Interview with Kenneth Goldsmith by Trace William Cowen
Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Interview, January 8th, 2014
We are in a moment of moving from authorship to non-authorship...
I Tweet, Therefore I Am:
A Conversation with Kenneth Goldsmith
This interview with Kenneth Goldsmith was conducted via email by NAILED’s Trace Willam Cowen.
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Following Bleeding Cool‘s fascinating interview with actor Shia LaBeouf, conducted via e-mail in the midst of LaBeouf’s increasingly compelling global Twitter dialogue on the idea of authorship as censorship in the digital age, I decided to reach out to Kenneth Goldsmith. Goldsmith, it appears, is not directly affiliated with LaBeouf in any way. Yet, his name has been brought up numerous times throughout the duration of LaBeouf’s still-in-progress campaign for authorship reform. Our resulting e-mail exchange can be found below. In short, LaBeouf is right about one thing: in the 21st century, there truly is no personal language, just personal selection of language.
NAILED MAGAZINE: Admittedly, I wasn’t turned onto your work until I saw a few mentions of you in my Twitter feed following that Shia LaBeouf/Bleeding Cool interview. Having written on Shia’s purported plagiarism a couple weeks ago (see full article here) – and having been a champion of his career, in general – I had been thoroughly following his digital moves after the HowardCantour.com short film “controversy.” Do you feel that Shia, since conceiving the idea for HowardCantour.com (presumably in 2012), has been truly practicing his own brand of Uncreativity, or do you feel he may have gone on a Googling binge following the “controversy” in order to find a way to justify his actions? Is there even a difference?
KENNETH GOLDSMITH: I feel he stepped in shit and is now trying to get out of it in an interesting way. Instead of the usual rounds of apologies and promising to do better next time, he’s had a change of mind, one that says, hey, maybe what I did wasn’t so bad if I could frame it properly. So, in the aftermath, he’s scrambled to cite folks who have thought long and hard about how to view cultural materials as shared, rather than proprietary, as befits the digital age. That said, his plagiarizing of those materials and apologies and so forth, have been very sloppy, and as such, not tremendously convincing. Anyone who has worked with shared and borrowed materials for a long time knows that there is a certain degree of craft involved, something LaBeouf has no clue about. Plagiarizing well is hard to do. Had he done it well, he might not have gotten the blowback that he has.
NAILED: Given LaBeouf’s profile among Internet-born Millennials, would you agree that his ongoing campaign (intentional or not) spurs an interesting and necessary public conversation on the importance of accepting the reality that the once-deemed “remix generation” (my generation) is now at the forefront of creation, and that such a fact (coupled with the vastness of the Internet) opens up worlds of opportunity only hinted at years ago in, say, Warhol’s Soup Cans?
GOLDSMITH: I’m sorry that it takes a Hollywood celebrity to confirm what comes naturally to Internet-born millennials, something that each and everyone knows and does every day. I’m curious as to why your generation needs permission when they’ve already got it? But in any event, it’s a happy occasion because it’s jump-starting a conversation that needs to happen. So in this way, LeBeouf’s scandal is good and successful.
NAILED: You often reference the use of samples in music as an example of the potential of Uncreativity, in that sampling – like Warhol or Lichtenstein or even yourself – takes the familiar and manipulates it or repurposes it until “new again.” However, your brand of sampling is often more strictly defined by direct mimicry and verbatim lifting. Is this to say that, by its very process, such work is new? Does process make the artist and, thus, the art?
GOLDSMITH: A century ago, we learned from Marcel Duchamp that moving something from one context to another is an act of art in and of itself. Duchamp anticipates the digital age and grants us permission to call these gestures our own. The fact that we’re still wondering if it’s okay to do so makes me consider that we certainly don’t know our own history. These are old, tired, and well-resolved issues. Look to modernism and you’ll find that artists and thinkers have long-dealt with these issues and have come up with some pretty good answers. No need to reinvent the wheel.
NAILED: I’ve been talking about these concepts pretty frequently on Twitter, since the arrival and removal of HowardCantour.com and Shia’s “repurposed” tweets, and a friend of mine posited an interesting question. In response to my statement, “Perhaps authorship, in this sense, is not only censorship, but an outdated manifestation of hurbris/ego/etc,” my friend asked, “If one truly doesn’t believe anyone can own or have authorship, why not publish totally anonymously? Does putting your name on it at all not carry some implicit appeal to authorship?” I pass these questions onto you. Thoughts?
GOLDSMITH: We are in a moment of moving from authorship to non-authorship. Such great leaps don’t happen overnight. The thread starts to unravel with Barthes’s “The Death of the Author” a half century ago and has continued to be hacked away at and redefined ever since. Once you put something on the Internet, all bets are off. If you don’t want something shared, don’t put it online. Simple as that. Once you do, it’s fair game for anyone to take it and to call it their own. This is the way the technology has been set up, and these are the new rules. Until the web is no longer copy-and-pasteable, this is the way things will be. If you don’t like, publish on paper — guaranteed, no one will know about it.
NAILED: Tweeting with the voices of others. Is this art?
GOLDSMITH: We live in a culture where the re-gesture carries more weight than the original gesture. To be retweeted is to have your voice and thoughts carried and mirrored an infinite number of times. While people try to keep the source of the RT in the retweet, it eventually loses its origin and is claimed by someone else. Like a great game of telephone, language is managed, handled, and mangled; it is unpossessible and uncontrollable. It’s wonderful.
NAILED: Do you believe art needs an audience?
GOLDSMITH: For an artist, it’s nice to have an audience, or at least the illusion of having one. That’s what’s so great about social media; it’s reflective of us; it’s a mirror. I tweet therefore I am.
NAILED: When was the last time you NAILED it?
GOLDSMITH: Nailed it? Answer: Right now. At this URL: here.
[Header Photo Credit: C. Jones]
Kenneth Goldsmith is a poet and the founding editor of UbuWeb. He has published several notable books, including Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in a Digital Age (2011) and his most recent work, 2013’s Seven American Deaths and Disasters, which was featured on The Colbert Report. He currently resides in New York. Find him here, and find his twitter here.
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Trace William Cowen is an artist, writer, and self-proclaimed “student of pop culture” hailing from the buckle of the bible belt – Alabama. The irony of his staunch atheism is duly noted. Find his official website here, and his twitter here.
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