Spring Semester 2016

January 5, 2016

I’m eager to begin another semester at the University of Pittsburgh. This spring I am teaching three classes: Seminar in Composition (ENGCMP 0200), Reading Poetry (ENGLIT 0315), and Introduction to Critical Reading (ENGLIT 0500). I have taught all three courses before and enjoy each one. Seminar in Composition is a newly redesigned course on the campus novel and the syllabus can be found on my Academia.edu page. I’d be happy to send along the syllabi for the other classes to interested parties, which tweak previous versions. (Among other texts, I’m eager to return to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves [2000] in Introduction to Critical Reading, and looking for the first time at Claudia Rankine’s Citizen [2014] in Reading Poetry). I have again decided not to do any class blogs this semester. For the blogs of previous classes, see the category “Teaching” to the right.


MLA 2016 Panel: The Anthropocene and Deep Time in Literary Studies

December 1, 2015

At this year’s MLA Convention in Austin, Texas, I will be on a panel on The Anthropocene and Deep Time in Literary Studies. I have included the information on the panel and an abstract for the paper I will be presenting below.

 

670. The Anthropocene and Deep Time in Literary Studies

Saturday, 9 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 6B, ACC

Program arranged by the forum LLC 20th- and 21st-Century American

Presiding: Heather Houser, Univ. of Texas, Austin

Speakers: Gerry Canavan, Marquette Univ.; Bradley J. Fest, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Kristin George Bagdanov, Univ. of California, Davis; Rebecca Wilbanks, Stanford Univ.

Session Description:

The notion of the Anthropocene was coined in 2000 to highlight that human beings’ transformation of the planetary environment will be visible in the geological strata. Beyond its crucial influence in the environmental humanities, the Anthropocene links to discussions of deep time in literary studies. This session taps into and elaborates on these two ongoing discussions.

 

“Fictional Quantities That Make Themselves Real”: Speculation, Petropolitics, and Deep Time in Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia

Since its publication in 2008, Reza Negarestani’s experimental work of “theory-fiction,” Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, has become somewhat of a literary touchstone for a variety of writers and thinkers revolving in the orbit of speculative realism. Resembling what would happen if Deleuze and Guattari collaborated with H. P. Lovecraft, Cyclonopedia is a serious, albeit ironic encounter with non-correlationist thought, with speculation, deep time, and hyperobjects of all kinds. It is also a rigorous literary attempt to think through climate change, the War on Terror, and the petropolitical realities of the twenty-first century. This paper will explore a variety of issues that converge in Negarestani’s remarkable book. Beginning with Cyclonopedia’s implicit emphasis on how speculation is necessary for thinking the present (rather than, say, rationalism, measurement, or management), this paper will argue that Negarestani’s encounter with geology and nonhuman hyperobjects indicates that experimental literature may be uniquely suited to thinking about deep time and the realities of climate change in a way unavailable to more conventional narratives. If Steven Shaviro has recently suggested that “at its best, speculative philosophy rather resembles speculative fiction,” then Negarestani’s “novel” is evidence of what might happen when speculative philosophy becomes speculative fiction. Cyclonopedia is not only an important text for thinking about nonhuman entities and deep time in an age of observable climate change, it is also an important entry into the ancient debate between poetry and philosophy. Less a “novel after theory” than theory as novel, Cyclonopedia demonstrates that literature will continue to play an important role for understanding the Anthropocene.


October 2015 Links

October 21, 2015

Nuclear and Environment

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, “Iranian Parliament Passes Bill Approving Nuclear Deal.”

McKenzie Wark, “The Capitalocene.”

Trevor Paglen, Trinity Cube.

 

US Politics

Daniel Schlozman, “The Sanders Phenomenon.”

 

Science

Nicola Twilley, “Meet the Martians.”

Tom Chmielewski, “After Intelligent Life Is Discovered.”

Ross Andersen, “The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy” (need I say “alien megastructures”?).

 

National Security State

The Intercept, The Drone Papers.

A visual glossary of The Drone Papers.

