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Professor Kenneth Goldsmith teaches ENGL 111, "Writing Off the Page," at Penn. (Photo from Kenneth Goldsmith)

College junior Michael Greenstein graffitied “Welcome to Penn State” in blue chalk spray paint all over campus as part of a course assignment last week for ENGL 111, "Writing Off the Page."

The course explores the limits of writing and alternative forms of expression. Each week students receive an assignment, such as "make the private, public," and complete it by creating a written installation anywhere except for on a physical page.

Kenneth Goldsmith, who teaches the course, said students have written on surfaces such as bodies, bathroom doors, the internet, and trees. Greenstein, who is currently enrolled in the class, said one student completed an assignment by filling an empty brick on the sidewalk with pig guts. 

Goldsmith said the course is designed to promote self-expression and encourage creative forms of thinking.

"[Students here] were taught one trick and to perfect that one trick over and over again until [they've] achieved the capability of getting into a school like Penn," Goldsmith said. "My job as a teacher here is to expose students to other ways of being in the world."

Greenstein, who graffitied the campus, said he aimed to "deface the logo and brand" of Penn. 

"I think students at Penn take themselves too seriously," he said. "It's X, Y, and Z. This is your frat, this is your social group, this is the club you are going to do for four years, this is job you are going to get when it's all over." 

Greenstein added that he placed Penn's logo next to the words "Penn State" to highlight Penn's "in-group and out-group culture." He also tied balloons that said "Welcome to Penn State" to the Benjamin Franklin Statue on Locust Walk and to the railings in front of Huntsman Hall and Fisher Fine Arts Library. 

Michael Greenstein, a student in Professor Goldstein's ENGL 111 class, displayed images saying "Welcome to Penn State" around Penn's campus for a class project. (Photo from Michael Greenstein)

2008 College graduate Steve McLaughlin took "Uncreative Writing," a similar experimental writing class by Goldsmith, when he was a student. McLaughlin said he recalls one student setting a jar of flies free in the classroom as part of an assignment. To complete his own assignment to "make the private, public," McLaughlin hung a flag imprinted with a computer password on the roof of Fisher Bennet Library.

Greenstein said he values Goldsmith's class because it allows him to think meaningfully and provides a break from other stressful classroom environments where students care more about grades than learning. But he stressed that English 111 is not a "fake, easy class," adding that he spends the entire week thinking about his installation and its meaning. 

Goldsmith, a prominent experimental poet, has written 10 books of poetry and was invited to perform at the White House for former President Obama in 2011. He was also the Museum of Modern Art's first poet laureate in 2013.

Goldsmith is known for teaching unconventional writing courses at Penn, including "Wasting Time on the Internet" and "Uncreative Writing," which encourages students to copy previously published content.

"The cornerstone of a good undergraduate liberal arts education is exposure to new ideas you might never be exposed to again," Goldsmith said. "I don't expect great literature. I expect great openness. Be experimental."

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