Afterwords

New York Press, April 5-11, 2000
by John Strausbaugh

Our man Kenneth Goldsmith, music reviewer and WFMU DJ, has kept busy cranking out two books and a pamphlet since I last looked. They all continue his obsessive’s experimentation with concrete language, list-making and an intensity of close observation that makes the everyday glow with transcendence.

In Fidget (Coach House, 107 pages, $16.95) he sets out to record his every twitch, scratch, step, burp and gulp from waking up to falling back asleep 13 hours later on June 16, 1997. He clipped on a microphone and literally taped himself reciting every move, all day. A typically mad Goldsmith experiment. At first he’s recording observations as precise and minute, as Marjorie Perloff says in an afterword, as an Edward Muybridge strip:

"Eyelids open. Tongue runs across upper lip moving from left side of mouth to right following arc of lip. Swallow. Jaws clench. Grind. Stretch. Swallow. Head lifts. Bent right arm brushes pillow into back of head. Arm straightens."

After a few hours of this he begins to drive himself nuts. His reports first get clipped ("Scratch. Stretch. Rub. Click. Peck. Hit. Shift. Roll"). Then he panics and gets drunk, and his recitation turns into crazy poetry: "At eight twenty-five eye damage custard. And silence is guide. Lips fall down, except on pavement. Body only river. Second body is gone to river. Over probablestone. A plash." By the final hour he’s babbling. (Fidget is at Printed Matter and available through Small Press Distribution at spdbooks.org.)

6799 is Goldsmith indulging in his list-making OCD. He was asked by zingmagazine, the art journal, to list some of the records in his vast collection. Characteristically, once he got started he couldn’t stop, and delivered a 92-page book’s worth of a list–every record he acquired 1967-1999, in alphabetical order by artist, from A Kombi’s Music to Drive By through pages of Various Artists to Peter Zummo’s Zummo With an X. There was nothing for zing to do but print it as a book and distribute it shrinkwrapped with the current Winter 2000 issue (which you can find at Hudson newsstands). Obviously you’d have to be as nuts as he is to read the thing; I think of it more in the Jewish mystical traditional of text as a marvelous or totemic object.

Gertrude Stein on Punctuation is the most playful of the three. In the first section he reproduces Stein’s wonderful discourse on punctuation from Lectures in America ("...Therefore I ask you therefore wherefore should one use it the question mark. Beside it does not in its form go with ordinary printing and so it pleases neither the eye nor the ear and it is therefore like a noun, just an unnecessary name of something..."). In the second section, "Gertrude Stein’s Punctuation From Gertrude Stein on Punctuation," he strips out all the punctuation in her essay–every comma, period, apostrophe, hyphen–all of which, being Gertrude Stein, she uses sparingly anyway. He scatters these squirts and dots and dashes randomly across three pages, as though, he says to me, he’d gathered them in his palm and then blown them across the pages like dust.

A nice little homage to Gertrude, it is packaged in 5 & 10, a limited-edition, $200 box set of 25 artists’ pamphlets produced by New Jersey’s Abaton Books, home of Laurie Bortz’s strange plays and the wobbly genius of high school singer-songwriter Marianne Nowottny.


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