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Laughing at Ara Shirinyan's "Your Country Is Great"

by Eric Rettberg

Ara Shirinyan. Photo by Harold Abramowitz.
Ara Shirinyan. Photo by Harold Abramowitz.

Eric Rettberg told me a few months ago about his interest in Ara Shirinyan, and I asked him if he would write briefly about it for this commentary. He agreed, and here is what he has to say. Eric is currently Edgar F. Shannon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Virginia.

The procedure Ara Shirinyan used to write Your Country is Great (2008), in which he went through an alphabetical list of countries, Googled “[country] is great,” and wrote poems from the results, ensures that the book repeats relentlessly. Seemingly empty declarations of greatness abound, from “aaww lol belgium is great =)” (29) to “Finland is great because / Finland is great” (103), and so too do reports of the great recreational activities available in the countries of the world. “The beaches are the bomb” in Costa Rica (70), just as Bulgaria is great “if you want young drunk fun in the sun” and “Cyprus is great for sun and beaches” (49, 78).

Cubism, the Word

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer

cubism graphed on the Google Books Ngram Viewer
cubism graphed on the Google Books Ngram Viewer

According to Google Labs' fairly new "Books Ngam Viewer," which tracks usage of words and phrases in all the books Google has scanned dating from 1800 through 2000, the use of the word "Cubism" (and closely varients) peaked in 1960.

Google Goes Black

I read Grand Text Auto as often as I can. It's a "group blog about computer narrative, games, poetry and art." In a new entry, Nick Montfort satirizes Google by showing a black Google home page along with this note: "It warms my heart to see that a major Internet company has turned its Web page black, joining the protest against the Communications Decency Act only 4433 days late."

Charles Bernstein points me (and us) toward Google's blackle which Google claims has saved (at the moment I went there) 536,868.931 Watt hours. Given this rhetoric, I suppose Nick is wrong in thinking Google belatedly red or pink; they're trying to be green.

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