‘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 144

Different eras, these changes suggest, don’t just produce different kinds of books. Each also generates new ways of treating books – more specifically, new assumptions about what aspects of these physical objects deserve readers’ attention. When my students notice how different an eighteenth-century sermon collection looks from a twentieth-century airport paperback, the difference between a laminated chemistry textbook and the electronic version on their laptop begins to look less unprecedented. In the other direction, though, they begin to see that electronic technologies are in fact creating something radically new. Digital tools may not be upending our reading practices any more drastically than changing forms of print did. What they are revolutionizing is our ideas about reading. In the process, they’re remaking the printed past.
Leah Price, What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading (New York: Basic Books, 2019), p. 33.