Aristocratic Realism: Within and Against Feudalism in English Future Fiction

After forty years of neoliberalism, it might be expected that dystopian imaginaries of future Englands would be determined by capitalist realism. If, as Mark Fisher notes, the dominant economic coordinates of actually existing society have ‘colonized the dreaming life of the population’ (8), then the future promises more of the same: commodification, inequality, precarity. However, in this article, I argue that visions of turbocharged neoliberalism in the English context are often accompanied by the rejuvenation of an older, feudal tendency. The peculiar form of gentlemanly capitalism that has developed in England, where the rising bourgeoisie never toppled the old aristocracy, is registered in speculative images of the country’s future. Feudalism and neoliberalism jostle together, each reforming and changing the other.

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Education, a Monstrous Thief of the Future

Long has it been known that the future is cancelled. This doomed fate claimed by Fisher, and indeed others, has only solidified amidst climate crises, right-wing political control, and post-pandemic uncertainty. More and more, it seems that both metaphorically and literally there is no future to come, at least not in the dominant imagination of western politics and culture.1 This is troubling, of course, but not simply because the future has been stolen. It is troubling because something ‘out there’ in the abyss of reality has the agency to steal our futurity. Someone, something, an it, is a thief of time. Temporality has been infected, seized upon and warped; only a monstrous being could do such a thing.

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Lay Down And Rot: Incels and Lost Futures

In this essay, we examine an alternative contemporary narrative of foreclosed futures that is shared by members of the Incel (involuntary celibate) community. Incel is one node in the Manosphere, a loosely affiliated online network of groups who share concerns about men and masculinity. Deeply fatalistic, Incel consists of a community of largely young men who share a belief that all but the most attractive men have no chance of future happiness or romantic love, due to the skewing of “dating markets” in favour of women (Price 247).

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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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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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