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Partie IV. Rythmes et temps d’exposition

“The Weather [to]Day”: Overexposure To and Of the Media in Kenneth Goldsmith’s Work

Hélène Aji

Résumés

Avec la publication de 9 livres en 15 ans environ, Kenneth Goldsmith, qui approche de la cinquantaine, vit à New York et travaille à Philadelphie, élabore ce qu’il appelle une poétique de la non-créativité, ou encore une poétique de l’ennui. Chaque texte est en provenance directe du quotidien le plus insignifiant, engendré par emprunt, collage ou simple transcription. Ennuyeuses et dépourvues de créativité, voilà ce que sont ces œuvres (et bien d’autres), selon Goldsmith, qui conteste ainsi les exigences d’originalité et de substantialité qui sous-tendent le canon poétique. Cet article interroge ce déni d’originalité qui, en fait, permet la mise en place d'une pratique poétique éminemment originale (et ironique).

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“All the News that’s Fit to Print”

The New York Times

Late Edition

New York: Today, mostly cloudy, high 83. Tonight, warm and muggy, low 73. Tomorrow, cloudy with a few showers, high 80. Yesterday, high 83, low 7. Weather map is on Page A20. (Day 11)

A couple of breaks of sunshine over the next couple of hours, what little sunshine there is left. Remember, this is the shortest day of the year. Looks like the clear skies hold off till later on tonight. It will be brisk and cold, low temperatures will range from twenty-nine in some suburbs to thirty-eight in midtown. Not a bad shopping day tomorrow, sunshine to start, then increasing clouds, still breezy, with a high near fifty. (The Weather 3)

1Over the span of nine books and some fifteen years, Kenneth Goldsmith, now in his forties, living in New York and working in Philadelphia, unfolds what he calls in turn a poetics of uncreativity and a poetics of boredom. Each text draws from the quotidian in its most minute details to produce text that is either borrowed and collaged or simply transcribed. In Day (2003), he types down the September 1, 2000 issue of the New York Times from the top left of the front page to the bottom right of the last page, thus producing an impressive volume of highly tedious, thus hardly legible, text of 836 pages. In The Weather (2005), as David Antin defines it on the back cover, four seasons of daytime all-news radio broadcasts for the city of New York make up the texture of a year which happened, after the project was started in December 2002, to be the year the war in Iraq began. David Antin thus presents the text as a transcript which turns into an epic of survival in New York:

Starting at the winter solstice, Kenneth Goldsmith by subtle framing has turned a literal transcript of a year’s worth of radio weather reports into a classical narrative of New York’s four Seasons. A kind of Vivaldi without the birdcalls––and more localized in space and time, as its narrator predicts and endures the frigid cold of the Winter of 2002-2003 and the snow storms bearing down on the city from the Great Lakes or from Eastern Canada or the Great Plains of the Middle West. Spring includes two weeks of weather from the battlefields of Iraq as the vernal equinox follows two days after the invasion. Summer comes with its relentless humidity and heat and sudden squalls. Fall appears with its hurricanes boiling up from the Carolina coast, succeeded by more tranquil World Series weather and concludes with a descent into the promise of a milder Winter. New York has survived once more. (Antin, The Weather back cover).

2Before that, in Fidget (2000) and in Soliloquy (2001), Goldsmith had respectively put down all the movements his body had performed in one day, and all the words he had uttered in one week, in a diptych of self-centered triviality. Following The Weather, we have Traffic (2007) and Sports (2008), which complete a trilogy of the most common, and most repetitive announcements in radio broadcasting.

3Boring and uncreative, these are the qualities Goldsmith claims for all these works and others, putting into question the demands of originality and interest that underlie the canon of poetry. What is one to do with a poet who declares that he is “spending his 39th year practicing uncreativity” (“Uncreativity as a Creative Practice” §1)? Or when he states the following as he begins a presentation at the Disney REDCAT Theatre in Los Angeles in 2004:

I am the most boring writer that has ever lived. If there were an Olympic sport for extreme boredom, I would get a gold medal. My books are impossible to read straight through. In fact, every time I have to proofread them before sending them off to the publisher, I fall asleep repeatedly. You really don’t need to read my books to get the idea of what they’re like; you just need to know the general concept.

