[June 7 2018]
Kenneth Goldsmith came to Yvon Lambert Bookshop for the launch of his book, called “Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age”. It just came out in France, published by Jean Boîte Éditions and translated by François Bon. Kenneth Goldsmith created UbuWeb in the 90’s, already considering the web as a creative platform.
EUGÉNIE DEVOS — Your publication is about literature in the digital age. Does creativity exist in the non-originality?
KENNETH GOLDSMITH — I love creativity, but I don’t like the way that the culture discusses it. I’m trying to restore creativity by being non-creative with all the things that we are not allowed to do in creativity, like copying, plagiarizing. The un-original is now a strategy, but there is nothing new, it goes back to Duchamp. Art has experienced this, music, painting, everything, except literature! Everyone is creative, but we don’t give ourselves permission to say it, so admit. The whole internet is begging you to plagiarize it. It’s alright if we just admit it.
EUGÉNIE DEVOS — Words are everywhere, blogs, tweets, messages, mails. And everything can be put into words, music, images, videos. Does language dominate art?
KENNETH GOLDSMITH — I don’t want to create a hierarchy. The internet is all words. Even the pictures are coded. Every time we are looking at a picture on the internet, we are actually reading but the computer is doing the reading for us. So words are everywhere. Because of the internet, people feel guilty because they are not reading. In fact, everything they are doing on their devices, like mails, Twitter, Facebook, is actually reading. I think that we are probably reading many more words today than we were 20 years ago. It’s just a different type of reading.
EUGÉNIE DEVOS — Do you still read a book sometimes?
KENNETH GOLDSMITH — Of course! I still love to read a book. I do both, it’s not one or the other. It’s nice to read a good book and it’s nice to read Facebook. Facebook is the most interesting book ever read. It’s the autobiography of our culture. It’s not pretty but it’s real.
EUGÉNIE DEVOS — Taking time to read has become a luxury. Do you agree?
KENNETH GOLDSMITH — Not really. You never read the whole newspaper, you read the headline and turn the page. This is a lie. And people still finish books, they take a novel to the beach and they finish it.
Today, you never see anybody reading without a cell phone. You’re reading fast and you’re reading slow. But all I see is concentration. All I see is people concentrating on their cell phone in the most incredible way, the way that we used to concentrate on a book.
EUGÉNIE DEVOS — Do images kill the words today?
KENNETH GOLDSMITH — There is never an image without a word. Even on Instagram, you have an image surrounded by language, like usernames or comments. It’s mostly language actually. And even when you’re showing a picture to a friend, you are speaking about it. You can’t get away from the language. Sometimes we want to look at a Botticelli painting and sometimes we want to look at Instagram. And sometimes we want to photograph the Botticelli painting to put it on Instagram. It’s working together beautifully. Internet is now the biggest thing in our life. And we use it beautifully, we are very good at it but we feel bad and we don’t theorise. Much of my work is trying to theorise the digital.
EUGÉNIE DEVOS — Could you live without the internet?
KENNETH GOLDSMITH — I think it’s impossible, why would you want to? They have this thing called “digital detox”. Now the brain is changed, all we see is through Instagram or Twitter or Facebook, even without a cell phone. Besides, it stops people from acting like assholes. The cell phone is like a protection, from hateful speech, hateful action. It’s preventing a lot of bad things that would have gone unnoticed before. But people are still talking, still making love, still reading books. It doesn’t disappear.
EUGÉNIE DEVOS — But the past is important, without it, there is no present. All art exists because of what has been done before, right?
KENNETH GOLDSMITH — Yes, it’s a natural evolution, like painting and photography. Internet is a mixture of Picasso and Duchamp. All the windows on the computer’s screen are all cubist spaces, like many points of view at the same time. Duchamp and Picasso predicted the internet. That’s the place to end this interview!
Interview Eugénie Devos, photo Harald Hutter