Category Archives: conceptualism

the really modern reader

Readers of this blog will probably find much of interest in Sucking on Words, a new documentary on conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith. Goldsmith, as I’ve noted before, is the wizard behind the curtain at; this documentary, by Simon Morris, focuses on his work as a conceptual poet. Like much conceptual art, Goldsmith’s work tends to make many sputteringly angry; as he himself readily admits in the film, the idea of reading it can be superior to the act of reading it, and the exploration of his work in this documentary might be the best introduction to it that’s available.
A typical Goldsmith piece is to take all the text of a day’s edition of The New York Times – all of it, from the first ad to the last – and to put it into a standard book format: viewed this way, the daily paper has the heft of a typical novel. It becomes apparent from this that when we talk about “reading” a day’s New York Times, we really only mean reading a tiny subsection of the actual text in the paper. Our act of reading the paper is as much an act of ignoring. (Nor is this limited to print media; taking a typical page on the online Times, one notes that of the 963 words on the page, only 589 are the article proper: our reading of an article online entails ignoring 2/5 of the words. This quick count pays no attention to words in images, which would send the ignored quotient higher.)
Goldsmith starts from the proposition that there’s enough language in the world already. Like many in the digital age, he’s trying to find ways to make sense of it all; in a sense, he’s creating visualizations.