“‘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.”

Recording of Twenty-First-Century Forms at MLA 2021

If you attended the virtual 2021 Modern Language Association Conference but were unable to come to the roundtable I organized, Twenty-First-Century Forms, you can watch a recording of it here (I believe for about six weeks). The speakers were (in order): myself, Amy Sara Carroll, Racheal Fest, Christian P. Haines, Hyemin Kim, and Eric Loy. For more information, see my previous post.

MLA 2021: Twenty-First-Century Forms

For this year’s Modern Language Association Convention, to be held virtually from January 7–10, 2021, I organized and will be speaking on a roundtable on Twenty-First-Century Forms, along with Amy Sara Carroll, Racheal Fest, Christian P. Haines, Hyemin Kim, and Eric Loy. I have included the information about the panel and, below that, full abstracts from each speaker.

181. Twenty-First-Century Forms

Thursday, January 7, 2020, 7:00 – 8:15 p.m. (EST)

If the novel and lyric poem have become residual forms, what literary forms are emerging in contemporaneity? Participants explore emergent literary forms of the twenty-first century and their relationship with, instantiation in, or remediation by other (digital) media: film, television, video, graphic narrative, video games, transmedia, or other hybrid, novel, or megatextual forms.

Speakers
Amy Sara Carroll (U of California, San Diego)
Bradley Fest (Hartwick C)
Racheal Fest (State U of New York, Oneonta)
Christian Haines (Penn State U, University Park)
Hyemin Kim (Baruch C, City U of New York)
Eric Loy (U of Rochester)

Presiding
Bradley Fest (Hartwick C)


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ALA 2019 Panel: US Women Writers and Economic Forms, C19–C21

At this year’s American Literature Association Conference in Boston, Massachusetts (May 23–26, 2019), I will be speaking on a panel discussing US Women Writers and Economic Forms, C19–C21. I have included the information on the panel and a tentative abstract for the paper I will be presenting below.

For previous essays and papers of mine on what I am calling megatexts, see:

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

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

“The Megatext and Neoliberalism.”

 

Session 20-C : US Women Writers and Economic Forms, C19-C21 (St. George C)
1. “Protestant Work Epic: Labor, Loafing, and Form in Alcott’s Little Women Trilogy,” Schuyler J. Chapman, Glenville State College
2. “Megatextual Debris: Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s Drafts before and after 2008,” Bradley J. Fest, Hartwick College
3. “H.D. and the Entrepreneurial Imagination,” Racheal Fest, SUNY Oneonta


Panel Abstract

US Women Writers and Economic Forms, C19-C21

After the 2008 financial crisis, literary critics have turned increased attention to US economic ideologies and their complicated relationships to cultural production. This panel explores how US women writing across the tradition have responded to the changing economic conditions, discourses, and values that defined their moments. Panelists argue poets and prose writers Louisa May Alcott, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and H.D. invent novel forms that at once challenge dominant discourses of free enterprise and disclose their patriarchal valences.

 

Presentation Abstracts

“Protestant Work Epic: Labor, Loafing, and Form in Alcott’s Little Women Trilogy”

Schuyler J. Chapman, Glenville State College

Roughly halfway into Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, a longtime servant sends a letter to the March-family matriarch, explaining that she and the family’s four daughters have “got on very economical.” The moment underscores the narrative’s persistent attention to the financial texture of the mid-19th century. Although scholars have approached this novel and its two sequels as illustrative of period-specific perspectives on child-rearing, romance, education, and more, few have attended to the novels’ economic theories. In this series, I argue, Alcott crafts a set of consciously epic novels, reflective of both Frye’s and Lukács’s conceptualizations of the genres, as the ideal form through which she can interrogate the sources of and solutions to economic tribulations resulting from early industrial capitalism. Surveying her contemporaries, Alcott urges a return to what Weber would later identify as the Protestant Ethic, rejecting outright the malingering ethos put forth by Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, and Whitman. Rather than oppose an economic system that her novels represent as inherently unjust by refusing labor, Alcott proposes undermining the capitalist mode of production and its concomitant social hierarchies through a surfeit of labor, an ideal that finds itself reflected in the prolix and rather uneconomical narrative form she adopts.

 

“Megatextual Debris: Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s Drafts before and after 2008″

Bradley J. Fest, Hartwick College

In the twenty-first century, digital technologies have made it possible for authors to create massively unreadable works, what I call megatexts, through computational and collaborative composition. The ubiquity of texts that are quite literally too big to read appearing across media—from experimental novels and electronic literature, to television, film, and videogames—signals, as I argue elsewhere, 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 Drafts (6 vols.; 1987–2013) readily suggests itself as a case study for thinking through the lyric’s transformations in the era of big data and financialization. A long poem that conspicuously draws upon its modernist precursors (Pound, Zukofsky, Olson, et cetera) while disavowing at every level of its composition a patriarchal will toward totality, Drafts responds to the economic and political transformations between the end of the cold war and the 2008 financial collapse by producing a kind of fragmentary, megatextual debris. In this paper I will argue that DuPlessis, rather than simply (and futilely) resist the neoliberal logic of megatextuality, hypertrophically uses the form’s phallogocentrism against itself in order to more broadly interrogate what it means—socially, aesthetically, economically—to write a long poem in the age of hyperarchival accumulation.

 

“H.D. and the Entrepreneurial Imagination”

Racheal Fest, SUNY Oneonta

Although literary critics interested in neoliberal discourses usually focus on literary and economic texts composed after 1980, many neoliberal intellectuals writing in the US published their most influential theoretical works much earlier, beginning in the 1920s and 1930s. We might therefore productively reread US modernist writers with their neoliberal contemporaries in mind. When we do, I argue, familiar critical narratives about modernist understandings of the nature and function of human creativity shift. Critics often read modernist conceptions of imagination as romantic, transcendental, and incompatible with privileged materialist views of the human. Set against the entrepreneurial conceptions of culture that economists promoted in the early twentieth century, however, modernist writers seem to offer newly visible resources for oppositional projects interested in materialist representations of creativity. To give a sense of how, this paper puts the erotic view of creativity the poet and novelist H.D. develops in the fragmentary text, Notes on Thought and Vision, in conversation with the view of culture her contemporary, the Nobel-prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek, theorized around the same time. While Hayek subsumes creativity to transcendental market logics he believes culture at its best supports, H.D. conceives imagination as an historical and embodied faculty able to influence others through the sensuous materiality of sound and image. I explore the history of these different visions and evaluate their stakes for our moment.