“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?

February 2018 Links

Nuclear and Environmental

Tim Fernholz, “US Nuclear Tests Killed Far More Civilians than We Knew.”

Democracy Now, “Daniel Ellsberg Reveals He Was a Nuclear War Planner, Warns of Nuclear Winter and Global Starvation.”

Daniel Bessner, “On the Brink.”

Alastair Tancred, “A Nuclear First Strike of North Korea Is ‘Tempting’, Says Legendary US Diplomat Henry Kissinger as Kim Jong-un Warns Trump Is Pushing Toward War.”

“Senator Markey Blasts Trump Administration’s Reckless Nuclear Posture Review.”

Helena Feder, “The Realism of Our Time: Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson.”

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Special Issues of CounterText on Ranjan Ghosh and J. Hillis Miller’s Thinking Literature across Continents

I have written an essay, “Reading Now and Again:  Hyperarchivalism and Democracy in Ranjan Ghosh and J. Hillis Miller’s Thinking Literature across Continents,” which will appear in the spring issue of CounterText: A Journal for the Study of the Post-Literary, the second of two special issues devoted to Thinking Literature across Continents (Duke UP, 2016). I’ll provide more information about this essay at a later date.

In the meantime, the first issue of CounterText addressing Ghosh and Miller‘s book (vol. 3, no. 3) is now available. Additionally, a conversation between Marjorie Perloff, Charles Bernstein, and the two authors opening the special issue is available from behind the journal’s paywall.


“Thinking Literature Across . . .,” special issue, CounterText, table of contents:

Marjorie Perloff, J. Hillis Miller, Charles Bernstein. and Ranjan Ghosh, “The CounterText Conversation: Thinking Literature. . . .”

Maria Margaroni, “Dialogics, Diacritics, Diasporics: Ranjan Ghosh, J. Hillis Miller, and the Becoming-Now of Theory.”

Georges Van Den Abbeele, “Literary Intransigence: Between J. Hillis Miller and Ranjan Ghosh.”

Claire Colebrook, “Crossing Continents.”

Steven Yao, “How Many Ways of Thinking Literature across Continents?”

Pramod K. Nayar, “Literature/Ethics/Reading.”

Susana Onega, “Thinking English Literature and Criticism under the Transmodern Paradigm.”

Lene M. Johannessen, “Poetics of Peril.”

Adrian Grima and Ivan Callus, “Irreverent and Inventive Mamo.”

Juann Mamo, Nanna Venut’s Children in America: Two Chapters from the First English Translation,” trans. Albert Gatt.

Ivan Callus, “Literature, Journalism, and the Countertextual: Daphne Caruana Galizia, 1964–2017.”

Mario Aquilina, review of Essayism and the Return of the Essay, by Brian Dillon.

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

The first essay from my new project on unreadably large texts, “Toward a Theory of the Megatext: Speculative Criticism and Richard Grossman’s ‘Breeze Avenue Working Paper,'” has been published in Scale in Literature and Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), edited by Michael Tavel Clarke and David Wittenberg. The book includes essays by Bruno Latour and Mark McGurl. You can find the entire collection here through Springer Link if you have institutional access, or individual essays via the links below. The book is also available on Amazon. I’m happy to send along a copy of my essay to anyone who is interested (festb[at]hartwick[dot]edu).

Table of Contents for Scale in Literature and Culture

Michael Tavel Clarke and David Wittenberg, Introduction.

Scale: History and Conception

Zach Horton“Composing a Cosmic View: Three Alternatives for Thinking Scale in the Anthropocene.”

Derek Woods, “Epistemic Things in Charles and Ray Eames’s Powers of Ten.

Bruno Latour, “Anti-Zoom.”

Scale in Culture

Mark McGurl, “Making It Big: Picturing the Radio Age in King Kong.

Joan Lubin, “The Stature of Man: Population Bomb on Spaceship Earth.”

Aikaterini Antonopoulou, “Large-Scale Fakes: Living in Architectural Reproductions.”

Scale in Literature

Melody Jue, “From the Goddess Ganga to a Teacup: On Amitav Ghosh’s Novel The Hungry Tide.

Oded Nir, “World Literature as a Problem of Scale.”

Bradley J. Fest, “Toward a Theory of the Megatext: Speculative Criticism and Richard Grossman’s ‘Breeze Avenue Working Paper.'”

Jeffrey Severs, “Cutting Consciousness Down to Size: David Foster Wallace, Exformation, and the Scale of Encyclopedic Fiction.”