“Reading Now and Again” in CounterText

Publication CoverMy essay, “Reading Now and Again: Hyperarchivalism and Democracy in Ranjan Ghosh and J. Hillis Miller’s Thinking Literature across Continents,” has been published in CounterText: A Journal for the Study of the Post-Literary in the the second of two special issues devoted to Ghosh and Miller’s book. The first issue is available here, and the second has an interview with Miller available from behind the paywall. I’ve included an abstract of my essay below, along with a table of contents.

Abstract:  This review essay approaches Ranjan Ghosh and J. Hillis Miller’s Thinking Literature across Continents (Duke UP, 2016) from a set of questions about what it means to read in the age of hyperarchival accumulation. Written against the background of events in the United States and elsewhere during the fall of 2017, the essay tracks and assesses Ghosh and Miller’s differing methods for approaching literary study in the twenty-first century: undiscriminating catholicity and rhetorical reading, respectively. Through emblematic readings of David Foster Wallace’s novel The Pale King (2011), the videogame Katamari Damacy (2004), and Amy Hungerford’s Making Literature Now (2016), this essay argues that Thinking Literature across Continents self-reflexively models and performs the interested, situated reading practices necessary for continuing the never-ending project of encountering, sharing, accounting for, learning from, and contending with others and their divergent readings, practices that, though many may have lost sight of them today, are fundamental to the project of democracy itself.


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

Ivan Callus and James Corby, “Editorial.”

J. Hillis Miller, Ivan Callus, and James Corby, “The CounterText Interview: J. Hillis Miller.”

Bradley J. Fest, “Reading Now and Again: Hyperarchivalism and Democracy in Ranjan Ghosh and J. Hillis Miller’s Thinking Literature across Continents.”

Simona Sawhney, “Boatmen, Wastrels, and Demons: Figures of Literature.”

Jakob Lothe, “The Author’s Ethical Responsibility and the Ethics of Reading.”

Jonathan Locke Hart, “Ideas of Poetics and the Close Reading of Poetry.”

Shaobo Xie, “Does Literature Matter Today? Thoughts of the Outside.”

Kirk Kenny and James Corby, “Screens of Fortune: A Photo-Essay.”

Timothy Mathews, “The Many Hands of Thick Time: William Kentridge at the Whitechapel Gallery.”

End of the Semester Links, Spring 2016

Nuclear and Environmental

Justin Gillis, “Scientists Warn of Perilous Climate Shift Within Decades, Not Centuries.”

Ross Andersen, “We’re Underestimating the Risk of Human Extinction.”

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, “On Extinction and Capitalism.”

Robert Macfarlane, “Generation Anthropocene.”

Will Worley, “Radioactive Wild Boar Rampaging around Fukushima Nuclear Site.”

Rebecca Evans, “Weather Permitting.”

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October Links

Hyperarchivalism and Big Data

Evgeny Morozov, “The Planning Machine: Cybersyn and the Origins of the Big Data Nation.”

Frank Pasquale reviews Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century: “Capital’s Offense: Law’s Entrenchment of Inequality.”

Nathan Jurgenson, “View From Nowhere: On the Cultural Ideology of Big Data.”

Cathy O’Neil, “Who Big Data Thinks We Are (When It Thinks We’re Not Looking),” a review of Christian Rudder’s Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking).

Julia Prescott, “We Saw the World’s First Throne Made Out of Jerry Macguire VHS Tapes.”

And Torie Rose DeGhett, “The War Photo No One Would Publish.”

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Notes from the Anthropocene: Insuring the Apocalypse and Other Links

Nuclear

More adventures in nuclear incompetence: Lily Hay Newman, “Air Force Security Failed a Takeover Drill at a Nuclear Silo.”

 

Climate Change, Catastrophe, and the Anthropocene

We’re doomed. “A Galaxy Far, Far Away . . . Will Hit Ours.”

Lindsay Abrams, “Researchers: The Collapse of Greenland’s Ice Sheet Could Be a Bigger Disaster Than We Thought.”

Ari Phillips, “In Landmark Class Action, Farmers Insurance Sues Local Government for Ignoring Climate Change.” Is that what we need? For the insurance companies to get involved?

Yes. McKenzie Funk, “Insuring the Apocalypse.”

Paul Krugman, “Cutting Back on Carbon.”

On the flooding in the Balkans.

Everything is the worst: Ryan Koronowski, “House Votes to Deny Climate Science and Ties Pentagon’s Hands on Climate Change.”

And scientists agree, we should just start calling climate change “You will be burnt to a crisp and die.”

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A Few Links (with some Rimbaud and Melville)

David Hancock Turner has an interesting reflection on Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy for Jacobin, titled “After the Flood.” He writes:

Atwood seems to intuit this and her emphasis on prefigurative forms of resistance only seems like a natural response to an overweening corporate dystopia. When the dream of revolutionary transformations seems so distant, why not at least have a taste of utopia in this world rather than toil amidst a rotten society and its artificial politics? Or does the workplace nevertheless remain the fundamental space of struggle, although now too removed or amorphous for us to recognize and rejuvenate its logic?

