Kenneth Goldsmith’s Deaths and Disasters

Those of you who know how much I enjoy Kenneth Goldsmith’s work will appreciate how excited I am for this forthcoming book. From the publisher’s description:

In Seven American Deaths and Disasters, Kenneth Goldsmith transcribes historic radio and television reports of national tragedies as they unfurl, revealing an extraordinarily rich linguistic panorama of passionate description. Taking its title from the series of Andy Warhol paintings by the same name, Goldsmith recasts the mundane as the iconic, creating a series of prose poems that encapsulate seven pivotal moments in recent American history: the John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and John Lennon assassinations, the space shuttle Challenger disaster, the Columbine shootings, 9/11, and the death of Michael Jackson. While we’ve become accustomed to watching endless reruns of these tragic spectacles—often to the point of cliché—once rendered in text, they become unfamiliar, and revealing new dimensions emerge.” Impartial reportage is revealed to be laced with subjectivity, bias, mystery, second-guessing, and, in many cases, white-knuckled fear. Part nostalgia, part myth, these words render pivotal moments in American history through the communal lens of media.

Here’s The Awl’s recent interview with Goldsmith, who’s currently taking the semester off from his teaching gig at UPenn (where he curates PennSound) to serve as poet laureate of the Museum of Modern Art. You may also know him as the mastermind behind or, as Kenny G, the host of deliciously weird shows on WFMU for over 15 years, or as the author of Uncreative Writing or several books of conceptual poetry. (For a good time read the product descriptions.)

The video embedded above records a performance of the section on JFK’s assassination from Seven American Deaths and Disasters. Spoiler: JFK gets shot in the first 10 minutes. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it, even if you don’t make it to the end. More of KG’s work here.

2 responses to “Kenneth Goldsmith’s Deaths and Disasters

  1. T-Mo says:

    I got about 10 minutes in. I did like it, but didn’t really have the time to take in a whole hour. It’s a very interesting idea, flattening out the big news of that day to put it side-by-side with pop songs and ads for beer and cold cuts, to recreate how listeners would have heard it.

    I guess it’s not really pastiche (in the postmodern sense) because Goldsmith isn’t patching these bits of information together, but functions as such, showing how everyday life is a hodge-podge of information flow — parsed, patched together, and fed to us by various outlets. Goldsmith’s tone of voice contributes to this quite a bit. He often seems to read the ads and song announcements in a more animated tone than the news reports. It works really well, I’m sure, in person, but as an on-line video it was harder for me to focus on it.

  2. Bryan says:

    I let it play while I worked and pretended it was one of his old radio shows. I realized one of the reasons I like this new project so much — though it’s a through-line to earlier work like Traffic, for instance — is it plays on Kenny’s experience as a radio host and foregrounds the radio as medium. Yeah, it’s not pastiche. It’s straight-up appropriation.

    And he is a great performer, of course. Have you seen the video of him reading at the White House? Barack and Michelle were sitting right up close. Gotta love it.