That Great Beat
Original art by Whitney Garner
by Anne Boyer
I spend a lot of time at a pharmacy which is also a bookstore and at which a prominent scholar tells me a global ethnomusicologist to whom I have for a long time only been very scarcely connected via the Internet is, in fact, a jerk. This is a dream. I wake up and decide to write about Ara Shirinyan’s book, Your Country Is Great, so I google the dream ethnomusicologist’s name with the phrase “is great.” I find that in the Dominican Republic, as in Puerto Rico, there is a word that translates as “this awesome music of ours with that great beat.” I find a man with the same name as my ethnomusicoligist, but who is not the same, loved his trip to Abu Dhabi, which is great. Contemporary American poetry is this awesome music of ours with that great beat. It is the art form at once both the most and least like Abu Dhabi. I don’t know everything, but it looks like contemporary poets exist to poke a stick into failure and stir it around. On one hand, there is the world as the world, astonishing in its variety of apparel and in the boring sameness of frailty, poverty, death, and injustice. On the other, there is the Internet. Like whoever-it-was-from-the-Internet-Ara-Shrinyan-samples-in-the-poem-about-Ethiopia said: “History is a continuous subject. / One cannot pick a portion of”.
My dream last night was totally just the new modernity made from translation: in it a real scholar of the global exchange of culture known to me from his global exchange of culture was exchanged from meat life to information life to dream life, and because I wanted to write something accurate about Ara Shirinyan’s book, was exchanged from dream life to meat life to information life again. The ethnomusicologist’s location was, like mine and Ara Shirinyan’s, none of the above, or rather, the ethnomusicologist was located in exchange itself, either kind or a jerk, real but unreal, but really unknown to me save for the scarce and electric ways I really know him. The ethnomusicologist recently blogged about a musician whose parents are from two countries and who grew up in a zone of another country ruled by yet another country and who then moves to the country the zone is located in (but not ruled by) yet is outcast there: knowing only three phases of the native language, he finds himself performing on buses as they move down the road. It’s a lot like this.
Ara Shirinyan’s book is realism in the worst sense of the word, in that the real is, in fact, a chauvinism of global capitalism, and that under the real is a vast, pulsating, possibly even liberating world which politics has made invisible to the senses and which art can only again (or possibly) reveal. This book is a satire of connectedness entirely constructed of connectedness and all it omits. There is so much aspiration, boredom, and awfulness here. There is the shadow of every airplane and how these make the land beneath them, for a moment, cold. There is American Express. There is Albania. There is Armenia, and “I don’t think it is for me.” There are the eco-tourist, the horn player, and the hot local women, the cold seasons and rainy months, the clubs and revolutions. They are great.
Ara’s book is like de-pantsing. Also it is like de-pantsing a doll.
This work is maybe even a tragedy, or I read it with that great heavy sadness of a person who has thought, both with and without a location, that a location would be great. I suppose it might be funny, but mostly funny like someone falling. This is not to say you shouldn’t read Ara Shirinyan’s Your Country Is Great. Only that it is true like what you see in a mirror might be, at least for now.
Piece crossposted with Futurepost