Fear the Moral Nebulae

Hyperlinks of Anxiety
, Daniel Y Harris (102pp $17.00 Cervena Barva Press)

A volume of collected poetry, a range of older/newer texts 'evocative of the qualms and uncertainties of our new millennium', drawn from numerous magazine publications including The Café Irreal, Exquisite Corpse, Mad Hatter's Review, Pinstripe Fedora, Poetry Salzburg Review and many others, including Stride.  The book is organised into two roughly equal parts: Section I 'Hyperlinks' with 29 poems and Section II 'Anxiety' with 27. The main volume is preceded by an Introductory Essay entitled 'Barely Listening: A Meditation on Daniel Y Harris' Hyperlinks of Anxiety' by Beth Hawkins Benedix from DePauw University. Benedix is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Literature, while Harris himself is also an artist and essayist holding a Master of Arts in Divinity from the University of Chicago. (The distinctive collage cover artwork of the present volume is by the author himself.) Previous publications by Harris include The New Arcana (with John Amen, 2012), Unio Mystica (2009) and Paul Celan and the Messiah's Broken Levered Tongue: An Exponential Dyad (with Adam Shechter, 2010). Harris was born in Paris and now lives in Orange County, California.

We meet at that ancient crossroads: at the intersection of poetry and The Spiritual, at a time when the Digital Revolution amplifies dystopian speculations about 'wasteland' worlds of alienating modernity subsumed by 'virtual culture'. The two part structure of the book, says Benedix, 'prompts us as readers to think simultaneously in terms of antagonisms and resolutions, relations and oppositions'. In 'Secvtion I: Hyperlinks' the wasteland is 'hostile and sleek, treacherous, seductive, inescapably feline, unmistakably academic', the lingo remorselessly on-trend, as in 'Confessions of a Blogger': 'I spin/henosis in blogland.... The zot in the stasis/of the Web...' In 'Section II: Anxiety' 'the air feels different', it projects a different atmosphere, a sense of optimism (perhaps) or 'anticipation of the as yet undiscovered', those unknown unknowns always a covert source of chronic anxiety. Here there are various epitaphs citing erudite influences, or points of reference; Derrida, Kafka, Hart Crane, the painter Pierre Bonnard, Balzac, Emerson and that ultimate cinematic icon of alienation, Travis Bickle (in Taxi Driver
after John Ashbery).  The overriding influence is Paul Celan, whose modes of Shadow Speech and Murder Speech (Schattensprache and Mordersprache) inform two linguistic strategies; the nuanced 'difficult' hermeticism and the infernal 'consumer' speech which is a speech of death and dehumanization.

The general stylistic ethos of the collection is minimalist, yet a diversity of form continually engages the reader. Most poems are stanzaic constructs, although there are some prosodic pieces such as 'Epic of the Uncreature' and 'Republic of the 'Sitrah Arha' which belong to the sphere of prose poetry. There are also some sets or poem-sequences such as 'The Agon Poems I-V' and 'Bequest I-V' and 'Ten Plagues'. Many pieces are sparse filamentous quatrains, triplets and couplets suspended against a white page like 'Oblique I' and 'Oblique II'. While others like 'Lilith's Wing' and 'Transmigration' are unitary stand-alone stanzas.  Many titles project a techno- avant-garde feel such as 'Emoticon', 'Opascule', 'Neutrality' or 'Parataxis' while others refer the terminology of mythico-mystical Judaism: 'Dybbuk', 'Shekhinah', 'Apocrypha', 'Shevirah', 'Balaam' reminding us that, as explained in About The Author, Harris specialised in the history of the hermeneutics of religion writing a dissertation on The Zohar,
the thirteenth century quasi-Arabic kabbalistic text known as The Book of Splendour attributed the Moses De Leon.

In a radio broadcast of 1936 W B Yeats noted that, while TS Eliot was the most 'revolutionary' poet of his lifetime, his work represented a form of revolution that was 'stylistic alone', a product of the pessimism engendered by the First World War. Previous generations had rejected Victorian moral fervour in favour of Decadence and Aestheticism; the interwar generation marked a return to a new seriousness, matched by stylistic 'innovation'. The paradox being that 'radical' modernist techniques were now deployed in the service of various moral critiques of contemporary society typical of Calvinists, Greek Stoics, dour Roman Republicans, Hebrew Prophets and other prim ascetics. In the last century Conservative critics and Cultural Marxists alike tended to agree that contemporary life is dominated by a shallow narcissism, a hollow consumerism and the cult of celebrity. Now in the twenty-first century this fallen world has become a post-modern nightmare of emergent hyper-culture, of trans-national casino capitalism and of global mass media electronica. According the Baudrillard the hyper-real is best exemplified by virtual reality, a 'third order simulation' generated by mathematics and computer code, a cyber-model of existence disconnected from actual reality; a world of dead souls enmeshed in hyperlinks, as explored in many of Harris' poems that voice the angst and introspection of a new species: Dostoyevsky's Underground Man takes a ride with the Taxi Driver.

For Benedix Harris' most extended 'elucidation of the hyperreal world we occupy' is the poem entitled 'The Latecomer'; a treatise on 'the endless ways we have sold our souls, given in to the seductions of power and fame, to the sound of our own voices, given up on our longing for the sacred, on the possibility for connection...'  This infernal hyperreality is often defined by mere soundbites or false messianic fantasies of redemption. 'Akiba feared the moral nebulae and died believing General Bar Kokhba was messiah' ('Transmigration'). Thus Hyperlinks of Anxiety illustrates Yeats's point about Eliot. This volume is an elegant, poetical exercise where postmodern linguistic style and experimental forms are utilised in the service of an  ancient, 'prophetic' message of redemption; a vatic spirit of mysticism that flows throughout history, and by virtue of which, in an indeterminate space 'between' the hyperlinks, lost souls may regain connection with the real (i.e. sacred) through an experience of the 'deepest intimacy'.

For Harris 'spirit is the last hope' and through a transcendental interpretation of the faculty of hearing ('Our ears are caverns reaching to the roots of the spirit') we may, perhaps, amidst our resignation and anxiety understand - by some intervention of grace - that the 'world is open/and waiting for us./ We see it better now with our ears'. The soul of the reader may find meaning in breathing the pure life of the spirit: perhaps an epiphany can be attained through an experience of dread some poets may call Anxiety.

     A.C. Evans 2013