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boring lectures

John Baldessari Redo by Kenneth Goldsmith

As you’re wasting time on the Internet in a post-turkey haze this Thanksgiving, take a minute to consider Penn’s newest class, which is focused on just that. (Well, minus the turkey haze.)

When word spread last month that an Ivy League school was offering a class called Wasting Time on the Internet, the whole thing seemed so outlandish that CNN, Time, The Washington Post, Slate and other big news outlets all ran stories on it. But there’s more to the course than the name might imply. Here’s what you need to know:

What department is it in? It’s a writing class in the English department: ENGL 111.301, to be exact. It will be offered for the Spring 2015 semester and counts as a creative writing seminar or English elective.

Who’s the professor? When I saw the course title, I immediately thought of Kenneth Goldsmith—and I was right! You may remember Goldsmith, “uncreative writing” extraordinaire, from this Gazette story about his White House debut. He’s the guy who sparred with Stephen on The Colbert Report, attempted to print out the entire Internet, and was named the Museum of Modern Art’s first Poet Laureate. Goldsmith has taught a course called Uncreative Writing at Penn for the last few years, which “employ[s] strategies of appropriation, replication, plagiarism, piracy, sampling [and] plundering as compositional methods,” according to its course description.

How will the class work? From the official description: “Using our laptops and a wifi connection as our only materials, this class will focus on the alchemical recuperation of aimless surfing into substantial works of literature. Students will be required to stare at the screen for three hours, only interacting through chat rooms, bots, social media and listservs. To bolster our practice, we’ll explore the long history of the recuperation of boredom and time-wasting through critical texts about affect theory, ASMR, situationism and everyday life….Distraction, multi-tasking, and aimless drifting is mandatory.”

What’s the goal? I’ll let Goldsmith handle this one. He wrote a piece for The New Yorker last week with the headline “Why I Am Teaching a Course Called ‘Wasting Time on the Internet.’”

Here’s an excerpt:

“The students will be encouraged to get lost on the Web, disappearing for three hours in a Situationist-inspired dérive, drowsily emerging from the digital haze only when class is over. We will enter a collective dreamspace, an experience out of which the students will be expected to render works of literature.


Nothing is off limits: if it is on the Internet, it is fair play. Students watching three hours of porn can use it as the basis for compelling erotica; they can troll nefarious right-wing sites, scraping hate-filled language for spy thrillers; they can render celebrity Twitter feeds into epic Dadaist poetry; they can recast Facebook feeds as novellas; or they can simply hand in their browser history at the end of a session and present it as a memoir.”

Goldsmith then adds: “I’ve never taught this class before, but I have a hunch that it’s going to be a success.”

Molly Petrilla C’06

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