Saturday, 26 September 2009

Another Day for Kent Johnson

A new book by Kent Johnson is now available. It's called Day and is published by Blazevox. It has had some good reviews, including the following by Juliana Spahr:

'If the 836-pp. Day established Kenny Goldsmith as without a doubt the leading conceptual poet of his time, the 836-pp. Day by Kent Johnson may well be remembered for nudging the politics of Conceptual Poetry out of blithely affirmative, institutional framings, and into truly negational critical spaces'.

Commendation indeed, if Spahr had actually said it, but it is a fabrication by Johnson, in keeping with the parodic tone he sets for the book, for indeed, Johnson’s Day is an exact reproduction of Kenny Goldsmith’s “work” of the same name. I’ve put “work” in quotes because Goldsmith would readily agree that the work in question was not “created” by him in any authorial sense. He describes his working procedure for the book as follows:

‘I am spending my 39th year practicing uncreativity. On Friday, September 1, 2000, I began retyping the day's NEW YORK TIMES word for word, letter for letter, from the upper left hand corner to the lower right hand corner, page by page’.

His term for this procedure is “uncreative writing”, which is,

‘a constraint-based process; uncreativity as a creative practice. By typing page upon page, making no distinction between article, editorial and advertisement, disregarding all typographic and graphical treatments, Goldsmith levels the daily newspaper. DAY is a monument to the ephemeral, comprised of yesterday's news, a fleeting moment concretized, captured, then reframed into the discourse of literature’.

However, this arduous undertaking of retyping the whole newspaper is not all it appears to be, for he later contradicts himself by saying:

'But in capitalism, labor equals value. So certainly my project must have value, for if my time is worth an hourly wage, then I might be paid handsomely for this work. But the truth is that I've subverted this equation by OCR'ing [scanning] as much of the newspaper as I can'.

Johnson’s appropriation of the “work”, therefore, can be seen as a logical extension of Goldsmith’s procedural stratagems, and perfectly within the ethical scope that Goldsmith has allowed for himself (and presumably others) in the publishing arena. Indeed, if Johnson, or anyone else, for that matter, had not done this, it could be argued, convincingly, that Goldsmith had proclaimed his aesthetic in vain.

However, such a compliment that Johnson has paid to Goldsmith’s aesthetic could be seen as something of a poisoned chalice, in that it has painted Goldsmith into a corner. For if he were to sue Johnson, he would be seen as something of a hypocrite, and thereby lose some artistic credibility. But if he doesn’t sue Johnson, he will leave his other “works” open to the same fate as has been visited on Day in this instance.

Of course, Goldsmith could have avoided such a dilemma by simply publishing the book anonymously, but that is, perhaps, too much a council of perfection that not even his aesthetic could countenance.

Incidentally, it could be said that Johnson’s appropriation of Goldsmith’s “work” is, perhaps, the more innovative and audacious act in comparison to Goldsmith’s “original” gesture, which, I think most will recognise, was based on an already established artistic precedent.

Day by Kent Johnson is priced at $30, plus shipping and handling. ($300 for each of ten numbered copies signed by the “Author”, no charge for shipping and handling.) All copies come with specially designed, affixed stickers (on cover, back cover, title page, spine, etc.) to impart authorship, copyright, blurbs, and co-production. It can be purchased at Blazevox: