Kenneth Goldsmith User’s Manual

Sometimes a good way to learn about something is to learn about what it is not. I don’t know to what extent Kenneth Goldsmith is really sincere or just a provocateur but I think he may be useful from a pedagogical standpoint. The text I am reciting is transcribed below. It consists of Kenneth Goldsmith’s 32 text tweets and retweets (links removed) for the month of March, 2015 (the date of each tweet is included) alternated with the first 32 rules of safe operation of Sears Craftsman chain saw model # 316.341070. Because tweets read backward in temporal sequence, the bullet points in the manual were copied in backward sequence as well. Beyond these constraints no order was imposed on the material, which was cut and pasted.

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Plagiarism as practice. 3/31

Do not use the unit in the rain, in a storm or in inclement weather.

#learningfromthehate #gratitude 3/27

Never douse or squirt the unit with water or any other liquid. Keep handles dry, clean and free from debris. Clean after each use.

I wish you’d wait to see this happen b4 passing judgement 3/14

Store the unit in a dry place, secured, or at a height to prevent unauthorized use or damage. Keep out of reach of children.

People who weren’t at goldsmith’s reading last night are way madder about it than people who were which is Pure Kenny 3/14

Keep these instructions. Refer to them often and use them to instruct other users. If you loan this unit to others, also loan these instructions to them.

Nothing like receiving a death threat on a Saturday morning. Thx 3/14

Use caution when working in a crew to avoid injury to a fellow worker who may enter the cutting area.

Kenneth Goldsmith: art is not white appropriation of Black suffering. I condemn your cruel reading of Michael Brown’s autopsy report. 3/14

Be alert; stop the machine if anyone enters the cutting area, which is usually 3 to 4 feet around the operator.

Leave it to fucking Kenneth Goldsmith. The wizard himself just read Mike Brown’s autopsy report to a crowd at Brown University. Brilliant. 3/13

Use caution when felling a tree. Make sure you have planned an escape path when felling, and keep all bystanders away.

Just saw Kenneth Goldsmith read Michael Brown’s autopsy report for 30 minutes and no one knew wtf to do with that 3/13

Never carry out operations or repairs on your own that are other than routine maintenance as listed in this manual.

Kenneth Goldsmith reading a new work The Body of Michael Brown, the autopsy report 3/13

Do not remove, damage or de-activate any of the safety devices. Never use a damaged, modified, or improperly repaired or assembled chain saw. Check their proper operation regularly. See chain replacement under Maintenance and Repair Instructions.

Have you ever thought while brushing your teeth that maybe you’re a no talent Erasure hack that wants to print the internet and can’t write a haiku. Just saying, you cash in clown, that has ruined poetics and wore a crap suit while you’re pointing for a moment at Colbert in the perfect bullshit space of television. You’re making a point that isn’t there, I gotta say this fuck you, fuck Penn for giving you a job. I wouldn’t let you mop a floor where I work. 3/12

Do not allow other persons to be near the chain saw when starting or cutting with the chain saw. Keep bystanders and animals out of the work area.

kenneth goldsmith – secretly illiterate 3/12

Use safety footwear; snug-fitting clothing; protective gloves; and eye, hearing, and head protection devices.

I try to be open-minded & follow ppl who’re interesting, & not unfollow b/c I disagree. But if you post Kenneth Goldsmith? Instant unfollow. 3/11

Do not operate a chain saw if you are fatigued.

2pm EST. Watch Uncreative Practices: A Cross-Divisional RISD Symposium with Kenneth Goldsmith 3/11

Do not operate a chain saw with one hand! Serious injury to the operator, helpers, bystanders, or any combination of these persons may result from one-handed operation. A chain saw is intended for two-handed use.

on the idea of the poet as d.j., weaving together samples of preëxisting language into something unique 3/11

Do not start a cut using the tip of the saw.

I wrote about young poets and post-internet poetry in @NewYorker this week 3/10

Always have saw at full speed when entering a previous cut. Always use caution when entering a previous cut.

I’ll be speaking tomorrow night at SVA in NYC on The New Innocence. Free & open to the public 3/9

Watch for shifting logs or other forces that could pinch or fall into chain.

I’ll be keynoting a conference @RISD this Weds afternoon on Uncreativity & Pedagogy. It is open to the public 3/9

Use only the replacement guide bars and low kickback chains specified for your saw to avoid injury.

