Alluvium Editorial 9.1: Twenty-First Century Irish Women’s Writing

In the first two decades of the twenty-first century, Irish literature has been marked by a seemingly unprecedented proliferation of writing by women. From Sally Rooney’s global domination on bestseller lists to Anna Burns’ Booker Prize win, Irish women’s writing is flourishing within and without the borders of the island. This special issue focusing on twenty-first century Irish women’s writing emerges out of a desire to survey and interrogate this literary fecundity.

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Trauma, Disremembering and Postmemory in Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s “The Fifty Minute Mermaid”

The widely acclaimed contemporary Irish-language poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill first published her long sequence of poems about mermaids as the closing section of her 1998 collection Cead Aighnis. The sequence was later transformed into the bilingual volume, entitled The Fifty Minute Mermaid (2007), with translations by Paul Muldoon, one of Ní Dhomhnaill’s most prolific translators.

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Uncertain Existences: Crime and Identity in Tana French’s “The Witch Elm”

Crime fiction narrates inquests into the past, interrogations of place and memory undertaken in order to construct narratives of history—stories about what took place, who was involved, and why. The protagonist, most frequently a detective, exhumes evidence and analyses it in order to construct a chain of causality that attempts to uncover the truth about the present by re-examining the knowledge of the past. This epistemological orientation of the genre amplifies its ability, as popular literature, to provide cultural reflection.

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From the Ashes: The Celtic Phoenix, Anna Burns’ “Milkman” and Sally Rooney’s “Normal People”

Paul Howard’s 2014 play Breaking Dad did not invent the phrase ‘the Celtic Phoenix’. American writer Dennis Frantsve self-published a thriller novel of the same title in 2004 (Amazon.com); in September 2008, The Irish Independent printed a gossip article entitled “Celtic Phoenix emerges… in lipstick and heels” (Egan); in 2010, a Bulgarian Irish dance troupe launched their website celtic-phoenix.com; and in 2011, Wicklow sculptor Thomas Flynn entitled a bog-oak sculpture “The Celtic Phoenix” (Stafford). “The Celtic Phoenix” was a phrase well-suited to post-crash discourse surrounding Irishness.

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‘Complicating Things with Fancy Footwork’: The Ethics of Difficulty in Anna Burns’ “Milkman”

Since its publication in 2018, critics have noted the many challenges posed by Anna Burns’ Milkman, either celebrating or condemning the award-winning novel for its perceived difficulty. Milkman offers a digressive first-person recounting of a young woman being stalked by an older republican paramilitary during the Northern Irish Troubles. The novel documents shocking instances of political violence and sexual abuse, and its complex prose is immersive and unrelenting: details and observations are piled together, and the narrative pacing risks burying even the most harrowing details in a rush of knotty prose, a risk heightened by the lack of tonal complexity.

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‘At war with her body’: the threat of pregnancy in the novels of Anna Burns

Before Amelia, the protagonist of Anna Burns’ debut novel, No Bones, is raped by her brother and his girlfriend, she is described from the perspective of the latter, who deems her “outrageously, sexually thin,” with the “arm-swinging vigour all six-stone hunger-strikers are very keen on” (123). In 1970s North Belfast, Amelia’s eating disorder is seen as vain compared to the sacrifices of political prisoners. This prioritisation of male suffering reflected in much scholarship on the Troubles. Alan Feldman’s Formations of Violence, for example, analyses the Northern Irish body under state and paramilitary power—imprisoned, beaten, starving or killed—but that body is exclusively male.

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The Pen is Mightier: Narrative power in contemporary Irish women’s writing

The contemporary moment in Irish women’s writing has been recognised as a space of “extraordinary dynamism” for women negotiating the changing landscape of gender in Ireland (Bracken and Harney-Mahajan 3). On the heels of the 2018 repeal of the Eighth Amendment, bodily autonomy and, as pertains to this discussion, narrative autonomy are significantly prevalent in both the public consciousness and contemporary writing. This article is concerned with the way autonomy and power are wielded in the use of narrative, taking as examples Emilie Pine’s personal essay collection, Notes to Self (2018), and Nicole Flattery’s “Abortion, A Love Story” from short story collection Show Them A Good Time (2019).

