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Rob Walker

Uncreative Writing


Uncreative Writing Kenneth Goldsmith
Columbia University Press (2011)

Among other things, the poet Kenneth Goldsmith oversees the astonishing UbuWeb, a sprawling online archive of avant garde audio, textual, and film/video expression. I suspect it's his formidable knowledge of this material that makes Uncreative Writing (based partly on a class he teaches) both a pleasure to read, and really useful to think about. While lots of people are celebrating remix culture these days, Goldsmith’s focus on unlikely source materials (the “debased and random … language generated by the Web,” for instance) is refreshing. And he’s able to make a persuasive case that, say, one poet’s presentation of a list of stores in a mall is more effective than another’s traditional poem about consumerism. In part he’s showing how to adapt the tactics of Situationists, Duchamp, and Benjamin to the post-Web era, but he has a particularly interesting argument to make that writing has lagged other forms in figuring out how to exploit the power of “regestures.” Of course his title is a provocation and a bit of a trick, but Goldsmith makes an entertaining argument for parsing and editing to make things that are “original,” without “creating.” —Rob Walker

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