Searching for Self

When Daniel Harris, the executive director of the Hillel Foundation of Orange County, read and discussed excerpts from his poetry book, Hyperlinks of Anxiety, at a lecture called “Post-Digital American Jewish Poetry” at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), several elements of synergy were evident.

Of the book, Harris said, “Technology and hyperreality meet Judaic midrash and Bibical exegesis in stanzas which seek to create a human being from the refuse of bandwidth.”  Simply put, the poetry of the post-digital age may take months to write, but it gets published spontaneously – often accepted and published online immediately – and then read by the reader in 11 seconds.  “You don’t put the reader in one place for too long, because he can’t stay there,” Harris explained.  “Poetic language deserves a layer of complexity but not like that of Shakespeare or Milton.”

According to Harris, “People are obsessively concerned with identity.  There is an insufferable desire to be understood but honor what has come before.  The danger is that we could be living in a vacuum of platitudes where everything is cliché.”

To keep things interesting, Harris mixes the language of technology with the language of kabbalah and infuses an “American sense of optimism” in his poetry.  He blends a wide array of literary styles while trying to keep everything in balance and attempting to “search for a tiny speck of self in tiny things.”  He wants to maintain a certain level of anxiety while keeping everything in balance.

The book, he said, is “a golemic body” that tries to create a person out of words.  The message is that even with the vastness of technology, poetry creates a space for the spirit.

In addition to Hyperlinks of Anxiety, Harris is also the author of Paul Celan and the Messiah’s Broken Levered Tongue and Unio Mystica.  A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, his poetry, experimental writing, art and essays have been published in various journals.

Harris’s lecture was the first of four winter 2013 events to be held by the Jewish Studies department at UCI.  The others are Shira Klein of Chapman University speaking on “More Italian than Mussolini: Italian Jews from Emancipation to World War II” (February 20), Monique Balbuena of the University of Oregon speaking on “Poetry in Ladino Today: New Verse in an Old Language” (March 6) and Jason Mokhtarian of Indiana University speaking on “The Talmud in Ancient Iran: The Rabbis and Persian Priests in a Judicial Context” (March 11).

Therein lies another piece of synergy: the obvious chemistry between UCI’s Jewish Studies department and Hillel.  “Even esoteric topics have drawn people” to the Jewish Studies program, according to its chair, Matthias Lehmann.  He and Harris are working together to engage Jewish students on campus, while Lehmann seeks to reach other students as well.

The broader outreach is to the community, which enables people to explore the campus and learn about the offerings of the Jewish Studies program.  Many more lectures and conferences are coming, Lehmann said.

For more information on Jewish Studies events, please visit www.humanities.uci.edu/jewishstudies/events.

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