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Eimear McBride’s “Gob”

Early in her novel A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing (2013), Eimear McBride’s unnamed narrator Girl describes her first pint, “a Guinness for want of not knowing what else,” after moving to Dublin for college (83). She is egged on by a new friend, a chatty type with “big red gums” who is fond of talking about her famous father’s globetrotting. As in the rest of the work, the scene moves back and forth in Girl’s consciousness between thought and speech, the words of one and the words of another.

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‘Where are you from originally’: The cruel optimism of the precarious Irish public sphere in Melatu Uche Okorie’s “Under the Awning”

In “Dual Citizenship” Denise Chaila declares that “there are some people who will spend their whole lives, looking for a definition of home.” Since the citizenship referendum of 2004, many of those born in Ireland are no longer entitled to call the country of their birth their home. Melatu Okorie’s debut collection This Hostel Life (2018) gives voice to this precarious public sphere of contemporary Ireland.

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Alluvium General Call for Papers 2021

We are delighted to share a call for submissions for Alluvium, a partner journal of the British Association of Contemporary Literary Studies. Alluvium is an open access journal featuring short essays of around 2000-3000 words on key issues and emerging trends in 21st century writing and criticism. The journal publishes six issues a year, employing a system of post-publication by the engaged commentariat on the message boards of the journal’s website, enabling vital current ideas to find a rapid readership.

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“Remember me”: Significant Absences and the Fragility of Family in Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet

In Fragments d’un discours amoreux, Roland Barthes presents “absence / absence” as integral to lovers’ discourse, defining it as such: “[a]ny episode of language which stages the absence of the loved object—whatever its cause and its duration—and which tends to transform this absence into an ordeal of abandonment” (Barthes 13). Staging the absence of loved ones is a central theme in the work of Maggie O’Farrell, whose novels frequently contemplate loss and bereavement, processes of remembering and forgetting, the dynamics and role allocations within the family, and the preciousness and fragility of life itself.

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Alluvium Editorial Issue 9.2

In this March issue of Alluvium, our articles draw together a variety of scholars at varying stages of their academic careers. Breaking down elements of contemporary cinema and literature, this issue addresses topics of feminism, colonialism and metafiction, terrorism, and implicit rape across a selection of texts and cinema. This month’s collection of articles is a celebration of the contemporary, and an insight into the future of literature and media studies.

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Mad Max: Fury Road: A Feminist Redemption

The extent to which Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) can be considered a feminist film has been a contentious subject since its release. While a US blogger denounced it as a “feminist piece of propaganda” (Clarey, “Mad Max: Feminist Road”), encouraging men to avoid the film, others have condemned it as un-feminist due to the casting of “scantily-clad models with improbable thigh gaps” to play its central female characters (King, “Not a Feminist Masterpiece”). The film’s depiction of an all-female community, “The Green Place of Many Mothers”, has been another prominent point of controversy, with one reviewer declaring it “essentializing Earth Mother nonsense” (Jones, “Mad Max: Fury Road Isn’t That Feminist”). Essentialism, which is associated with early ecofeminism, “links women with a biological capacity to give birth, and associates this capacity with a greater concern with ecology”, arguing for an innate connection between womanhood and nature, and nature’s salvation. (Hester 37). Men, in contrast, are positioned by eco-feminists as an opposing force to women, with the inborn potential to destroy nature. Maria Mies, for example, holds that “modern techno-patriarchs destroy life […] but they cannot restore life. For that, they still need – as we all do – Gaia, Mother Earth, and Woman” (Ecofeminism 52). I argue, alongside eco-feminist critics, that these essentialist paradigms enforce a gendered dichotomy between nature and technology whereby “men, culture and agency are aligned with human subjectivity” while women and nature are treated as “the object, upon which dominant male-driven culture acts” (Yates 354). This article defends Fury Road as a feminist text against the claims that associate it with the eco-feminist essentialist perspective. Through the presentation of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her defeat of patriarchal despot Immortan Joe (the late Hugh Keays-Byrne), I argue that Fury Road disturbs the gendered binary between nature and technology to redefine “nature” as “technologized space” (Hester 13). Both nature, depicted by the Green Place, and the technology of Immortan Joe’s regime (notably vehicles, weaponry and biotechnology) are re-conceptualised to undo the essentialising view of women’s connection to nature and reproduction and present a utopian vision of liberation from the commodification and objectification of female bodies under patriarchal capitalism. In doing so, I contend that Fury Road re-establishes ecofeminism as a progressive liberatory force, speaking to the film’s central theme of “redemption”.

