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Moving forward requires understanding and acknowledging what will come after you, just like ìsoldiers in the vanguard of an army prepare the way for the invasion to follow.î[1] The advance guard confidently ventures into perilous territory because it knows that an army follows in its wake; ready to defend the scouted terrain. According to David Lehman, ìthe avant-garde is dead... because there is no longer any significant resistance to artistic innovation.î[2] There may no longer be grave social defiance toward the innovations of the art world, but in the twenty-first century ìpeaceî does not always mean complacency. Art is perpetually expanding, and as with any kind of movement there will always be someone at the forefront. Perhaps the old guard has faded into the glory days of memory, but the avant-garde of the twenty-first century is mobile, wireless, and globally aware. New forms are emerging; new modes of expression, and now innovative mediums are capable of transmitting ideas with electrical impulses similar to those of the brain itself.

With the number of media options expanding, artists and writers find at their fingertips unlimited resources for subject matter and distribution. Digital sound recording, handheld super-computers, and flat liquid crystal displays, are just a few examples of the technological innovations of this century, an era bent on making everything smaller, faster and more powerful With these advances comes a heightened awareness of self, a need to call attention to the role of humanity in a digital age. In the time of ìmicroî everything, Kenneth Goldsmith chooses to saturate readers and viewers alike with material, significantly changing the way that people take in the world around them. In Goldsmithís sphere size is important, because magnitude challenges the viewer/reader to embrace the fact that the world is too broad to take in all at once and thus requires a narrower focus.

No.111 was only a checkpoint on the road to a new kind of writing, a more sensuous and artistic approach to language, which extracts meaning from frame and form, not content. Goldsmithís work allows for a unique approach to reading akin to spinning a globe and blindly putting down a finger. As seen previously No.111 is not a book to be read cover to cover, but one that has an infinite number of starting places, and just as many destinations. The text of No.111 is engaging, a success attributed directly to Goldsmithís need to display the ìphysicality of language.î[3] The work to follow is the testing ground of Goldsmithís innovation, proof that he did not ìget luckyî with No.111, but that he actually has an amazing ability to manipulate language in a startling new way.

After the critical success of No.111, Goldsmith decided to thumb his nose at the community that had previously snubbed his oversized text panels of No.109. This time he filled the gallery at Bravin Post Lee New York floor to ceiling with words. Soliloquy, also titled No.116 4.15.96-4.21.96, is a printout of every sniff, grunt, and syllable uttered by Goldsmith over seven days. Using a body microphone Goldsmith recorded his speech every hour that he was awake, and then transcribed it into a Word document, faithfully setting down every quirk, and every repetition. Where No.111 is a collection of phrases from thousands of sources, Soliloquy consists of a single voice, one wellspring of information. Filling a room with words seems an enormous task, but only a weekís worth of speech printed on plain paper with a regular inkjet printer did the job. This time gallery-goers were faced with an installation of ìtext artî that was literally impossible to digest, not just the longish fare of No.109. The text started ìjust out of eyeshot near the upper left corner of a wall,î working its way across the room and down to the floor.[4] (Figure 5.) Some three hundred pages of printed text covered the walls, approximately forty typed pages for each recorded day.

Though he limited his scope to one person instead of a city full, Goldsmith produced an amazing amount of material, proving that ìif every word spoken in New York daily were somehow to materialize as a snowflake, everyday there would be a blizzard.î[5] Soliloquy succeeds in taking the concepts of No.111 one step farther. Ephemera exists in No.111 only in that rarely noticed information is set to the page, immortalized through printing. Soliloquy offers up somewhat different fare; words are snatched right out of the speakerís mouth and captured on the page by transcription. Inherently speech is liquid, colorless, and framed only by the context of conversation. However, Goldsmith freezes it in print, stripping his speech of its context and fluidity, making something truly ephemeral concrete. Soliloquy presents a ìtextual landscapeî to its audience, the architecture of language that we learn as we grow up and add to as we mature.[6]

Soliloquy projects loquacious energy outward, wrapping the reader in a heady mix of gossip, speculation, and chitchat. As its title implies, Soliloquy is a book of one-sided conversations, internal thoughts spoken to an unseen audience, conveniently overheard. Speaking is the act of giving information away; it involves no introspection on the part of the speaker, merely a desire to communicate with

another party. In speech, action and intention are the same; therefore the interpretation of the words must be literal.[7] With Soliloquy, Goldsmith gift-wrapped the enormous amounts of information that individuals throw to the open air everyday. Speech is a cheap and effective therapy, for emotion pours out of the body in the form of words, disappearing into the ether. The manifestations are funny, compelling, and often times biting commentaries on people in Goldsmithís life.