Culture Machine, Drone Culture.

Arjun Sethi, “Obama Misled the Public on Drones.”

“Where Spies Go When They Don’t Know.”

And an old one: Mike Lofgren, “Anatomy of the Deep State.”

 

Hyperarchival

Alexander R. Galloway, “From Data to Information.”

Jacob Brogan, “The Shame of Finding Your Younger Self Online.”

Curt Hopkins, “In the Age of Digital Music the Tape Is Making an Unlikely Comeback.”

Adrienne LaFrance, “Raiders of the Lost Web.”

Alison Gopnik, “No, Your Children Aren’t Becoming Digital Zombies.”

 

Literature and Culture

Dawn Lundy Martin, ed., “Dossier: On Race and Innovation,” a special issue of boundary 2.

Charles Stross, “21st Century: A Complaint.”

Alexandra Alter, “Svetlana Alexievich, Belarussian Voice of Survivors, Wins Nobel Prize in Literature.”

Joshua Cohen is writing a novel and allowing people to see him write it (it’s titled PCKWCK).

Terry Eagleton, “Utopias, Past and Present: Why Thomas More Remains Astonishingly Radical.”

Park MacDougald, “The Darkness before the Right.”

“An Interview with Robert Coover.”

Adam Kelly, “E. L. Doctorow’s Postmodernist Style.”

Barrett Brown, “Stop Sending Me Jonathan Franzen Novels.”

Ira Wells, “Mr. Difficult Rejects His Title,” review of Purity, by Jonathan Franzen.

Wesley Morris, “The Year We Obsessed Over Identity.”

Richard Brody, “Postscript: Chantal Akerman.”

Holly Andres, “Who Won Science Fiction’s Hugo Awards, and Why It Matters.”

Dan Brooks, “Banksy and the Problem of Sarcastic Art.”

Alec Wilkinson, “Something Borrowed,” on Kenneth Goldsmith.

Cathy Park Hong, “There’s a New Movement in American Poetry and It’s Not Kenneth Goldsmith.”

Alberto Comparini, “The Questionable Orthodoxy of Genres,” review of The Novel Essay, 1884-1947, by Stefano Ercolino.

Bill Capossere, “Purposeful Motion,” review of Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age, by Sven Birkerts.

Davey Wreden’s The Beginner’s Guide.

Laura Hudson, The Beginner’s Guide Is a Game That Doesn’t Want to Be Written About.”

Naomi Alderman, “The First Great Works of Digital Literature Are Already Being Written.”

Mathieu Piccarreta, “French City Introduces ‘Short Story Dispensers’ In Public Areas.”

Caitlin White, “Children’s Picture Book What Is Punk? Introduces Toddlers to Way Better Music Than Raffi.”

The Great Concavity, a new podcast on David Foster Wallace.

Jonathan Moody, Olympic Butter Gold.

And Ian Bogost, “Egg McNothin’.”

 

Humanities and Higher Education

Audrey Watters, “The Functions of Education-Technology Criticism.”

Mary Ellen McIntire, “How One College Hopes to Reshape General Education.”

Jenna Lay, “Job-Market Advice–for Faculty.”

And I am Pseudonymous, “Dear Cornell University. . . .”

 

Pittsburgh

Marylynne Pitz, “Warhol Curator Quits after Five Months.”

And the 2015 Society for Utopian Studies Conference Program.


Six Sonnets: 2014.01 – 2014.06

October 13, 2015

Six more of sonnets from the ongoing project just appeared in Empty Mirror.


2015.02 in Small Po(r)tions

October 1, 2015

A sonnet from an ongoing sequence just appeared in issue 5 of Small Po(r)tions magazine. Check out “2015.02.” More poems from this project are on their way in a couple weeks.


September 2015 Links

October 1, 2015

These links are coming a day late, but as anticipated, it has been a very busy semester.

 

Nuclear and Environmental

Lizzie Wade, “Earth in 10,000 Years.”

John Metcalfe, “Imagining the Most Catastrophic Climate Future Ever.”

