Duchamp Is My Lawyer: The Polemics, Pragmatics, and Poetics of Ubuweb

Pre-Order   Ships Jul 28, 2020


In 1996, during the relatively early days of the web, Kenneth Goldsmith created UbuWeb to post hard-to-find works of concrete poetry. What started out as a site to share works from a relatively obscure literary movement grew into an essential archive of twentieth- and twenty-first-century avant-garde and experimental literature, film, and music. Visitors around the world now have access to both obscure and canonical works, from artists such as Kara Walker, Yoko Ono, Pauline Oliveros, Samuel Beckett, Marcel Duchamp, Cecil Taylor, Glenn Ligon, William Burroughs, and Jean-Luc Godard.

In Duchamp Is My Lawyer, Goldsmith tells the history of UbuWeb, explaining the motivations behind its creation and how artistic works are archived, consumed, and distributed online. Based on his own experiences and interviews with a variety of experts, Goldsmith describes how the site navigates issues of copyright and the ways that UbuWeb challenges familiar configurations and histories of the avant-garde. The book also portrays the growth of other "shadow libraries" and includes a section on the artists whose works reflect the aims, aesthetics, and ethos of UbuWeb. Goldsmith concludes by contrasting UbuWeb's commitment to the free-culture movement and giving access to a wide range of artistic works with today's gatekeepers of algorithmic culture, such as Netflix, Amazon, and Spotify.

Product Details

Columbia University Press
Publish Date
July 28, 2020
5.5 X 0.7 X 8.5 inches | 0.8 pounds
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About the Author

Kenneth Goldsmith teaches writing at the University of Pennsylvania and is a senior editor of PennSound, an online poetry archive. His books include Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age (Columbia, 2011); Capital: New York, Capital of the Twentieth Century (2015); and Wasting Time on the Internet (2016).


UbuWeb is one of the great avant-garde projects of our times. In Duchamp Is My Lawyer, Goldsmith takes us through the aesthetic, legal, economic, and social aspects of the whole project. Through it, we see how the avant-garde had to shift gears to move from the era of analog media to that of digital, or database media. It is an essential document on the theory and practice of experimental media art.--McKenzie Wark, author of A Hacker Manifesto
Duchamp Is My Lawyer reads like an upbeat mediactivist manifesto--providing all at once an alternative political economy of open access, a humorous introduction to legal poetics, a joyful survey of artistic resistance, and an empowering toolbox to keep the web as free as we care for it to be.--Yves Citton, author of Mediarchy
In 1996, Kenneth Goldsmith sat down at his computer and initiated a website he appropriately called UbuWeb--a site soon consisting of "thousands of freely downloadable avant-garde artifacts," and unlike any of its peers in being entirely free and open to all: no sponsors, no fees, no memberships or passwords required. Over the decades, it has become clear that UbuWeb, although an unmatchable scholarly resource, is itself the avant-garde artwork we have been waiting for--a giant collage of appropriated materials, chosen, juxtaposed, and framed so as to constitute perhaps the best single available history of its subject, and one entirely created by a single author--Goldsmith himself. The artist's lively, entertaining, and revelatory account of how this uniquely democratic site was created and maintained, how he resolved vexing copyright issues, and how UBU has helped us reconsider movements from Concrete Poetry to the feminist punk of Angry Women--is nothing short of inspiring. This should be required reading for all those who wonder whether it still possible, in 2020, to speak of the avant-garde.--Marjorie Perloff, author of Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century
UbuWeb is an anomaly of the internets. The irony is that it completely functions the way we envisioned the everything would, in the beginning of internets history. Kenneth Goldsmith kept UbuWeb true to the core values of the network: humanity, collectiveness, and borderless openness. In a world where data is synonymous with control and value is synonymous with price, UbuWeb functions as an oasis.--Peter Sunde, founder of The Pirate Bay
With an unshakable belief that art belongs more in the public sphere than behind closed walls, physical or digital, Kenneth Goldsmith originated the first open source platform for those who revere culture. This invigorating and timely book surveys why brilliant ideas, images, and sounds are important to both preserve and proliferate as freely as ever.--Naomi Beckwith, senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Duchamp Is My Lawyer is the in-depth secret history of one of Goldsmith's most expansive and long running projects--the renegade website UbuWeb. At once manifesto, memoir, treatise, exposition, critique, and gossip column, it presents an essential history of renegade underground creative activity in the past 100 or so years. Brilliantly structured and filled with wit, wisdom, and Goldsmith's provocations, it is also an inspiring and hilarious read.--John Zorn, composer and performer