I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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No Sweat

Michael Hinds
Capital: New York: Capital of the 20th Century, by Kenneth Goldsmith, 928 pp, £19.99, ISBN: 978-1784781590 Kenneth Goldsmith’s Capital is a particularly repellent thing to look at: a fat gold hardback of a thousand pages enclosed in a slipcase of the same colour, an ingot-text. Verso has produced quite an object. It looks and feels like a Taschen coffee table book, as if it should be full of dirty pictures. It does have its fair share of filth inside, but that is inevitable given its subject, New York City in the twentieth century. In its basic state, the book is a testimony to the city as a vast cash machine, a place where people come to spend and get spent. Goldsmith is himself the product of a peculiar form of economy; he is an avant garde writer who largely depends upon university audiences for patronage. First among his benefactors is the canonical modernist critic, Marjorie Perloff. Perloff’s study Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century, which argues for a conceptual rather than an expressive poetics, draws heavily upon Goldsmith’s concept of “uncreative writing” (as some have pointed out, even this in itself is uncreative, given that it is heavily dependent upon the French school of OULIPO (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or Workshop of Potential Literature), which generates patterns for writing out of the application of constraints (Raymond Queneau and Georges Perec are probably the best-known Oulipistes in the Anglophone world). In Goldsmith and Perloff’s analysis, we are now in the age of the writer as copyist and sampler and invention as we understood it is over. You do not have to own what you write. Capital is conceived upon this basis of unoriginality, adopting Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project as its prototype for composition, replacing Paris and the nineteenth century with New York and the twentieth. The inside back cover of Capital makes this evident, quoting Benjamin directly: Method of the project: literary montage, I needn’t say anything. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations. But the rags, the refuse ‑ these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them. So just as Benjamin brought together his massive rag-bag of quotations, Goldsmith has assembled quotations related to New York, observing mostly the constraint of referring only to the twentieth century. This has a peculiar impact at times, as the pressure of…

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