on fire. His astonishing poem ‘Break’ opens with the speaker’s attempt to revive a dead tree by feeding it with coffee grounds. This gesture of emptying out as part of a cycle of nourishment, a work of faith more than hope, leads into a reflection on what it might mean to be ‘fine’ while being ‘on a break’ from one’s beloved. The stanza seems to carry out the digestion, or diffusion, of the steam and bitterness of yesterday’s coffee, along with unreported conversations. Primarily it records an openness to processes of transformation. The second stanza cites the Book of Job, Sharon Olds, and jazz ‘breaks’. This compound music of breakage accompanies the speaker saying ‘I’m aware of / something in me broken. That doesn’t mean unhappy’. The third and final stanza explores the break as in-betweenness:
You slip into the break and look around, see past and future,
love and sickness rearranged. Reordered. You feel yourself both whole and breached. As me you. As you do.
Pronouns disturb each other’s territory in this syntax, so that being and doing, self and other, are in an unwonted state of intimacy and change. The poem concludes with trans-human tenderness, wondering about the consciousness of dying dogs, and whether it’s ‘like daylight breaking through an open door’. Not seeking likeness, Harris neither enforces nor condemns integration. By embracing absence, he embraces presence and loss. Without figuring internal adjustment as imposed, or external change as disastrous, his tearless yet vulnerable poetics of patience moves from heat to light, coming around to dawn.
Analog Sea and the Pixelated Madness
R e p o r t s /
M o r p u r g o
‘Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it’, wrote Max Frisch in 1957. In an essay published only after his death in 2015, Oliver Sacks reflected on the ubiquitous use of smartphones in his New York neighbourhood. He foresaw ‘a neurological catastrophe’ as the reflexes of a generation with ‘no immunity to the seductions of digital life’ are conditioned in this way. Two Norwegian reports, recently cited by Will Self, studied the effect of social media use on the ability to ‘lose oneself’ in long-form prose narrative. They suggested that Homo virtualis is already with us: ‘I can see’, wrote Self, ‘no future for words printed on paper… if our civilisation continues on this digital trajectory’.
The Analog Sea Review, founded in 2018 by the poet Jonathan Simons, is part of an ‘offline publishing house and institute’. It offers ‘life-sustaining counter-measures to the pixelated madness’. The above quotations all come from work that has appeared in its pages. It is published in English but in Freiburg. The Central European atmosphere of its content extends also to its elegant hardback design. ‘When you express yourself, use the things around you’, wrote Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet. ‘If your everyday life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself; tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.’
Analog Sea faces the worst about the likely prospect of ‘downgraded humans misusing upgraded computers to wreak havoc on themselves and the world’. It turns to poets and artists, living and dead, to novelists, physicists, psychoanalysts, film-makers and philosophers, not only for their views on the pixelated madness, but for hints on how our relationship to primary experience could be restored.
Novelty of course has always been the internet’s chief promise and selling point. Are we too quick to take that novelty on trust? There are longer stories to tell in which the internet is neither as new nor as exciting as its marketing people would relentlessly have us believe. It represents an acceleration of that tendency described by Guy Debord, half a century ago, which he called ‘the spectacle’. Part of Analog Sea’s 2019 edition was devoted to Debord’s current relevance.
The spectacle is the reign of personalities, ‘news’, commodified art, a reign of appearances under which no ‘central question’ can any longer be posed. It is the power of all this to hold us spellbound. It controls our lives by reconstituting us as passive spectators, so long as we remain ignorant of it. Dextrously, it determines how we relate both to the life going on around us and within us. It is the ‘ruling order’s defence’: it serves capitalist structures by acting as the veil which conceals them even as it distracts us.
If ‘the entertaining celebrity is a capitalist robot’, as the philosopher Donald Kuspit has more recently argued, then what is the country which elects such a robot to highest office? Debord’s answer was neither scream nor shrug. It was the ‘dérive’: literally, ‘drifting’, a reinvention of the way we engage with our surroundings so as to subvert this omnipresent ‘ideology of trade’.
In developing his idea, Debord drew on the Surrealists, the Romantics and the Baroque, as well as from the Age of Chivalry and its traditions of the long journey of adventure and discovery. He affirmed, in other words, a rich vocabulary of pre-spectacular dissent on which we might still be drawing. There’s a reason we are encouraged at every turn to play down the past while we cry up the Novelty.
‘Industrial societies turn their citizens into image junkies’, Susan Sontag wrote in On Photography (1977), ‘it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution.’ The
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