Over the past ten years, my practice today has boiled down to simply retyping existing texts. I've thought about my practice in relation to Borges's Pierre Ménard, but even Ménard was more original than I am: he, independent of any knowledge of Don Quixote, reinvented Cervantes’ masterpiece word for word. By contrast, I don't invent anything. I just keep rewriting the same book. I sympathize with the protagonist of a cartoon claiming to have transferred x amount of megabytes, physically exhausted after a day of downloading. The simple act of moving information from one place to another today constitutes a significant cultural act in and of itself. I think it's fair to say that most of us spend hours each day shifting content into different containers. Some of us call this writing. (“Being Boring” § 1-2)

4Not inventing, but repeating, experimenting with the modes of recurrence and the conditions of boredom, trying not to add more text to the great text of literature, but to draw on the existing texts to recontextualize them, Goldsmith in fact posits himself at the end of a line initiated by Gertrude Stein -- from whose lectures he edited a chapbook in 2000 (Gertrude Stein On Punctuation) -- and including Jackson Mac Low to whom he wrote a tribute in 2005, calling him “the king of boredom,” as well as John Cage, whom he quotes both in the tribute and in “Being Boring” as follows:

John Cage said, "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all." He's right: there's a certain kind of unboring boredom that's fascinating, engrossing, transcendent, and downright sexy. And then there's the other kind of boring: let's call it boring boring. Boring boring is a client meeting; boring boring is having to endure someone's self-indulgent poetry reading; boring boring is watching a toddler for an afternoon; boring boring is the seder at Aunt Fanny's. Boring boring is being somewhere we don't want to be; boring boring is doing something we don't want to do. (“Being Boring” § 4)

5As Goldsmith starts to playfully work on the concept of “boring boring,” one can easily foresee the emergence of a counter vision of boredom, one in which boredom becomes not boring, or further along in Goldsmith’s reflection “unboring.” With the apparently benign idea of “unboring boring,” he inverts the significance of his claim to be, along with Mac Low, “the most boring writer that has ever lived”: once the tedium of his text is integrated, and the method of its unboring unveiled, creativity and meaning emerge on a different level, one that makes the method programmatic, and boredom a chosen state subverting the fake attention paid to counterfeit novelty.

Unboring boring is a voluntary state; boring boring is a forced one. Unboring boring is the sort of boredom that we surrender ourselves to when, say, we go to see a piece of minimalist music. I recall once having seen a restaging of an early Robert Wilson piece from the 1970s. It took four hours for two people to cross the stage; when they met in the middle, one of them raised their arm and stabbed the other. The actual stabbing itself took a good hour to complete. Because I volunteered to be bored, it was the most exciting thing I've ever seen. (“Being Boring” § 5)

6Through the transfer of data from one medium to another, from the newspaper to a book (Day) or from radio talk to the page (The Weather), the exposure to speech which originally happened as part of the normal texture of daily life is turned into an overexposure, so that the title of this essay can be understood in at least two different ways. Kenneth Goldsmith’s work stems from an overexposure to the media, whose discourse becomes so central to our lives as to replace self-expression: but we are in a world in which one issue of The New York Times, which so many pretend to read every day, amounts to more than 800 pages of text, so that “[we]’ve never really read the newspaper” (“Being Boring” § 16). However it also performs this overexposure which puts into question their very medium of communication. In Day, “really reading” the newspaper by retyping it implies a discipline that runs against the conventional modes of its reading: strangely enough, despite its discontinuous organization, and stories cut up into columns on different pages, the newspaper appears as coherent, and not as the collage that it is, a collage through which reading is channeled, and ideologically sorted. Once retyped, and turned first into a digital text, then into a book, however, the newspaper begins to crack at the seams, so that the method of this collage can be questioned, and the cracks seen for the voluntary cuts that they are. Now these cuts impair reading, analyzing, distancing from the facts; they break up discourse so that its expository choices are no longer evident. Paradoxically, it is the suppression of hierarchic ordering which emphasizes and puts into question the organization of both the newspaper and the book. The indistinct allows for distinction; the boring triggers the unboring; and radically it is underexposure that puts into relief the critique of overexposure and of its strategies. Of course, Day has its unpublished counterparts, that complete the trilogy in which Goldsmith likes to organize his work: Month, an issue of Vogue  (a very thin volume), and Week, an issue of Newsweek, deemed as “definitely [falling] on the boring side of boring” (“Being Boring § 17). Why a trilogy (like the later The Weather, Traffic and Sports)? Maybe because the very iteration of the process shifts the focus from its products, to the process itself. As Marjorie Perloff points out in the title of her essay on The Weather, the very gesture of “moving information” is what generates a multi-faceted response in the reader, and performs an “exciting” subversion, but this subversion gathers power in its replications, when the exposure of the method becomes overexposure, even at the risk of falling back into the category of the “boring boring” (“Being Boring” § 17-18).

