ENGLIT 0570: American Liteary Traditions

Today marks the beginning of a new school year, and it is one I am very much looking forward to, as I’ve designed the course I’m teaching, “American Literary Traditions,” subtitled, “The American Disaster: 21st C. Perspectives,” specifically around many of the avenues I’m exploring in a dissertation-type way right now.  As such, I assume I will occasionally be posting on the progress of this course over the next year, and thought I’d provide the reading list for the fall semester:

Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 2nd ed., trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995 [1986]).

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (New York: Vintage, 1953).

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (Norton Critical Edition), 2nd Ed., eds. Hershel Parker & Harrison Hayford (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2002).

The Shock Doctrine (Matt Whitecross, Michael Winterbottom & Naomi Klein, 2009).

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (New York: Back Bay Books, 1996).

Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (New York: Verso, 2002).

It is an ambitious, and slightly idiosyncratic class, but I hope it proves challenging, thought-provoking, and fun for both my students and I.  We’re watching a documentary adaptation of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine this first week, followed by reading Zizek’s book on 9/11 and Maurice Blanchot the following weeks, that’s before we even get to the three massive novels.  I can’t wait to see how it all goes down.

Prelude to Cataclysm (An Addendum): What ELSE Happens When Bartleby Inhabits the World of Warcraft

A few months ago I posted a lengthy entry on a small socio-political experiment I performed in the turgid world of MMORPGs, “Prelude to Cataclysm: What Happens When Bartleby Inhabits the World of Warcraft.” Needless to say, this writing marked a kind of terminus in my experience of Azeroth.  I have been more-or-less entirely absent from WoW since then, but for whatever reason last night I got a burr in my nose and re-visited Thescrivener.[1] As before, I did nothing but hit the number 8, uttering “I would prefer not to.”  (There were also a few variations of this general statement.  What they might have been will become apparent.)  The evening turned out to be disturbing, upsetting, vile, and depressing.

To put it as simply as possible: the political exigencies of a fictional character created by one of the most impressive American writers of the 19th C., when actually explored, turn out to have been perhaps over-stated by some of the very impressive thinkers of the late 20th C.  (Again, see above link.)

To put it even more simply: when Bartleby inhabits the World of Warcraft she gets raped.  Repeatedly.

Last night I made Thescrivener sit in the AH doorway, uttering “I would prefer not to” on occasion, and quite quickly another character came along and began dancing right on top of her.  This would have been funny/fairly innocuous, if not for the fact that a) he was basically rubbing his crotch in her face, simulating fellatio, and b) that this character’s actions were picked up by some less savory folk.  (He disappeared, and I regret, esp. considering what happened afterward, not paying more attention to who he was initially.)  Taking a cue from this man, one Eroza,[2] a female toon (but clearly a male player), proceeded to rub her crotch in my face on and off for well over an hour.  Following this, a whole group of players (see n.2 below), for a really obscenely extended period of time, took turns, well (there’s no easier/less-blunt way to put this), fucking Thescrivener’s face.

The following is some of the dialogue from these unsavory folks:

“I think she’s a keeper.”

“She’s not much of a talker. . . she’ll be too busy w/ this.”  (“This” should of course be obvious.)

“Yes, not polite to talk w/ your mouth full.”

“kk.”  (Slang for okay.)

“Who’s next?”[3]

I am in no way claiming I was raped, nor do I feel like I was raped, but Thescrivener was repeatedly.  And statements like, “I would prefer not to be raped,” and “I would prefer not to give you fellatio,” were not only ignored but laughed at.

Sure, these acts were vile, obscene, wrong, disturbing, and ultimately depressing.  And of course who could expect anything more from people playing WoW, probably teenagers getting their rocks off.  But it does reveal something quite profound about “humanity,” I feel.  Namely, that rape and other violations are assuredly a possible outcome of a Bartlebian stance.  The fact that I was able to maintain the purity of this stance—i.e. I said/did nothing other than expressing my preference not to do what I was being forced to do—leads, quite logically, to horror.  (One can easily extend this in all sorts of hyperbolic ways.)  And though this is assuredly something I considered initially, I was blinded by the politico-theoretical questions posed by the Bartlebian stance to see how Thescrivener could actually be treated in “reality.”  In other words, w/o many people mobilizing to enact Bartleby, a lone Bartleby will be submitted to tortures of whatever imaginable kind, simply b/c people can.  The question then may very well be, how is Bartleby simply not a perfect object for unadulterated sadism?

