Is it Real, or is it Hyperreal?: Lee Ann Roripaugh on Thierry Brunet’s Waste

Waste, Thierry Brunet, BlazeVOX [books]

Is it Real, or is it Hyperreal? might well be the idée fixe, the recurring che vuoi?, in Thierry Brunet’s first full-length volume of poetry, Waste. In the postmodern, Baudrillardian hyperscape of Brunet’s collection, the constructedness of language, art, and identity is melismatically unraveled in a “deconstruction fugue” all the way down to the level of the virtual grapheme: the 0’s and 1’s of binary code. From these building blocks of Binhex configurations—a DNA code for the hyperreal, if you will—bits of found text, fractured signs, and other cultural detritus washed upon the cyber-shore of the virtual tideland are reappropriated, reconstituted, and collaged into a phantasmagoric double-helix of cryptically unnerving poems that are full of strange glitter, verve, and wit.

These poems are cyborgian in composition, and—as is often the case with cyborgs—they aspire toward, or evince an oddly poignant nostalgia for, the real and/or the human. In “Nucleus,” for example:

Each time I chicane
the emblem
to frisk the regosol
of her nucleus

I should confront another day in the world.

Or, similarly, in the ending lines of “Voyage”: “My doppelganger / a guMMY bear / who gave me the sensation of being touched.” And, in “Infoglut”:

ENDGAME status

what’s left of my heart after your
recurrent twittering?

a muted mechanism that knows no pardon


the s.p.i.d.e.r of the infoglut

Throughout Waste, the reader is held captive, but also captivated, in a constantly recycling vortex of disembodied signs at play that both parody and reify the hysterical reproduction of simulated stimuli. Saturated and enmeshed, the reader recognizes the exchange of familiar bits of simulacra—thus making the poems teasingly hint at the possibility of a sort of postmodern cultural representation as well as simulation. At the same time, the reader is constantly reminded that if the postmodern cultural condition is all simulation, then the former dialectic of representation and real is no longer valid/in place, and that, as per Baudrillard, the real is dead—or, at best, no longer real.

In this place of cracked semiotics, code is broken open but there is no meaningful answer, solution, or key. Discourses of desire in consumer commodity fetish culture replace reality, and mourning for the real ensues, as well as nostalgia for myth. Numbed by a barrage of simulated stimuli recited in a hypnotically anaphoric list, Jack ultimately pines for the Batsignal, for example, in the concluding lines of “Batsignal”:

All sentimental lures
and traded privacy
made Jack a dull boy

All 36G juggs in Truecolor
and fortunate lovers
made Jack a dull boy

All heavy dollops of providence
and unforeseen consequences
made Jack a dull boy

All kissograms
and soggy hearts
made Jack a dull boy

All supermarket blissfulness
and breast-feeding disclosure
made Jack a dull boy

All Zoloft gourmets
and dopamine pushers
made Jack a dull boy

All museum loneliness despite DSL connections
and Boolean moans
made Jack a dull boy

All automatic delusional disorder
and euphoric entities in mutual relation
made Jack a dull boy

All blue-blooded guillotines
and mnemonic devices for ayatollahs
made Jack a dull boy

All Cordilleran rifting west of Chino Valley
and negligible masses
made Jack a dull boy

All latex dementia
and Munchausen syndrome by proxy
made Jack a dull boy

Modern deco sofa
Single origin mocha
La-la land condo

A larger life is lethal

in the conglomerate evening
Jack pines for the Batsignal

The prevalence of scientific and mathematical metaphors throughout the poems invite us to consider Brunet’s virtual world as both scientifically/mathematically constructed from binary code, but also paradoxically organic in its evolutionary developmental processes: cellular, genetic, viral, etc. In other words, distinction between constructed simulacra and the real are blurred, clearly evoking Baudrillard’s definition of the hyperreal.

The paradoxical relationships of language, art, and identity to the real are likewise interrogated. The constructed nature of language is underscored through disrupting words with periods between letters or unexpected capitalizations, and popping them out of context through the use of italics or boldface. Art, too, emerges as a process of recycling empty signs without referents. “Napalm,” for example, opens with the lines: “Based on digital bypass / the poem is / absent / hidden in full circle / alphabet /to fill the void and / take the shine / off their bliss / bin100101 / 1010 / 1010 / 101 / 01 / 0”. Similarly, identity as a performed construction, a collage, is a theme in numerous poems, perhaps most explicitly in a poem titled “Identikit”—a title that may allude to, in part, facial recognition software that creates a face through layering and assembling various features:

Soon all places will be cleared out squares
unfair riots versus hacks of regression

[if you fancy something a little different I discovered
this fantastic creation in my freezer
is this a m.y.t.h]

Guardians of the compatible ethics
paying no respects to my encrypted ego

[more than 15 000 rounds have been fired there is another boom
on the r.i.s.e
do you sleep badly because you worry about things
is it a spoiled s.e.c.r.e.t or a retrieval exclusion]

Disembodied voices giggling on demand
identikit disaster exposed by generative strife

[to sum up my experience what Jia Li had in her brochure
was correct if you put in the effort you will have fantastic results
Thank you Jia Li
is it a SMS from the attic or the latest bukkake theme song]

Part 2 of Waste consists of an extended poem sequence that makes these ideas further manifest, as a “Gordion worm” rises, Phoenix-like, from the Binhex ashes of culture and history. Or perhaps it evolves organically from the genetic protoplasm of 0’s and 1’s? Or perhaps it is a ghost in the machine? A minotaur in the labyrinth? A cyborgian Frankenstein? A postmodern ouroboros? The same intriguing complexities and paradoxes prevail in this second section, and are underscored by the visual tension created by seemingly hand-drawn/human-made letters embedded within and rising from extended strings of code. Is the “Gordion worm” a parasite or virus that disrupts and transgresses? Or is it something that has itself been parasitized and is now trapped in the matrix? Is it a melancholically-echoed myth or a misunderstood monster? Is it Pygmalion or sculpture? The writer or the text? Spiraling into a labyrinth of increasingly-long strings of alphanumeric code, the poem sequence concludes: “keen struggle for / existence / or neo-dust / burst? . . . / no more geography / in my bones / only / transgression”.

Even while tangling with semiotic and philosophical complexities, these crisp blips of poems sizzle with quick-witted electricity. A trickster or rascal sensibility is felt to be at play here as the surreal trades fours with the hyperreal. As in “Ambition,” Brunet’s poems do somersaults in Mobius configurations, and deliriously and pleasurably careen between déjà vu and déjà mort, between jouissance and vertigo . . . and ultimately back to jouissance again:

I never had
any ambition

except maybe

the day I died

thinking up

a tiny bomb
of merriment

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