Common Is That They

Common Is That They is a generative book project that uses an algorithm to create texts with the most common four-word sequences according to the Corpus of Contemporary American English and tests them against the Google Books database. If the sequences don’t yet exist on Google Books, they are saved and published as books using a license template from in a means to give them to the public domain. If the machine runs and publishes for long enough, all future text could potentially become copyright-free.

The publication at hand collects four of these markov-chain texts, all starting with “common is that they” and set in lowercase with no punctuation. The texts make little sense, but are not completely absurd. It is particularly surprising that none of these four-word phrases appear in a book digitized by Google. In addition, the book contains the (un)license, the Python-code used to produce it (also available on GitHub), and paratext framing and explaining the project that stresses the need for a disempowerment of copyright while at the same take making all sources visible.

Kavi Duvvoori’s concept makes reference to How It Is In Common Tongues by John Cayley and Daniel C. Howe (2012). They wrote a script that looked for the longest common phrases found in Samuel Beckett’s How It Is on Google Books, but composed by writers other than him. The hits were then cited, with URL references in footnotes, and arranged in such a way as to recreate the whole text but written by someone else. By beginning each iteration with the phrase “common is that they,” Duvvoori’s project shifts the emphasis away from projecting copyrighted material into the database, like Cayley and Howe did, but imagines a future where all texts are copyright-free and have the chance to have as much “in common” as needed.

Concerning this book’s copyright, the following is stated in the “Summary”: “The author claims ownership of this language, having caused it to be produced, in order to give it away, but denies having said any of it, denies its meaning & effects.” On the cover, “Kavi Duvvoori and various linguistic commons” are listed as authors.

The book was published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing by using the template and a stock image provided by the platform.