The death of writing – if James Joyce were alive today he’d be working for Google 3/7

Follow the manufacturer’s sharpening and maintenance instructions for the saw chain.

Rachel Maddow calls @DavidWondrich “America’s most foremost historian of the cocktail” 3/6

Use only the correct original equipment manufacturer replacement bars, chains and other parts and accessories. These are available from a Sears or other qualified service dealer. Use of any unauthorized parts or accessories could lead to serious injury to the user, or damage to the unit, and will void your warranty.

Rachel Maddow calls my oldest pal @DavidWondrich’s book “One of the most important books of the last century” 3/6

Always cut with the motor running at full speed. Fully squeeze the trigger and maintain a steady cutting speed.

Kenneth Goldsmith on Uncreative Practices, a RISD symposium next Wed, 3/11, 2–4:30pm in Metcalf Auditorium 3/6

Make sure that the area in which you are cutting is free from obstructions. Do not let the nose of the guide bar contact a log, branch, fence, or any other obstruction that could be hit while you are operating the saw.

When online student paper mills start selling web-harvested dissertations about your work, you know you’ve made it. 3/4

Keep a good firm grip on the saw with both hands, the right hand on the rear handle and the left hand on the front handle, when the motor is running. Use a firm grip with thumbs and fingers encircling the chain saw handles. A firm grip will help you reduce kickback and maintain control of the saw. Don’t let go.

Campaign against #Twitter spread by #ISIS accts: new hashtags, images. Read my analysis

With a basic understanding of kickback, you can reduce or eliminate the element of surprise. Sudden surprise contributes to accidents. Be alert to the potential for kickback at all times.

If we had to ask for permission, we wouldn’t exist. 3/2

Check the bar and chain at frequent intervals for proper adjustment. Make sure the bar and chain are properly tightened and sharpened. Visually inspect for damage. Repair any damage before restarting or operating the chain saw.

If you admit that you’re stealing, it’s not really stealing. It’s simply fraudulent theft. 3/2

Never touch the chain or attempt to service the saw while the motor is running. Make sure all moving parts have stopped. Allow the chain saw to cool, as the chain can be hot.

C’mon, Kenny, it doesn’t count as forgery or dishonesty if you’re open about it. 3/2

Apply chain brake prior to any repositioning of the operator in the cutting area. As an additional safety precaution, apply the chain brake prior to setting down the saw.

I’ve stolen things that weren’t mine and have made a career out of forgery & dishonesty. I’m proudly & openly fraudulent. I recommend it. 3/2

Always hold the unit with both hands when operating. Keep a firm grip on all handles or grips.

CFP for an expanded notion of conceptual writing 3/2

Do not overreach. Always keep proper footing and balance.

#theftislove 3/1

Use the right tool. Only use this chain saw for its intended purpose, to cut wood.

Plagiarize your plagiarizers. Bootleg your bootleggers. Pirate your pirates. 3/1

All chain saw service, other that the items listed in this instruction manual maintenance instructions, should be performed by a Sears or other qualified service dealer.

If somebody cares enough about your work to bootleg it, it’s a sign you’ve really made it. 3/1

When not in use, saw should be stored in a dry, highly secure location away from children.

If you think you shouldn’t do it, you must do it. 3/1

Unauthorized replacement parts or the removal of safety devices may cause damage to the unit and possible injury to the operator or bystanders. Use only Craftsman accessories and replacement parts as recommended. Never modify your saw.

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11 Responses to Kenneth Goldsmith User’s Manual

  1. hedgewitch says:

    Interesting, antagonistic, narcissistic (I HATE erasure “poetry”) but there is a sense of some sincere desire in there for…something…that is so easy to lose as we get older–a controlled burn of the ‘way it is’, perhaps, and the ego that can flaunt the machine in order to use it, and of course, benefit from it.Not something I particularly admire as it’s all too easy, I’m afraid, (easy as chopping down a tree with an advanced machine), but as you say, there are things under rocks that need to be shown. Dirty job/someone has to do it, sort of thing. My take, anyway. Your reading (with chainsaw) adds a dimension of satire that reveals a bit more self than the author may have intended. Love that final bullet point!

