I am particularly proud of this essay, as I wrote it predominantly during the summer of 2020–the height of lockdown–and during which we had no childcare and I couldn’t access the library nor my campus office, including its books. Lots of people to thank, consequently, but particularly Racheal Fest, Courtney Jacobs and James Zeigler for their hard work putting this together during an incredibly difficult year, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and Dawn Baker, Hartwick’s interlibrary loan librarian. (There are more acknowledgments on the first page of my essay.) This essay is also the second published chapter from my work in progress, Too Big to Read: The Megatext in the Twenty-First-Century. For other related work on megatexts and hyperarchivalism, see:
In the twenty-first century, digital technologies have made it possible for writers and artists to create massively unreadable works through computational and collaborative composition, what the author has elsewhere called megatexts. The ubiquity of texts appearing across media that are quite literally too big to read—from experimental novels to television, film, and video games—signals that the megatext is an emergent form native to the era of neoliberalism. But what happens to other long forms, such as the twentieth-century long poem, when written in an era of megatextuality? Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s work, including Drafts (1987–2013) and Traces, with Days (2017–), readily suggests itself as a case study for thinking through a megatextual impulse in the twenty-first-century long poem. Though her work is plainly indebted to its modernist precursors (H.D., Pound, Williams, etc.) while disavowing at every level of its composition a patriarchal will toward totality, DuPlessis’s various experiments in the long poem are also thoroughly contemporary and respond to the economic, military, political, and environmental transformations of the neoliberal era by drawing upon and producing fragmentary, megatextual debris. This essay positions DuPlessis’s work amidst a larger twenty-first-century media ecology, which includes both the megatext and the big, ambitious novel, and argues that rather than simply (and futilely) resist the neoliberal cultural logic of accumulation without end, DuPlessis hypertrophically uses the megatext’s phallogocentric form against itself in order to interrogate more broadly what it means—socially, culturally, economically—to write a long poem in the age of hyperarchival accumulation.