Special Issue: Contemporary Storytelling and Seriality: Production, Consumption, and Reception
Guest Editors: Kate Wilkinson and Ricarda Menn
In this special issue of Alluvium, we are interested in the affordances and possibilities of contemporary and serial storytelling: how does the notion of contemporaneity entail implications for serial storytelling with regards to the interconnections between production, consumption and reception? Which new forms for serial storytelling arise out of the technological possibilities of our increasingly digitized culture? How do serial narratives correspond to and aesthetically reflect on ongoing socio-cultural phenomena? How do these developments alter our understandings of storytelling? And how can we as scholars of literature and culture, in turn, adapt our terminology for the analyses of such increasingly complex interweavings of consumption, reception and production?
In recent years, the study of serial forms of narrative has experienced a considerably vital growth. Particularly, the Popular Seriality Research Unit, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) has amassed a strong focus on popular forms of serial storytelling, for instance by stressing the importance of expansive storytelling in TV series (Mittell 2015), examining (trans)medial forms of storytelling in and across comics (Eds. Denson, Meyer and Stein 2013) as well as delineating the evolution of popular seriality since the nineteenth century (Ed. Kelleter 2012).
All these approaches expand Umberto Eco’s basic premise of seriality: “To serialize means, in some way, to repeat […] [creating] something that at first glance does not appear as the same (equal) to something else.” (85), or as Kelleter condenses it as “repetition with variation” (2012: 11.). Kelleter further describes the appeal of serial narratives as rooted in “two basic impulses of storytelling – the satisfaction of conclusion and the appeal of renewal – are balanced through suspense and resolution. Tension is built up to be released again.” (2017: 9). Serial stories are thus always characterized by a tension between a final resolution and the suspending of it through ongoing narrativization. Tracing how serial storytelling carries distinct affordances across a range of media and genres also entails closer scrutiny of narrative categories like plot, episodes, beginnings and endings, temporality, to name just the most striking instances affected by serial repetition and variation. Moreover, serial storytelling also undermines conventional distinctions between producer and consumer:
serial narratives, as actor-networks and self-observing systems, contribute to how the people who produce and consume them (sometimes doing both things at the same time!) understand themselves and proceed in these roles. Thus, while consumers, producers, media scholars, and so forth, operate as agents of narrative continuation, serial narratives in turn operate as agents of role differentiation: they produce ‘producers’ just as they make fans or encourage people to ‘be’ critics or scholars – that is, to act as such. (Kelleter 2017: 28)
The four articles included in this issue address some of these questions and explore a range of contemporary modes of serial storytelling, with a specific focus on new and emerging forms of serial production and serial reception. They consider forms and affordances of seriality across media, exploring anime, videogames, novels and television. Hauwa Ahmadu’s article “From Manga to Fandom” explores the consumption and dissemination of Japanese anime, animation series that are often adapted from long-running manga or novels. Anime producers and fans share an understanding that a series canon encompasses many elements in addition to the original, including comments from the original creators, interviews, online extras animated with “super deformed” characters (distorted to appear cute or funny), and character sketches by key animators. As fans consume and incorporate these elements into their own creative content, which is widely shared, a highly participatory form of seriality emerges.
The seriality of video games is also dynamic, Rebekah Cunningham argues, and is influenced by reciprocal feedback loops between developers and players. Her article “Dynamic Storytelling in Episodic Videogames” explores two examples of this – one a light-hearted instance of meme-making, the other a significant question of LGBTQ representation – as illustrations of issues that are foundational to the development, consumption and discourse of videogames. Their particular seriality is shaped by feedback from the fan community and an awareness of this can, in turn, inform how scholars approach this changeable medium.
Alex Calder’s article considers Ali Smith’s experimental Seasonal, her quartet of novels that will be completed in 2020 with the publication of Summer. “‘The great connective’: Contemporaneous Storytelling and Emergent Seriality in Ali Smith’s Seasonal” focuses on intertextual relations, both with other literary and visual works and between the novels themselves. These linkages across narratives and times are critical to Seasonal’s engagement with the crises of our political and social present – political divisions after the Brexit referendum, global displacements of refugees and the climate emergency. They invite close attention to forms of connection and to the possibilities of storytelling as ways of moving beyond contemporary outrage culture.
Our final article takes a narratological approach to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, the recipient of multiple television awards. A key factor in the immense popularity of the series has been the experience of intimacy that it offers through its storytelling, and Denise Wong both illuminates and complicates its mechanisms. In “Distancing Affect in Fleabag”, she proposes Fleabag as an example of second-person narrative in television and argues that this is critical to understanding the narrative’s driving affect of intimacy and the problematic complicity that this elicits from its viewers. An appeal to a general yet specific ‘you-subject’ has arguably emerged as a characteristic of contemporary public discourse in politics, self-help and advertising – think “Because you’re worth it”, for example. This consideration of Fleabag as ‘you-narrative’ suggests how contemporary forms might interrogate the seductions of this rhetoric and the supposed agency it offers.
We present the articles in this issue as a starting point to address the questions of production, reception and consumption, and to further fruitful debates on the study of contemporary literature and culture with a specific focus on seriality.
Ricarda Menn and Kate Wilkinson, “Alluvium Editorial 7.5 Contemporary Storytelling and Seriality: Production, Consumption, and Reception” Alluvium, Vol. 7, No. 5 (2019): n. pag. Web. 15 December 2019, http://dx.doi.org/10.7766/alluvium.v7.5.01
About the authors
Ricarda Menn is a PhD Student and research assistant at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI) in Essen. Her thesis examines serial autobiographies and autofictions in Contemporary Literature.
Kate Wilkinson is a Teaching Associate in the School of English and Drama, Queen Mary University of London. She has recently completed her PhD on the persistence of letters in contemporary novels.
Eco, Umberto. “Interpreting
Serials.” The Limits of Interpretation.
University Press, 1990. 83-100.
Kelleter, Frank. “Five Ways of Looking at Popular Seriality.” In: Media of Serial Narrative, Ed. Frank Kelleter. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 2017. 7-35.
Kelleter, Frank. “Populäre Serialität. Eine Einführung.” Populäre Serialität. Narration -Evolution – Distinktion. Zum seriellen Erzählen seit dem 19. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2012. 11-46.
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