Capital by Kenneth Goldsmith — Thom Cuell

– ‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters’. Donald Trump

– Walter Benjamin celebrated Paris, the cultural capital of the 19th Century and its architectural innovation, the arcade. Kenneth Goldsmith recreates this feat for the 20th Century’s capital, New York, and the skyscraper.

– The psychogeography of a city which doesn’t exist, a collection of visions and fevered dreams. The physical landscape as a springboard for fantasy.

– New York is a pornotopia, a jungle of regression or an infirmary of the psychologically maimed.

– ‘Father dear, you want to make Times Square as cold as your icy eye? Why do you wanna punish people who aren’t like you? Y’know at home, I’ve heard you use the following words: ‘spic’ ‘nigger’ ‘faggot’ ‘psycho’. Well I want you to know – your daughter is one’. The Sleez Sisters

– In 1884, newspapers report the story of a tenement slum girl, dispatched to the Bellevue insane asylum after claiming to be a resident of the luxurious new Chelsea Hotel – a foreshadowing of its shabby bohemian future.

– A city so often filmed, its skyline has become a spectacle in its own right, a factory for the perpetuation of myth.

– Inspired by the utopian socialist Charles Fourier, Philip Hubert designed the Chelsea Hotel as a model artistic community, in the hope that each generation of residents would produce a Milton or a Molière.

– Hollywood created vast replicas of New York streets, with facades just big enough for an actor to disappear inside. The interiors were shot miles away, in sound studios. This illustrates the disconnection between the public and private spaces of the city.

– The Empire State Building is the most reproduced building in the world. Workers in the building surround themselves with pictures of it, as they are the only people in New York who can’t see it when they look out of the window.

– ‘It’s a mighty long ways from the Golden Gate To Rockefeller Plaza n’ the Empire State Mister Empire sits up as high as a bird And Ol’ Mister Rockfeller never says a word’. Bob Dylan, Hard Times in New York

– An American businessman purchased London Bridge, for the purpose of reconstructing it in Arizona. The English purchase the New York skyline every time they switch on a television. It is one of America’s most successful exports.

– Warhol’s Empire allowed the whole world to become New Yorkers, able to gaze on the city’s most famous landmark in real time.

– Robert Moses, designer of New York’s civic infrastructure, is accorded a place in history alongside Peter the Great, Baron Haussmann, Captain Ahab and Tamburlaine. Great public works are linked in the mind to autocratic power.

– New York absorbs and assimilates. After the revolution, Louis-Philippe, King of France, spent time in the city, and taught at a school in Bloomingdale. Old world hierarchies are alien to the city’s spirit.

– The converse of Warhol’s durational studies can be found in Robert Mapplethorpe and his attempts to capture the perfect moment.

– In the City of Ashes, Nick Carraway and Tom Buchanan are constantly aware of the billboard’s totalitarian gaze. By contrast, New York offers discretion, secret drinking dens and illicit meeting places, allowing Gatsby to carry out his magnificent act of reinvention.

– Atavistic animal life prowls on the city’s margins. The city strains to keep it out, but occasionally it bursts through cracks in New York’s defences. Local legends tell of snakes and civet cats, gangs of feral moggies roaming the yards of Fifty-First Street, each with 6 claws on their front paws.

– I feel less and less as though New York is a real and concrete place; it is an illusion to which we all adhere, to stop us from going insane.


the lights are much brighter there… whorepimpthieffaggotdykeexecutiveplayboy… down to kill like a motherfucker… sunken cheekbones unseeing eyes perforated upper arms… I thought I saw Andy Warhol’s face in the moon last night, but it was just an old woman…New York is a text illegible a vocabulary an abstract ideological statement of glass and steel and concrete… gang culture in a city of strangers… two girls for every boy… a jazz band can describe this city better than any author… shirtfrontsbacklessvestsankletsbraceletssolitairestiaras… the little Old New York obliterated itself when it annexed Hunter’s Point, Far Rockaway, Long Island The Bronx… tuxedo leather white tie pearl funk… a mob of 1,000 destroying straw hats along Amsterdam Avenue… sinners madcaps spanish kings latin street bachelors savage nomads screaming pharaohs young barons… nothing happens before 2am, ask for Clarence… under red and orange lights legs flare and twine legs in purple legs in checks in evening black in brown…


– H. G. Wells in The Shape of Things (1933) predicts that the Empire State Building will become despised, and be torn down in 2016.

– A city perpetually evolving, rebuilding. The Chelsea Hotel contains layers and layers of myth, fossil strata piled on top of one another, from Dylan Thomas to Leonard Cohen to Sid Vicious. The dream of New York is torn apart and reconstructed as often as the buildings are.