Steven Vogel, “Environmental Ethics in a Postnatural World.”

Chris Mooney, “Why Some Scientists Are Worried About a Surprisingly Cold ‘Blob’ in the North Atlantic Ocean.”

Laurence Topham , Alok Jha and Will Franklin, “Building the Bomb.”

Ross Andersen, “Watching Nuclear War From Across the Galaxy.”

And a letter from Governor Jerry Brown.

 

US and National Security State

The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire.

Sy Hersh, “Evil but Stupid.”

 

Science

Adrienne LaFrance, “Water Is Flowing on Mars.”

 

Hyperarchival

Caitlin Dewey, “Everyone You Know Will Be Able to Rate You on the Terrifying ‘Yelp for People’–Whether You Want Them To or Not.” 

Rose Eveleth, “Introducing the Archive Corps.”

Alister Doyle, “Syrian War Spurs First Withdrawal from Doomsday Arctic Seed Vault.”

Kalev Leetaru, “History As Big Data: 500 Years Of Book Images And Mapping Millions Of Books.”

Colin Coopman, “The Algorithm and the Watchtower.”

Zachary Loeb, “The Social Construction of Acceleration,” review of Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism, by Judy Wajcman.

Miya Tokumitsu, “The Politics of the Curation Craze.”

Nikhil Sonnad, “This Free Online encyclopedia Has Achieved What Wikipedia Can Only Dream of.” On The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Margarita Noriega, “The Map of Literature.”

Ben Quinn, “Isis Destruction of Palmyra’s Temple of Bel Revealed in Satellite Images.”

Mimi Zeiger, “Yayoi Kusama’s Infinitely Immersive Installation Opens with The Broad in Los Angeles.”

And an old one: Grant Brunner, “Programmer Creates 800,000 Books Algorithmically, Starts Selling Them on Amazon.”

 

Literature and Culture

Carolyn Kellogg, “Ta-Nehisi Coates and Other Authors Who Landed MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grants: What Made Them Stand Out.”

Ben Lerner, MacArthur Fellow.

N. Katherine Hayles, “Searching for Purpose,” review of Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson, and Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Fredric Jameson, “In Hyperspace,” review of Time Travel: The Popular Philosophy of Narrative, by David Wittenberg.

Ian Bogost, “In the Habit,” review of Gamelife, by Michael W. Clune.

McKenzie Wark, “Blog-Post for Cyborgs” and “Benjamedia.”

Alexander R. Galloway, “Assessing the Legacy of That Thing That Happened After Poststructuralism” and “From Data to Information.”

Bruce Robbins, “Working on TV.”

Anjali Vaidya, “The Final Installment of the Ibis Trilogy,” review of Flood of Fire, by Amitav Ghosh.

Laila Lalami, review of Flood of Fire, by Amitav Ghosh.

Mark Goble, “Good Literary Criticism: On the Crisis of Man,” review of The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America 1933-1972, by Mark Greif.

John Higgs, “Was Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain Actually Created by a Long-forgotten Pioneering Feminist?”

Sarah Kaplan, “A White Guy Named Michael Couldn’t Get His Poem Published. Then He Became Yi-Fen Chou.”

Sherman Alexie Speaks Out on The Best American Poetry 2015.

Yi-Fen Chou, “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve.”

Brian Spears, “Yellowface in Poetry.”

Jenny Zhang, “They Pretend To Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist.

Aaron Bady, “Best American Poetry Pseudonyms.”

Teju Cole, “Migrants Welcome.”

Art Winslow, “The Fiction Atop the Fiction: Did Pynchon Publish a Novel Under the Pseudonym Adrian Jones Pearson?”

John Beck, “Beneath the Soviets the Beach,” review of Molecular Red, by McKenzie Wark.

Carolyn Kellogg, “Salman Rushdie’s New Novel Two Years Lets the Jinn Out of the Bottle.”

Radio Hour: Salman Rushdie, Jill Essbaum, and Jerry Stahl.

