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.)

Pre-order Scale in Literature and Culture and Reading Inside Out: Interviews and Conversations, by J. Hillis Miller

Two new books are available for pre-order in which I have contributions.

Scale in Literature and Culture Cover

Scale in Literature and Culture, edited by Michael Tavel Clarke and David Wittenberg, and including essays by Bruno Latour and Mark McGurl, can now be ordered from Palgrave Macmillan. My contribution is the first part of my new project on megatexts: “Toward a Theory of the Megatext: Speculative Criticism and Richard Grossman’s ‘Breeze Avenue Working Paper.'”

J Hillis Miller CoverJ. Hillis Miller’s Reading Inside Out: Interviews and Conversations, edited by David Jonathan Y. Bayot, is forthcoming from Sussex Academic Press and reprints my interview with Professor Miller from 2014, “Isn’t It a Beautiful Day?,” originally published in boundary 2.

Both books are also available on Amazon (here and here). (As both are also potentially prohibitively expensive, please do not hesitate to contact me requesting the essay or interview.)

“Toward a Theory of the Megatext” Forthcoming in Scale in Literature and Culture

“Toward a Theory of the Megatext: Speculative Criticism and Richard Grossman’s ‘Breeze Avenue Working Paper,'” the first essay from a new project on what I have been calling megatexts, will appear in Scale in Literature and Culture, edited by Michael Tavel Clarke and David Wittenberg. The collection of essays will be published by Palgrave Macmillan and will hopefully come out later this year. More information to come.

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

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

I am pleased to report that my essay, “Geologies of Finitude: The Deep Time of Twenty-First-Century Catastrophe in Don DeLillo’s Point Omega and Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia,” was just published in the most recent issue of Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. This essay has been in the works for some time, and I am happy to see it emerge into the light of day.

An abstract: The twenty-first century has seen a transformation of twentieth-century narrative and historical discourse. On the one hand, the cold war national fantasy of mutually assured destruction has multiplied, producing a diverse array of apocalyptic visions. On the other, there has been an increasing sobriety about human finitude, especially considered in the light of emerging discussions about deep time. This essay argues that Don DeLillo’s Point Omega (2010) and Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (2008) make strong cases for the novel’s continuing ability to complicate and illuminate contemporaneity. Written in the midst of the long and disastrous United States incursions in the Middle East, DeLillo and Negarestani raise important political questions about the ecological realities of the War on Terror. Each novel acknowledges that though the catastrophic present cannot be divorced from the inevitable doom at the end of the world, we still desperately need to imagine something else.

 

Review of David Foster Wallace and “The Long Thing” at C21: Journal of 21st-Century Writings

David Foster Wallace and the Long ThingProduct Details

In the fourth issue of the new journal, C21: Journal of 21st-Century Writings, Mark West has written a nicely positive review of David Foster Wallace and “The Long Thing”: New Essays on the Novels (2014), edited by Marshall Boswell, in which I have an essay, “‘Then Out of the Rubble’: David Foster Wallace’s Early Fiction.” West also reviews Gesturing Towards Reality: David Foster Wallace and Philosophy (2014), edited by Robert K. Bolger and Scott Korb (somewhat less positively).

“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

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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.

MLA 2016 Panel: The Anthropocene and Deep Time in Literary Studies

At this year’s MLA Convention in Austin, Texas, I will be on a panel on The Anthropocene and Deep Time in Literary Studies. I have included the information on the panel and an abstract for the paper I will be presenting below.

 

670. The Anthropocene and Deep Time in Literary Studies

Saturday, 9 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 6B, ACC

Program arranged by the forum LLC 20th- and 21st-Century American

Presiding: Heather Houser, Univ. of Texas, Austin

Speakers: Gerry Canavan, Marquette Univ.; Bradley J. Fest, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Kristin George Bagdanov, Univ. of California, Davis; Rebecca Wilbanks, Stanford Univ.

Session Description:

The notion of the Anthropocene was coined in 2000 to highlight that human beings’ transformation of the planetary environment will be visible in the geological strata. Beyond its crucial influence in the environmental humanities, the Anthropocene links to discussions of deep time in literary studies. This session taps into and elaborates on these two ongoing discussions.

 

“Fictional Quantities That Make Themselves Real”: Speculation, Petropolitics, and Deep Time in Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia

Since its publication in 2008, Reza Negarestani’s experimental work of “theory-fiction,” Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, has become somewhat of a literary touchstone for a variety of writers and thinkers revolving in the orbit of speculative realism. Resembling what would happen if Deleuze and Guattari collaborated with H. P. Lovecraft, Cyclonopedia is a serious, albeit ironic encounter with non-correlationist thought, with speculation, deep time, and hyperobjects of all kinds. It is also a rigorous literary attempt to think through climate change, the War on Terror, and the petropolitical realities of the twenty-first century. This paper will explore a variety of issues that converge in Negarestani’s remarkable book. Beginning with Cyclonopedia’s implicit emphasis on how speculation is necessary for thinking the present (rather than, say, rationalism, measurement, or management), this paper will argue that Negarestani’s encounter with geology and nonhuman hyperobjects indicates that experimental literature may be uniquely suited to thinking about deep time and the realities of climate change in a way unavailable to more conventional narratives. If Steven Shaviro has recently suggested that “at its best, speculative philosophy rather resembles speculative fiction,” then Negarestani’s “novel” is evidence of what might happen when speculative philosophy becomes speculative fiction. Cyclonopedia is not only an important text for thinking about nonhuman entities and deep time in an age of observable climate change, it is also an important entry into the ancient debate between poetry and philosophy. Less a “novel after theory” than theory as novel, Cyclonopedia demonstrates that literature will continue to play an important role for understanding the Anthropocene.