Paul Benzon will deliver the 2022–23 Babcock Lecture at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 5, 2023 in the Eaton Lounge of Bresee Hall at Hartwick College.
“The Poetics and Politics of the Paralegible”
What are the politics of writing—not at the level of language and discourse, but rather at the level of materiality and of the inscriptive mark itself? What might approaching writing as a material, visual practice have to tell us about issues of cultural identity, history, and power.
In the 2022–23 Babcock Lecture, Paul Benzon will explore these questions through a discussion of a mode of experimental writing he calls the paralegible. As the term suggests, the paralegible exists in the liminal space between the legible and the illegible, troubling the relations between the mark and the letter, the visible and the invisible. Simultaneously conjuring the desire to read and refusing that desire, it foregrounds questions of writing, authorship, and the textual trace. Turning to recent work by three artists—Renee Gladman, Hương Ngô, and Shirin Salehi—Benzon will show how the paralegible activates the political potentialities of writing that is at odds with language.
Paul Benzon (he/him/his) is an assistant professor in the English Department at Skidmore College, where he also teaches courses in the Media and Film Studies Program. He is the author of Archival Fictions: Materiality, Form, and Media History in Contemporary Literature (University of Massachusetts Press, 2021), and his writing has appeared in College Literature, electronic book review, Media-N, Narrative, and PMLA. His current project, from which this talk is drawn, considers how contemporary literary and artistic experimentations with print textuality, the book as an object, and textual and alphabetic design reckon with questions of historical trauma and social justice.
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
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.”