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.”

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.

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.

“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?

“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.”