Comme de GarÁon. John Iíll never forget John Currin like like finally sold a painting and and and spent the entire dough on one Comme de GarÁon t-shirt and had the gall to wear it inside out so that the label was sticking outside. It was like a nine hundred dollar t-shirt. Fucking bunch of assholes. We hung out with those guys for a while, oh what a bunch of losers. God. They were the worst.[8]


Goldsmith recorded only his own voice, and printed the transcription as a single block of text with no spacing to denote the end of one conversation and the start of another. He also did not edit a single word of the project, content to leave in every ìcrackling, shameless, free-wheelingî detail.[9] Soliloquy reviewer, Gordon Tapper points out that, ìevery writerís guilty fantasy may be to write as effortlessly as one speaks, but few have the chutzpah to actually expose themselves in such an unedited state of undress.î[10] Goldsmith, however, does it with pleasure, and a hint of carefree mischief.

Goldsmith took a radically different approach to his next project. Inspired by the prose texts of Samuel Beckett he took the same vocal energy of Soliloquy and focused it with laser beam intensity on the body. He recorded every movement that he made in thirteen hours on June 16, 1997, appropriately calling it Fidget. ìRecordedî is a loose interpretation of the verbal gymnastics Goldsmith had to perform in order to complete his work. He described as many of his movements as humanly possible into a microphone clipped to his shirt, later transcribing them from tape. Fidget is the purest and harshest form of introspection, a close examination of a body in space. Though unlike a figure painter who scrutinizes every last detail objectively, Goldsmith was forced to contemplate his own body and his own actions for the better part of a harrowing day. The paradox of Fidget lies in the fact that it is absolutely impossible to physically describe all movement, because speech is a motor skill and would consume all description in and of itself. From the start Goldsmith created a work of pure fiction, for every account is simply a projection of some exterior movement.

         Fidget takes a step away from Soliloquy in that the former was heavily edited, molded into a compact and poetic piece of work, while the latter was untouched, except for punctuation. Compared to Soliloquy, Fidget is a black hole of densely packed matter, hundreds of movements residing within as few words as possible. Goldsmith took out all superfluous words like ìthe,î leaving behind terse, tightly controlled phrases not unlike the movements themselves. Fidget illustrates the limitations of vocabulary used to depict the movements of the body, there is no word for the sound fingernails make on skin, or the process of wetting the lips, so Goldsmith was faced with the task of creating a ìbodyî language to fit his needs.



In the beginning Goldsmith accounts for each movement with mathematical precision:

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. Counterclockwise twist thrusts elbow toward ceiling.[11]


However, as the day progresses, Goldsmith finds himself foundering, going a bit insane with the enormity of his project. At this stage, body parts take on inexplicable and haunting emotion, a reflection of Goldsmithís need to vary his experience. Descriptions go from meticulous to poetic in a giddy and exhausted way:

Side of insulated socks exists as second chancre sore. Hoo hoo arises. Giggle hits head. So, tongue could not find the mace. Inside I think feels warm. Overruns tender. As young Iím sorry, as tongue. Skatial tightens. Folds scaling part. And tips and tops. Tears of moment at which scaly part ends intermediary area.[12]


According to Marjorie Perloff, ìthe objective reporter now gives way to the inventor of language play.î[13] What started as an attempt to objectively examine a body in space crumbles into a wealth of beautiful phrases, a balletic and graceful text. As ìthe rules begin to break down,î the language becomes more enchanting, the movements harder to identify without the use of imagination.[14]

         Fidget was recorded on a date known to Joyce enthusiasts as ìBloomsday,î the day on which the action of Ulysses takes place. Goldsmithís hour-by-hour account mirrors Joyceís hourly mapping of the lives of Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly and Stephen Dedalus. The characters of Ulysses are primally aware of their existences, meticulously descriptive even about bodily functions. Joyce scholar, Anthony Burgess points out that Joyce ìassigns a characteristic rhythmî to the awareness of each being. Bloom is ìquick, jaunty, [and] clipped,î the description of a clever man in common circumstances.[15] His wife Molly Bloom walks the line between ìpractical and poetical,î representing her aptitude to lose herself in thought and body passions.[16] The last, Stephen Dedalus, is the most interesting when considering Goldsmithís work. Through a trilogy of books, Portrait, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake, Stephen grows into an artist and a poet, a transition not unlike that of Goldsmith himself. It is Stephenís awareness of his mind and body, ìlyrical, subtle... and much more aware of wordsî that make him a striking parallel to Goldsmith, for they have shared a journey.[17]