Janet Maslin, The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr, Is a Veteran’s Guide.”

Amanda Fortini, “Interview: Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir, no. 1.”

Morten Høi Jensen, “Me, Myself, and Hitler,” review of My Struggle, Book Five, by Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Rhys Williams, “Wake Up and Smell the Weird,” review of Three Moments of an Explosion, by China Miéville.

Eleanor Goodman, “Letter from Shanghai.”

Andrew Broaks, “Do You Miss the Future? Mark Fisher Interviewed.

Nick Levey, “A Temporal Humanism: A Review of Joseph Frank’s Responses to Modernity.”

Nell Zink, “Early Thoughts on Purity by Jonathan Franzen.”

Urmila Seshagiri, “Biology, Destiny, Purity.”

David Haglund, Mr. Robot and the Angry Young Man.”

“Don DeLillo to Receive National Book Award for Lifetime Achievement.”

Don DeLillo, Zero K (forthcoming).

Jason Horsley, “The Invitation of the Mirror: Jonathan Lethem and Me, from the Margin to the Mainstream.”

David Orr, “The Most Misread Poem in America.”

Laura Miller, “David Foster Wallace and the Perils of ‘Litchat.'”

John Semley, The End of the Tour Flattens David Foster Wallace into the Grinding Machinery of Fame He so Often Detested.”

Phillip Maciak, “Original Programming: On Mr. Robot.”

De Witt Douglas Kilgore, “Envisioning Astroculture in the American Hemisphere,” review of Past Futures : Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas, by Sarah J. Montross.

Martin Woessner, “Fail Slow, Fail Hard,” review of Freedom to Fail: Heidegger’s Anarchy, by Peter Trawny.

George Gene Gustines, “Ta-Nehisi Coates to Write Black Panther Comic for Marvel.”

Dan Piepenbring, “The Solar Anus.”

Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham, “Spygate to Deflategate: Inside What Split the NFL and Patriots Apart.”

Heidi Kemps, “Nintendo’s Forgotten Console.”

“Dismaland: Inside Banksy’s Dystopian Playground.”

Grace Ambrose, “Reissue of the Week: Conflict.”

Nicola Masciandaro, “Wings Flock to My Crypt, I Fly to My Throne: On Inquisition’s Esoteric Floating Tomb.”

Patrick Jagoda, Network Aesthetics (pre-order).

Andrea K. Scott, “Triple Threat” (on Triple Canopy).

Plinth, no. 4.

Emoji Dick.

Julia Yu, “Goodnight Dune.”

Andy McDonald, “And Now, A Fat Guy On A Toilet Talks To You About Fat Shaming.”

And Jared Smith, “Taylor Swift: A Socratic Dialogue.”

 

Humanities and Higher Education

Megan Garber, “The Rise of ‘Quit Lit.'”

Colleen Flaherty, “Public Good-byes.”

Oliver Lee, “I Have One of the Best Jobs in Academia. Here’s Why I’m Walking Away.”

Ian Bogost, “No One Cares that You Quit Your Job.”

“How America Reacted to ‘The Coddling of the American Mind.'”

Ryan Holiday, “The Real Reason We Need to Stop Trying to Protect Everyone’s Feelings.”

David L. Ulin, “Read before You Speak.”

Adrienne LaFrance, “Millennials Are Outreading Older Generations.”

Henry Veggian, “Adjunct Professors and the Myth of Prestige.”

Simon During, “Stop Hyping Academic Freedom.”

And the 2015-2016 academic year is “The Year of the Humanities” at the University of Pittsburgh.


Panel Abstract: Utopian Geologies

September 6, 2015

I just got word that a panel I organized was accepted for the 2015 Society for Utopian Studies Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, taking place November 5-8. I have included the general abstract for the panel, and the abstracts for each individual paper.

The panel will take place on Saturday, 7 November 2015, 8:30 -10:45 am.