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“Sunt lacrimae rerum”: A structural analysis of Cloud Atlas

Post-Enlightenment Western society relies upon narratives of progress and civilization to cultivate hope that humanity has risen above its primitive foundations (Bayer 346). In his third novel, Cloud Atlas (2004), David Mitchell rejects such a “deterministic view of History as progress” (Machinal 135) as “reconfigurations of the same patterns” are seen across six unrelated narratives in six different settings and time periods (Kucala 109). Prior literature on this text has focused on the novel’s structure as being either a palindrome or matryoshka doll model, or alternatively, as an application of Nietzschean theories of eternal recurrence. This paper, however, explores how Nietzschean or opaque similarity, (as discussed by Kucala, and J.H. Miller, where the contrast between two formulations generates similarity) enables a matryoshka doll structure to better represent the cyclical model of time supported by principles of eternal recurrence, referring to the idea that all events repeat over time. Through the aforementioned palindrome structure, mise en abyme embedded narratives, narrative metalepsis, and remediation, Mitchell depicts how narratives of greed and oppression recur organically across time and space. Such audacious postmodern structural choices encourage the novel’s reflexivity as a metafiction, as a self-awareness of its own fictionality and textuality highlights rather than obscures the stories and individual lives within.

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Terrorism and Technology in Jennifer Egan’s Fiction

Jennifer Egan consistently pays attention to ideas of terrorism, war, and violence in her fiction. From her first novel, The Invisible Circus (1995), Egan writes about citizen bombing and guerrilla violence in a coming-of-age narrative fascinated with ideas of death and belonging. This interest in terrorism continues in Look at Me (2001), in the subplot of Lebanese terrorist ‘Z’ and a description of terrorist intent that eerily prophesies the events of 9/11, occurring just after the novel’s publication. Egan’s best known novel A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) (hereafter referred to as Goon Squad) is haunted by the image of 9/11, which is present even in absence as the novel’s unique narrative structure moves between the before and after of the attacks. This interest is clearly still evident in the spy-thriller plot of Twitter fiction ‘Black Box’ (2012), and is even touched upon in Egan’s most recent novel Manhattan Beach (2017), a historical fiction which centres upon the first female diver at the Brooklyn Naval Yard in 1940’s New York and engages with its wartime setting and ideas of American military power.

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Implicit Rape and Female Consent in Thomas Pynchon’s V.

Thomas Pynchon is no stranger to using shocking imagery to get his point across. V. (1963), his first full-length novel, is no exception, containing many instances of rape or attempted rape. The book’s third chapter, however, features a scene that is not explicitly an instance of sexual violence, yet arguably invokes in the reader the same highly invasive, uncomfortable feeling it would if it were an explicit description of rape. In this paper, I will pinpoint the reasons why this might be the case by comparing the second part of the chapter, a seemingly innocent rhinoplasty scene, to the more apparent mentions of rape throughout the book. Particular attention will be paid to similarities in imagery, the agency of the respective victims, and the reactions of male and female witnesses. Additionally, because there seems to be an aspect to the scene that implies it was intended as a metaphor for consensual sex, I will determine what the success or failure of this intended metaphor means for Pynchon’s philosophy on female consent.

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