Kenneth Goldsmith reads from Fidget

September 21, 2000

Kenneth Goldsmith's Fidget is the author/artist's attempt to record all of the movements his body makes over the course of Bloomsday, June 16, 1997, transcribed from the recording he made of himself narrating the task. Yet Goldsmith is the first to recognize that actual outcome of this seemingly objective exercise is "a work of fiction, really," in that the mind can only focus on one of the body's thousands of simultaneous motions, actions, and interactions. As Goldsmith reads selections from the work in his first of many Kelly Writers House appearances, his steady side-to-side sway -- which might be thought of as fidgeting in its own right -- stands in stark juxtaposition to the abrupt halts and breaks in his reading, which become increasingly evident through the course of the "day." For despite what the author describes as the "liquidity of text," perhaps the most interesting aspects of Fidget are those that most overtly call attention to their lack of fluidity.

The piece starts off with beautifully descriptive phrases, detailing body parts taking on unexpected autonomous functions ("Left nostril conforms to the shape of finger") and their specific, directional twists and turns. At times strings of phrases can be envisioned as a body completing a sustained movement, but focus constantly jumps, shifting from external motions to internal mechanisms and back again. Even during the first hour of his exercise, while lying almost motionless in bed, a pervasive sense of unrest, to the point of frenzy, seeps into certain moments. Goldsmith vacillates between excitement verging on that of a sports commentator during a pivotal play and meditative tranquility of an introspective yogi.

However, despite Goldsmith's professed interest in the "concretization of language" on the page, as the reading progresses it creates almost the opposite effect on the listener, producing a disjunctive aural ephemera, or what critic Marjorie Perloff, phoning in with a question after the reading, describes as the "broken ribbons" she hears in Fidget. The descriptions become increasingly reductive, focusing more on interactions between body parts than their isolated movements. Reading from the 5:00 section (his day having started at 10:00), Goldsmith's language has evolved into a mesmerizing series of words and phrases that sound like disjointed commands. Later in the twilight hours of his experiment, while drunk and looking at the sunset in his own Joycean sojourn, subjectivity becomes less subtle and the first person which was so carefully edited from the initial sections peppers the text. Poetic phrases ("and the eyes from whence I came") and nonsense statements ("achievement: hair") beautifully intermingle in scenes in which both the original experiment and Goldsmith's body itself seem to lose their rigidity and meld into their surroundings.

For the last chapter, Goldsmith reversed the actions of the first chapter, both in order and in direction, and then mirrored the words so that they were all written backwards ("step" becoming "pets," for instance). Described by Goldsmith as "a part of the book that no one will ever read," it is here that his language, which had been progressing towards recognizable intangibility, becomes incoherently physical, even when spoken, and altogether riveting. Sounding like blips on a radar signifying movement in a foreign, electronic language, it is the ultimate encapsulation of the restlessness and unease of the day. This final chapter reads like a sort of Dadaist sounds poetry for the technology age, yet is one based in concrete principles and rooted in the most basic, primitive impulses and action of the human body and mind.

Ultimately, it is this grounding that makes Fidget relatable and relevant. Goldsmith describes in his preceding comments the delocalization of the digital age, and in its minute focus yet boundless universality, Fidget becomes a paradigmatic text for blurring boundaries between tangible and intangible, between artist and participant, between the depersonalized and the highly personal. It is work of interconnection, one that cannot help but stir listeners' own self-consciousness. To watch and listen to Goldsmith reading from this work is to witness a post-modern symphony, with pauses between movements and a brilliant finale, which resonates with both mind and body and has long-echoing ramifications.