Kenneth Goldsmith Explains Uncreative Writing on To the Best of Our Knowledge
“There’s a whole century of experimentation with language which is completely ignored. There’s many, many ways to construct novels. We actually just tend to construct novels quite similarly. Just a call to open things up. Let’s a get a little more contemporary.”—Kenneth Goldsmith
Earlier this month Kenneth Goldsmith, author of Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age, discussed his new book and the need for writers to think about language in new ways in an interview with To the Best of Our Knowledge. In the interview Goldsmith also recounted his experience of reading at the White House, in which he read from Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, and his own work, Traffic, which appropriated traffic reports from a local radio station. As Goldsmith explains, the excerpts from these traffic reports elicited the biggest reaction from his audience, including the president:
They were howling. There’s a shot of Obama leaning back in his chair with a giant smile across his face listening to the traffic report. Maybe it’s vernacular. I mean maybe this is just language that people can understand, right…. What people care about is the language that’s around them and of course these are Washington bureaucrats so they had ideas about gridlock and congestion and delay. There really is narrative in there as well in a way that Whitman gives you impression or Crane gives you disjunction, I’m actually giving you narrative. But I didn’t write any of these. So this is the weird thing. The most avant-garde, the most unoriginal, the most uncreative work was the work that went over the very best in the White House.
Goldsmith also discusses his class at the University of Pennsylvania in uncreative writing, in which students, among other assignments, must plagiarize other work. The interview concludes with Goldsmith looking at the Man Booker prize and the ways in which the selection of books reflects the sense that contemporary literature has become a bit stale. Without denying the value of novels in being able to move or enlighten a reader, he argues that the novels selected for the Man Booker:
Are constructed are fairly conventional and fairly similar. Again, there’s a whole century of experimentation with language which is completely ignored. There’s many, many ways to construct novels. We actually just tend to construct novels quite similarly. Just a call to open things up. Let’s a get a little more contemporary.