The Brooklyn Book Festival, which took place September 15-18th, could easily be described as what poet Kenneth Goldsmith remarked in a panel conversation about inspiration: ‘less concerned about the information that is moving than the moving of information’. A festival of over 115 tents, 250 authors, and multiple locations can seem daunting at first. Yet, this overflow is the treasure of the festival, and ultimately what helped to make it one of the nations premiere literary celebrations, proving that literature still holds force.
The tents, many with tops that can best be described as ‘tarp blue’, were arranged haphazardly. There was the children's section, and then everything else. Unintended comic contrasts occur: The Pen American books tent invited visitors to fill out a literary survey that hosts questions like "Title of your autobiography that gets turned into a terrible movie: Holden Caulfield or Ferris Bueller?" or "Hashtag or Hash Brown". Visitors would gaze at the survey, nervously assessing it. Next to the Pen American tent was Melville books, a publication devoted to novellas and brevity, boasting book bags offering the perfect response for reluctant surveyors and ardent followers of Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener: I'd prefer not to.
Beyond the tents were the stages: Forums took place in courtrooms, classrooms, and walk-up outdoors stages. Perhaps one of the most fascinating conversations was the forum on 'Art in the Mix: Inspiration, Reception and How Art Makes Meaning' that took place on center stage. The forum hosted three men: Author Kurt Andersen, Poet Kenneth Goldsmith, and artist Simon Dinnerstein. The conversation was flat, friendly, and noncommittal until the moderator came to Goldsmith. Kenneth Goldsmith had recently performed, in May at the White House, a six-minute reading of a Walt Whitman poem, a Hart Crane poem, and, finally, a verbatim traffic report. He received a standing ovation. Goldsmith currently teaches 'Uncreative Writing' at UPenn, and he emphasized the prevalence (and importance) of information appropriation.
"He should be teaching rhetoric or debate, not fine arts, not literature", Dinnerstein said; "The weather report is a classical narrative of the four seasons", Goldsmith added; "I think that art should do more than change the way you listen to the weather report (emphasis mine)", Dinnerstein said; "I'd say writing is 100 years behind painting", Goldsmith said; "I'm glad literature is not caught up to Duchamp", Dinnerstein said.
It would be difficult to find two more immediately contrastable figures than the ones of Kenneth Goldsmith and Simon Dinnerstein: Goldsmith dressed in a bright pink suit, complete with straw hat and two different colored socks (red, green); Dinnerstein in a dour all black uniform. Goldsmith reclined one leg over knee and joined hands at the knee; Dinnerstein set bent one leg back and the other leg thrusting forward. Goldsmith the assembler of the new; Dinnerstein the guard of the old (the tensions soon eased, but not before a woman became so interested by the discussion that she paused and went within inches of the stage before being whisked back into the crowd). Somehow these disparate figures managed to peacefully co-exist at the same festival, just like the endless rows of patrons and pitchers.