7And is this writing? And is this text poetry? Or is this a novel, as Kenneth Goldsmith claims Day to be, one “filled with stories of love, jealousy, murder, competition, sex, passion, and so forth” (“Being Boring” § 16)? At least, in the most literal sense of the term, it is writing, but a perverse mode of writing which is not meant to be read, in the same way as Andy Warhol’s 24-hour film of the Empire State Building is not meant to be watched (see “Uncreativity as a Creative Practice” § 8). As Warhol’s film is entitled Empire, Goldsmith’s book is entitled Day, shifting the attention from the matter it processes to the concept hiding behind the concrete example. Similarly, in The Weather (the first in a trilogy of its own, but also initially conceived of as a fourth in what turned out to be the “Day” trilogy, under the title “Year”), the title is deceptive: we are not dealing with a generic reflection on the weather, but with the very concrete transcriptions of specific weather reports, the term being symptomatically absent from the poem’s title, thus becoming both implied and operative. Because they include hesitations or expletives from the speakers, the reports in The Weather seem untouched by an author that has turned absent or erased himself:

Well, uh, our radar continuing to show light snow scattered around the metropolitan area right now, uh, there are breaks in the snow pattern, but it extends all the way back into, uh, central and western Pennsylvania. So we’ve got several hours yet in which there will be intermittent light snow, certainly not piling up, uh, an inch or probably less in Manhattan and across most of the five boroughs, but there might be a little more than an inch, uh, on, in some areas, uh, west and to the southwest of the city. (The Weather 16)

8However, the project and its achievement bear the mark of intentionality and a decision that contradict any claim to depersonalization. The elision of the “report” gives import to the text: the missing word is interestingly paradoxical first when applied to the “weather report” since in the proper sense it points at the past, and marginally at the present, when the discourse the word points to when applied to the weather is all about some of the present, and the future––forecasting, predicting, and failing to do so accurately. What are the epistemological “reports” (or explosive consequences) of a discourse which assumes the trappings of science and which often determines our lives when it is fallible and, more importantly still, fails to acknowledge its errors? How can one accept the relevance of a “report” (an account) that could be but a “report” (a rumour)?

9What links The Weather to Day is in fact outside the text, in its context of a subtle negotiation between prevision and a posteriori accounting, both revolving around the before and after traumatic events for the city, the US and the world: Day is the transcription of the New York Times on September 1, 2000 (one year almost to the “day” before 9/11), and The Weather begins during the winter preceding the attack on Iraq. It is no coincidence then that The Weather initially began as a project entitled Year, more closely related still to Day, and alluding to the delay before the apocalypse… The comment goes beyond the topoi of postmodern or neo-pop-art recycling or displacement of the ordinary into the world of art. It also somehow goes beyond the Duchampian problematic of the ready-made–or rather reframes it. What is terrifyingly ready-made is the catastrophe one inevitably reads into the innocuous monolith of Day; or the potential debacle the climatic conditions in Iraq outline:

