmith (2014)

Whether or not you agree with Kenneth Goldsmith, you gotta admit that he occasionally says some pretty interesting things.

Web link: http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/kenneth-goldsmith-assume-no-readership

In this 2014 video, ‘Assume No Readership’ by Louisiana Channel, Goldsmith begins by reading a newspaper article about the Nobel Prize, declaring the article to be a short new poem. He uses this reading as a springboard for discussing his own creative work. In Goldsmith’s words:

My ideas come become because I respond to technology. I think that where technology leads, art follows – not the other way around. And we’re living in a time of such incredible technological changes that just listening to technology gives me amazing ideas. […] The ways in which I write are digital ways, even if they appear on an analogue page.

Goldsmith believes in the versatility – and, indeed, limitlessness – of poetry as a genre. Using digital means, he says of his own ‘poetry’ that ‘in a sense, I haven’t really written it. I’ve just sort of moved it onto a pedestal for everybody to examine. […] Any angle you hit on that thing is going to be right.’ This obnoxiously-über-postmodernist approach to authorship is made possible by new tools for the manifestation of creative intention.

‘What can literature possibly be in the digital age?’ Goldsmith asks. ‘I think one of the great tragedies of poets is that they assume they’re being read. And they’re not being read.’

Dedicate 16.5 minutes to watching this video, get fired up, and then use what you’ve learned to upset your friends at your next Zoom cocktail party.

Sunday Book-Thought 138

‘Authorship’ in particular is in urgent need of theorizing. The debate here is marked by a profound incomprehension and hence hostility, which is evident in terms such as plagiarism and cutting and pasting. The accusation of plagiarism is itself now becoming an anachronistic term, harking back to a different social, semiotic and legal environment. It arises as a response to social conditions – that is, as a particular semiotic response to notions of ‘freedom of choice’. That is transferred to practices of text-making where formerly settled – quasi-moral, legal and semiotic – notions about authorship, text and property are now no longer treated as relevant; or are, more often than not, no longer recognized by those who engage in text-making now. In that context, the accusation of (‘merely’ or ‘simply’) cutting and pasting is a response that betrays a lack of theoretical work and hence incomprehension about new principles of text-making composition. It rests on a misconceived transfer of old conceptions of authorship to new conditions. Let me hasten to say – lest I be misunderstood – that I am not in favour of intellectual theft nor of deceit, laziness or exploitation. Yet mere moral outrage alone will not produce one iota of understanding.
– Gunther Kress, Multimodality: A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication (London: Routledge, 2010), p. 21.