“‘Is an Archive Enough?’: Megatextual Debris in the Work of Rachel Blau DuPlessis” in Genre

My essay, “‘Is an Archive Enough?’: Megatextual Debris in the Work of Rachel Blau DuPlessis,” has been published in Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture 54, no. 1 (April 2021): 139–65. This issue is the first of two special issues on “Big, Ambitious Novels by Twenty-First-Century Women,” edited by Courtney Jacobs and James Zeigler. The second issue will be released in July 2021. I also have an interview with DuPlessis forthcoming in boundary 2. I’ve included an abstract of my essay below, along with a table of contents.

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:

“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.”

“Coda: Writing Briefly about Really Big Things.”

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

“The Megatext and Neoliberalism.”


Abstract

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.


“Big, Ambitious Novels by Twenty-First-Century Women, Part 1,” Genre 54, no. 1 (April 2021).

James Zeigler, “Introduction: Big Novel Ambition without Apology.”

Maaheen Ahmed and Shiamin Kwa, “‘Kill the Monster!”: My Favorite Thing Is Monsters and the Big, Ambitious (Graphic) Novel.”

Patricia Stuelke, “Writing Refugee Crisis in the Age of Amazon: Lost Children Archive‘s Reenactment Play.”

Katarzyna Bartoszyńska, “Two Paths for the Big Book: Olga Tokarczuk’s Shifting Voice.”

Marjorie Worthington, “‘We’ll Make Magic’: Zen Writers and Autofictional Readers in A Tale for the Time Being.”

Siân White, “A ‘Hair-Trigger Society’ and the Woman Who Felt Something in Anna Burn’s Milkman.”

Bradley J. Fest, “‘Is an Archive Enough?’: Megatextual Debris in the Work of Rachel Blau DuPlessis.”

Links in the Time of Coronavirus, Vol. 9: November 16–December 15, 2020

Coronavirus

Sarah Zhang, “The End of the Pandemic Is Now in Sight.”

Katie Thomas, “New Pfizer Results: Coronavirus Vaccine Is Safe and 95% Effective.”

Meredith Wadman, “Fever, Aches from Pfizer, Moderna Jabs Aren’t Dangerous but May Be Intense for Some.”

Zeynep Tufekci, “The Pandemic Heroes Who Gave Us the Gift of Time and Gift of Information.”

Abby Goodnough, “Long-Term-Care Residents and Health Workers Should Get Vaccine First, C.D.C. Panel Says.”

Sharon LaFraniere, Katie Thomas, and Noah Weiland, “Trump Administration Officials Passed when Pfizer Offered Months Ago to Sell the US More Vaccine Doses.”

Thomas R. Frieden, “We Know How to Beat COVID-19. We Just Don’t Do It.”

Bruce Robbins, “Return of the Plague.”

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Links in the Time of Coronavirus, Vol. 1: March 11–April 15, 2020

I originally intended in late May 2020, when the spring semester was finally over and I had some time to finish “Spring 2020 Links (Pre-COVID-19),” to post one big link dump for coronavirus-related things. But the hyperarchival barrage of news over the past three months, including everything that has happened in the United States the past three weeks (combined with how little time I still have . . .), has made it clear that it would be better to divide posts into smaller, more manageable bits. So here is everything I came across from March 11-April 15, 2020. More to come soon.

Sheri Fink and Mike Baker, “‘It’s Just Everywhere Already’: How Delays in Testing Set Back the US Coronavirus Response.”

The New York Times, “Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak,” “Coronavirus in the US: Latest Map and Case Count” and “Coronavirus Tips, Advice and Answers to Your New Questions.”

IHME, “COVID-19 Projections.”

Katie Zezima, Joel Achenbach, Tim Craig, and Lena H. Sun, “Coronavirus Is Shutting Down American Life as States Try to Battle Outbreak.”

 

Coronavirus Think Pieces (General)

Laurie Penny, “This Is Not the Apocalypse You Were Looking For.”

Naomi Klein, “Coronavirus Capitalism–and How to Beat It.”

Frank Pasquale, “Two Timelines of COVID Crisis.”

Ian Bogost, “Now Is the Time to Overreact.”

Arundhati Roy, “The Pandemic Is a Portal.”

Anne Applebaum, “The Coronavirus Called America’s Bluff.”

Dan Kois, “America Is a Sham.”

