Hyperlinks of Anxiety
Daniel Y. Harris
Cervena Barva Press
In his latest collection, Hyperlinks of Anxiety, Daniel Y. Harris serves as Virgilian guide, muse, and interlocutor, offering an ever-engaging commentary on contemporary life while making impressive use of complex metaphors drawn from psychology, philosophy, and a wide range of religious texts.
The term “hyperlink” immediately offers metaphysical implications, suggesting omnidirectional movement and positing the existence of a fundamental interconnectedness; metaphorically speaking, the hyperlink implies that existence occurs in a context of inherent or at least possible union (cf. Harris’s chapbook, Unio Mystica). Harris, however, is not making an argument for Essentialism. Enamored with ideas, Harris is even more enamored with the inherent poetry and drama of ideas. Also, in his own way, Harris has been deeply influenced by and thoroughly absorbed the techno-dystopian zeitgeist that pervades much of contemporary thought, literature, and pop culture.
Reading Harris’s far-reaching and complex work, questions quickly arise: Is the hyperlink ultimately an access point to a transcendent and immutable essence (Substance or God) or simply an illusory endpoint in and of itself? To stretch the metaphor to the realm of human psychology, is mystical union with a source possible or is what we have come to refer to as Petrarchan yearning, characterized by desire for that which is inevitably and irrevocably missing, the best we can hope for? Are our lives inevitably virtual and impersonal, infected, much like compromised documents, by a proliferative virus of cultural, conventional, and transpersonal anxiety? And who are we if we can’t claim with certitude to be experiencing what we think we are experiencing? Furthermore, who is it who/that experiences? At what point does the virtual become more real than that which it purportedly represents?
From the first poem, “Confessions of a Blogger,” we see Harris addressing the notion of contemporary identity:
Add a mix of theurgy
and hyperlink to neuts of gramme—I spin
henosis in blogland: neurons
in the wet gauze
of def, spores of tag—the zot in the stasis
of the Web…
Harris yokes the supernatural or mystical (“theurgy”) with the technical (“hyperlink,” “neuts of gramme”), suggesting that union and identity (“henosis”) occur, ultimately, in a virtual (“blogland”) domain. He goes on to explore the changing nature of relationship, writing
for countless others probing
the Net for my name—
me numbered, me squared
to a thousand and one
nights of the boolean me….
Here again identity is presented as a “countless” phenomenon, the “name” simply a vehicle or sign via which one accesses or links to a permutating function of the virtual, a “numbered and squared” version of an indefinable and perhaps inaccessible origin. The reference to “boolean” implies that even given the complexity of “the Net”—or perhaps due to the complexity of “the Net,” itself a metonymy for the techno-infused dissociative labyrinth of modern life—simplicity prevails in the human realms of ethics, morals, emotion, and cognition. Amidst a contemporary plethora of information and virtual options, interpretation in real time is navigated inchoately. The complexity of the parameters (“the Net”) has bred a counter-tendency towards the primitive and over-simplified, in terms of response. The “boolean me” is true or false, this or that, rigidly and reductively disjunctive, and grossly one-dimensional. In the face of a virtual reality that proliferates exponentially, human response has, ironically, regressed towards a more primal orientation, a facile polarization of possibilities, narrowing reliance on expedient and dismissive categorizations. Harris continues:
…linkrot of vanity
shaping me as helicoid
in search of myself—to break
me, pulp my savage accent,
my hack-herd packing words
in viruses with a thin
The poem concludes with a manifesto regarding the inevitable transmogrification of identity. The “hyperlink” is now referred to as a “linkrot of vanity,” a portal into the nullity of both the “search for myself” and the obfuscation or at least elusiveness of anything remotely personal or not part of a “hack-herd,” where “words” are “packed” into a “virus” characterized by the “mdash,” itself a truncation, non sequitur of sorts, a portal into a void or abyss, an infinitely proliferative limbo. Identity has been reduced to pure commercialism, mass packaging and production, a clonal and tautological construct, the “link” a black hole imploding into itself.
