Day

Two Attempts at a Review of Kenneth Goldsmith’s Day:

1
Day
Kenneth Goldsmith
(The Figures)

In his new book, Day, New York based poet, DJ and visual artist Kenneth Goldsmith has done for the New York Times what Duchamp did for toilets and Warhol for soup cans: turned an everyday object into a powerful piece of conceptual art. Coming in at Joycean 836 pages, Day consists of the entire text of the late edition of the New York Times, September 1, 2000, hand typed into a computer, and formatted in sequence, page by page, starting at A1 with “All the News that’s Fit to Print” and ending on F8 with the Potamkin Auto Center’s warning that “we are not authorized to perform recall or original factory warranty work. LTD NYCDDA#88761 DMV #7048316. Sale ends 9/4/00.” If that doesn’t sound as thrilling a finale as Ulysses’ “yes I said yes I will Yes”, it’s because, for better or worse, this is a different day, in a different place.
Day is the latest realization of Goldsmith’s hip-hop inflected take on conceptual art, which began in the 1980s with his painted oversize totemic self-help guides, followed in the early 1990s by No. 111, his epic poem of found/heard phrases ending in an r sound, and Soliloquy, a transcript of every word Goldsmith uttered during the week of April 15-21, 1996. Call it conceptual literature if you like. William S. Burroughs, whose cut up method still seems very much mired in traditional tools of authorship like intention and decision when compared with Goldsmith’s bold appropriations, famously observed that literature was fifty years behind art. While sampling and appropriation have become commonplace in music and the visual arts, they remain thoroughly unexplored in literature until now. While scholars like Craig Dworkin are Reading the Illegible, Goldsmith has discovered a new kind of concrete, found poetry that speaks to contemporary questions about the legitimacy of sampling, and of the relationship of authors to texts and texts to the media in which they are manifested. In the process, he has fabricated an experimental literature that is, finally, legible, all too legible.
“Well,” you will say, “but you didn’t actually read the whole thing, did you?” No, of course not. Does anyone actually read the whole of the New York Times, front to back? Sure, you may think that you do that, but unless you’re a very unusual sort of person, chances are that you don’t read the fine print of every ad, go through every public announcement, or read every line of every one of the mutual funds quotes in the Business section.
To read Day then is a quite different experience to picking up the day’s paper (and when I say read, I mean browse, surf, investigate). By recontextualizing an extremely familiar textual artefact, Goldsmith reveals the enormous variety of discourses and linguistic codes that are tangled up in that familiarity. Each one of these discourses comes with its own set of reading practices that allows us to ignore, skip through, read attentively as needed. What Goldsmith has done is to level the playing field, leaving the source text, now formatted as “literature” or “poetry” in book form, to resonate as it is able to. Through all of this, a certain narrative tension remains: coming after 196 pages of relentless coded stock quotes (C6-C17), Andre Agassi’s defeat in the US Open (D1) takes on a pathos otherwise unimaginable. Whether this pathos emerges out of a process-driven moment of inadvertent juxtaposition, or from pity/admiration for the author/typist’s singular act of keyboard-tapping self-mortification is left for the reader to determine.

2
Day
Kenneth Goldsmith
(The Figures, $20)

In his new book, Day, New York based poet, DJ and visual artist Kenneth Goldsmith has done for the New York Times what Duchamp did for toilets and Warhol for soup cans: turned an everyday object into a powerful piece of conceptual art. Coming in at Joycean 836 pages, Day consists of the entire text of the late edition of the New York Times, September 1, 2000, hand typed into a computer, and formatted in sequence, page by page, starting at A1 with “All the News that’s Fit to Print” and ending on F8 with the Potamkin Auto Center’s warning that “we are not authorized to perform recall or original factory warranty work. LTD NYCDDA#88761 DMV #7048316. Sale ends 9/4/00.” If that doesn’t sound as thrilling a finale as Ulysses’ “yes I said yes I will Yes”, it’s because, for better or worse, this is a different day, in a different place.
Goldsmith’s bold act of appropriation provokes two questions: who would actually read such a book, and, perhaps more tellingly, who would actually buy it? It’s certainly true that Day costs 20 times as much as the newspaper that Goldsmith has “retyped”. But, as Walter Benjamin suggested, one does not necessarily buy a book in order to read it. The book as object confers a certain fetish value on the text it contains – a fetish value which Day exposes. Flipping through Day’s pages, it becomes clear that nobody actually reads a newspaper “from front to back” – language and code spills out everywhere in an excess that is normally contained by the newspapers neat columns and sections. Tom Wolfe once spoke of batheing in the New York Times, rather than reading it. But defamiliarized by Goldsmith’s singular act of keyboard tapping self-mortification, this is now a text to drown in.

Previously unpublished.

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