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Spring 2020 Links (Pre-COVID-19)

A lot of stuff was going on for me this year, both personally and professionally, so I haven’t really had a chance to post links since . . . last summer (!), nine months before the global pandemic was declared. So, to catch up: here’s links from late summer 2019–March 11, 2020 that are, by the very nature of posting them now, rather outdated/anachronistic, a window onto a world that is gone yet still all too present (and excessive), a world that most certainly wasn’t going in the direction of human flourishing and that any nostalgia for may be misplaced. . . . I hope to have “Links in the Time of Coronavirus, Vol. 1” up sometime soon(er than nine months from now . . .).

Donald G. McNeil Jr., “Wuhan Coronavirus Looks Increasingly Like a Pandemic, Experts Say” (February 20, 2020).

 

Nuclear and Environmental

Mary Hudetz, “US Official: Research Finds Uranium in Navajo Women, Babies.”

David E. Sanger and Andrew E. Kramer, “US Officials Suspect New Nuclear Missile in Explosion That Killed Seven Russians.”

Kristin George Bagdanov, “Addressing the Atomic Specter: Ginsberg’S ‘Plutonian Ode’ and America’s Nuclear Unconscious.”

Alyssa Battistoni, “Why Naomi Klein Has Been Right.”

Henry Fountain, “Climate Change Is Accelerating, Bringing World ‘Dangerously Close’ to Irreversible Change.”

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“Dead Horse Bay” and “Archives of Winter” in a Special Issue of Dispatches from the Poetry Wars

Graphic from Dispatches

I am totally humbled by the inclusion of my poems, “Dead Horse Bay” and “Archives of Winter,” in a special issue of Dispatches from the Poetry Wars: “Poetics for the More-than-Human World: An Anthology of Poetry and Commentary,” edited by Mary Newell, Bernard Quetchenbach, and Sarah Nolan. Other contributors include Rae Armantrout, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Jane Hirshfield, Cynthia Hogue, Angela Hume, Michael McClure, John Shoptaw, Stephanie Strickland, Harriet Tarlo, Edwin Torres, and many, many others.

The issue also includes a section of commentary, reviews, and criticism, including a review of Kristin George Bagdanov’s Fossils in the Making (2019), and essays by Lynn Keller, Hogue, Cole Swensen, and (again) many others.


Here is the press release from Dispatches:

Announcement: Release of Online Anthology

POETICS FOR THE MORE-THAN-HUMAN WORLD!

We are delighted to announce the special Ecopoetry issue of Dispatches from the Poetry Wars journal, titled “Poetics for the More-than-Human World: An Anthology of Poetry and Commentary,” co-edited by Mary Newell, Sarah Nolan, and Bernard Quetchenbach. The issue offers a core sample of diverse approaches to ecologically oriented poetics, representing 150 contemporary authors from a wide range of bioregions and nations. In addition to poetry, the issue features critical commentary, interviews, a preview selection of Cognitive Ecopoetics,by Sharon Lattig, and reviews of current anthologies.

In this time of planetary challenge from changes to climate and water level, atmospheric pollution, viral scourges, and threats of mass species extinction, our interconnectedness across boundaries of nationality, ethnicity, and other sociocultural labels has been underscored by our common plight. How can we bear witness to this situation, how might we harness our fear, anger, hope, wonder, in ways that will encourage a renewed commitment to live sustainably in our shared home? May this anthology offer fresh impressions of the life of this chaotic but still resplendent planet we share. May you find pleasures, surprises, insights, and inspiration, and may some of the poems resound in you and provide sustenance and energy on your own path toward living conscientiously. Visit dispatchespoetrywars.com.


UPDATE MAY 26, 2020

poeticsmorehumanworld

Spuyten Duyvil has just announced that it will be printing the anthology. Order it here.

MLA 2020 Panel: Bad Books

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

Presentations:
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.”

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.

End of the Semester Links, Fall 2018

Nuclear and Environmental

Fourth National Climate Assessment.

Deconstructed, “Will the US Ever Give Up Its Nukes?”

“Trump Says US Will Withdraw from Nuclear Deal with Russia.”

Wilfred Wan, “The Nuclear Threat Is Rising: Europe Cannot Just Stand and Watch.”

Will Steffen, et al, “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene.”

Kate Aronoff, “‘Hothouse Earth’ Co-Author: The Problem Is Neoliberal Economics” and “With a Green New Deal, Here’s What the World Could Look Like for the Next Generation.”

Kim Stanley Robinson, “To Slow Down Climate Change, We Need to Take On Capitalism.”

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