A Provincial Review of Kenneth Goldsmith's Day|
by Brad Ford
Many readers may open this novel and start from the beginning. Doesn't one start a novel at the beginning? A reader may open the book and start at the first line. It's a brilliant opening line and it's quite familiar. "All the News that's Fit to Print."
This is the great journalistic statement of American hegemony and editorial pragmatism, but in Kenneth Goldsmith's world, it doesn't apply. There is no textual evolution, no survival of the fittest. All survives. All is fit. All the words are valuable, and, magnanimously, all creation will survive the flood. The grace is in the typing-God, what a task!
So the world is there as it was with nothing washed away. The world can then, unbidden, come to the reader the way the reader comes to the world. The beginning is not really the beginning. A reader can open to the crossword in the paper, but a novel doesn't offer this leisure. Thus the reader can, more than in any other literary work I know, come to Day as she or he wishes. Still, there is a correct way and a more correct way.
A quotidian review will be quick to see that the work encompasses a day, a big picture, a picture of New York, a picture of our world, and a picture-in an unfortunate coincidence-of life right before 9/11. But it's fine to point this out, because it is a beautiful aspect of the piece.
All the text transmits some of this glossy beauty, especially when it arrives as (what I enjoyed) a story about communist Poland, the box scores that included A-rod on the Mariners, the scarcely believable news of Atlanta dropping behind the Mets, the all-star casts of the Vagina Monologues, and this quote: "The record for one cannonball, he said, was 32 soldiers at the battle of Zorndorf in 1757, when Prussian and Russian troops clashed." Who got the worst of that one? Doesn't say, but probably the Russians. It's up to your imagination. There stands the bronze quote on its pedestal.
Yet the reader has to look deeper than the articles. More is happening than words coming together to tell a story. I suppose if I were of a certain ilk and had read straight through, the first jump would have warned me. But also, the ads are obvious admonitions. Day's format takes most typography and visual clues away from the reader. The ads are clearly not ads-they are copy and have no pictures, which is a different experience. The eye-catching tricks of Madison Avenue are stripped of all but caps and exclamations, and it deflates them or makes them comedy. Maps become columns of place names and a line for scale (0 miles 300). This is not quite the New York Times.
Paging through, the visual beauty of the book slowly emerges. The the stock pages balloon in font size, spread out over only one column, and become larger-than-life-wonderful, bold, plastic character slabs. This, I feel, is the most sensual section-sandwiched between business news and ads, C-7 to C-17 is suddenly the centerpiece or the protagonist of the work. It's no wonder that this filled a chapbook, but separated from the entire work, it could only ever be the textbook abridgement of the work for the eighth graders of the end of the century.
This is what future textbook writers should choose, though, because it must be obvious to these eighth graders that they are not reading the New York Times. They will be reading Day. But it's better even than reading. Like the happy viewer of Duchamp's Hat Rack, the astute reader will understand: this is art. The NASDAQ summary is art.
Needless to say, even if I had been reading every contemporary novel, I couldn't really make a good prediction about what eighth graders or college freshmen of the latter-half of the century will be reading, but I hope Day is a watershed for writers because this old eighth grader has been awaiting its arrival-I've been waiting for the freedom that Day brings. To me, narrative is representation, old hat, and here is a beautiful, voiceless novel-a roman trouvé-finally, finally, an abstract novel.
Why aren't these common? As much as Joyce or critics of Joyce felt that Joyce had snubbed Aristotle, ignored the audience, and written a work for himself and artists only, he was still following his internal grammar. He was still writing for his own ear and listening to himself. The creative process, whatever that is, was there. In the uncreative, well, it's all the news.
Thankfully, Joyce makes everything possible. But to answer my own question-it isn't common because Day wants no audience! This is not absurd, not a world for an anti-hero or an Ubu Roi (there's no reaction necessary), it is a novel of nothing, a novel beyond representation, a novel that is nothing more than a work of beauty, a work of art. The novel is not conveying what it is, it is an object unto itself.
Hopefully, the desire for objects will seriously change what reading is, and, at the same time, destroy the publishing industry, destroy industry entirely, and create a glorious artistic utopia for us all. But I doubt that will happen.
The least that can happen is that Day changes writing. And this, I think, it will.