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Mindfulness and non-creativity

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One of my favorite all time books is Day by Kenneth Goldsmith.  It always feels funny whenever I say this, however, because I’ve never actually read this book.  If you’re not familiar with Goldsmith, his writing primarily focuses on listing certain things he does, over certain periods of time.  His book Fidget, records every movement his body made in a 24 hour period, and Soliloquy, records every word he spoke for an entire week.

Day is a thought experiment in something Goldsmith calls ‘non-creativity’.  Creativity, Goldsmith claims, is the biggest thing preventing our minds from achieving inner peace.  The artist is never satisfied with his/her work and they are always working on future projects in the back of their minds.  Now, while I don’t necessarily agree with Goldsmith on this point, there is a certain meditative quality to his work that ironically I find to be extremely creative.

In Day, Goldsmith decided to copy the Friday, September 1 2000, edition of the New York Times newspaper word for word.  Everything included in that edition of the newspaper is typed in the same size, and type of font, giving each letter and symbol equal value.  There is nothing separating one story from the next, not even a line space, there are no photographs used in the book, and the comic section isn’t included.  The book is 836 pages long.

The only breaks, which I guess could be called ‘chapters’, are a single letter, centered on a page representing each section of the newspaper, and there are around 200 stock market pages that read like this:  LtdMAMuR 12.09+0.1 + 5.8 LtdMuniR 12.12 +0.1 +5.9 Ltdinc R 10.61 +0.3 + 5S, and one of the fun aspects of the book is trying to figure out exactly what you’re reading. There is something kind of stoic about seeing obituaries and headlines, given the same representation as used car ads and movie times.

After Day was released, several people wrote to Goldsmith suggesting that he should have chosen a date with historical significance.  Many proposed the idea of doing the book again, but with a historically important date, and almost all of these proposals suggested September 11, 2001.  Not being one to disappoint his fans, Goldsmith took the suggestion, and Day 2 was released later, using the New York Times edition of September 11, 2001.  The irony of this situation is that the September 11th edition of the paper has absolutely nothing to do with the terrorist attacks that happened that day.  What people really wanted was the September 12th edition, but had such an attachment to the 9/11 date, they couldn’t see past it to make the proper request.  Goldsmith gave them exactly what they asked for…only it wasn’t what they wanted.  Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.

There’s a quote on the first page of Day by Truman Capote about Jack Kerouac; “That’s not writing. That’s typing.”

What are your thoughts on Day?  Is there any creative merit to the work, or is it just mindless gibberish and the exercise in non-creativity that Goldsmith tells us it is?

I really like the questions Day brings up about mindfulness.  I’ve heard people boast how they read the newspaper every day, and whenever I hear this I think about those 836 pages.  Of course we don’t read the whole paper; we only read those sections that are interesting to us.  Our mindfulness and our sensory input, happen in much the same fashion.  We seldom pay attention to everything that’s going on around us.  We will sit next to a person on the bus or at a movie theatre, and never speak to them.  We often only listen to the people talking to us, so we will know when it’s our turn to speak.  While I’m not asking you to closely read the 200 page stock market section of Day, I will ask if it’s possible for us to pay closer attention, to experience more than we currently are.  Say ‘hello’ more often, put the cell phone in your pocket, and look around every once in a while, read a section of the paper you don’t normally read, and do something every day that frightens you.  Create things, and put yourself out there even if no one understands what you’re doing.

1 comment

  1. Melody

    Deepen the human experience.

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