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

Next week I will be presenting a paper on a panel titled “The Power of Digital Talk” at the 2017 Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts Conference at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, November 9-12. The abstract for the paper is below.


Thursday, November 9, Session 1 2:00-3:30pm: 1E “The Power of Digital Talk”

Chair: Julie Funk

“The Time of Megatexts: Dark Accumulation and Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar,” Bradley J. Fest, Hartwick College.

“A Tech-Lover’s Discourse: Roland Barthes, Longing, Loss, and Separation Anxiety in Non-Use Discourse,” Julie Funk, University of Waterloo, Critical Media Lab.

“World Wide Walden: Toward a Thoreauvian Ethics of Screen Time,” John Tinnell, University of Colorado.


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

With the disastrous effects of rising atmospheric carbon becoming increasingly observable and the relentless pace of neoliberal capital pursuing ever-increasing profit, the twenty-first century appears to be a time of dark accumulation. Increasingly, the risks facing the overdeveloped world stem not from absence but from overwhelming presence: everywhere there is a problem of too much. And it appears that such horrifying accumulation goes for contemporary experiences of time as well. An author known, perhaps most famously, for exploring spatial and textual accumulation, Mark Z. Danielewski’s new project, The Familiar (2015–), a twenty-seven-volume serial novel in progress, turns his attention to the multiplying temporalities of the Anthropocene. From the deep time of its cosmic frame tale and the shifting temporalities of globalization experienced by its cosmopolitan characters, to its confrontation with planetarity and its bi-annual, serialized release schedule, The Familiar asks its readers to confront what it means to live in and at too many times. In this paper I will explore The Familiar as an example of what I call a megatext—an unreadably large yet concrete aesthetic and rhetorical transmedia object, produced and conceived as a singular work, and which depends upon digital technology and collaborative authorship for its production—and argue that Danielewski’s massive novel emerges from and responds to a world in which time is no longer out of joint, but overwhelmingly and catastrophically multiple.

For a previous paper on The Familiar, delivered at the 2016 Society for Novel Studies Conference, see my “The Megatext and Neoliberalism.” (This links to my page.)

Reconsidering Southland Tales and an Old Conference Abstract

southland tales

Appropriately, as today is 4 July, an old friend directed me to Abraham Riesman’s reconsideration of the absolutely wonderful Southland Tales (2006) and interview with its director Richard Kelly, “The World Ends with a Handshake: Unraveling the Apocalypse of Southland Tales.” (Thanks Robin!)

This is a film I have taught and written about (though before this blog’s time). The incomparable Steven Shaviro talks about it here and in his most recent book. And I guess there’s a pretty decent fan site for it: Fuck Yeah, Southland Tales.

I also presented on Southland Tales at my first academic conference ever, SLSA 2008. Here is an abstract for the paper I gave there (since I’ve never posted it):

Apocalyptic and messianic narratives have traditionally taken place in a stable, teleological temporal space, and for good reason.  The affective impact of their grand narratives have depended upon the necessity for certain forms of meaning to be stable in a world with a distinct beginning and ending.  Richard Kelly’s 2006 film Southland Tales, however, takes reiterating the present, and consequently the past and the future as well, as its dominant structural mode.  From Justin Timberlake’s lip-synched music video of a Killers song, to reversing T.S. Eliot’s famous line: “Not with a whimper but with a bang,” to the division of the protagonist into two distinctly instantiated embodiments, the constant reiteration of various cultural detritus in Southland Tales reveals not so much a postmodern “mash-up” of reference and self-consciousness, as it does a reiteration of Nietzsche’s metaphor of the gateway of the Moment from Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  In other words, Southland Tales offers an alternate history of the present, a view of temporality in which, in Zarathustra’s words, “Must not whatever can happen have happened, have been done, have passed by before?”  This paper will investigate how Kelly’s film reiterates Nietzsche’s critique of the scientific enlightenment through his figure of Zarathustra and the Eternal Return, while simultaneously reiterating the very eschatological messianism that so dominates apocalyptic narratives (and Nietzsche’s own critique) in a manner that emphasizes a much more fluid, synchronic view of history, and hence the unstable present as well.

I will hold off on posting the paper, as it is definitely old graduate work that should not necessarily see the light of day. But all this is making me want to return to Southland Tales, as I do not imagine exhausting the film anytime soon. (This also makes me want to get on Twitter, just so I can follow Richard Kelly.)

Abstract: Infinite Oppenheimers and Postnatural Metahistory: Jonathan Hickman’s Manhattan Projects

Below is an abstract for a paper I will be presenting at the 2013 Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts Conference, taking place October 3-6 a Notre Dame University.

Infinite Oppenheimers and Postnatural Metahistory: Jonathan Hickman’s Manhattan Projects

From the perspective of what number of young scholars and nuclear critics are calling a second nuclear age, I would like to suggest that one site of the “postnatural” can be found in the remarkable cultural intersection between narratives of nuclear history and contemporary ecological understandings of catastrophe and risk. Though there are any number of instances of such aesthetic correspondences and dissonances, for instance the spectacle of cinematic destruction that dominated the last decade, one might do well to look to texts that, parallel to the non-event of Mutually Assured Destruction, eschew moments of narrative disaster. Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Pitarra’s The Manhattan Projects (Image Comics, 2012- ) is such a text, imagining that work on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos was “a front for a series of other, more unusual, programs.” Hickman’s writing picks up a tradition of re-imagining nuclear history, familiar to any reader of Thomas Pynchon, and adds a superheroic twist: J. Robert Oppenheimer is consumed by his infinite personalities, Enrico Fermi is an alien, F.D.R. is reborn as an A.I., Albert Einstein plays the role of Wolverine, etc. This paper will argue that Hickman’s work emerges from a particular moment in which nuclear, information, and biological sciences are raising a host of interesting questions for contemporary narrative. Hickman’s radically alternative history of twentieth century science and politics emerges from a postnatural perspective whose horizon surpasses the globe, positioning nuclear history within a galactic ecology in order to rigorously problematize the posthuman.

SLSA, Braid (and the Nuclear. . .)

So I just got back from an excellent meeting of the Society for Literature Science and the Arts (SLSA), in Kitchener, Ontario (a surprisingly good city for a conference), and though I’m vibrating about a host of things, feel completely intellectually and academically reinvigorated, and had a great time w/ my colleagues and c0-panelists Robin Clarke and Sten Carlson, perhaps the thing I most took away from the conference (in terms of this blog) were Patrick Jagoda and N. Katherine Hayles discussing the indie-game, Braid (Jonathan Blow, 2009)–a game I kinda can’t believe I didn’t know about (oops). Sadly, I feel I cannot really spoil why it belongs on this here blog (but maybe I will after I finish playing it), but suffice it to say, it very much deserves some hyperarchivally parallactic attention. Also, it’s available on X-Box Live and is downloadable for like 10 bucks online. It’s totally worth it. So, until I finish playing it and feel like spoiling the ending, here’s a trailer.