MLA 2019 Panel: New Nuclear Criticism

At this year’s Modern Language Association Convention in Chicago (January 3-6, 2019), I will be speaking on a round table discussing the New Nuclear Criticism. I have included the information on the panel and a tentative abstract for the paper I will be presenting below. More information about the panel is available at kristingeorgebagdanov.com.

 

For previous essays of mine on nuclear criticism, see:

““Apocalypse Networks: Representing the Nuclear Archive”;

“The Inverted Nuke in the Garden: Archival Emergence and Anti-Eschatology in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest;

“Geologies of Finitude: The Deep Time of Twenty-First-Century Catastrophe in Don DeLillo’s Point Omega and Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia.”

 

246. New Nuclear Criticism

Friday, January 4, 2019, 10:15 AM–11:30 AM, Hyatt Regency – Randolph 3

The panel is sponsored by the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment.

Presider: Frances Ferguson, U of Chicago

Presenters: Jada Ach, U of South Carolina, Columbia, Bradley J. Fest, Hartwick C, Jessica Hurley, U of Chicago, Kristin George Bagdanov, U of California, Davis, Kyoko Matsunaga, Kobe City U of Foreign Studies, Inna Sukhenko, U of Helsinki

Session Description: The year 2019 marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the 1984 colloquium at Cornell University on nuclear criticism and the publication of a special issue of Diacritics collecting the Cornell papers. Do we need a new nuclear criticism? Panelists explore what a new nuclear criticism in the context of ecological crisis might look like by drawing on archives, methods, and approaches not previously included in nuclear criticism’s original manifestation.

 

Jacques Derrida’s “No Apocalypse, Not Now” at Thirty-Five

Abstract:  2019 will mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of the 1984 colloquium at Cornell University on nuclear criticism and the publication of a special issue of Diacritics collecting its papers. The conference occurred at a historical moment of heightened tension between the United States and the Soviet Union unseen since the chilling days of October 1962. But in the intervening years, which have seen the end of the cold war, a reduction of the US and Russia’s nuclear arsenal, a nuclear treaty with Iran, and waning cultural depictions of global nuclear war, the project of nuclear criticism has seemed less vital and, indeed, at times rather anachronistic. Though significant contributions in the ongoing discussion regarding literature of the first and second nuclear ages have been made by a new generation of scholars such as Paul K. Saint-Amour, John Canady, Daniel Cordle, Daniel Grausam, Jessica Hurley, and others (e.g., the 2013 collection, The Silence of Fallout: Nuclear Criticism in a Post-Cold War World), and nuclear criticism, for others, has been subsumed under a broader concept of risk criticism inspired by the thinking of Ulrich Beck (e.g., the work of Ursula K. Heise and Paul Crosthwaite’s collection, Criticism, Crisis, and Contemporary Narrative [2011]), most would agree that literary and critical engagements with the threat of nuclear war have taken a back seat to more pressing global concerns, particularly the realities of climate change and the emergence of the Anthropocene as an important cross-disciplinary concept for understanding the present.

It seems apparent, however, that in the dark days since November 2016, literary and cultural theorists must once again confront the issue(s) of global (and limited) nuclear war and the cultural, political, economic, and social conditions that allow the persistence of what Elaine Scarry has called a “thermonuclear monarchy” in the US, particularly as this power now rests in such unpredictable hands. So the time is ripe to not only revisit the concept of nuclear criticism, as this panel proposes to do, but one of its most important, founding documents: Jacques Derrida’s “No Apocalypse, Not Now: Full Speed Ahead, Seven Missiles, Seven Missives” (1984).

This paper will reconsider Derrida’s seminal text in light of two major transformations. First, I will track and assess what Derrida calls the “nuclear referent,” particularly as it has found its way into twenty-first-century depictions of ecological disaster, representations I will suggest have now reinscribed themselves in the contemporary cultural imagination of nuclear war. Second, I will again take seriously “No Apocalypse, Not Now”’s emphasis on the fabulous textuality of nuclear war and its threat to the archive, particularly in light of the dissemination and proliferation of new exceptionalist national fantasies via the internet visible in “fake news” and the resurgence of US nationalism. This paper will argue that Derrida’s essay–and nuclear criticism more broadly–considered at the intersection of these two cultural transformation, might provide us with reinvigorated tools for confronting the new nuclear realities of contemporaneity.

