Two Works by Ara Shirinyan

I’m in the midst of finishing up an article on Ara Shirinyan’s Your Country is Great. It’s my favorite recent work of conceptual writing. It’s an absolute delight to read, and for me, it brings together a number of the strains of literary criticism I’ve been most interested in lately—transnational poetics, uncreative writing, digital culture, and theories of laughter. Shirinyan’s method is simple: he goes through an alphabetic list of countries, Googles instances of the phrase “[country] is great,” and makes poems from the results. I paid homage to the book in an earlier post, but here’s a sample of Shirinyan’s “FRANCE IS GREAT”:

Air France is Great!

France is Great
and the rest of the World is Rubbish

Why France is great.

Why France is great.

France is Great
and the rest of the World Stinks

France is Great
and the rest of the World Sucks (105)

It’s a work that’s been really energizing to write about, and I’m excited about the article.

I recently came across another work of Shirinyan’s that uses found text at Ubu. The book is called Speech Genres 1-2, but I’m particularly interested in the first section, “All the Jarrys.” It’s a book indebted to Alfred Jarry, but its debts are literally on the surface level. The “Jarrys” referenced in the title do not refer to the content of specific works, but to the material books in which those works live, presumably as reported on a used-book shopping site. For example:

in French. Book is in
very good condition. Standard used
condition. This softcover is in

good condition no rips or
markings or stains. mass market
paperback – in french – has remainer

mark on bottom edge but
looks near new otherwise —This

is a description of the
exact book we are selling. (7)

Much like Your Country is Great proves readable, even delightful, despite its repetition, something about Shirinyan’s lineation here makes “All the Jarrys” much more than a straightforward report on the material condition of the book objects it describes.

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