Kenneth Goldsmith’s latest book Seven American Deaths and Disasters (powerHouse Books, 2013), a title taken from the series of Warhol paintings by the same name, is a classic book of defamiliarization. By transcribing the words broadcast in real-time by the media’s unscripted response to historical events, Goldsmith brilliantly drains these infamous moments of cliche. Choosing seven critical moments in American history, which all have in common the spectacle of violence and lose, Goldsmith creates a traumatic prose that yields a poetic response to 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.
Because we experience public events most often through the media, those events quickly take on the voltage of performance, and Goldsmith takes advantage of this by being the casting director and choosing who will have the speaking roles. In “Seven American Deaths and Disasters”, most often those speaking roles go to the reporters or radio personalities completely unprepared to articulate what they are reporting. As a result, we see how language fails us, saves us, and also indicts us. At times disturbing and emotional, the book let’s us relive and reconsider those historical events again, but in the present, off-screen, and privately. During our chat, we discuss the resistance his work sometimes encounters in the poetry world, the nature of the “genuine”, how this book deviates from his previous work, and Kenneth and I take turns reading passages from his book, and so much more. I hope you enjoy our chat as much as I did.