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Thursday 19 March 2015

Being Boring


Poor Zelda. She wasn't well-da. #zeldafitzgerald #catlady: image via Estelle Pigot @pigelle, 26 September 2014

It's the old aestheticization of politics, isn't it? -- Duncan Jones, 18 March 2015

The "aestheticization of politics", to employ Duncan's pertinent term summing up the implications of the previous post here, has surely proven one of the more useful ways for a culture founded in permanent war and mindless mechanical brutality to divert the attention of so-called "educated people" from the nastiness of political reality.

American poetry was already moribund before KG hit the scene; this particularly noisome, aggressively careeristic contender, and his genuflecting chorus of shallow admirers and imitators, have merely performed the condescending, insulting burial rites, with a sneer and a shrug on the way out the door to the Ivy League conference room and then the bank.

You can actually meet youthful (well, under forty anyway) aspiring "artists" who speak in tones of awe and reverence of certain "iconic" poets/performers (currently every poet is first a performer) whose "works" and "performances" are impressively, in fact legendarily, dull, and widely regarded as all but interminable. In fact, to be completely honest, it's also rumoured these colossal experiments in tedium do indeed eventually come to some sort of whimpering conclusion, however unnoted that merciful point of terminus except by the intermittent punctuation of fitful snores ("Wake up, Amy dear, it's over!") -- the sort of soundtrack one imagines accompanying the slow stages of declension of that famous tree falling in that famous forest no one's ever visited, not that there have not been curators all across the managed arts world yearning to make the self-martyring junket, if only mythic forests could be located by GPS. The ability to sit through these performances, or events, or whatever they are called this week, is, by all accounts, an athletic feat of sorts, demanding a strength that truly boggles the imagination. Primary audience qualifications: patience and permission, an instinctive desire to submit to social control, along with powerful self-punitive impulses, deep in origin, putatively infinite, possibly inexhaustible. Pleasure does not appear anywhere in this picture; how could it?

Embedded image permalink

We grew up founding our #dreams on the infinite promise of American @advertising #ZeldaFitzgerald #philosophy #books
: image via jack Strangeways @jackstrangeways, 10 March 2015

In the upper reaches of the well appointed institutional halls the wig bubbles drift... drift...

As for this particular personage of contemporary interest, Mr Goldsmith, I reckon he has got more mileage out of his own overwhelming boringness and inability to write than any ten other less boring writers put together.

Of course, he's cleverly made a great plus out of being such a total bore.

#ZeldaFitzgerald #BeingBoring
: image via Pet Shop Boys #petshopboys @petshopboys, 10 March 2014

"I am the most boring writer that has ever lived. If there were an Olympic sport for extreme boredom, I would get a gold medal. My books are impossible to read straight through. In fact, every time I have to proofread them before sending them off to the publisher, I fall asleep repeatedly. You really don't need to read my books to get the idea of what they're like; you just need to know the general concept."

-- Kenneth Goldsmith: opening sentences of the essay Being Boring (2004)

That essay has, of course, an appropriated title. It comes from a song: Pet Shop Boys: Being Boring (1990). 

For your entertainment, I'll put a link to the song in the comments.

and the trees agreed that it was all going to be for the best. #zeldafitzgerald #keepmovingforward #itwillbeokay: image via Nikki Evans @NicolineEvans, 15 September 2014

Ah, post-punk Thatcher era nostalgia! The PSBs moved units. Fifty million. Biggest selling duo in Britpop history.

Can it have been an accident that KG chose to identify with their brand?

The PSBs' concentration on image, presentation and design, and the purposeful appeal to an affluent West End party-animal audience base, along with the extreme sensitivity to style evolution in fashion and electronica which characterize the work of this fantastically successful pop act, offer perhaps a relevant career-engineering analogy, here.

But I thought in spite of dreams you'd be sitting somewhere here with me #beingboring #streetart #stencil: image via Burnt Orange @PureBurntOrange, 4 October 2014

The PSB video I've linked to in the comments was shot by the American fashion photographer, Bruce Weber, at the time the world's most successful producer of "aestheticized" images designed to move units in volume.

Aestheticized images of buffed, lithe, young mostly male models in scanty underwear catapulted Weber to the top. His Calvin Klein ads became classic. He also provided brand images for Ralph Lauren, Pirelli, Abercrombie and Fitch, Revlon, Gianni Versace, et al, and, in his active years, was constantly on assignment for GQ, Vanity Fair, Elle, Vogue, Rolling Stone et al. The look, touch, polish, sheen, sexual electricity of money have never had a more skillful promoter. Being boring has never been made to seem less, or perhaps one ought to say more, boring.