“Too Big to Read: The Megatext in the Twenty-First Century,” Lecture at Hartwick College

As part of Hartwick’s Faculty Lecture Series, I will be giving a talk on May 2, 2018 at 12:20 pm in the Eaton Lounge of Bresee Hall at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. The title of my lecture is “Too Big to Read: The Megatext in the Twenty-First Century,” and I will be presenting preliminary chapter from my work in progress of the same name.

In this new project, I am investigating the impact of massive textual accumulation on contemporary literary production and reception. With the increasing space made available by digital technology, texts are being created that are simply gigantic, unthinkably large compared to the previous century’s storage capacities. For instance, conceptual artist Michael Mandiberg recently printed out the entirety of Wikipedia in over seven thousand bound volumes, at some point in the near future Richard Grossman will publish a three-million-page “novel,” Breeze Avenue, and 2016 saw the appearance of No Man’s Sky, a videogame containing eighteen quintillion planets. I argue that with the appearance of such massively unreadable cultural artifacts—texts that are, quite literally, too big to read—the digital age has seen the emergence of a new transmedia form: what I call the megatext. I define megatexts as unreadably large yet concrete aesthetic and rhetorical objects that are produced and conceived as singular works and that depend upon digital technology and collaborative authorship for their production. Using the working paper for Grossman’s forthcoming Breeze Avenue as a case study, this lecture will present a theory of speculative criticism for approaching these massive texts. Drawing upon Timothy Morton’s concept of the hyperobject and suggesting that megatexts have roots in literary postmodernism, this talk will explore some of the ways that megatexts respond to the conditions of the Anthropocene and open up new spaces for imaginative reading, creation, and understanding in contemporaneity.


For a (longer) published version of this lecture, see “Toward a Theory of the Megatext: Speculative Criticism and Richard Grossman’s ‘Breeze Avenue Working Paper,” in Scale in Literature and Culture, ed. Michael Tavel Clarke and David Wittenberg (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 253-80.

For other parts of this work in progress, see “The Megatext and Neoliberalism” and “The Time of Megatexts: Dark Accumulation and Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar,” both available on my academia.edu page. I also have a forthcoming short essay discussing this project: “Writing Briefly about Really Big Things,” in Begging the Question: Chauceriana, Book History, and Humanistic Inquiry (Mythodologies II), by Joseph A. Dane (Los Angeles: Marymount Institute Press, forthcoming 2018).

Keyword Seminar on Length at the 2018 Society for Novel Studies Conference

I will be leading a keyword seminar on length at the 2018 Society for Novel Studies Conference, May 31-June 2 at Cornell University. I have included a description of the seminar and the names of the other presenters below. Other keyword seminars can be found here.


Keyword Seminar on Length at 2018 Society for Novel Studies Conference

Bradley J. Fest with Alex Creighton, Alley Edlebi, Andrew FergusonJason Potts, Robert Ryan, and Aaron Vieth

Description

From multi-season serial television, to cinematic universes, to immense videogames, narratives across media appear to have gotten longer in the digital age. Can the same be said of the novel? On the one hand, authors have written lengthy novels throughout the form’s history. On the other, the issue of novelistic length seems newly pressing now that digital technologies have given writers the capacity to author books that are unreadably massive (e.g., Richard Grossman’s forthcoming three-million-page Breeze Avenue or Mark Leach’s seventeen-million-word Marienbad My Love). This seminar invites its participants to take up questions about length with regard to the role and status of the novel historically and at present. How does the history of print narrative influence how we think about novel length in the twenty-first century? Are there upper and lower limits to how long a novel can be (and why would such limits matter)? What is the relationship between the novel and other transmedia meganarratives? What is the legacy of the twentieth century’s “big, ambitious novel”? And, going forward, how do scholars study print and digital texts that are too big to read?

