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Kenneth Goldsmith
Kenneth Goldsmith

Kenneth Goldsmith talks about reading Mike Brown's autopsy

The father of ‘uncreative writing’ caused controversy over his reading of ‘The Body Of Michael Brown’

The conceptual writer, founder of UbuWeb and advocate of "uncreative writing" Kenneth Goldsmith has caused a furore after reading a poem called "The Body Of Michael Brown", a "remix" of Michael Brown's autopsy. Brown is the 18-year old man who was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, an incident that sparked a wave of protest for black rights across America.

After Goldsmith read his poem at an event called Interrupt 3 held at Brown University in Rhode Island, people attacked his idea to use Brown's death for art faster than you can say "white privilege", someone even tweeting him with a "death threat". The user appears to have since been suspended.

Three days later, Goldsmith announced on his Facebook page: "I am requesting that Brown University not make public the recording of my performance of “The Body of Michael Brown." There’s been too much pain for many people around this and I do not wish to cause any more. My speaker's fee from the Interrupt 3 event will be donated to the family of Michael Brown."

Goldsmith's art revolves around remixing existing texts and altering them, essentially he's a proficient "remixer" of literature. However, some were appalled that Goldsmith edited the autopsy and closed his reading with a remark on the corpse's "unremarkable genitalia". According to Hyperallergic, reactions to the reading were muted and another panelist felt uncomfortable proceeding with the event, leading to its early cancellation.

A poet called Jaqueline Valencia criticised Goldsmith on her blog: "He is not black. He is not from Ferguson. He is not related to Michael Brown. Did he speak to the Brown’s relatives? If he didn’t are we to think that Brown’s death, because that of that freely available autopsy report, are we to believe that Brown’s body is now freely available to the public. This is a black body that Goldsmith is rendering in his reading. That alone is the reason that concerned me. As a mixed woman with a black father who has had his rights (and life) questioned because of the colour of his skin, we both grew up subtly being told that our bodies belonged for appropriation."

Goldsmith defended his reading in a post on his Facebook page, saying that he "altered the text for poetic effect", but confusingly he simultaneously denied "editorialising". He also posted this message of support with a "thank you" to the sender.

Michael Brown's death is one that resonated not just in America, but across the world, sparking conversation about our need for progress and the gulf in rights between black and white. Goldsmith is of course free to read out and reorder this 18-year old's autopsy if he wishes, but aside from allegations of insensitivity and the tasteless usage of a death in the name of being "uncreative", this just feels like pretty weak art.