Kenny Goldsmith's unapologetic, industrious project of working himself into the power centers of the culture -- easily done, once the first self-marketing efforts have been successfully negotiated -- provides an object lesson in how late capitalist culture, through its designated culture-industry agents and agencies, finds cunning ways to destroy what remained of value in previous cultures (in this case, an art form, poetry, toward which KG and his idolators, unwilling to take the time to learn anything, and in any case unable to make anything interesting of anything they may accidentally have learned, pretend a superior, patronizing disdain), while the individuals concerned concurrently proceed insect-like toward personal career objectives. These latter submerged-motive, para-literary efforts are in KG mythology commonly disguised as forwarding the interests of some vague phantom "collective", a falsification exploded in the moment we learn that Goldsmith, evangelist of total electronic permission, is right now doing his damndest to remove all record of this very embarrassing show -- this reading, to a group of young, privileged whites, of the Michael Brown autopsy report, with slight emendations made "for poetic effect" (!) -- to remove it, expunge it, eradicate it from, of all places... yes, Goldsmith's own private briar patch and hatching-ground, the glorious Internet!

Managed an early walk and then rain all day! A boy has to amuse himself the best he can! #beingboring: image via Dietrich Dachshund @Dietrichsausage, 16 February 2015

The prototypes for the stylistic moves are too abundant to require enumeration. By the time KG was squirted forth into the world, the discoveries, adventures, reversals, delights and miseries of experimental art and writing had been worked virtually to death.

In New York in the 1960s, the work of Duchamp, Cage, and other pioneers had been assimilated and was already providing signals for future advances -- which were in turn then to be made by the group of unsuspecting young smarties hanging reverentially about the fringes of the scene. In these years, with consummate wit worthy of a L'il Abner, fatal admission time, I heroically championed, or represented, or whatever the word would be, in The Paris Review, and later on also in hundreds of newspaper and periodical reviews in a lot of now forgotten places, much of what happened next. Mea culpa, my bad, silly silly me. What Kenny Goldsmith would later do to curry favour and appear interesting on the art scene, I did, back then, to undermine, subvert and disrupt. Indeed I actually believed, get this, mirabile dictu, that that's what poets are meant to do! I ran entire long "found" poems, attributed by me to nonexistent authors, in the august pages of an international arts magazine (covertly "in part" funded, as it would turn out, and quite fittingly, when you think of it, by the CIA) -- whose traditionally dormant celebrity editor finally exhibited a bit of mild dismay, when his high society friends began to wonder how it had come to pass that, for instance, The Paris Review had published a long, strange, maybe "found", maybe not "found" but oh no invented, poem by one "Dave Mokshi", in which were included, among other gems, the American-haiku-ish lines "Kissinger/fucked in ass/by starlet". This at the time Big Hank was running the secret bombing of Laos and Cambodia, and "dating" the "actress" Jill St. John. The social circles and the B-52 targeting maps had a way of eerily overlapping, in those curious years. This problematic habit of "accepting" what were thought to be "over the transom submissions", exercised over a period of time, finally brought about the desired result of releasing me from a job I'd held for ten years, originally worked very hard at, finally hated, and never in any case earned a penny from. So that, in every possible way, I showed myself at every turning to be too dumb to embrace the far more profitable KG model of respectable, polite, academically condoned, manageable, harmless, white-people-ish kiss-uppy "literary appropriation". I was struggling under the delusion that the point of the technique was not only to distance, to mystify, but to stir up actual trouble, in areas where trouble badly needed to be stirred up. The oppressive New York high art/high society world, to start with. No complicated political analysis has ever been required to sort the connection between American wealth and American wars. For personal as well as "political" reasons, I hated those wars, and that arrangement, and still do, to my own career detriment. Which would be too bad for me, were it not for my perpetual and deliberate failure to do anything that looked to have some possible career value attached. People I published back then -- a lot of whom were nobodies at the time, not yet brushed by so much as a single flake of iconic stardust -- are celebrities now; why am I not impressed?  For that matter, when I see how KG's little train jumped the rails at Brown with that autopsy-report stunt, I've got to wonder -- what can the man have been thinking? That it is possible, given the massive issuance of slack that routinely accompanies iconic status, for one to be at the same time cute, challenging, adorable, disrespectful, unaware, clever, and absolutely clueless -- and get away with it?