A mostly cloudy, cool day coming up today, the temperature will get to about fifty, or maybe or maybe in the low fifties, and that’s about it, drops back to about forty with some clouds and patchy fog and drizzle tonight. Then it’ll start to rain tomorrow, probably late in the day, we’ll have rain tomorrow night on into Saturday, with a high Saturday into the fifties. No, uh, genuine prospects of sunshine until Sunday, but even then it’ll be chilly, a high around fifty. Uh, battlefield weather is sunny and hot in, uh, Baghdad, the temperature into the low nineties at this moment, and it’ll be middle-to-upper nineties tomorrow, and over the weekend with one hundred degrees plus, in the southern and eastern deserts. Some gusty winds over the weekend could cause isolated pockets of, uh, blowing sand and reduced visibilities, but nothing near as widespread as last week. Right now it’s forty-four and mostly cloudy in Central Park, temperature today going up to about fifty. (The Weather 43)

10Reports from the war in Iraq might seem to be meshing with local reports as the result of an unexpected turn of events, and it is definitely the interpretation which Goldsmith himself promotes. Nevertheless, it so happens that both Day and The Weather bridge the before and the after of the major events to affect the US since the beginning of the new century. In Day, the news from before 9/11 seem puny and ignorant of what is to follow to the point of blindness, thus marking the unmanageable quality of historical time, and the possible ineffectiveness of the information age; in The Weather, the local, despite its share of severe weather, is dwarfed by the consequences of sand storms thousands of miles away, collapsing geographical distance and stressing the delusion that would make one believe that a war waged on foreign soil is less serious than one waged on American soil.

11By being part of the Day–Week–Month–Year series, The Weather is to be read as an attempt to deal with the intersection of personal and collective time, or the time of reading and the time of writing. But as the first volume in a radio-based trilogy, with subsequent volumes entitled Traffic (2007) and Sports (2008), it is also a comment on the degrees of exposure allowed by the media: by accessing news in detail, does one really access information? Do not the format and medium impact the message? Not a follower of McLuhan, Goldsmith will not collapse the message onto the medium, but he is not one to forget that the paper, the radio, the book do not provide the same text, although the words might be identical, or supposedly so.

— 1 800 LAW CASH reminds you that this copyrighted broadcast is presented by authority of the New York Yankees and may not be reproduced or retransmitted in any form. And the accounts and descriptions in the game may not be disseminated without the express written consent of the New York Yankees. Have a lawsuit? Need money? 800 LAW CASH will get you money right now. Don’t wait for your case to settle. You or your attorney should call 800 LAW CASH today.

— Well, the pitching match-ups are as follows: for the New York Yankees Sidney Ponson. It’s his third start as a Yankee. He last pitched on the 11th of, uh, August, went three innings giving up five hits and three runs. His last start was on the 23rd of July in Toronto. He only went two and a third innings, giving up six runs. (Sports 11)

12:01We’re over the hump and into the official holiday weekend. I want to wisheverybody out there a safe and happy holiday, especially when traveling on theroad this weekend. If you're trying to get out of town now, you're in for an easytime of it. No reported delays around the metropolitan area as I see it live on thePanasonic Jam Cam. Let's head over to the East River where we've got noreported delays running the length of the river from the Battery on up to theTriboro. FDR is moving nicely as well. No reported incidents on the West SideHighway which, if you recall, oh, say about six hours ago was simply not movingat all with delays up to three hours. Now it's deserted. And here's what you needto know about the bridges and tunnels: all the East River crossings moving well.No reported incidents at the Triboro, 59th Street Bridge, Queens-Midtown Tunnel.Looking down to the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, it's one biggreen light. And over in Jersey, it's never been better with traffic flowingsmoothly across the Hudson at both the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. Even theGW Bridge which has been chocked for what seems like the last twenty-fourhours is now flowing like water. Remember, alternate side of the street parkingrules are in effect for tomorrow. (Traffic 81)

12In writing, the advertisement before the match and the first comments seem strangely at odds, so that the vacuity of the running commentary, and the irony of the ad equating a lawsuit with money gained, not lost, contaminate each other because they coexist on the page. In writing, the repeated optimism of the traffic announcer as the apocalyptic moment of a holiday weekend seems to be over contrasts with the warning about alternate side of the street parking, a measure known to all New-Yorkers to occasion major traffic jams.