    • The only material I took out of his March tweets were the links (for practical purposes) and I took the first 32 bullet points from the manual in the (reversed) order in which they came, so it’s not really erasure. I don’t consider it poetry, by the way. It’s just a cut-and-paste job that amuses me and that I think also exposes one way that Goldsmith’s “uncreative writing” concept can be used. I’m guessing Goldsmith wouldn’t like it, would consider it still too creative, too clever (weaving the two texts instead of a more stupid idea like simply reading straight from the manual) and of course the ultimate way for him to invalidate it would be to ignore it. But the way I did it exposes what his hero John Cage meant when he said that if he applied his artistic methods to the study of mushrooms he’d soon be dead. Goldsmith’s work has no real world value for those who already know how to see and how to hear and how to read. And I remain skeptical of how valuable it is for those who don’t know how, since I think Goldsmith’s teaching has the potential to be at least as confusing as enlightening.

      I was kind of hoping someone would come along and criticize me for not reading the material in a flat, robotic voice. I would reply that my reaction to the material is as valid as anyone else’s. And I think that’s one of the essential points of Goldsmith’s concept. When a text or texts are read verbatim but out of context and/or in an art/poetry context, then something strange happens. Different pressures come to bear on those discourses, making them seem to bend in ways they were not intended to. This can be seen as abuse, hence the anger shown Goldsmith when he read Michael Brown’s autopsy report in an art context. But other pressures can also come to bear that are more benign. In the end, as the old Zen proverb goes, you have a mountain. And a chain saw should only be used for the purpose intended–to cut wood!

  2. Susan Scheid says:

    Among many other things, your choice of the electric chain saw manual as one of the texts is thoroughly inspired.

    • Goldsmith is as subtle as a chain saw. With the flak he received from reciting the Michael Brown autopsy report it wasn’t much of a leap to go to the ‘cutting’ of a saw. I’ve used Craftsman power tools for many years and have enjoyed reading their manuals.

  3. M says:

    to me, the irony resides in the final line of the last (first) craftsman guide: “never modify your saw”.

    it’s both the launch and landing; saws are nothing BUT tools to modify. as to your point “something strange happens” – i’ve relinquished ownership in words, at least, the sense of intentionality, in my pens; it’s too much to ask a reader to share all the contextual support or limitations. ~

    • I realize this is a very tardy reply. I had let this post go but a recent comment (see below) brought me back to reconsider it. On your first point, if one modifies the tool then one’s ability to use it properly for the modification of materials is compromised.

      I think I understand the thrust of your second point. I don’t expect a reader to see inside my head and there’s no reason to expect or even desire that they read my poem the way that I do. I know the reader will bring their own world to the poem. It’s a complex issue, but these considerations actually go into how I compose poems. However, I balk at the phrase, “relinquish ownership of words.” For me, for many reasons, I feel I must take ownership of my speech and writing. Also, this post is a one-off response to the Kenneth Goldsmith phenomenon, and I do not embrace his Cagian/Duchampian approach.

      • M says:

        Oh, I retain responsibility for my words even if I’ve relinquished ownership; semantic difference perhaps. And i agree as to the modification of a tool changes its potential efficacy. However I meant more that i found irony in the use of saw, since that tool is only meant to sunder, even if in the service of building something new.

  4. angela says:

    It is amazing that K.G. infuriates me so many months later. I was lucky enough to be online when Twitter went crazy (I follow a lot of literary types) ergo the video and transcripts were still accessible. I’m a bit surprised that you are recognizing him on your blog as I didn’t feel you appreciated his approach – maybe you still do not, but are being ironic. Either way, you’ve every right to get creative with your presentation as he didn’t even follow his own rules and changed the autopsy to suit his own design – craftsman indeed, chainsaw…yes, even more so.

    • I would not have uttered his name a year ago. Generally I like to ignore the things I don’t like. But I follow a lot of literary types too and last April (which seems so long ago now) i felt I couldn’t get away from him. He was being mentioned all the time and of course the outrage over his Michael Brown stunt was deafening. With the respect shown him by Al Filreis, MOMA and others, it seemed to me his fame would just continue to grow and therefore I felt the urge to talk back in a manner of speaking. He may be useful in pedagogy, I really don’t know, not knowing anything about that world and never having audited one of his classes. But I have not changed my opinion about his value (the lack of it) in terms of art/poetry.

      • angela says:

        This is certainly a constructive and poetic way to add voice to the situation. I am just glad that there was a general state of outrage to his Michael Brown stunt. KG had gone so mainstream that it made me uncomfortable. I felt he was becoming the poster child for poetry – ugh!

  5. Pingback: Kenneth Goldsmith User’s Manual Part 2 | The Mockingbird Sings

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