Alluvium Editorial 7.1: Relaunch

Dear Readers,

We are delighted to be presenting you with the first new issue of Alluvium, which is relaunching as a graduate-run journal affiliated to the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies (BACLS).  As the incoming managing editors, we have been overwhelmed with the enthusiasm and demand for a space to discuss emerging debates and literary fields in the contemporary. It has been a fascinating few months establishing a sense of what an online journal can and should provide for the field of contemporary literary scholarship. This issue represents the first spark in an ongoing conversation and we look forward to welcoming your responses in the form of comments on our message board, future articles and prospective special issues.

Alluvium was founded in 2012 by Caroline Edwards and Martin Paul Eve. One of the frontrunners in a wave of new open access journals, it also marked a moment of definition for the field of contemporary literary studies in the UK, with the first What Happens Now? conference in 2010 and the launch of the journal C21 Literature in the same year as Alluvium. The name Alluvium reflects the journal’s distinctive approach to the emerging landscape of the discipline.  Alluvium is the loose, fertile soil of the flood plain, reshaped and deposited by the flow of river water. Young in terms of geological time, alluvium contains both organic matter and, sometimes, richer, stranger deposits – gold, platinum or gems. This is a suggestive metaphor for the literature we study, for the shaping of our discipline and indeed for the journal’s own methodology – a new and fertile culture created by the frenetic sweep of events, or the rich loose soil left behind by the ceaseless flow of REF-able output.  

Image by Doc Searls under a CC BY 2.0 Licence.

We are committed to continuing the journal’s distinctive founding mission: to provide a free and open platform for publishing, reading and engaging with up-to-the-minute scholarship from both established scholars and emerging voices. The short article format and a policy of post-publication peer-review, via discussion with an engaged commentariat on our message boards, locate the journal as as a gateway to peer-reviewed scholarship both published and in progress.  We seek to reflect both the interdisciplinary currents of the field and its vital links with creative practice and we therefore welcome contributions from adjacent disciplines and from non-academic writers. In a field with such a strong interest in the new and the emerging, it seems especially important that early-career researchers are active in shaping debate, and we are delighted to have established an editorial committee of fellow-postgraduates and ECRs who will all participate in editing forthcoming issues.

When we set to writing the Call for Papers, the theme of “Defining the Contemporary” felt like the perfect fit for the task we faced in relaunching Alluvium. The purpose of this exploratory issue was to open up a space for new voices, project collaborators, and senior colleagues alike to share their thoughts on what is most important in contemporary literary studies from a range of professional perspectives. We felt that it was similarly important that the pieces in this first issue would lead to further academic discussion – in Alluvium and beyond – and open up new directions of study. Therefore, a working set of definitions seemed like the best place to start. It was also a question that many scholars seemed to be asking both formally and informally in their research and wider networks.

One such example of this was the BACLS-WHN 2018 conference held in Loughborough. The conference “represents a significant milestone in the flourishing of an intellectual community of scholars” (Bulaitis, 2019), and revealed how the notion of “now” can be approached from a multiplicity of angles. Our first issue of Alluvium is a continued response to the provocation of this conference and an attempt to record the legacy of “What Happens Now” within and beyond BACLS’ academic community.  In reviewing the submissions, it struck us that our current, particularly contentious socio-political moment (Trump, Brexit, the rise of populism) marks a change from previous divisions made within the contemporary. The terms “post-9/11” or “twenty-first century” seem too general in many ways and somehow fail to capture our defining moment. While Alluvium seeks to embrace a rolling definition of the contemporary, it seems that definitions rooted in the “now” have attracted the attention of the contributors to this first issue. We are especially proud that the issue features interventions in varied forms: in addition to essays discussing key issues and emerging trends in literature and literary criticism, we include an interview with the editors of a new book that promises to be an important marker in the field and a scholarly reflection on canonicity in terms of professional and pedagogic practice.