 

Utopian Geologies

Panelists: Racheal Forlow, Dan Malinowski, and Bradley J. Fest

In the twenty-first century, the Anthropocene has emerged as an important concept for understanding the impact of human life on the planet. As activists, journalists, and scholars attempt to respond to the challenges this new epoch presents, many invoke deep time as a significant mode of thinking. This panel will take up the question of how the utopian imagination, long a site for speculating about the future, might contend with such geologic timescales. Responding to the conference topic of “global flows” by discussing things that flow at very, very slow paces, each paper will consider an important literary encounter with utopian geology. From Walt Whitman’s emergent poesis, to Kim Stanley Robinson’s posthuman environmental ethics, to the emphasis on human finitude in recent speculative thinking, these papers all signal a desperate need to reinvest in the imagination in the face of observable climate change.

 

Walt Whitman’s Geologic Imagination and the Future

Racheal Forlow, University of Pittsburgh

Western utopian traditions imagine how human activities might create better futures. Today, those who pursue projects of this kind confront a singular set of challenges. Scientists argue climate change and a range of other environmental emergencies threaten the future of the species. Because most agree the activities a tradition of Enlightenment thinking privileges produced these threats, the present seems to demand we conceive anew the ways we hope to project and build better worlds. Some artists, intellectuals, and activists committed to this work therefore suggest we abandon anthropocentric views of the universe and autonomous views of human individuals for more broadly materialist accounts. In this paper, I argue a tradition of American poetry Walt Whitman originates offers projects of this kind historical and conceptual resources. Whitman treats the human faculties contemporary projects require—among these imagination, reason, and feeling—in thoroughly material terms. In “Song of Myself” (1855), he imagines human creative power is an evolutionary force that emerges out of deep, geologic history. So conceived, the human is not a powerful, autonomous agent that dominates what is not identical to it. Instead, the species participates in a broader set of transformative processes. I believe recognizing US traditions offer this alternative vision of the human might serve attempts to project and build futures in the novel ways contemporary crises compel.

 

Should We Eat the Dirt? Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, Geology, and New Materialism

Dan Malinowski, Rutgers University

No matter where humanity goes, it will shape and be shaped by its environment. In this talk, I will explore the ways in which Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy (1994-96), through the long time-spans in which it occurs, allows us to follow the flow of human society on literally untouched land, providing a useful thought experiment for exploring the ethics of the relationship of humanity to geological features. I will examine the debates surrounding terraforming enacted within these novels, highlighting their central aporia: namely, how a utopian society can (or cannot) coexist with a posthuman ethics towards the natural landscape. I will show how the recent work in the New Materialism can articulate this problem more productively than the Heideggerian model of geological ethics proposed by Fredric Jameson in his essay on the trilogy. In doing so, this paper will articulate a view of the world in which the interactions of the “dead” world and its new inhabitants flow back and forth in an ongoing and multi-directional process, a consideration inseparable from any utopian possibility whether here on Earth or there on Mars.

 

Speculative Criticism, Black Metal Theory, and Utopia: Richard Grossman’s “Torah Ball”

Bradley J. Fest, University of Pittsburgh

In recent years, invoking Fredric Jameson’s famous quip about it being easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism has become something of a cliché. Given the realities of observable climate change and the seeming inability for human institutions to make the broad, sweeping changes necessary for responding to life in the Anthropocene, one might find it difficult to disagree with claims about the foreclosure of the utopian imagination. So it is perhaps surprising that a variety of thinkers, emerging from the school of Speculative Realism (or New Materialism), have been emphasizing species finitude, particularly with regard to deep, geologic timescales. Rather than explore possible utopian futures, writers like Ray Brassier, Nicola Masciandaro, Reza Negarestani, Eugene Thacker, McKenzie Wark, Evan Calder Williams, and others, often writing under the heading of “Black Metal Theory,” frequently invoke the utter inevitability of human extinction. As part of a larger project of articulating what I am calling “speculative criticism,” this paper will explore what such dark geologies might offer for both the study of literary works massively extended in space and time and the pressing need to reconceive and reinvest in the utopian imagination in the twenty-first century.


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