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.”

Call for Papers: “Postwar Variations” at ACLA 2020

Dan Malinowksi and I are organizing a session, “Postwar Variations,” at the 2020 meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association in Chicago, IL, March 19-22, and invite the submission of abstracts through the ACLA portal. Here is the call for papers:

This seminar will take as its starting point the appeal of the injunction on Frank O’Hara’s tombstone to “live as variously as possible” for writers of the last seventy years. Variation enchants and exhausts. It points to difference, but difference contained recognizably within the bounds of a stable point or concept. Variation resists boredom, but it does so without necessarily extending (or losing) the connotations that mark other descriptions of difference: revolution, disruption, development, progress, etc. Variation, then, is an odd demand and one that can characterize aesthetic contexts as well as historical ones.

Variation takes many forms in postwar literature. From Bernadette Mayer’s sonnets to John Keene’s revisionist history, writers have shifted recognizable forms and histories into new forms for different aesthetic and political purposes during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Not limited to the avant-garde, variation has also been at home in mass culture during this period, evidenced by contemporary cultural formations such as the fourth remake of A Star is Born (2019) or the masses of fan fiction hosted on anarchiveofourown.org. In the tech world, Mark Zuckerberg’s now-infamous credo, “Move fast and break things,” has revealed itself to be a variation on an older form of capitalist accumulation rather than the radical change it originally purported to be. On a larger scale, Giovanni Arrighi’s work has demonstrated the periods of accumulation that structure capitalism vary in context if not form. In short, variation cuts in multiple directions and appears central to any understanding of the later twentieth century and its developments.

Given this, how is variation to be understood? What is the appeal of variation for writers from 1945 until today? How can variation be spotted? What does it mean to be “varied”? What does aesthetic variation do for our conceptions of aesthetic form, politics, or reception? How might we (continue to) theorize variation in the digital age? This seminar invites papers that variously engage with the topic of variation in post-1945 literary and cultural production.

Please submit 150-250 word abstracts with a brief bio through ACLA portal by September 23, 2019. Please contact Dan Malinowski at dan.malinowski@rutgers.edu or Bradley J. Fest at festb@hartwick.edu with any questions.

The Visiting Writers Series at Hartwick College, Fall 2019

This fall, Hartwick College and the Department of English will present the first four readings of the 2019-20 Visiting Writers Series.  All readings take place at 7 p.m. in Eaton Lounge, Bresee Hall at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. Admission is free of charge and the public is invited.


New Hartwick faculty member, assistant professor of English Tessa Yang, will read on Wednesday, October 2, 2019.

George Hovis will read on Wednesday, October 16, 2019.

Lauren Russell will read on Thursday, November 7, 2019.

And Alice Lichtenstein will read from her forthcoming novel, The Crime of Being, on Wednesday, November 20, 2019.

For more information, visit the Visiting Writers Series webpage.

2019-20 Winifred D. Wandersee Scholar in Residence at Hartwick College

I am thrilled and honored to announced that I have been named one of the 2019-20 Winifred D. Wandersee Scholars in Residence at Hartwick College. This award and program will support continued work on my current book project, Too Big to Read: The Megatext in the Twenty-First Century.

For a glimpse into this work in progress, see my essay, “Toward a Theory of the Megatext: Speculative Criticism and Richard Grossman’s ‘Breeze Avenue Working Paper.'”

“Writing Briefly about Really Big Things” in Joseph A. Dane’s Begging the Question

I have a collaborative essay, “Coda: Writing Briefly about Really Big Things,” in Joseph A. Dane‘s new book, Begging the Question: Critical Reasoning in Chaucer Studies, Book History, and Humanistic Inquiry (Mythodologies II) (Marymount Institute Press, 2019). Though brief, it speaks to some of the ongoing concerns in my megatext project, particularly how to situate the project in the field and in conversation with others. My thanks to Dane for inviting me to collaborate with him on this and including my piece in his book.