Mark Z. Danielewski on Facebook Live and “The Time of Megatexts”

Note: it appears that Danielewski had to postpone the Facebook Live event due to technical difficulties. I’ll be posting again when it has been rescheduled.

Mark Z. Danielewski will be appearing on Facebook Live to talk with the members of The Familiar (Volume 1-5) Book Club about his remarkable novel, The Familiar (2015-). He has distributed my recent conference paper, “The Time of Megatexts: Dark Accumulation and Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar,” in advance. I invite you to read my essay and join in what should be an interesting conversation.

The Time of Megatexts: Dark Accumulation and Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar

Next week I will be presenting a paper on a panel titled “The Power of Digital Talk” at the 2017 Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts Conference at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, November 9-12. The abstract for the paper is below.

 

Thursday, November 9, Session 1 2:00-3:30pm: 1E “The Power of Digital Talk”

Chair: Julie Funk

“The Time of Megatexts: Dark Accumulation and Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar,” Bradley J. Fest, Hartwick College.

“A Tech-Lover’s Discourse: Roland Barthes, Longing, Loss, and Separation Anxiety in Non-Use Discourse,” Julie Funk, University of Waterloo, Critical Media Lab.

“World Wide Walden: Toward a Thoreauvian Ethics of Screen Time,” John Tinnell, University of Colorado.

 

The Time of Megatexts: Dark Accumulation and Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar

With the disastrous effects of rising atmospheric carbon becoming increasingly observable and the relentless pace of neoliberal capital pursuing ever-increasing profit, the twenty-first century appears to be a time of dark accumulation. Increasingly, the risks facing the overdeveloped world stem not from absence but from overwhelming presence: everywhere there is a problem of too much. And it appears that such horrifying accumulation goes for contemporary experiences of time as well. An author known, perhaps most famously, for exploring spatial and textual accumulation, Mark Z. Danielewski’s new project, The Familiar (2015–), a twenty-seven-volume serial novel in progress, turns his attention to the multiplying temporalities of the Anthropocene. From the deep time of its cosmic frame tale and the shifting temporalities of globalization experienced by its cosmopolitan characters, to its confrontation with planetarity and its bi-annual, serialized release schedule, The Familiar asks its readers to confront what it means to live in and at too many times. In this paper I will explore The Familiar as an example of what I call a megatext—an unreadably large yet concrete aesthetic and rhetorical transmedia object, produced and conceived as a singular work, and which depends upon digital technology and collaborative authorship for its production—and argue that Danielewski’s massive novel emerges from and responds to a world in which time is no longer out of joint, but overwhelmingly and catastrophically multiple.

For a previous paper on The Familiar, delivered at the 2016 Society for Novel Studies Conference, see my “The Megatext and Neoliberalism.” (This links to my academia.edu page.)

“The Megatext and Neoliberalism” and “Metaproceduralism: The Stanley Parable and the Legacies of Postmodern Metafiction”

I’ll be giving two talks in Pittsburgh over the next two months on May 13 and June 22, 2016.

 

1. Friday, May 13, 2016 — 2:30 – 4:30. Part of a panel on “The Novel in or against Neoliberalism” at the 2016 Studies in the Novel Conference, The Novel in or against World Literature, Wyndham University Center – Oakland Room II.

Chair: Jen Fleissner, Indiana University

“The Megatext and Neoliberalism,” Bradley J. Fest, University of Pittsburgh

“The Novel in India and Neoliberalism,” H. Kalpana, Pondicherry University

“The Novel and Neoliberal Empathy,” Alissa G. Karl, The College at Brockport-SUNY

“Immanent Value in The Golden Bowl,” Paul Stasi, University at Albany-SUNY

 

The Megatext and Neoliberalism

With the steadily increasing storage capacity and processing power of contemporary information technology, enormously large texts are beginning to emerge that rival the books and libraries once imagined by Jorge Luis Borges. For instance, at some point in the near future, poet and novelist Richard Grossman will install Breeze Avenue—a five thousand volume, three million page “novel”—as a reading room in Los Angeles, and will also make this text available online in a fluid version that will change roughly every seven minutes for a century. Grossman’s text is, quite simply, too big to read; it is a megatext. This paper will consider the appearance of the unreadably massive novel as an emergent form native to the neoliberal era.

