An Analysis on Goldsmith’s “Revenge of the Text”

Kenneth Goldsmith writes about decoding text in his first essay titled “Revenge of the Text.” Within this essay, he uses many poems as examples to explain how these text were written in code, but when spoken aloud, creates a rhythmic piece. When we speak these words allowed, according to Goldsmith, we’re essentially making our voice a musical instrument. He explains how “With the rise of the web, writing has met it’s photography — technology (is) so much better at replicating reality that, in order to survive, painting had to alter its course radically.” As time passes, a new form of writing, art, etc, is being created and/or reinvented. Therefore, in order to keep up with the new age, creators may have to adjust the way they create, using different methods in order to remain relevant.

Goldsmith talks about how writing has always been a way to express one’s own original thoughts and how there are now so many ways that the new digital world manipulates what is being written. He says it’s challenging for writers these days to fight to stay relevant while there are so many other traditional works being created. In todays digital era, everyone has access to a platform that will allow them to write whatever they feel without the hassle of trying to get published. With this being said, he adds that it’s still possible for people to create works that are just as meaningful as traditional works, it’s just a bit tougher.

He goes on to say how everything we see digitally is influenced by language. The things we see on our phone screen, when we watch movies, all the way to the music we listen to on a daily basis. Much of the media we use on a daily basis are all influenced by language. He gives an example using a .jpg image. When we receive a .jpg image, if we click on the photo and open it in our email, theres an alphanumeric code that goes on and on. Although this .jpg file is a photograph, it isn’t rendered as an image, but as letters instead.

He expresses how important words are by saying “words are no longer primarily transparent content carriers; now their material quality must be considered as well.” He’s explaining how words don’t just write out the meaning of different types of works, but that power is more so in our hands. We are able to give these words meaning. Words in themselves are much more than what is written on a piece of paper and more so about decoding the text you see, in the hopes of giving these words personal meaning. This seemed like a pretty simple thing to do and honestly seemed like something everyone essentially does while reading words on a piece of paper, but then he goes on to mention decoding a poem that uses over 50 random letters. He writes about a book titled “Finnegan’s Wake” which is a book of neologisms. He uses “bababadalgharaghtakamminaronnonnbronnton….” as an example, it has about 40 more letters. When you speak this word aloud, he says it sounds like thunder. He gives this example to explain how these words are spoken in what he calls “regular english,” but when seen on a piece of paper it’s seen as “code.” Goldsmith says reading aloud is “an act of decoding” the words being read.

He writes about “number poems” and while one reads these poems aloud, he argues, they turn into rhythmic art. Neil Mills, the author of the poem mentioned by Goldsmith, says that he realized poems were less about the content written on a piece of paper, but more so about “intonation and rhythm — the human voice functioning as a musical instrument.” This is the number one thing I connect most within this essay. In order to connect to a piece of textual work, whether it be on the computer or on paper, it’s important to truly analyze what is being read. What I believe Goldsmith is trying to get across is that we’re accountable for how we interpret the text we read, no matter the words written on the paper. The same goes with visual forms of art. Lets not forget in the midst of this digital era, that we’re responsible for the way we think and take in different forms of art, not computers or technology. We’re are the ones that give the words we read meaning.