– ‘When I dream I see knights in white satin, when I dream I get mistaken memories of medieval Manhattan. And the world is upside down but my mind is turning on. Milk is spilling from the murdered sun, I see masturbating monks on 42nd Street, rats carry the plague to Chinatown; cathedrals in the well of an elevator shaft, the water towers so many onion domes. The channel 12 commercials all star Joan of Arc, on Broadway a lamb is lying down. Where have they gone, the snows of Villon? They are falling on Manhattan as rain’. Momus, Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan

– An experiment in density; I contain multitudes.

– Mapplethorpe locates the individual within the primordial sex of the bath houses.

– ‘They had it so nice where they were, the streets were clean, everyone was like ‘How d’you do? How d’you do?’ Then they come to New York, where we’re like ‘Who gives a fuck?’ And they want to change it. It really pisses me off, so that’s what this song is about. And, the clothes they wear, you don’t look at them while they’re making the rules’. David Johansen, Fabulous Rant

– New York is no place for the flâneur: the crowds move too fast, the grid is too regimented. ‘It’s harder to get lost in New York than it is in Tulsa’.

– ‘I stare into a thin, web-like crack above the urinal’s handle and think to myself that if I were to disappear into that crack, say somehow miniaturize and slip into it, the odds are good that no one would notice I was gone. No… one… would… care. In fact some, if they noticed my absence, might feel an odd, indefinable sense of relief.’ Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho

– New York’s gay community crosses social and economic boundaries. The flâneurs of Paris become the cruisers of New York. Benjamin’s department store window displays were designed to attract the attention of families; in 70s New York, the displays are a cruising ground, a pretext for men to stop and make preliminary enquiries.

– ‘A man who had a hopeless case of the peculiar New York disease of wanting to see and know.’

– Bodies find bodies in the pitch dark back rooms of bars. Will Self relocates Dorian to 1980s New York, staging conga lines of fucking buggery in the city’s bathhouses.

– In New York, there is such competition, that the only way to thrive is to want the things no-one else wants, the leftovers and the discarded. The city becomes a breeding ground for dandies and eccentrics.

– ‘For a kid under eighteen, New York is the draggiest city in the world.’ Newsweek, 23 May 1966

– After leaving New York, H. P. Lovecraft wrote his eight great works, including The Call of Cthulhu.

– How does New York cope with silence? J. D. Salinger said ‘New York’s terrible when somebody laughs in the street very late at night. You can hear it for miles. It makes you feel so lonesome and depressed’.

– Showmen at Luna Park staged volcanic eruptions and house fires for audiences, rehearsing for the park’s own eventual fate.

– ‘I don’t think you’re right there, Dorian. You never get Manhattan do you? You don’t quite grasp how far image and aesthetic are the same thing here. This is the city where the multiple sets the standard for the artefact.’ Will Self, Dorian

– When the sounds of New York were first transcribed and performed for an audience, using a cast of propellers, sirens, bells and anvils, an audience member lofted a white handkerchief on the tip of his cane in surrender. This cacophony, the sound of the street drowning out the sound of conversation, was an inspiration to John Cage.

– ‘Still, out on those pills, cheap thrills, anadins, aspros, anything, condemned to eternal bullshit… sealed with a kiss’. John Lydon, New York

– The imagined New York lacks the audible dissonance of the city itself.

– Ambergris; patchouli; opium; Guerlain—an antidote to the sterile cleanliness of American life. The scent of Liverpool, Marseilles and Naples.

– The density and grandiosity of the city reflected in its Sunday newspapers.

– The speech of bootlegging criminals and vaudevillians: prohibition era New Yorkers had more than 100 terms for ‘drunk’.

– New York as Brecht’s City of Mahagonny incarnate; everything is available, if you can pay for it. Capitalism stripped of its veneer of respectability.

– Reporters raiding Jackie Onassis’s trash can recover empty bottles of Brut 1966, Côte de Beaune Villages 1969, Estée Lauder sport fragrance spray and refillable containers of Chanel No. 5.

– Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven parades through Downtown in a costume crafted from street trash, a proud embodiment of New York’s urban dereliction. Aristocracy dancing in the gutter of the New World.

– ‘You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.’ Andy Warhol

– The last doors close at 4am, an interlude of silence.

Kenneth Goldsmith  is the founding editor of UbuWeb, teaches Poetics and Poetic Practice at the University of Pennsylvania and is Senior Editor of PennSound. He was an artist and sculptor for many years before taking up conceptual poetry. He has since published ten books of poetry and is the author of a book of essays, Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in a Digital Age. He was the first Poet Laureate of the Museum of Modern Art. He resides in New York City with his wife, artist Cheryl Donegan and his two sons.

Thom Cuell is the type of what the age has been searching for, and what it is afraid it has found.

Capital is published by Verso Books.

Kenneth Goldsmith bio courtesy of Verso Books.