13The strategy folds back on the photographic, and the optical, yet overexposure does not only flatten its object or blur its details, but indeed awakens the viewer (since Goldsmith does not have that many actual readers…) to both what lies around and under the overexposed artefact. In his discussion of Fidget, Ruben Gallo follows Walter Benjamin’s definition of the “optical unconscious” in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” as all that a close-up reveals, to argue that the text “deploys a number of innovative techniques to reveal aspects of everyday reality that are usually inaccessible to the naked eye” (“Fidget’s Body” 54). But beside the revelation of usually unheeded everyday details in close-up, Day and The Weather overexpose them as textual events, that can be recast, remodeled, retranscribed, re-mediated so as to inflect their portent. Thus the overexposure to and of the media in Kenneth Goldsmith’s work entails a sudden, whimsical, and ironic focus on the mass media, not as pseudo-original matter for poetry, but as one surface of discourse, most often unprobed as texts matter-of-factly circulate, are categorized, integrated, and discarded. The change of medium for the media triggers an interrogation on what could be deemed the textual unconscious surrounding and underpinning any text.

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Bibliographie

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” [1935]. The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media, Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, Thomas Y. Levin (eds.). Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 2008.

Gallo, Ruben. “Fidget’s Body,” Open Letter XII 7 (Fall 2005), 50-57.

Goldsmith, Kenneth. “Being Boring,” Presentation at the Disney REDCAT Theatre, Los Angeles, 2004. Electronic Poet Center, University of New York at Buffalo, http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/goldsmith/goldsmith_boring.html, consulted October 31, 2013.

–––––. “Uncreativity as Creative Practice.” Electronic Poetry Center, University of New York at Buffalo, link last consulted October 31, 2013.

http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/goldsmith/uncreativity.html

–––––. Day. Great Barrington (MA): The Figures, 2003.

–––––. Fidget. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2000.

–––––. Gertrude Stein On Punctuation. Jersey City (N.J.): Abaton Books, 2000.

–––––. “The King of Boredom: A Tribute to Jackson Mac Low.” Electronic Poetry Center, University of New York at Buffalo, http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/goldsmith/maclow_boredom.html

Link last consulted October 31, 2013.

–––––. Soliloquy. New York: Granary Books, 2001.

–––––. Sports. Los Angeles: Make Now Press, 2008.

–––––. The Weather. Los Angeles: Make Now Press, 2005.

–––––. Traffic. Los Angeles: Make Now Press, 2007.

Perloff, Marjorie. “‘Moving Information’: On Kenneth Goldsmith’s The Weather,” Open Letter XII 7 (Fall 2005), 75-85.

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Référence électronique

Hélène Aji, « “The Weather [to]Day”: Overexposure To and Of the Media in Kenneth Goldsmith’s Work », Sillages critiques [En ligne], 17 | 2014, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2013, consulté le 14 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/sillagescritiques/3760

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Auteur

Hélène Aji

Hélène Aji est Professeur de littérature américaine à l’Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. Elle travaille sur la poésie américaine moderniste et contemporaine, et est l’auteur de trois ouvrages : Ezra Pound et William Carlos Williams : pour une poétique américaine (L'Harmattan, 2001), William Carlos Williams : un plan d’action (Collection Voix américaines, Belin, 2004), Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (Armand Colin, 2005). Récemment, elle a co-édité avec Céline Mansanti et Benoît Tadié un ouvrage collectif intitulé Revues modernistes, revues engagées (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2011).
Hélène Aji is Professor of American literature at Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. Her main field is Modernist and contemporary American poetry. She is the author of three books: Ezra Pound et William Carlos Williams : pour une poétique américaine (L'Harmattan, 2001), William Carlos Williams : un plan d’action (Collection Voix américaines, Belin, 2004), Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (Armand Colin, 2005). Recently she co-edited a book of essays with Céline Mansanti and Benoît Tadié entitled Revues modernistes, revues engagées (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2011).

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