In a subsequent poem titled “I,” Harris again conjures the context of the pervasively deconstructive virtual and continues to explore what it means to “search for [self].” He writes,
am hypertext, timpani of digits, remain
landed in chips, sites, fissures, soft as code
The poem is written in the first person and is, in part, a personal lamentation regarding the elusive nature of identity and the phenomenon of personal suffering; however, Harris is ultimately a poet-philosopher, rather than a Confessionalist, and his voice addresses the “I” of humanity, the “I” of Life or Eros itself, perhaps even the “I” of God. Can we say that God exceeds material reality, or are God and material reality tantamount (confluence of pantheism and nihilism), existence itself characterized by dispensability, recyclability, and ephemerality? Is God yet another aspect of the virtual (also a subset, aspect, or extension of the material), perhaps the gestalt of the virtual, but a gestalt that oxymoronically fails to exceed the sum of its parts? Milton and the later Romantics (British and American) would appreciate Harris’s inquiry as would William Gibson, the creators of The Matrix, and aficionados of the Steampunk and Cyberpunk genres.
In the later and epic “Thade the Dystopian,” Harris writes, channeling metaphysics through Thade,
I put my hands on my omentum and pray for what can save
a life from the urgency of dead referents….
But again, is it possible to be saved from, to transcend the “dead referents”? Perhaps with a hint of satire, Harris goes on to ponder whether the “urgency” mentioned is not perhaps the saving grace of our existence. Illusion though it may be, perhaps the “urgency of dead referents” is what gets us up in the morning. Harris/Thade proceeds to suggest, “Ciphers want to be deciphered.” And, “No closure, symbol, exergue, opening at the city center….” The poem concludes much as it begins: “…my name is Thade…just/Thade, extending a hand.” Identity is, again, tautological, a repetitive indicator pointing towards and imploding into its own nullity.
Harris has absorbed his Plato, Spinoza, and Locke, as well as a wide range of Eastern and Western religious texts, but he’s also ingested and transmuted Derrida, Foucault, Bronk, Ashbery, and the spirit of contemporary science fiction, represented most vividly by the development of technology and its central role in our lives. Harris writes in “Fire and Name (Version #3)”:
Extinction burns its ruined
force without insult given
or injury taken. It is its own
accuser and master, in wit bereft
of quick, overhearing names.
Existence is impersonal, operating without design, in contrast to the Greek depiction of Fate as associated with a pantheon of mercurial and easily offended Gods and Goddesses. Existence “burns” without discrimination, without intending “insult” or “taking injury.” This is not the palpable and visceral Eros we encounter in the Greek myths but, rather, a post-industrial, post-techno portrayal of a drier, more disinterested, perhaps even randomly dutiful energy, the prompting of which seems to occur without discernible method, the ongoing regression of a deist-like Primal Cause.
Harris proclaims that existence is its own “accuser [and] master,” suggesting that existence itself unfolds according to the dictates of an inherent anxiety (or ambivalence), governed by a cosmological virus of doubt as well as the counter-equivalent of an evolutionary certitude, one alternatingly compensating for the other. And perhaps our own anxiety—what we might stretch to interpret as original sin—occurs as a byproduct or extension of this fundamental energy. What we dub human psychology is tantamount to the nature of existence itself. It is impossible, therefore, to anthropomorphize, is fallacious to suggest that something akin to human nature exists in any primary or non-derivative form. The notion of anthropomorphizing is itself founded on a collective grandiosity, presumptuousness, and intergenerational hubris.
Of particular interest is Harris’s statement that existence is “bereft/of quick,” “quick” constituting a reference to the living or the life force. This is a remarkable paradox, one that will clearly appeal to readers with a bent for portraits of dystopianism a la Philip Dick. If existence is devoid of life, what then is its chief characteristic? What is existence, an after-the-fact, a program devoid of programming, a randomness that occurs neither randomly nor with set design, but perhaps according to the dictates of both, alternately in complement (teleology) and opposition (sabotage)?
Harris ambitiously explores many issues and moves in numerous interrelated directions throughout his landmark Hyperlinks of Anxiety. At the core of his striking and memorable poems are inquiries into human identity and experience as well as metaphysical investigations into the nature of existence itself. Is Harris a nihilist? What we might call a material pantheist? Again, Harris is not taking a fixed philosophic position, and it is not necessary for us to assign him one. He is ultimately a poetic gadfly; offering possibilities, evoking and provoking, rather than promulgating a perspective, is his chief task. The range and scope of his work are compelling as are the complexity, integrality, and originality of his metaphors and references. Harris celebrates the music, history, and sublimity of thought. His work constitutes a true fete, the heart responding most fervently when the mind is also deeply engaged.