And what does it mean if Atwood transforms revolutionary praxis from labor activism into sabotage from the elite workers coupled with a strategy of refusal by an eclectic grouping of transients — two tactics we have recently witnessed in our own American society? The apocalypse that inhabits so much of our contemporary imagination is a signifier that the revolution and its classical preconditions are perhaps too difficult to dream.

And here’s an older review by Ursula K. Le Guin of The Year of the Flood (2009) in The Guardian.

My good friend, sculptor Taylor Baldwin, has a great write-up in Beautiful Decay, “Taylor Baldwin’s Assembled Madness.” A sample of his work, a couple of my favorite pieces.[1] [2]

Taylor Baldwin, The Interpret (2010).

Taylor Baldwin, The Interpreter (2010).

US Infantry Camel Corps (Feat. Emma Lazarus) (2007)

Taylor Baldwin, US Infantry Camel Corps (Feat. Emma Lazarus) (2007)

The Atlantic reports that “LOL and/or Lol! The Internet Has Style Guide Now: Sort Of.” Here’s the style guide at BuzzFeed.

Recent reports on the mega-text: “What You Learn About Tech from Watching all 456 Law and Order Episodes,” by Rebecca J. Rosen for The Atlantic.

And my friend Carolyn Kellogg reports that “Younger Book Dealers are Diving into the Antiquarian Trade” for The Los Angeles Times.


[1] Whenever I see Baldwin’s Interpreter (2010), I am always reminded of a few different lines from things. First: “I have seen the low sun stained with mystic horror, / Lit with long violet weals like actors / In some ancient play, waves unrolling / Their shuddering paddles into the distance. [. . .] And I, a boat lost in inlets’ tangled hair, / Tossed by hurricanes into birdless air, I / Whose water-drunken carcass Coast-Guard / And Hanseatic ships could not have dredged; // Free, on fire, crowned by violet mist, / I dug a hole in a reddening sky like a wall / Smeared with solar lichen and gobs / Of azure snot, irresistible poetic treats. [. . .] Bathed in your weary waves, I can no longer ride / In the wake of cargo ships of cotton, / Nor cross the pride of flags and flames, / Nor swim beneath the killing stare of prison ships” (Arthur Rimbaud, from “The Drunken Boat” (1871), in Rimbaud Complete, trans. and ed. Wyatt Mason [New York: The Modern Library, 2002], 86-88, here’s a different translation).

[2] And second:

To a landsman a calm is no joke. It not only revolutionizes his abdomen, but unsettles his mind; tempts him to recant his belief in the eternal fitness of things; in short, almost makes an infidel of him.

At first he is taken by surprise, never having dreamt of a state of existence where existence itself seems suspended. He shakes himself in his coat, to see whether it be empty or no. He closes his eyes, to test the reality of the glassy expanse. He fetches a deep breath, by way of experiment, and for the sake of witnessing the effect. If a reader of books, Priestly on Necessity occurs to him; and he believes in that old Sir Anthony Absolute to the very last chapter. His faith in Malte Brun, however, begins to fail; for the geography, which from boyhood he had implicitly confided in, always assured him, that though expatiating all over the globe, the sea was at least margined by land. That over against America, for example, was Asia. But it is a calm, and he grows madly skeptical.

To his alarmed fancy, parallels and meridians become emphatically what they are merely designated as being: imaginary lines drawn round the earth’s surface.

The log assures him that he is in such a place; but the log is a liar; for no place, nor any thing possessed of a local angularity, is to be lighted upon in the watery waste.

At length horrible doubts overtake him as to the captain’s competency to navigate his ship. The ignoramus must have lost his way, and drifted into the outer confines of creation, the region of everlasting lull, introductory to positive vacuity.

Thoughts of eternity thicken. He begins to feel anxious concerning his soul.

The stillness of the calm is awful. His voice beings to grow strange and portentous. He feels it in him like something swallowed too big for the esophagus. It keeps up a sort of involuntary humming in him, like a live beetle. His cranium is a dome full of reverberations. The hollows of his very bones are as whispering galleries. He is afraid to speak loud, lest he be stunned; like the man in the bass drum.

But more than all else is the consciousness of his utter helplessness. Succor or sympathy there is none. Penitence for embarking avails not. The final satisfaction of despairing may not be his with a relish. Vain the idea of idling out the calm. He may sleep if he can, or purposely delude himself into a crazy fancy, that he is merely at leisure. All this he may compass; but he may not lounge; for to lounge is to be idle; to be idle implies an absence of any thing to do; whereas there is a calm to be endured: enough to attend to, Heaven knows.

His physical organization, obviously intended for locomotion, becomes a fixture; for where the calm leaves him, there he remains. Even his undoubted vested rights, comprised in his glorious liberty of volition, becomes as naught. For of what use? He wills to go: to get away from the calm: as ashore he would avoid the plague. But he can not; and how foolish to revolve expedients. It is more hopeless than a bad marriage in a land where there is no Doctors’ Commons. He has taken the ship to wife, for better or for worse, for calm or for gale; and she is not to be shuffled off. With yards akimbo, she says unto him scornfully, as the old beldam said to the little dwarf:—“Help yourself.”

And all this, and more than this, is a calm.

(Herman Melville, Mardi and a Voyage Thither [1849], in Herman Melville: Typee, Omoo, Mardi, ed. G. Thomas Tanselle [New York: The Library of America, 1982], 669-670.)

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.

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