The Creativity Racket|
by Doug Nufer
(Muse Apprentice Guild, 2003)
Everybody has a story to tell and anybody can write. You have a unique voice: nobody else can write your story. You and your voice and story are important, even valuable. Everybody else wants to know about you. Follow a few simple exercises and get in touch with your creativity. Follow a few simple tips and re-create your own story in the form of-check one-a) memoir or b) autobiographical fiction.
With his new book, Day, Kenneth Goldsmith checks c) none of the above. Day, just published by The Figures and laughably branded as Poetry, is Goldsmith's answer to the creativity movement that would make "artists" of us all. In a self-confessed urge to rid himself of all creative impulses, Goldsmith began to type the entire New York Times of Sept. 1, 2000. 836 pages later, we have Day.
Goldsmith's label for this accomplishment as "uncreative writing" and the back cover of the book explains that uncreativity is a constraint-based process because writer must resist temptation to tamper with the original. After all the fuss our culture makes over creativity and originality, Goldsmith can't resist questioning what all the fuss is about. Like his books, No. 111, which collects and sorts sounds and phrases according to patterns, Fidget, which notes every move his body makes in a day, and Soliloquy, which tape records every word he says in a week, Day is a record; unlike the other works, it is a record of a record: a paper record of the paper of record.
And, as with Goldsmith's other work, Day can pose an alternating pattern of attraction/ repulsion. First, the idea grabs you. Then, you get it (or don't) and the whole thing seems stupid. But then, you start reading, and find yourself reading more and more. The obituary of a gangster, the box scores of the Mets when they weren't lousy, the typical news of a day when the news was merely typical, the ads, and the movie reviews are not only interesting in themselves, but, thanks to this project, poetically resonant in a way that exoticizes the mundane. You jump around Day from one section to another, as if it's understood that nobody would ever read such a thing straight through; then maybe you put it down, intending to return or vowing to get on with your life. Afterwards, other ideas spin off the original.
For instance, in her review of Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis in the paper of record, Michiko Kakutani reckoned that the 911 attacks had somehow made DeLillo's fictional New York City irrelevant. Not that other reviewers would ever check the NY Times before they filed their own copy, but I read other versions of the 9-11 relevancy test applied to Cosmopolis in at least two other papers. Then, along comes Day, set a full year before (and therefore blissfully ignorant of) that day that has become so, even if justifiably so, full of itself.
More to the point, perhaps, Day makes me wonder what constitutes a copy. Can a book that repackages one issue of a daily newspaper be properly defined as a copy of that original if it contains none of the typesetting or formatting of the original? Can a book that publishes such a copy several months after the original appeared be a true copy of the original if the original is a document that had to come out on the day that it did?
What is the nature of the copy and of the original is, of course, one of the major factors in deciding Fair Use under U.S. Copyright law. Debatable as the relationship between the copy and the original may be, nobody would argue that 750-book print run Day is a commercial vulture of the original or that Day harms the market of the original (two other factors), but a copyright chauvinist could seize upon the fourth factor to argue that Goldsmith goes too far in how much he takes from the original in order to make his copy.
Rather than the Times legal beagles, though, I wonder if the Times critic crickets will make any noise about Day. For all of the creativity racket we hear from commercial presses (thanks, in no small part, to their loud support in the NYT Book Review) and for all of the creativity rackets we see advertising MFA programs, writers conferences, how-to-write books, and vanity presses in literary magazines and daily newspapers, much of the creative work we hear and see is monotonous because the rules of the market don't allow much deviation in the kind of creative output that's most suitable for mass production. It is no accident that Goldsmith's targets in Day are not only the cultural notion of creativity but also the chief shill of that notion, the NY Times. To be sure, the Times does occasionally (and perhaps more than most daily newspapers) cover obscure, wacko, avant-whatever arts and letters, but the bulk of coverage must go to commercially viable creative products. So what? What's wrong with "creativity" anyway? Well, the creativity I see Goldsmith attacking is essentially an outgrowth of the imaginative position in the old imagination versus invention debate. Geniuses who spontaneously toss off their works without questioning the forms and disciplines they work in are the darlings of creativity. These gurus of imaginative power not only make good newspaper copy, they well serve the artistic categories and definitions the system prefers to have in force. Inventors who rip stuff apart and start over from the ground up, who experiment with forms and disciplines can also be good newspaper copy, but these oddballs of inventive bent are prudently categorized as crackpots by a system they do not respect and would eagerly destroy. Creativity, then, is not an activity likely to produce art, but the code word for a means of production that begins with a dream of self-fulfillment and ends with the maxim that nothing happens until somebody sells something.