21st century writing | 21st century approaches

Editorial Vol. 7 No. 2

Julia Ditter and Andreas Theodorou, Guest Editors

While the conflation of arts and politics is nothing new per se, the contemporary moment is defined by a particularly explicit and straightforward expression of politics through art and within the humanities. Rather than remaining part of the “political unconscious” (Frederic Jameson) of narrative and scholarly texts, political consciousness can now be seen to break through the surface of texts ever more frequently. Discussions around political correctness, diversity and inclusivity have gained momentum in the cultural and literary landscapes of the second decade of the twenty-first century. They are supported by the power of social media, where hashtags such as #OscarsSoWhite, #BlackLivesMatter or #MeToo not only increase the visibility of discriminatory hierarchical structures in our societies, but also lead to the formation of groundbreaking movements. The growing pressure of such social justice movements and the force of the counterpositions they face from the resurgence of reactionary nationalist movements results, in part, in a further politicisation of culture and art. Both the humanities and the creative industries are frequently tasked with creating alternative visions of the world that are less hierarchical; providing new frameworks through representation and visibility. This issue sets out to address questions about the ethical responsibilities felt by both scholars and artists, to suggest ideas of how they may negotiate their political and moral positioning in the twenty-first century and of how they can contribute positively to a more diverse and inclusionary politics of representation in the arts as well as within the humanities.

The first article of this issue is a review by Zoe Bulaitis (University of Manchester) of the recent annual conference of the European Consortium for Humanities Institutes and Centres (ECHIC). A concern with the entanglements between the humanities and the arts in an increasingly globalised world led the conference to address the question of cultural democracy and the value of the arts and humanities in neoliberal societies. Bulaitis explores the conference’s success in promoting openness and connectivity. She addresses the ways in which the framework of the conference enabled dialogue between a plurality of voices, promoting an academically and creatively open-minded approach to evaluating the future of the humanities. In this context, Bulaitis notes especially her impression that the humanities need to begin acknowledging the entanglements between arts and economics and recognising literary works as commodities in order to democratically participate in the future development of the humanities and creative industries.

“In the Realm of the Mad God”by Andreas Theodorou (2018). Image used with permission.

In the second article, Arya Aryan (Durham University) contests the notion of the death of the author brought forth by Roland Barthes in 1967 by highlighting the ethical burden felt by contemporary writers such as Salman Rushdie. The article demonstrates how Rushdie uses Saleem Sinai, the protagonist and narrator of his novel Midnights Children (1981) as a stand-in representative of a politically committed author. Even though Aryan presents an earlier example of the return of such an author figure, the discussion around the political and ethical responsibilities of writers could not be more topical today when the debates around the #MeToo movement call for an interrogation of whose works we allow ourselves read or teach and how we can, and should, engage with them.

The work of Donna Alexander (University College Cork) takes as its focus the work of another politically committed author, Claudia Rankine. As Alexander demonstrates, Rankine’s multimedial form of poetry in Citizen: An American Lyric (2014) expands the range of the lyrical form and thereby not only highlights its contemporaneity but further shows how its flexibility and openness for convergence and experimentation can be used to transgress the boundaries of a hegemonic canon. Rankine’s work is shown to actively undertake cultural work in engaging with contemporary political and cultural events and urging us towards the necessity of creating counterhistories to shatter the hegemony of the genre of the American lyric, both on a formal level and a subject level.

Finally, Keri Thomas (FE lecturer, Aberystwyth) addresses the opportunities offered by the emergence of the digital humanities as well as the pitfalls of digitisation. Thomas does not simply urge the humanities to “go with the times” and reconsider their stable ideas about the materiality of books but empathetically interrogates the anxieties connected to the loss of tactile materiality and physical experientiality, in an increasingly digital age, even as she points towards the inevitability and necessity of such developments. After highlighting the urgency of the digitisation of historical material for preserving it against the dangers of war, ecological disasters and other dangers, she holds up a mirror to humanities scholars and asks us to interrogate our own intentions and responsibilities in the digitisation process. The article addresses the shortcomings of digitisation projects which tend overwhelmingly to favour canonical works and thereby perpetuate problematic hierarchies, failing to adequately include the works of marginalised groups into the digital archives and leaving them defenceless to the danger of obliteration.

Digitisation of a Dunhuang manuscript in the IDP studio. Image by International Dunhuang Project reproduced under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Together, these articles remind us of the role of the past in defining the contemporary. They force us to reflect upon the value of the physicality of the arts, its role in shaping our world, how we must increase access to creativity and scholarship and the wider context of a single instance in time and space.  The study of the arts and further creation are both shackled and set free by the past, present, and future, ever fluid as it moulds the world in and around us.

Citation:

Julia Ditter and Andreas Theodorou, “Editorial Vol. 7 No. 2’” Alluvium, 7.2 (2019): n. pag. Web. 30 April 2019. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7766/alluvium.v7.2.01

About the guest editors:

Julia Ditter recently graduated from the University of Freiburg where she completed a Master in British and North American Cultural Studies. She is working as a research assistant at the English Department as well as the CRC 948 on “Heroes – Heroisations – Heroisms” at the University of Freiburg and holds a position as teaching fellow at the University College Freiburg.She is currently preparing to embark on a PhD that will examine the entanglements between borders and ecology as represented in Scottish literature from 1800 until today.

Andreas Theodorou is an independent scholar having completed a BA and MRes in English at Liverpool John Moores University and going on to become a British Library Labs Researcher in Residence. His research observes medical and digital humanities, focusing on simulated terror and play in contemporary Gothic video-games. In his spare time, Andreas is also a culinary hobbyist, baker, and the author and artist behind Beyond the Darkness. You can tweet him @AndreasT94.

Want to get involved? Email us at editorial@alluvium-journal.org

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