At this year’s Modern Language Association Convention in Seattle (January 9-12, 2020), I will be speaking on a round table discussing Bad Books. I have included the information about the panel and a tentative abstract for the paper I will be presenting below.
338. Bad Books
Friday, January 10, 2020, 1:45-3:00 pm, 617 (WSCC)
Presiding: Eric Loy
1. “Notes on Notes on Notes: Glenn Ligon Reads James Baldwin,” Paul Benzon (Skidmore C)
2. “Books Behaving Badly: The Raison d’Être behind Perec’s La Disparition,” Priya Wadhera (Adelphi U)
3. “Debilitated Forms and Forms of Debility: On Writing a Failed Book,” Sharon Tran (U of Maryland Baltimore County)
4. “The Space of Megatexts: ‘Reading’ Mark Leach’s Marienbad My Love,” Bradley J. Fest (Hartwick C)
The Space of Megatexts: “Reading” Mark Leach’s Marienbad My Love
At over seventeen million words and consisting of seventeen volumes printed in dense eight-point font, the second edition of Mark Leach’s Marienbad My Love (2008; 2nd ed., 2013) currently holds the record as the world’s longest novel and is what I have elsewhere called a megatext. Composed over the course of thirty years using a number of digital techniques, the result is one of the more spatially imposing works of literature to ever sit on a shelf. Because of this, it also appears that no one has really bothered to read it. Whether this is due to some prejudice against self-publication or critics’ perceptions of authorial vanity, the sheer unreadable size of the text has discouraged anyone from taking Leach’s work all that seriously. I believe this is a mistake and this paper aims to seriously consider a remarkable project that rebelliously pushes against the conceptual, temporal, and physical boundaries of the codex novel. The revisions made to the second edition of the text indicate that not only does Leach intend for people to actually read his book, but also that Marienbad My Love is in fact a complex theoretical statement about the novel in the digital age and a meditation on the present and future of literary writing. In this paper, I will argue that accounting for Marienbad My Love’s material size by finding ways to speculatively (and actually) read this unreadable text will encourage us to rethink how we theorize the novel in the twenty-first century.
For previous essays of mine on megatexts and unreadable texts, see:
“Toward a Theory of the Megatext: Speculative Criticism and Richard Grossman’s ‘Breeze Avenue Working Paper.'”
“Reading Now and Again: Hyperarchivalism and Democracy in Ranjan Ghosh and J. Hillis Miller’s Thinking Literature across Continents.”
“Writing Briefly about Really Big Things.”
“The Megatext and Neoliberalism.”
“The Time of Megatexts: Dark Accumulation and Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar.”
I made another appearance on The Jabsteps podcast filling in for Salvatore Pane in episode 116: “The Review of LeBron, Inc. with Dr. Bradley J. Fest.” Geoff Peck and I talk about Brian Windhorst’s new book, LeBron, Inc.: The Making of a Billion-Dollar Athlete (New York: Grand Central, 2019). For our previous review of Brian Windhorst and and Dave McMenamin’s book, Return of the King (2017), check out episode 57, “Jabsteps Book Review with Dr. Brad Fest! Return of the King (LeBron not Tolkien).”
Dan Malinowksi and I are organizing a session, “Postwar Variations,” at the 2020 meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association in Chicago, IL, March 19-22, and invite the submission of abstracts through the ACLA portal. Here is the call for papers:
This seminar will take as its starting point the appeal of the injunction on Frank O’Hara’s tombstone to “live as variously as possible” for writers of the last seventy years. Variation enchants and exhausts. It points to difference, but difference contained recognizably within the bounds of a stable point or concept. Variation resists boredom, but it does so without necessarily extending (or losing) the connotations that mark other descriptions of difference: revolution, disruption, development, progress, etc. Variation, then, is an odd demand and one that can characterize aesthetic contexts as well as historical ones.
Variation takes many forms in postwar literature. From Bernadette Mayer’s sonnets to John Keene’s revisionist history, writers have shifted recognizable forms and histories into new forms for different aesthetic and political purposes during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Not limited to the avant-garde, variation has also been at home in mass culture during this period, evidenced by contemporary cultural formations such as the fourth remake of A Star is Born (2019) or the masses of fan fiction hosted on anarchiveofourown.org. In the tech world, Mark Zuckerberg’s now-infamous credo, “Move fast and break things,” has revealed itself to be a variation on an older form of capitalist accumulation rather than the radical change it originally purported to be. On a larger scale, Giovanni Arrighi’s work has demonstrated the periods of accumulation that structure capitalism vary in context if not form. In short, variation cuts in multiple directions and appears central to any understanding of the later twentieth century and its developments.
Given this, how is variation to be understood? What is the appeal of variation for writers from 1945 until today? How can variation be spotted? What does it mean to be “varied”? What does aesthetic variation do for our conceptions of aesthetic form, politics, or reception? How might we (continue to) theorize variation in the digital age? This seminar invites papers that variously engage with the topic of variation in post-1945 literary and cultural production.
Please submit 150-250 word abstracts with a brief bio through ACLA portal by September 23, 2019. Please contact Dan Malinowski at email@example.com or Bradley J. Fest at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
This fall, my third at Hartwick College, and as 2019-20 Winifred D. Wandersee Scholar in Residence, I’ll be teaching just one class, ENGL 312 Intermediate Poetry Workshop. Here’s the syllabus.
Honored to have the poems “Blason I,” “Blason II,” and “Blason III” in Queen Mob’s Teahouse. These are the first published poems from a brand new project endeavoring to see everyday objects anew by mediating their perception through lenses of poetic and cultural influence. (Former students may recognize in these my own answers to a question I sometimes pose on the first day of class.)
I had the privilege of meeting Richard Siken when I was quite young–an undergraduate at the University of Arizona–and he gave me lots of good advice on the poetry world (and life), conversations I still cherish. Please help him out.
Stroke Recovery Fund for Poet Richard Siken.
Nuclear and Environmental
Alenka Zupančič, “The Apocalypse Is (Still) Disappointing.”
James Livingston, “Time, Dread, Apocalypse Now.
Ted Nordhaus, “The Empty Radicalism of the Climate Apocalypse.”
Jessica Hurley and Dan Sinykin, eds., Apocalypse, special issue of ASAP/Journal.
Brad Plumer, “Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace.”
Damian Carrington, “Why The Guardian Is Changing the Language It Uses about the Environment.”