21st century writing | 21st century approaches

Alluvium Editorial 8.1

Chloe Ashbridge and Andreas Theodorou

In this first 2020 issue of Alluvium, articles converge around conflicting understandings of our sense of self in the neoliberal contemporary. At a particularly ‘uncertain’ time in which the concept of the national bloc is becoming all-the-more contested as a locus of identity, where do we seek alternative forms of identification and affiliation? Is it possible to imagine ourselves as truly post-national? Is there value to be found in national or supra-national forms or has neoliberalism succeeded in creating a borderless world? How can literature and media offer unique ways of negotiating the relationship between history and identity unhindered by territorial boundaries? Although not written as part of a special issue, the four articles included here explore these questions and address a range of contemporary concerns, ranging from the tensions between literary production and national identity to neoliberalism and the relationship between media and text.

Our first article takes the form of an interview. In a previous issue of Alluvium, Christine Lehnen wrote about the potential for imagining a post-national literature in Europe in the 21st century.  In this follow-up piece, Lehnen interviews David Szalay, author of London and the South-East (2008), Man Booker shortlisted All That Man Is (2016) and, most recently, Turbulence (2018). Szalay reflects on his own dual citizenship and the unique status of British national identity in particular, describing it as a ‘composite national identity’ that is ‘already beginning to disintegrate’ (Lehnen, 2020). Lehnen’s interview highlights the potential emergence of post-national writing, and whether that form would align more with supra-national bodies (such as Europe) or become inherently ‘global’. In the wake of ongoing constitutional tensions in the United Kingdom alone – especially debate surrounding England’s own ambivalent national status – Lehnen and Szalay’s exploration of identity seems especially poignant.

Image by stokpic from Pixabay licensed under CC BY 2.0

In ‘Returning to the Scene: Seriality and the Serial Killer in Mindhunter (2017-) ’, Katie Jones explores the production of serial killer TV dramas and their associated fetishization and popular consumption. Jones argues that ‘the serial killer mythology makes a celebrity of the criminal’, drawing on the ‘sensationalised spectacle of misogyny’ to analyse the Mindhunter series through a feminist psychoanalytic lens. Her discussion of the cultural return to trauma and the popularisation of brutality (particularly against women), invites further discourse on how society sensationalises such violence and oppression, and how the public finds itself infatuated with the serial objectification of women through such repetitive acts of aggression.

Hannah Marcus’ ‘Highlighting Invisible Media: Television Subtitles in the Split-Attention Economy’, posits subtitles as an overlooked extension of media that demands individual attention as a medium for the exploration. Marcus observes the nuances of subtitles and their evolution, in particular with Netflix’s House of Cards series (2013). Drawing on location, size, font, and format to analyse the meaning, influence and impact of subtitles on an otherwise media-centric narrative modem, Marcus argues that improvement of subtitles reflects a paradigm of better communicating purpose and meaning, whilst contrasting this with the disparity between those who can, cannot, do, and do not access this means of communication.

Image by AliceKeyStudio from Pixabay licensed under CC BY 2.0
Image by AliceKeyStudio from Pixabay licensed under CC BY 2.0

The final contribution to this issue is Megan Kirkwood’s conference review of the New Research on American Literature and Neoliberalism event held at Edinburgh Napier University. Offering a thoughtful and detailed account of the symposium and its associated book launch, Kirkwood describes how the socio-political phenomenon of neoliberalism is ‘a notoriously contested buzzword, as it relates to economics, ideology and everyday life’ (Kirkwood, 2020). Kirkwood’s report emphasises the slipperiness of defining what ‘neoliberalism’ refers to at any given time, suggesting that literature’s relationship with neoliberalism has been required to evolve to reflect the changing nature of the phenomenon itself. Noting new developments in the neoliberal novel – such as ‘market metafiction’ – that testify to its autopoetic, expansive form, Kirkwood identifies recurrent thematic strands occupying conference discussion, concluding that literary responses that ‘capture and shape the ever-shifting modern world’ are all-the-more urgent given the remorselessness of neoliberalism.

The body of scholarship presented herein offers an organically emerging preoccupation of contemporary literary studies. We hope this issue can provoke further reflection on the complexities of understanding our sense of self in relation to a society increasingly fractured by competing notions of national and global identities.


Chloe Ashbridge and Andreas Theodorou, ‘Editorial 8.1’. Alluvium. Vol. 8. No. 1 (2020) n.pag. 5 May. Web. https://doi.org/10.7766/alluvium.v8.1.01

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