PJAS 12 Spring-15

Paweł Marcinkiewicz
The Color of Avant-Garde: Kenneth Goldsmith’s “The Body of Michael Brown”
Polish Journal for American Studies, vol. 12 (Spring 2018) pp. 211-223


In the following paper, I put forth a claim that literary works created according to the rules of conceptualism, seemingly devoid of expression, often reveal that values are inseparable from any textual operations. This is visible in Kenneth Goldsmith’s recent project, “The Body of Michael Brown,” which follows the format of Goldsmith’s previous book-Seven American Deaths and Disasters-a transcription of news reports of American national disasters, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the attacks of 9/11. The text rewrites the autopsy report issued by the St. Louis County Coroner’s Office on the shooting of Michael Brown, an African-American teenager shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The problem with the new conceptual art practice is that it disregards the ethical dimension of creation. For Goldsmith, ethical issues in art are limited to the question of “faithful” copying/rewriting, regardless of the fact that an appropriated text always reflects editorial manipulation and politics behind it. Goldsmith thinks of himself as a daring disciple of Duchamp, but he fails to understand that his text propagates racist violence, performing anew the autopsy’s latent, institutional racism. In terms of methodology, I rely in my analyses on Marjorie Perloff’s understanding of the concept of avant-garde and refer to the theories about literature and ethics emerging from recent writings by Cathy Park Hong and Jacques Ranciére.


Kenneth Goldsmith, conceptual literature, avant-garde, racism, the question of ethics in literature

DOI: 10.7311/PJAS.12/1/2018.15

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