And this is a question I’m frankly too unnerved to answer, as I woke up this morning profoundly doubting humanity capable of much else beyond rapacious horror.  Kurtz was right.  When you confront the hard kernel of the Real, there is nothing else to say then simply acknowledge it w/ the phrase: “The horror.  The horror.”

Don’t get me wrong, I realize WoW is virtual, a simulation, and that one of its attractions is that people can enact all sorts of fantasmatic desires they can’t in “real” life (like killing hordes of goblins/trolls/zombies/etc.).  But at the end of the day, there are still humans on the other side of the screen doing things to other humans.  The simple fact that these acts have no consequences (legal or otherwise) should in no manner lessen the brutality of the experience.  If anything, it should make it worse.  For if we take the famous Assassin at his word, “nothing is true, everything is permitted,”  then WoW is the hyper-extension of this truth.  It doesn’t, however, mean that we should take the Assassin at his word.  If Azeroth is a world where “nothing is true, everything is permitted,” then I truly wish there were far more Bartlebys there.

[1] Seriously, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the first post.  Link above in the first sentence.

[2] I have no desire to really research the perpetrators of what could be called nothing less than a heinous crime if it occurred in a(nother) World, but I did find these comments by Eroza online.  The other toons involved, if anyone cares (and I urge you to, if at all possible), were the following members of the Galakrond community: Arcangle, Gabrius, Edanna, Galistin (esp. bad), Gonthorean, Malgant, Orhide, and Pathagarus.  Most of them were b/t lvls 60-70.

[3] Thescrivener was also turned into a bunny rabbit for a period of time, and the violation continued.  Why it was necessary to make an already passive creature into an even more passive object for the purposes of degradation were, it seems to me, unnecessary.  But then how necessary is any of this anyway?

A (Little) Bit of DFW Archival Nonsense

(Note: for many the following may not come as news whatsoever, as the important events occurred in 2004 and 2009 respectively.  For the rest, enjoy.)

Just read Jay Murray Siskind’s review of Boswell’s Understanding DFW and DFW’s Oblivion, “An Undeniably Controversial and Perhaps Even Repulsive Talent,” from a 2004 issue of Modernism/modernity.  And the thing is, it took me all of, oh, four seconds to realize that this review was “written” by the same Jay Murray Siskind who so famously described the Most Photographed Barn in America in Don DeLillo’s White Noise.  What is so incredible about this very small “hoax,” is that it took almost 5 years–and many serious citations of the review by graduate students, mind you–for anyone to notice it, namely Mark Sample over at Sample Reality.  (Also read about it here and here and here.)  Even more surprising w/r/t this “hoax” is the clear fact that Hal Incandenza is referenced as an author in the first footnote!  For anyone working on DFW to not notice this, nor, perhaps even more criminally, to not read footnotes in an article on DFW (!), well. . . .

Sample and others are clear to point out that this “Littlest Literary Hoax” suggests some fairly dark things about academic publishing and scholarship–i.e. did anyone actually read the article in the first place (or does anyone even read literary scholarship much at all, for that matter); that more people have responded in the electronic realm (i.e. no published self-account in Modernism/modernity); and that a whole army of grads and undergrads referenced the article w/o any awareness whatsoever of White Noise (seriously, isn’t White Noise, like, as close to required pomo reading as it gets [w/ the exception, say, of Beloved]?  Like Cont. Am. Lit.’s version of Relativity for Physicists?).  But, then again, I wonder how many people, like myself, quickly caught the hoax, laughed a bit to themselves, found it clever, and immediately suggestive of a whole host of interesting pomo/popomo(/not to mention mo) debates that DFW is so clearly involved in, and then simply moved on, for it was essentially nothing more than a (fairly good and funny) book review–these various (fictional) readers not feeling the need, unlike my current self, to comment much further on it in any other forum.

Either way, though, the archival implications of this are fairly interesting, if for no other reason than DFW’s clear affinity for DeLillo; my own sense is that the very explosive archival nature of DFW’s work almost calls forth or demands that Hal Incandenza enter into the real world of ideas through a footnote to some obscure and (clearly) overlooked academic article.  Hyperachivization indeed.  (Also, Incandenza’s title is telling: How I Conquered Analysis: Ten Ways to Dupe Your Therapist [Elisingborg: Yorick Press, 1998], or perhaps a better title would be: Ten Ways to Dupe Literary Scholars Who Clearly Haven’t Read Enough (of What They’re Supposed to be Getting Paid to Read) and Didn’t Even Get the Hamlet! References in the Footnote.)

Anyway, just thought I’d (re-)share.   And now, (back) to the archive, and step on it!