Little Reviews (2002)
By Brian Kim Stefans

Coach House Books, 2000

Like all of Goldsmith's major literary projects - including Soliloquy, in which he plastered a New York gallery's walls with the unedited text of all that he had said for an entire two weeks, or No. 111 2.7.93-10.20.96, which is made up of thousands of phrases ending with the "r" sound collected over three years, grouped by syllable length and alphabetized within those sections (it's final section is the entirety of D.H. Lawrence's "Rocking Horse Winner," which ends with the word "winner") - Fidget is a work that takes as its base the human body and the varieties of meaning it can produce (often by accident) within a marked span of time, either through speech, movement or reaction, and either in isolation or through heavy social interaction. But though it takes the body, and by extension the "self," as its framing device, Goldsmith's work, because of its heavy process, totally eradicates the "lyrical" self - that trace of the torquing that the human creative mind invariably inflicts on the words it produces spontaneous - that is present even in the most processual of poetries, such as that by Bruce Andrews or Jackson Mac Low. Everything in Goldsmith's writing is "true"; none of it is warped through the prism of conscious literary creativity outside of the fact of editing. For Fidget, Goldsmith recorded into a dictaphone all of the movements that his body made within the course of a day, June 16th, or "Bloomsday," which is the day on which James Joyce's Ulysses took place. Noticeably, he never says that he is "talking," but everything else, from drinking a cup of coffee (the "cup" is one of the few nouns that he uses that are not part of his body), to defecating and masturbating, from getting out of bed (which seems an excruciating complex ability) to a flurry of other activities that are hard to determine since, unlike eating, defecating and masturbating, they have no real cathartic moments - all was channeled into this text, in a series of curt phrases punctuated only by periods: "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." In such writing, the body is figured not just as a mechanism of weights and balances - like Sony's Aibo dog, which took a team of scientists years to teach how to walk - but also a paranoiac system of signs that have flirtatious relationships to the actual complexity of the body's movements (Goldsmith, of course, couldn't record everything), and which, as text, take on a life of their own. Unlike the cancerous meanings that straight process texts (such as computer generated poetry or Oulipian writing) can generate, Fidget must be allied with "real-time" activities in the non-text world, and yet this text, more than fiction or newspaper journalism, is distinctive for the minor eruptions of meanings that spiral off on their own, way outside normative sentence/paragraph good form: "Body turns left. Drops down. Step one. Step two. Step three. Step four. Ball of right foot hits. Meets eye. Rubs repeatedly. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Back. Left hand reaches with index finger. Thumb flicks," runs one part of a paragraph, and though the grouping of five steps following the initial group of four are not numbered, each step in itself, by the codes of reading and writing, must take on their own discrete values in time, as readers of Stein will appreciate - one word followed by the same is a different word. Thus, though the fictional events, those that appear to be transcriptions with their own subplots, in the text may come to dominate the attention at moments - during eating, drinking, etc. - the majority of the events of the text are like the minor imperfections on large abstract canvas of white. The reader asks, and needs to know, whether all of the verbs are in the present tense (no, some are gerunds, some are imperative/active); also, does Goldsmith eat during this exercise (possibly not, we only hear about the coffee, but nonetheless some of those abstract body movements may have been the lifting of a sandwich, etc.). Fidget clearly exists in the tradition of high-concept performance art such as that of Acconci, Bueys and Sam Tsieh, but unlike this art, in which photo or video documentation is the only trace of the activity, Fidget performs its own documentation, and though the conceptual gap that such art creates - and Sam Tsieh, but unlike this art, in which photo or video documentation is the only trace of the activity, Fidget performs its own documentation, and though the conceptual gap that such art creates - the void of meaning that, like in the Duchampian ready-made, subsumes the activity - is still a strong element, the goal of Goldsmith's work is specifically the text, or what shapes the text can acquire once it has been gathered. Trained as a sculptor at the Rhode Island School of Design, Goldsmith has written that he imagines text as the perfectly malleable material, something that fits into any container into which one pours it. Such a perspective might suggest that Goldsmith doesn't imagine someone actually reading the books that he produces, but Fidget, at least, contains many stylistic elements, not to mention structure, that his others lack (it's also much shorter). The most obvious of this is the final section, "22:00" (the chapter headings are all the names of the hour it covers), which is the first section of the book in reverse order, as if read in a mirror: "sdneb mrA .daeh fo kcab morf yawa wollip sehsurb mra thgir thgiartS .spord daeH .wollawS .tcartnoC .dnirG .xaler swaJ .wollawS .pil fo cra gniwollof tfel ot htuom fo edis thgir morf gnivom pil reppu ssorca snur eugnoT Eyelids close." This is the "eternal recurrence" of Joyce made manifest in a sort of sound poetry goulash; in the process, many new words are created such as the ubiquitous "sucum" and the more familiar "morf." That text itself is fluid, that it can, like mucus (which makes its appearance on page one of the text) be not only the "face" of human discourse (the "face" being, as Sontag writes, a replacement for the body in the body/soul dialectic in modern culture) but the liquids coursing through our inner cavities which, more often than we suppress them, often explode into the foreground, seems to be the visceral critique of Goldsmith's project: mucus can't be contained, it is with us always and one of our central activities in our lives, via a coordinated series of complex gestures, is to keep it down. There are also activities that work beyond the human volition, just like, in Greek or Roman epic, there are the gods to keep things busy; in Fidget, this god is often named "Peristalsis," and makes its appearance periodically when language can't make its way into the even more intricately choreographed activities of the flesh. Fidget, with its "Man pounds rice" language which attempts to skate along the indeterminate, uncategorizable welter of movements and perceptions (a collapsing of arbitrary time units Bergson would applaud), is at once a critique of classic scholastic metaphysics and a confirmation of them - the body has not proved itself distinct or separate from the "soul," and we are not sure who's driving the car, but nonetheless the reader is pushed more toward these classic questions than they are in more discursive modernistic literary texts (such as Beckett's novels, with which Fidget is often compared). In this way, it skirts right along the edge of where "philosophy" and the "not-philosophy" meet, a useful, very visible gesture that is, itself, fun art.

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