“If it doesn’t exist on the Internet…..”

Kenneth Goldsmith, picture from 27 Senses, an exhibition with Kenneth Goldsmith/ UbuWeb, Carl Michael von Hausswolff/ Selmer Nilsen, Karl Holmqvist, Jutta Koether, Eline McGeorge. 25 April – 27 June 2009. Curated by Lina Dzuverovic, Electra, Kunstmuseet KUBE, Norway

Some years ago, I bookmarked the text of a conference presentation given by Kenneth Goldsmith, the founder of UbuWeb, one of the largest and most important educational sources for avant-garde studies in cyberspace. The provocative title, “If It Doesn’t Exist on the Internet, It Doesn’t Exist” had caught my eye as I searched for more information about the person who had so painstakingly put together an archive of materials that I used on a daily basis in my teaching and research. What struck me in particular was the lines at the outset of the talk which, declaring in a manifesto-like tone and urgency not dissimilar to many of the subjects of his website, suggested that the Internet was the final critical space of discourse: “It is our obligation as educators and intellectuals to make sure that the bulk of our production ends up there, preferably with free and unfettered access to all. This means not making materials available only for those affiliated with our institution, our students, or our colleagues, but giving free and unfettered access for all.”

The notion of unfettered access to ideas is a very radical idea for many academics. This may come as a surprise to those who think of academia as somehow intrinsically linked to freedom and open dialogue. But for individuals who have built and staked their careers upon the kinds of ideas and conversations that only a small handful of people truly care about and engage with—much of which fills the pages of peer-reviewed journals and provides the content for specialized academic conferences and symposia—the frameworks of that discourse have remained largely remote from any kind of mainstream and public discussion. As a result, many academics and intellectuals have been conditioned to believe that much of what they think and write about will never truly register beyond the confines of the ivory tower.

Like Goldsmith, I have come to believe that by opening access to alternative spaces of dialogue beyond the university classroom, new fields of radicality and potential can emerge to break down traditional barriers in the pursuit of knowlege and learning. The decision to create a public blog called “Avant-Guardian Musings” that is at once a place to reflect on ideas raised in my classroom and also ones I find personally interesting and engaging is my small act in support of his call. If nothing else, Goldsmith's “manifesto” inspires my first entry to state something of an intention for those who stumble across this blog as if walking in on an ongoing conversation. To all of you I say "Welcome."