The writing, publication, and distribution of megatexts are impossible without the informatic, technological, and economic transformations of neoliberal globalization. For instance, the composition of Breeze Avenue would be inconceivable without big data and algorithmically generated text, without significant funding and personal wealth (Grossman was a high-level executive for a multinational financial firm in the 1970s), and without transforming the labor of the author from writing to managing. Mark Z. Danielewski’s twenty-seven volume meganovel-in-progress, The Familiar (2015-    ), takes full advantage of contemporary digital composition and production to create a work deeply enmeshed in the digital present by self-reflexively remediating the new media forms made possible by the distributed networks and posthuman technologies of the twenty-first century—including electronic literature, premier serial television, social media, videogames, and YouTube. And Mark Leach’s seventeen volume, ten thousand page, open source, digitally generated meganovel, Marienbad My Love (2008), takes advantage of crowd-sourced, collective authorship, reflecting the always-on unpaid digital microlabor that has come to characterize work in the overdeveloped world. Understanding such texts as unique outgrowths of and important critical reflections upon the age of neoliberalism allows us to explore important questions about the role of the novel in the twenty-first century and the possibilities for responding to the nonhuman logics of contemporaneity.

 

 

2. Wednesday, June 22, 2016, 1:30 – 3:00, I’ve organized a panel on “Videogame Adaptation” with Jedd Hakimi and Kevin M. Flanagan, colleagues in the Film Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh, for the Keystone DH 2016 Conference, Hillman Library, University of Pittsburgh. (A schedule of the conference.)

 

Videogame Adaptation

baby

As videogames continue to emerge as a dominant twenty-first-century form, it is becoming clearer that they have complex relationships to other media. This panel, part of a larger collaborative project, will address issues of adaptation and videogames from a transmedia perspective, drawing particularly on the resources provided by film and literary studies.

 

Videogame Adaptation: Some Experiments in Method
Kevin M. Flanagan, University of Pittsburgh

This paper outlines the concerns and conceptual practices of videogame adaptation, noting the many ways in which videogames shape, or are shaped by, ideas, narratives, and mechanics from other media. In situating videogames into the discourses of textual transformation that animate current work in adaptation studies, I argue that traditional approaches to adaptation in English departments (which privilege novel-to-film adaptation in a one-to-one correspondence) have a lot to learn from games, which function as adaptations at all stages of their production and consumption. I also demonstrate how adaptation studies challenges claims to medium specificity that form a foundational conceit of videogame studies.

 

Metaproceduralism: The Stanley Parable and the Legacies of Postmodern Metafiction
Bradley J. Fest, University of Pittsburgh

Most critics of contemporary literature have reached a consensus that what was once called “postmodernism” is over and that its signature modes—metafiction and irony—are on the wane. This is not the case, however, with videogames. In recent years, a number of self-reflexive games have appeared, exemplified by Davey Wreden’s The Stanley Parable (2013), an ironic game about games. When self-awareness migrates form print to screen, however, something happens. If metafiction can be characterized by how it draws attention to language and representation, this paper will argue how self-reflexivity in videogames is best understood in terms of action and procedure, as metaproceduralism.

 

Playing Los Angeles Itself: Experiencing the Digital Documentary Environment in LA Noire
Jedd Hakimi, University of Pittsburgh

Almost everything about the predominantly faithful depiction of 1947 Los Angeles in the recent, police-procedural videogame LA Noire (2011) was based on archival material, including period maps, photography, and film footage. And while scholars have thought extensively about how film spectators experience mediated depictions of real-world cities, the videogame player’s parallel experience has been relatively unexplored. Accordingly, I take LA Noire’s simulacrum as an opportunity to reflect on what happens when a real-world environment is adapted into the setting for a videogame. Specifically, I position LA Noire in the tradition of the “city-symphony” film and a particular sub-set of Film Noir known as the “semi-documentary” to make the case LA Noire contains crucial aspects of the documentary image. Consequently, LA Noire is not so much creating a fictional, diegetic world, as it is presenting our own world back to us in a manner that changes the way we experience the world in which we live.