The Boston Review, October-November 2001
by Jenny Ludwig
Fidget Kenneth Goldsmith Coach House Press, $16.95 (paper)
If you are a graduate student studying Wittgenstein or a fan of Marjorie Perloff (whose essay on differential poetics in Goldsmith and Kinsella appears in part here), dust off your whistles and bells; this one's for you. Poet, artist, alternative radio DJ, and cool-man-about-town Goldsmith was commissioned by the Whitney to spend Bloomsday, 1997, speaking his body's every movement into a dictaphone, which recording was transcribed and presented variously as a multi-media installation, a java applet, and this book-length poem. Half-performance art, half-semiotic game, Fidget lives equally under the sign of Leopold Bloom's ode to mechanical reproduction ("have a gramophone in every grave or keep it in the house") and that of alien sociologist Mork's habit of translating his facial expressions into words. Goldsmith very effectively makes it strange: Fidget reads at first like an exercise in decoding oblique strings of words into a coherent narrative: "Right hand moves palm upward. Back of hand holds as thumb and forefingers grab." The near-impossibility of doing so is reflected by Goldsmith's own growing frustration with the strictures of his task; by hour five, clinical descriptions become subtly contaminated with interpretation: "Dots appear blue." This linguistic bursting-at-the-seams, for which Goldsmith attempts an antidote in hour eight's single verb sentences, precedes a complete breakdown (fueled only partly by alcohol), as the rigid protocols of a project trying its darnedest towards objectivity (no personal pronouns, no human contact, tape recorder) are defeated by body, mind, and language, each remarkably resistant to containment. True to its title, Fidget encourages a restless perusal of its multi-media incarnations; but, while both the operatics of the song-and-dance version and the simultaneity enabled by hypertext more effectively mirror bodily excess, the print version best reconstructs the constricted narrative space of the original exercise, and gives us the unmitigated beauty of the exuberant-and defiantly individual-body and mind overflowing such narrow confines.