Emails between Me and Kenneth
Dear Kenneth Goldsmith
Dear Kenneth Goldsmith
I am a Fine Art student, studying in Yorkshire at The University of Leeds. For my final year dissertation, I am writing about conceptual artists and poets. Would it be possible for me to send you some questions? It would really help with my project. Thank you
Yes. BUT, I've been interviewed extensively so much over the years that I really can't answer the same questions again. Please make sure you've combed my EPC page thoroughly to make sure I don't have to repeat myself. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Thanks for your really considered questions. I'll answer them shortly.
Here you go. Very best of luck with the project!
As an artist would you say you are driven by curiosity? Doyou find yourself starting a new work because you want to know what something would look like or what it would be like to read it aloud to an audience?
It's often been said that a writer writes the books that s/he would like to read, that s/he wishes were in the world, but to that point, are not.
When transcribing speech, you leave in the ums and ahs etc. Do you think of words or sounds as important to language or do you think of them as negative spaces within dialogue?
Speech can be transcribed or notated in very different ways. David Antin uses blank spaces as pauses. His pieces are almost choreographed. By contrast, in my works, I only focus on the speech as quantity, not the musicality of it.
As a radio show host, you are using your voice as your main tool. People tune in both because they want to listen to what you have to say and because of how you say it. You have to be a good communicator and have a pleasant or entertaining voice. Do you think that your work would suffer if you were not as much of a skilled communicator? And do you think the books would be perceived in quite the same if you had a voice that was un-enjoyable to listen to? Do you think people associate your texts to your voice?
Most people don't want to listen to my radio show, in spite of the fact that I have a good radio voice. I use it as a kind of a weapon, seductive but saying repulsive and dull things at the same time. But that said, all those many years and many hours of being on the radio have made me very aware of the voice's role in performativity, so it does help when reading publicly. When I read, people often come up to me and tell me that they were disappointed because I wasn't more boring. On the page, my texts are really boring. But when you read them, they're very enjoyable. The voice hydrates the driest of texts.
When you wrote The Weather, Sports and Traffic, did you consider the fact that you would do readings from them? Was the fact that you would be taking the spoken word, transcribing into a written text and then taking it back to its original spoken form a consideration from the beginning?
I always assume that I'll be reading my texts, but don't write them with that in mind. I'm primarily interested in their textuality. But I enjoy the performative aspect of them.
When reporters read out the news, weather, sports etc they have their own way of communicating both linked with their specific area of work and their individual personas. Do you speak differently, as you read out different books? Are you becoming the sports reader or weather man?
Yes, I take on the characteristics of the texts that I'm ready. I definitely become the traffic, sports or weather man.
Have you ever thought about asking a local news station if you can fill in for the weather or sports reporter for a day?
That would be really fun. But I've read those texts in their entirety on WFMU. The Weather, Traffic and Sports each takes about 3 hours to read. So they have been broadcast already.
When you were going through the motions of producing the book Soliloquy, were you intending to gather natural speech? And did the fact that you were aware of these motions affect your flow of dialogue? Did it become in any way less natural? And if you were trying get natural speech, how come you didn't secretly record other people and use that footage? Was it important that it was your own voice?
I was really self-conscious of having every word I spoke recorded during the course of a week. But since you have to get on with life; you forget that you're being taped. Sometimes I would play with the mic, speak into it directly. There's a scene on late Wednesday night with my wife in bed that is completely constructed, playing with the fact that there's a mic present.
I recently read soliloquy and I couldn't help being very aware of the absence of other people. Even though their presence is made known, they no verbal input on the finished text. Was this something that you considered when writing the book?
I was only interested in how much one person spoke over the course of a week. What does it weigh? I was not curious about other people, just me.
When you read from the book Soliloquy, do you find it strange to be reading out your own words, within a different context to how they were originally spoken?
Yes, it's surreal. I try to re-speak the words as I spoke them that week, but that's impossible, so it becomes a performance based upon something that was both natural and very artificial. It's very complex.
Do you know of anyone who has created a work from transcribing either your text work or your spoken dialogue? How would you react to this happening?
Someone once took all the copies of Day that they could find and, everywhere my name appeared, they replaced it with their name. I found it to be a curious gesture, though it was very poorly done, so I didn't think too much about it. Another time, Charles Bernstein took The Weather and reprinted the whole thing on his website as "The Weather by Kenneth Goldsmith by Charles Bernstein." I thought Charles's piece was really great.
For the book Fidget, how did you record your movements? Did you film yourself?
I used a voice-activated microphone that was hooked up to a portable micro-cassette recorder.
Fidget is like a running commentary of something that is happening or has happened. Would you consider this work to be a slow motion narrative?
No. It was unfolding in real time, but it's impossible to actualize: the body makes too many moves to record them all. So I had to selectively choose and by doing so, the book is a fiction: it's not really every move my body made in a day.
At what point do you really feel like a project is finished? Do your works generally get resolved?
Oh, it's very simple. I make up my mind before they are done. The Weather was every weather report once a day for a year; Traffic was the traffic reports every ten minutes for 24 hours; Sports was the complete transcription of a baseball game from the beginning of a broadcast to the end. The works always get resolved because their ending is pre-ordained.
Do you like Star Wars?
No. I saw it when it first came out in 1977 in Salt Lake City, stoned out of my mind on the most powerful sinsemilla available at the time. I went into the theater and immediately fell asleep. I never looked back.
Thank you so much for all your help. It is much appreciated.