The "concept" of "boring" was originally a popular in-crowd joke. Andy Warhol's deadpan embrace of boredom, which came fairly easy to him, as he was always so very, very bored, to the point of ostentation, and always so very, very, very boring, to the point of rudeness, had great influence.

#Andy Warhol's #ChelseaGirls at @CalArtsREDCAT - stunning, gorgeous, indelible. “Nico #Ondine "IngridSuperstarThere are never enough 'I love you's.” ~ Lenny Bruce #Lenny Bruce: image via Christopher Yin @Christopher_Yin, 27 October 2014

When Andy put out a 25 hour movie, people actually tried to sit through it. I sat through Chelsea Girls in the movie house on Second Ave just above St Marks Place.  Ted Berrigan was also present.  Ted's reaction, afterwards, with eyes rolling, large knowing grin: "Pretty boring!"

Even in those antediluvian times, however, a difference was perceived between boring-boring and interesting-boring.

Being boring-boring, that is, boring not-on-purpose, was an immediately recognisable form of what Lenny Bruce, a far more penetrating voice in those years than that of any poet -- always true, often angry, never bored, never boring, perpetually hounded by puritan law and order, soon silenced -- called "square".

“There are never enough 'I love you's.” ~ Lenny Bruce #Lenny Bruce: image via Santi Trullenque @Santi Trullenque, 19 January 2015

The term has lost all meaning. Now, in this country, only the squares survive. Everybody else is out on the streets, trying to find and defend a night doorway to huddle up and lie down in.

In this dead landscape, the King of the Squares shows up in the Ivy League, lays down his abominable Mike Brown autopsy riff, conveniently aborting on the unremarkable genitalia ("poetic effect"), everybody gets a little I-was-there tingle, and goes home, treasuring their having been present at such an event, even though the event was clearly so awful.

At least the Pet Shop Boys knew what rhythm is. You can tell. The song I've linked to has a rhythm track stolen directly from Curtis Mayfield, an artist as superior in quality to the PSBs as, say, the conversation of kids larking about on a corner is to the "uncreative uncreativity" of our Kenny G, the shameless bluffer from downtown Penn Clown.

My Saturday night has consisted of Chinese, the Italian job and nail painting #beingboring: image via Molly DudleyBurnt Orange @Mollyannedudley, 28 December 2013

Interesting boring had to have a bit of an edge, a bit of danger, a bit of the untamed, perhaps even the soupçon of a hint of resistance to the dominant capitalist war culture -- which was, in those early years of which I have spoken, conducting a campaign of systematic genocide in Southeast Asia.

Power, money and class were the dominant forces in the NY art world of those days... as too, of course these days. What other forces were ever at work in NYC duh.

So perforce all the silly antics of the far-out art crew were always going to have a common objective: to arrange somehow to be lifted up out of the squalor and poverty of the artistic life, adopted from above, invited into that grand world of power, money and class.

“There are never enough 'I love you's.” ~ Lenny Bruce #Lenny Bruce: image via Santi Trullenque @Santi Trullenque, 19 January 2015

Thus, a salon model for the arts.  Many performers diligently making fools of themselves. A few rich people at the top, taking it or leaving it.

The humiliation built into the confidence in the bought situation was and remains enormous.  Likewise the hubris.

Then, however, the depths of the gold mine had not yet been plumbed.

@cheekypete #petshopboys Tatuaje Nunca soñé que iba a llegar a ser la criatura que siempre quise ser #beingboring: image via Loth Rodriguez @lothrdez, 30 November 2013

It was soon learned that there were other troughs to carefully line up and act adorably before, in order to be permitted to swill at leisure. Major corporations, in particular, and their servants, the major universities, would provide a useful, clean, orderly system of inducement and reward to divert creative effort into obedient repetition of previous models. The previous models were soon enough quickly exhausted. The students who were taught the methods were meanwhile not taught the histories of the methods, as their teachers were/are unaware of the histories. Too much trouble actually knowing anything. Names and reputations, previously restricted to the relatively limited status of fairly important considerations, but never quite the proverbial be-all and end-all (lovely saying that, her unconscious revival of it the one thing we have to thank Sarah Palin for), became now the ONLY considerations.

Words like "iconic" came into being. 

During this period, "arts management" and "curating", those other terrifying words, sprang up, Topsy-like, as viable career options for vapid young suburbanoid things wanting to get close to a life of risk and danger and freedom they would never have if merely restricted to their own nil talents and nil imaginations. Soon enough, mutatis mutandis, the managers and the curators WERE the action. Getting close with THEM became the primary achievement, from which all else would follow.