         The millennium did not bring global meltdown as some feared, but it did announce the dawning of a new age for literature. Readers are experiencing language in extraordinary new ways, with none so widely used and rapidly expanding as the Internet. Information on any subject can be found on the world wide web, published and unpublished works, opinions, pirated material, and much more right at your fingertips. With hundreds of thousands of new words published daily on the net, close monitoring of publication is nearly impossible. Though many authors and publishing companies balk at having their works available at no cost to the reader, many embrace the medium because of the unlimited possibilities for expression and circulation. The appeal of global distribution is hard to resist, especially for experimental authors with non-traditional work.

         With more and more material available on-line one has to wonder about the future of printing and paperbound books.  For paper lovers, reading on-line gives little satisfaction; the feel of pages and the heft of a good book adding dimension to the reading experience. Unable to reproduce these elements in a virtual setting,        on-line works must create new ways to enrapture audiences. Unfortunately, most designers, publishers and authors treat the web as a stagnant storing place for information, a cold and impersonal vehicle for reference. What a reader sees on a computer ìpageî is severely limited by the frame of the screen, so, placing a book page by page on-line presents an insurmountable problem to many readers. Scrolling through documents is a hopeless chore. On-line works must be engaging, events unto themselves, pieces that prevail over the shortcomings of the medium.

         If paperless reading will not wholly fill the role of books, then what future does the web have as a medium for fiction and poetry? Artists and authors in this digital age are asking themselves the same questions, though few are coming up with acceptable answers. With new realms of media surfacing, the way we read and experience language must evolve with the changing times. Goldsmithís work already challenges the reader, breaching the almost impenetrable wall of ìtraditionalî literature.

         After No.111 Goldsmith ventured into the digital frontier, creating web versions of both Fidget and Soliloquy. Goldsmith manipulates virtual media with the same impossible ease that he sculpts his books and his words. His on-line talents are staggering and striking, he is a web virtuoso where others fall short. ìFidget,î created in collaboration with programmer Clem Paulsen in 1998, is a Java applet that displays in order the text of Goldsmithís movements. The composition of ìFidgetî is breathtaking. Locked together by lines radiating from various unfixed centers, each phrase fades in and out of view as it is ìperformed.î The applet is sped up so that each chapter/hour completes in about four to six minutes. Each hour has a different format; background color, font color and size, as well as subtle differences in the movement and grouping of phrases, making some appear more ìfidgetyî than others.[18]

Paulsen and Goldsmith wanted to find a way to visually ìsubstitute body with computer,î to illustrate the relationship between two similar machines.[19] The program starts at ten in the morning, as denoted by the red time display in the center of the screen. The background is cream, like early morning light streaming through a window. Small grey text floats through the descriptions of the waking hour, slowly fading away. As the day progresses so does the program; the light background and sleepy text give way to bolder more alert manifestations, finally sinking into nightfall, a black screen with the nonsensical gibberish of an exhausted body. Fidget is viewed as one would a painting, eyes constantly drawn to a different section following the line of color and movement.

The web version of Soliloquy also tantalizes the eye, but in an entirely different way than its sister project. ìSoliloquyî opens to a white screen entirely devoid of writing except for a list of the seven days of the week at the top. Clicking on any day reveals yet another seemingly blank screen. However, as you pass the mouse down the page, light gray phrases appear where ever the mouse touches. Goldsmith lets the construction of the site illustrate the ephemeral properties of the spoken word, and the vastly poetic quality of jumping in on the middle of a conversation. The ìSoliloquyî site is reminiscent of the ìtalk poetryî of David Antin. In his book What it Means to be Avant-Garde Antin says, ìi donít read anymore i talk and...whatever i happen to say that [is] my poetry.î[20] Antinís ìverseî raises interesting ideas about the value of reading Soliloquy on-line. His book is a strikingly disjointed narrative, skipping from one subject to another without reference. The text is formatted with gaps between groups of phrases that act as pauses within the speaking. The same effect can be gathered from the web version of Soliloquy, the words magically appear onscreen, without reference to speaker or coherent conversation, unlike the solid block of text in the printed version. Goldsmithís creativity and understanding of virtual media enhance the experience of both his web projects.

