Examining Kenneth Goldsmith’s "Soliloquy"

"Soliloquy" by Kenneth Goldsmith is apparently the result of the author recording and transcribing every word he spoke in the span of a week.  It is divided by day, and then further divided by numerical pages, which seem to correspond only to the length of the content, not to any other factors (for example, a certain number does not equal a certain hour).  Each page begins with one line visible; the other lines appear and disappear as the mouse cursor moves over them. 

In one sense, "Soliloquy" functions as a cautionary piece, prompting readers to consider the sounds that spill from their lips each day (and "Soliloquy" shows us some of them, a lot of them, are just sounds). A great majority of the text in "Soliloquy" is devoted to verbal fillers and incoherent sentences.  Even when it's clear that the topic of speech is something that required a lot of thought, it comes out stunted by parasitic ums and you knows.  At first, I found this annoying because it was hard for me to make sense out of what I was reading.  I wanted full thoughts and articulate insights; after all, this guy's a writer!  Then I realized that what I wanted was dialogue and not speech.  Even knowing that this was essentially a work of creative nonfiction, that it was a real person's real words from a real week, I wanted the clarity and significance of fictional dialogue.  In short, I was holding this man to an unreal (in every sense of the word) standard.  Real people, even brilliant ones, give birth to a lot of meaningless words each day.  In helping his readers realize this, Goldsmith urges them to make every word count.  He encourages readers to make their everyday speech as meaningful as they can, with the goal of living up to the unreachable significance of fiction.  I find this quite interesting because generally an artificial thing is deemed less meaningful than a real thing.  "Soliloquy" calls that into question.  If fictional dialogue, and the amount of meaning it conveys, is the unattainable divine in this case, then readers, and the hollow ramblings they engender each day, are the lowly sinners.  The artificial is above the real.  In the words and cadence of Jerry Seinfeld, "What's up with that?"

There is also literary significance in the way that words/phrases are found and accessed in "Soliloquy."  Readers can choose to run down a page one line at a time, trying to imagine the words or reactions of the other, invisible, speaker in the conversation, or they can randomly point their cursor and see what pops up.  Oddly enough, the phrases make just as little sense in order as they do out of order.  This calls to question the way that meaning is created.  Earlier this week, I read Kenneth Bruffee's "Collaborative Learning" for another class.  Although I was reluctant to accept it at first, Bruffee asserts that meaning and knowledge are created socially, through interactions with other people.  "Soliloquy" did more to drive Brufee's point home for me than "Collaborative Learning" itself.  Seeing how disorienting and meaningless only one side of a conversation is was genuinely eye-opening. 

When one takes the two points of "Soliloquy," the comparative absurdity of real speech to fictional dialogue and the meaninglessness of only one side of a conversation, together with the title, it makes another point: there is not, nor can there ever be, such thing as a soliloquy in real life.    


  

Examining Kenneth Goldsmith’s "Soliloquy"

"Soliloquy" by Kenneth Goldsmith is apparently the result of the author recording and transcribing every word he spoke in the span of a week.  It is divided by day, and then further divided by numerical pages, which seem to correspond only to the length of the content, not to any other factors (for example, a certain number does not equal a certain hour).  Each page begins with one line visible; the other lines appear and disappear as the mouse cursor moves over them. 

In one sense, "Soliloquy" functions as a cautionary piece, prompting readers to consider the sounds that spill from their lips each day (and "Soliloquy" shows us some of them, a lot of them, are just sounds). A great majority of the text in "Soliloquy" is devoted to verbal fillers and incoherent sentences.  Even when it's clear that the topic of speech is something that required a lot of thought, it comes out stunted by parasitic ums and you knows.  At first, I found this annoying because it was hard for me to make sense out of what I was reading.  I wanted full thoughts and articulate insights; after all, this guy's a writer!  Then I realized that what I wanted was dialogue and not speech.  Even knowing that this was essentially a work of creative nonfiction, that it was a real person's real words from a real week, I wanted the clarity and significance of fictional dialogue.  In short, I was holding this man to an unreal (in every sense of the word) standard.  Real people, even brilliant ones, give birth to a lot of meaningless words each day.  In helping his readers realize this, Goldsmith urges them to make every word count.  He encourages readers to make their everyday speech as meaningful as they can, with the goal of living up to the unreachable significance of fiction.  I find this quite interesting because generally an artificial thing is deemed less meaningful than a real thing.  "Soliloquy" calls that into question.  If fictional dialogue, and the amount of meaning it conveys, is the unattainable divine in this case, then readers, and the hollow ramblings they engender each day, are the lowly sinners.  The artificial is above the real.  In the words and cadence of Jerry Seinfeld, "What's up with that?"

There is also literary significance in the way that words/phrases are found and accessed in "Soliloquy."  Readers can choose to run down a page one line at a time, trying to imagine the words or reactions of the other, invisible, speaker in the conversation, or they can randomly point their cursor and see what pops up.  Oddly enough, the phrases make just as little sense in order as they do out of order.  This calls to question the way that meaning is created.  Earlier this week, I read Kenneth Bruffee's "Collaborative Learning" for another class.  Although I was reluctant to accept it at first, Bruffee asserts that meaning and knowledge are created socially, through interactions with other people.  "Soliloquy" did more to drive Brufee's point home for me than "Collaborative Learning" itself.  Seeing how disorienting and meaningless only one side of a conversation is was genuinely eye-opening. 

When one takes the two points of "Soliloquy," the comparative absurdity of real speech to fictional dialogue and the meaninglessness of only one side of a conversation, together with the title, it makes another point: there is not, nor can there ever be, such thing as a soliloquy in real life.