The work of Sarah Kirpekar-Sauer (Edinburgh Napier University) draws attention to the emergence of “glocalisation” in social media in the context of the ongoing refugee crisis. Her article argues that “the contemporary moment is defined by interactions between the global and the digital, which in turn, shape social relations.” In a multi-media approach to “the literary” Kirpekar-Sauer examines social media discourse and the role of Facebook and Twitter in recent global events, positioning digital space as politically engaged and a significant area for investigation in the twenty-first century.

Our second article takes the form of an interview by Caroline Wintersgill (University of Winchester) with Daniel O’ Gorman (Oxford Brookes University) and Robert Eaglestone (Royal Holloway, University of London) about the task of editing The Routledge Companion to Twenty-First Century Literary Fiction. This recently published collection is an attempt at mapping the emerging landscape of post-2000 literature (or, as the editors argue “a book for readers to actively do the mapping with”) offering a critical intervention into debates on both the nature of the contemporary and the nature of the literary.  The volume tracks prominent literary trends since 2000 and examines some of the central concerns of contemporary fiction – ranging from terrorism to race, sexuality, class and the impact of technology. In the Alluvium interview the editors explain why this was the right moment to undertake such a task, they discuss the logic of inclusion and exclusion (why did sincerity come up so frequently? should they have included the narrative of videogames?) and they suggest that one of the ambitions of the collection is to reveal how contemporary writing arms us to negotiate our increasingly confusing and complicated contemporary moment.

Next, Richard Bingham (University of Birmingham) provides an exploration of the effects of generational definitions in his article “Identifying with Our Contemporaries”. Through an exploration of the writing of Sally Rooney, Bingham unpacks the clichés about millennial habits and explores how “Rooney’s stories highlight the inconsistency of the generation as a conceptual form.” Paying attention to Conversations with Friends (2017) and Normal People (2018) Bingham ultimately suggests that these novels bring to the fore the ways that the millennial generation might “serve as a tool for separating the way we speak about the emergent hierarchies of late-capitalist societies from traditional identity formations that no longer reflect them.”

The final contribution to the issue is an introduction to “Contemporary Canonicity (or, what not to read)”, a project co-organised by Rachel Sykes (University of Birmingham),  Diletta De Cristofaro (University of Birmingham) and Arin Keeble (Edinburgh Napier University). The organisers are also the founders of the Contemporary Studies Network. In this article, they share their experience of running workshops which ask those working within contemporary literature to reflect on their reading choice and syllabi design. The project questions the implicit value of the canon and acknowledges the potential of the “energy starting to emerge from broader questions about literary value and hierarchy, scholarly precarity and […] the refusal of texts on political grounds”.  This piece is intended as an introduction to a regular feature in Alluvium and we welcome suggestions for future articles on what to read and what not to read.

Our heartfelt thanks go to Caroline Edwards for her generosity in gifting Alluvium to BACLS and her invaluable assistance in handing over the editorship. Since its launch in 2012, Alluvium has had a history of provoking innovative and imaginative writing and we hope that we honour that tradition in our first issue. Thanks also to Martin Paul Eve who continues as senior online editor, to our enthusiastic editorial committee who will be taking it in turns to edit forthcoming issues, to those who have volunteered to join our advisory board and to BACLS for supporting and promoting the relaunch. Our gratitude to all of those who have contributed to this issue, to those who have sent in abstracts which will be developed in the future and finally, to you, our readers. Alluvium is not a static journal but one which is continually evolving to reflect the innovation and diversity of our research community. Without your readership, comments, and future contributions the definitions of the contemporary would cease to hold such fascination.

We hope you enjoy reading and engaging with the new Alluvium.

Best wishes,

Chloe Ashbridge, Zoe Bulaitis, and Caroline Wintersgill.

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Ashbridge, Chloe, Zoe Bulaitis and Caroline Wintersgill. “Alluvium Relaunch Editorial.” Alluvium 7.1 (2019), n. pag. Web. 22 February 2019.

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