         Beyond No.111 the road stretches without obstacles. In its wake, new word artists will follow, finding innovative ways to sculpt language out of the ether. Kenneth Goldsmith continues to set the standard, and even now searches for his successors, hosting an electronic poetry website called UbuWeb. Starting in 1996, Goldsmith started ìscanning and posting [his] collection,î and Ubu grew into the foremost collection of concrete poetry on the web.[21] Now it houses hundreds of new works, including a section called Found+Insane, a collection of flyers, ads, and other crazy signs found all over New York City. Even the city itself generates poetry on a regular basis, something that Goldsmith is determined to bring to the masses.

         No.111 and Kenneth Goldsmith herald a bright future for literature in the twenty-first century. Goldsmithís work encompasses the energy and vitality of a global community, a society where language in all forms can be called poetry. Streamlined, and ultra hip, the words of Goldsmith entice and invigorate a new generation of reader, the kind who dial up the web from cell phones and watch movies on four-inch disks. He writes for a digital age, where information is king, and complete access to it is integral. What future is in store for literature as we know it today? It is hard to say, for we are on the cusp of an old era. Everything after today will be different, and everything tomorrow is unknowable. No.111 shows us the possibilities; demonstrates the way in which language can be engaged and engaging, terrifying and mesmerizing. The story of the modern day rests within the pages of Goldsmithís book simply waiting to be excavated. No.111 also forces us to reevaluate how we view the world that surrounds us, if this can be poetry, then perhaps we should pay closer attention to the ephemera in our lives. Goldsmith challenges the way we read, the way we speak, the way we think about language. And suddenly, like to the child telling her first joke, it becomes a plaything not an obstacle. Goldsmith speaks to the world through the pages of No.111, his voice masked by the voices of thousands of other, and he entreats us to reexamine our method of understanding. He says, ìyou must be a navigator an investigator an appropriator an intuitive promulgator and an innovator.î[22] Not only he, but you and I and the world.

Notes Part Three

[1] Lehman, David. The Last Avant-Garde. New York, NY. Anchor Books, 1999. pg. 291.


[2] The Last Avant-Garde. pg. 287.


[3] Bessa, A.S. Exchanging E-mail with Kenneth Goldsmith. New York: zingmagazine, 2000. pg.5.


[4] Tapper, Gordon. Kenneth Goldsmithís Soliloquy. New York, NY:zingmagazine, 1997. pg. 1


[5] Bessa. Exchanging E-mail. pg.3.


[6] Kenneth Goldsmithís Soliloquy. pg.1.


[7] Argument from Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaelís article Against Theory. In Intention and Interpretation. pg.52.


[8] Goldsmith, Kenneth. Exerpt from Soliloquy.  pg. 2.


[9] Tapper. Kenneth Goldsmithís Soliloquy. pg.1.


[10] Tapper. Kenneth Goldsmithís Soliloquy. pg.1.


[11] Goldsmith, Kenneth. Fidget. Toronto, Ontario: Coach House Books, 2000. pg.8.


[12] Goldsmith. Fidget. pg.68.


[13] Perloff, Marjorie. Afterword, Fidget. by Kenneth Goldsmith. pg.97.


[14] Princethal, Nancy. Kenneth Goldsmithís Fidget. New York, NY: Art on Paper, 1998. pg.1.  


[15] Burgess, Anthony. Re Joyce.  New York, NY: Norton and Company, 2000. pg.85.


[16] Burgess. Re Joyce. pg.85.


[17] Burgess. Re Joyce. pg.85.


[18] Goldsmith, Kenneth and Clem Paulsen. Fidget Java Applet. Stadiumweb: 1998.


[19] Press Release: Fidget Website. June 16, 1998.


[20] Antin, David. What it Means to be Avant-Garde. New York: New Directions, 1993. pg.2.


[21] Bessa. Exchanging E-Mail. pg.4.


[22] Goldsmith, Kenneth. No.111 2.7.93-10.20.96. Great Barrington: The Figures, 1997. pg.342.

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