In the twenty‐first century, digital technologies have made it possible for writers and artists to create massively unreadable works through computational and collaborative composition, what the author has elsewhere called megatexts. The ubiquity of texts appearing across media that are quite literally too big to read—from experimental novels to television, film, and video games—signals 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 work, including Drafts (1987–2013) and Traces, with Days (2017–), readily suggests itself as a case study for thinking through a megatextual impulse in the twenty‐first‐century long poem. Though her work is plainly indebted to its modernist precursors (H.D., Pound, Williams, etc.) while disavowing at every level of its composition a patriarchal will toward totality, DuPlessis's various experiments in the long poem are also thoroughly contemporary and respond to the economic, military, political, and environmental transformations of the neoliberal era by drawing upon and producing fragmentary, megatextual debris. This essay positions DuPlessis's work amidst a larger twenty‐first‐century media ecology, which includes both the megatext and the big, ambitious novel, and argues that rather than simply (and futilely) resist the neoliberal cultural logic of accumulation without end, DuPlessis hypertrophically uses the megatext's phallogocentric form against itself in order to interrogate more broadly what it means—socially, culturally, economically—to write a long poem in the age of hyperarchival accumulation.
“Is an Archive Enough?”: Megatextual Debris in the Work of Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Bradley J. Fest is assistant professor of English at Hartwick College and is currently working on a book about massively unreadable twenty-first-century megatexts. His work on contemporary literature and culture has appeared in boundary 2, CounterText, Critique, Scale in Literature and Culture (2017), The Silence of Fallout (2013), Wide Screen, Studies in the Novel, and elsewhere. He is also the author of two volumes of poetry, The Rocking Chair (2015) and The Shape of Things (2017). More information is available at bradleyjfest.com.
Bradley J. Fest; “Is an Archive Enough?”: Megatextual Debris in the Work of Rachel Blau DuPlessis. Genre 1 April 2021; 54 (1): 139–165. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-8911550
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