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


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.

Repackaging the Archive (Part X): The Hyperarchivalism of the NSA’s Prism with Links

In a recently published essay, I have defined the term “hyperarchive” as “an archive whose goal, whether stated or not, can be seen in an attempt to gather together as many documents and texts as it can, regardless of content.”[1] This term clearly applies to the recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) data collection. In fact, Prism may well be the best example of a hyperarchive to date (besides the Web). To not at least gesture toward talking about Prism and massive data collection on this blog would constitute gross negligence.

One of the things that this blog consistently tries to demonstrate, draw attention to, and complicate/challenge, is the relationship between technologies of destruction and accumulation, even if only by noting (and sometimes enacting) such relationships with little-to-no commentary. I have refrained from saying much about the recent and developing story about Prism and the NSA,[2] both because it seems too “obvious” and too complex. Prism is an accumulatory technology with clear dangers and evils (which I do not think I have to spell out). Some of these dangers and evils are quite old now, and quite familiar.[3] Others are just emerging, and the potential for misusing the kind of data collected by Prism appears to be limitless. Given the parameters of the hyperarchival impulse of contemporaneity, and the reality of ubiquitous access to massive amounts of information, it is not even vaguely surprising that the NSA has been amassing massive amounts of data. And obviously there is quite a bit wrong with this (part of which is the fact that Edward J. Snowden’s revelation is not surprising).

Glen Greenwald, the writer for TheGuardian who broke this story and has been consistently reporting on it, asked nearly a month ago, “Are All Telephone Calls Recorded and Accessible to the US Government?” Most of us have probably been asking this question for a number of years. The fact that we have been asking this question seriously, for a sustained amount of time,[4] only reinforces the realities of contemporary informatics: that many of us have always tacitly assumed that we were being watched, recorded, etc., pretty much all the time. The fact that we are not much, much more upset about this scandal is probably due to this reality of contemporaneity. Thus Snowden’s whistleblowing is functioning as a confirmation of what everyone always already knew: the emperor is naked, we know, are not pretending otherwise, and don’t seem to mind. This is disturbing, to say the least.[5]

Basically, the issues being raised by the NSA scandal, the implications for thinking about information, surveillance, discipline, and control, issues regarding archives and literature, technology and war, media and communication, contemporaneity and the risk society, immigration, the nation, and the state, are many. I will not dwell on them here, in hopes that thinking about these issues will take the form of an essay (hopefully destined for a more permanent home in a [slightly] different kind of archive). In lieu of more sustained reflection and further remarks, here is a pretty decent smattering of links related to the issue in (more-or-less) chronological order. I imagine I will continue to post links regarding Prism well into the future.

Continue reading