Why conceptual writing? Why now?

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Citation: Kenneth Goldsmith (2011/01/17) Why conceptual writing? Why now?. Introduction from "Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing" (RSS)
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Why conceptual writing? Why now?
Download: http://ubu.com/concept/AgainstExpressionTOC-Essays.pdf
Tagged: Arts and Literarure (RSS) literature (RSS), Technology (RSS), Internet (RSS), creativity (RSS), new media (RSS)


"Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?" is an essay that addresses the impact of the Web on the written word. Citing the impact that photographic technology had on painting, Goldsmith claims that a similar restructuring is happening through the convergence of the Internet and writing. "Today," he claims, "digital media has set the stage for a literary revolution."

The reason for this revolution, Goldsmith insists, is a result of the enormous stockpile of language the Internet has made available to anyone with a connection and a computer. Add to this the fact that this vast reserve of words from websites, social media platforms and emails, has the potential to be copied and pasted, mixed and mutated, into various composites and manifestations, and a new type of literature is possible.

Like the art world's appropriation artists and the music world's sampling DJ's, the literary world now has (thanks to the Internet) a new method with which to construct a new type of writing, or, as Goldsmith and his coterie have dubbed it, "conceptual writing". Goldsmith claims that the real novelty of this new type of writing now—as opposed to the “cut-up method” employed by William Burroughs and mimeograph and xerox duplication techniques used by previous writers and poets—is a result of faster computers and broadband connections, which has allowed for “the ease of appropriation” in real time rather than the bogged-down constraints of dial-up or the post-production requirements of the typewriter.

"We deal in active language,” Goldsmith argues, “passing information swiftly for the sake of moving it. To be the originator of something that becomes a broader meme trumps being the originator of the actual trigger event that is being reproduced."

Goldsmith denounces originality and creativity in favor of the conceptual writer who compiles and filters texts in a way that emphasizes the “materiality—fluidity, plasticity, malleability” of language. Rather than the traditional methods of the writer or poet who writes all original content via an original voice or style, Goldsmith champions the “uncreative” writer who can make conceptually engaging use of the plenitude of language now available.

Goldsmith’s use of the words uncreative/creative in this essay can be a bit confusing given that he emphasizes the value of good conceptual ideas—arguably a creative act of imagination. However, he makes it quite clear that it’s the methods of obtaining the language, appropriating vs. imagining, that inform his use of the word “creativity” in the context of this paper.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

Craig Dworkin's introduction from the same anthology The fate of echo