“Interview with Kenneth Goldsmith by Trace William Cowen” by Seth Abramson

Editor Carrie Ivy, Editor's Choice, February 17th, 2014

The suppression of self-expression is impossible.

interview with kenneth goldsmith

NAILED MAGAZINE: Do you feel that Shia, since conceiving the idea for HowardCantour.com (presumably in 2012), has been truly practicing his own brand of “uncreativity,” or do you feel he may have gone on a Googling binge following the “controversy” in order to find a way to justify his actions?

KENNETH GOLDSMITH: Fittingly, these are questions to which answers are not required.  A personal development of style and a romanticization of the journey that is “finding your own voice” was/is passionately promoted by Powers That Be, but that same impassioned promotion served only to stifle the voices of those like me. I remember feeling guilty as a writer; this is the house that inevitability built, yes, but only if we can agree that inevitability is both an active and submissive reality both willed and allowed into existence.

Just as Darwin has helped us, bit by bit, “unlearn” the unquestionable—god—“metamodernism” seeks to help us, chunk by chunk, unlearn the unteachable: originality. Sometimes me think, “What is love?” And then me think, “Love is what last chocolate cookie is for!” Me give up the last chocolate cookie for you. For is it not time we allow our tortured artists to crack an occasional smile without fear of scholarly ridicule?

NAILED: Given Shia LaBeouf’s profile among Internet-born Millennials, would you agree that his ongoing campaign (intentional or not) spurs an interesting and necessary public conversation on the importance of accepting the reality that the once-deemed “remix generation” (my generation) is now at the forefront of creation, and that such a fact (coupled with the vastness of the Internet) opens up worlds of opportunity only hinted at years ago in, say, Warhol’s “Soup Cans”?

GOLDSMITH: Perhaps it’s best to answer with a counteraction: #startcurating. Though certainly not the strictly attained and oppressively indoctrinated idea of “voice” to which our collegiate forefathers would prefer us subscribe, this incarnation seeks to proclaim our collective individuality while also revealing the implausibility of truly original work. (And, really, who isn’t “like” me? I have a banana in my ear!)

However, as we will continually learn, the suppression of self-expression is impossible.

NAILED: Does process make the artist and, thus, the art?

GOLDSMITH: The nervous storyteller finds his stage.

NAILED: Is this art?

GOLDSMITH: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s The Office (and its eventual U.S. successor) gave me a window—a window to which a Digital Era-informed obsession with Warhol lead me. And Wikipedia, a regarded evil among editors and professors alike? It shall have fine company in the form of the previous era’s cultural gatekeepers—academics. We are, in a sense, “free” from the shackles of our prehistoric, Internet-ignoring idea of “freedom.”

That’s an important word—“and.”

NAILED: Is it not time we accept the landscape of old as “scorched Earth,” and thus leave the tired ashes be?

GOLDSMITH: You know, I’m going to the Pigeon Lover’s party, and it’s a big event—I want you to look at me and tell me how I look.

NAILED: Moments of relief were brief but welcomed, and I eventually started to chase them.

GOLDSMITH: Note that we have moved into an era of the great “and,” appropriately abandoning but often nodding at the bygone era of “or”!

NAILED: The burden of maintaining a tiresome and ultimately quite boring profile as an isolated, singular-narrative “creative type” is then removed.

GOLDSMITH: The bookshelves aren’t empty; they’re just lined with hard drive space!

NAILED: It’s not easy being green!

GOLDSMITH: Why, then, must we #stopcreating?

Each institution-sanctioned step forward is burdened tremendously by an internal debate of “Well, isn’t that really a step backwards?” Our history has answered them for us: Charlyne Yi’s Paper Heart oriented me with the comforts of a directionless certainty; Joaquin Phoenix’s I’m Still Here gave me the keys to the house. Because “and” removes the guilt of the artist.

NAILED: Though each purported step backwards often felt like a cathartic leap forward—into truth.        


NAILED: Is it not time we allow ourselves—as artists (Life is Art)—to be beautifully defined by our active participation in and shaping of the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, all in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons?

GOLDSMITH: It thanks our increasingly outdated notions of “writer,” “artist,” and even “genius” and leads them promptly to the nearest exit. I once felt guilty as a writer, yes—though not the sort of guilt one might associate with hidden betrayals or some unspoken admission of serious culpritry. From the admonishment of guilt comes an astonishment rebuilt: It is I, your furry pal!

(And now Shia LaBeouf is showing me around the house, insisting on facelessness as a Digital Era prerequisite, and I very much agree.)

NAILED: The “start” therein is almost comical, because we are already doing this.

GOLDSMITH: Each moment of traditionally “pure” uniqueness is punctuated with exponential moments of borrowing—borrowing in the sense that, though the content can never be returned in any tangible or measurable form, you offer your own moments of supposed uniqueness as future borrowings for others, a sort of creative barter system with circular structure and thus limitless potential.

NAILED: Though, with its seemingly sudden infusion into pop culture, many unintentional (?) detractors find themselves cursing metamodernism as a movement or, worse, a clique.

GOLDSMITH: This assertion, born not only of intellectual laziness but also from a fear of the misunderstood, seeks to harm and ultimately derail our collective quest for truth through oscillation. However, this opposition rests more or less on the wrong side of history, so to speak.

NAILED: This is akin to the sort of guilt that often leads a nervous storyteller to simply never speak at all. 

GOLDSMITH: They call me “the Count”—because I love to count things.

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The original text of this essay was written by Trace William Cowen; it was then reconfigured, curated, and augmented (with five sentences from additional sources) by Seth Abramson. Kenneth Goldsmith did not participate in the production of this text.

Read Trace William Cowen’s original interview with Kenneth Goldsmith for NAILED: here.

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seth abramson writer nailed magazineA graduate of Harvard Law School and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Seth Abramson is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Thievery (University of Akron Press, 2013), winner of the 2012 Akron Poetry Prize, and Northerners (Western Michigan University Press, 2011), winner of the 2010 Green Rose Prize from New Issues Poetry & Prose. A regular contributor to both Poets & Writers and Indiewire, he is also Series Co-Editor for Best American Experimental Writing, whose first edition will be published by Omnidawn in 2014. He is presently a doctoral candidate (ABD) in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Carrie Ivy

Carrie Ivy (formerly Carrie Seitzinger) is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Ivy is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.