MASKS #Warhol: image via half gallery @halfgallery, 9 March 2015 Manhattan, NY

I taught poetry to aspiring writers for some 25 years. Every student in every class was there for the same reason. They felt their individual expressive voices were doomed to be lost in a sea of contending individual voices, all aching to be heard.

Somewhere around the middle of that 25 year trajectory I became aware that it was being proposed out there in the great world that one might actually skip learning the history and the art altogether, and just become conceptual. A shortcut, in short.

Such a nice, elevated, impressive term. So clean, useful, evasive. Safe, nonthreatening. Who could be so mean, so ungenerous, as to look unkindly upon a concept.

LIVE WEBINAR TODAY 11am EST | Efficiently Achieve Real-Time #Replication and #DisasterRecovery: image via BIAS Corporation @BIASCORP, 29 January 2015

And of course, the all-important accessories. Where there's a concept there's always got to be an explanation to go along, a lecture to follow, a performance to be endured, a spinoff performance for the hypermasochistic, and so on. A self-replicating machine. An industry.

And yet the depths of the gold mine had even then not yet been fully plumbed.

Now we have what...? The fossilized bones of the raiders of the lost art of poetry, yearning to be, like, you know, Super Super Famous, like Kenny G -- who, bet you ten bucks, fully expects his name will be remembered, catalogued, inscribed on the cornerstones of handsomely endowed, formidably agglomerated campus buildings and the like, long after Mike Brown's is forgot, except maybe as a footnote, in the Penn Clown archive, when the curator comes to the blank spot where the tape of the historic Brown University show should be. 

 Need #CDs or #DVDs of your work or product? We can produce millions #replication: image via Zero Six Media @zero6media, 9 February 2015


TC said...

Pet Shop Boys: Being Boring (1990: video by Bruce Weber)

Mose23 said...

I'd have to give credit to Benjamin as far as the phrase is concerned.

One of the things that unnerves me about Goldsmith and others of his ilk is their aversion to the marks of production, of labour. Social hygienics.

His making use of the body of a young working class black male has a logic to it. The perfect subject for his manicured mind.

I do think the sixties were a time for positions, allegiances, strategies and resistances.

Now its all like that racism shit (but not like actual racism, yeah?) and beards and boring voices.

I think even Duchamp would be horrified to see his idiot progeny stepping up to the podium.

TC said...

It must be because the academic sinecure has made him lose close control of his game. What can the fellow have been thinking. Definitely a slip-up. But give him this, he's still new to this racket.

There are masters.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

When the time comes (as it inevitably will) and some esteemed poetic coroner is called upon to dissect Kenny's "body poetic", it will come as no suprise that said corpus was never alive in the first place.

BTW, KG has more Google "hits" than EP does--once again demonstrating the fact that old Ez's "Make It New" maxim is definitely old hat.

TC said...

Better not say "hits" around KG. He's been praying for death threats, so far no luck...

But science, come in please: can an empty pus sac ever die?

As for Pound, Kenny and his mob of functional illiterates buried EP long ago.

A whole generation of dweeby academic bores that permits itself to feel superior to everything it perceives as threatening.

Poetry to start with.

Anonymous said...

Tom .... I'm so glad to see you sound off on this. Your perspective, historical & artistic, is a tonic to this sad Goldsmith Ponzy-scheme poetry.


this must by why
i feel
pretty bad
sent in poem
on request
used words "beheading"
and "sucks" and "souls"
I knew it was a bad poem
but who can tell

poetowen said...

Tom, thanks for the update.Enjoyed reading your take on the this generation of avant goobers.I'm so far out of the loop now that I barely knew about this stuff. I kind of like it out here!

TC said...

O, thanks, and Oy! you mean there's a whole g-g-generation of these ambitious little mucoid plugs?

Future, watch out!!

Frontiers of the Stuplime: Sitting in on UPenn’s controversial seminar in “Wasting Time on the Internet” -- Katy Waldman, Slate, 27 April 2015

poetowen said...

Hi Tom

Seems like there are oodles of them, but maybe it's just the one guy wearing different funny hats. Anyway I imagine scads, like those terracotta soldiers in China but less interesting. I buy their/his books for the store, but by shape and color. "That oblong gray-green thing sells, I'll buy two".

Hey old friend! Hope you' well as can be expected.