After ‘After the Final No’: A Review of “Anthropica” by David Hollander

"Anthropica" cover

A work of art that takes as its titular subject the premise that the ability of humans to observe the universe is inherent in the universe’s being at all would seem either to be completely theoretical as a fiction or a work so mind-bogglingly dense and self-reflexive it would preclude access to all but an elite few.  Luckily, Anthropica by David Hollander rids itself of this problem by embracing paradox to astounding effect.

Can something be both economical and complex?  For instance, say a Hungarian academic discovers that humans live in what he refers to as “an anthropic matrix.” Perhaps because he studied Heideggar or perhaps because life is pain (his favorite scene in film is Agent Smith’s  “human’s are viruses” monolog from The Matrix) the academic recruits four key players to his aim of destroying said anthropica: a novelist, a scientist, a mathematician/elite Ultimate player, and a late-stage “locked in” sufferer of ALS. Each contains within themselves a dimension to bring about the end of “anthropica,” namely by freeing three sapient robots imprisoned in the confines of a military research center in South Korea.  By the way, the novelist in question is apparently writing a version of the novel we’re reading, which itself may be being (re)written by one of the robots (The Great and Powerful Fexo – find Fexo on Twitter).

The result reads as a philosophico-apocalyptic sci-fi pastiche whose mechanisms recall in no particular order David Foster Wallace, James Joyce, and Stanislaw Lem. The economy with which Hollander culminates these threads, something shy of 500 pages, into a semblance of narrative order speaks to his technical ability while literally asking of the reader, in something set up as a question of observability, is it enough? and will you stick around to find out? and if you don’t is the rest moot?

The paradox of self: Hollander’s techniques are representative of high-end early 2000s metafiction though that is less an indictment than a simple observation: breathy 200-word sentences accordioned with terse often fragmented phrases, dialog between the three robots, Fexo, Kuzo, and Jaro in the form of a script, interrogations written in the Q&A style where the questions are redacted and only to be inferred from the answers.  If we are an amalgam of others and others’ techniques, is there anything new to be gleaned?  If self is a field created by all that has come before is the result itself indicative of any kind of future or already a relic?

The paradox of the other: Characters are only interested in each other for sex or love.  Men are only interested in glory or fucking.  Women only in men.  The one mighty exception to this premise “pens” the prologue to the novel wherein is contained a condemnation to the press that published the physical object we hold (see?)  Given that the narrative is so expertly woven, why would the people inhabiting it behave so stereotypically of an age an educated readership has come to scorn?  Have we spent those 500 pages being told we are living in the past?  Or worse, have we spent our time merely aiming for apocalypse?  If neither, what can we say about the exposed wiring in the walls, the well wrought gags, visual, cerebral, and linguistic, the passages whose intent (successfully, if you’re along for the ride) is to move one to tears?

Equal parts philosophically frustrating and fictively joyous, replete with enough external references to make the reader wink and howl, full of enough wit to pack a season’s worth of cartoons on Adult Swim, Anthropica both entertains and enlightens.  To paraphrase Stanislaw Lem’s great constructors of fame: Sometimes humans build robots and sometimes robots build humans.  Who we wink at and who winks back amidst all that we lose (i.e. from a cave below a ruined world hiding from the Iron Giant, Bender, and the robot on the cover of Queen’s News of the World) seems to be the great questions at the heart of Anthropica.  With all its dangling wires and exposed circuits Hollander provides a way out of the matrix that does not require Armageddon.


by David Hollander
Animal Riot Press; 502 p.

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