At the recent visit of Canadian poets to U Penn, after a talk on conceptualism by Jeff Derksen, following on a comment by Christian Bok, the poet-critic Chris Nealon made the comment, I’m paraphrasing here, that much of the discursive framing of conceptual writing offered by the “authors” of these works doesn’t live up to the complexity, and genuine pleasure, that much conceptual work offers. I think this is largely due to the fact that most of this framing has been performative, as in rehearsed, as Goldsmith’s wonderful version(s) of Warhol serve as much to re-complicate and deflect, to defer (a la Derrida) further examination, to throw attention back on the work itself, rather than to offer an open-ended inquiry. An inquiry that would attempt to set out from a place of not-knowing, and accept that one may well return to exactly that place.
Of course that dichotomy, rehearsed/open-ended, is itself problematic simply via the fact of being a dichotomy, or attempting to be. Nevertheless I’d like to rehearse here some thoughts that attempt to move within an open-ended approach to conceptual/flarf/post-conceptual writings generally and to Ara Shirinyan’s Your Country Is Great specifically.
I think the recent work of Simon Critchley, in books such as Infinitely Demanding, and How to Stop Living and Start Worrying, offer a useful vocabulary—for example, his concept of the “dividual.” “It is a split subject divided between itself and a demand that it cannot meet, a demand that makes it the subject that it is, but which it cannot entirely fulfill.” In Critchley the “demand” is ethical, though I wonder if it might not be characterized just as accurately, as simply “cognitive,” and whether the term “split” is true to our experience as dividuals. Sometimes it is a split, other times a rote, or a gap, or a rasp, a no, a yes, a maybe, etc. I.e. at the heart of writings that make use of appropriation is the attitude that recontextualization isn’t something that the writer is simply doing, it is something that is happening to everyone all the time—sometimes that demand, or that attention, is ethical, sometimes not, and sometimes we can’t tell.
Of course, a large part of the interest in Your Country Is Great is the humor of the book. And a large part of that humor is idiomatic: the immediately recognizable idiom of the internet.
Finland is Great place.
Here is wery peacefull to live.
i dunno. Come to visit
and you will see
Finland is great because
Finland is great.
It’s a rich country,
but it’s although
a bit expensive.
Finland is great.
They have good beer.
tasted already three brands
(don’t ask me the names
As in works by Fitterman and others, Shirinyan lets the web speak it’s own specifically charming stupidity. It’s of course a complicated and un-complicated stupidity, and leads it to saying some stupid things like that. I’ve become pro-stupidity to a degree. Simply that there’s so much of it, mine too i mean, that it seems necessary to give it a good go. & there’s something about that good go that seems to me right smart. It allows one to see in an almost simultaneously elitist and non-elitist manner, that old-fashioned empathy is a real part of this project. That almost is important though, it’s that catch, that in between, that makes something funny.
Cuba is great destination also
for the beginner !
Because there is a lot of fish,
Not much fishing pressure
Critchley sees the best humor as “ . . . a series of verbal inversions and distortions that can bring about a change in the situation in which we find ourselves; and which gives us a way of looking at ourselves and finding ourselves ridiculous; and which allows us to bear the weight of the ethical demand and at the same point to wear it with a sort of lightness.”
Your Country Is Great raises questions re nationality, nationalism, prejudice and/within global English, the banalities of evils, quotidian disappointment, cosmopolitanism as farce, the Williams line in the age of avant appropriation, & philosophical-political-human(e) stupidity, among other things. I think it’s a great book.
What there is in Cuba,