By Misbah Ahmed and C.J. Griffin
This issue of Alluvium focuses on World Literature and the alter|native. The featured articles are written in the context of Kamau Brathwaite’s attempt to initiate an alter|native narrative of colonial history, one which moves beyond the predominant understanding of the Caribbean as a site of imperialist subjugation and mimicry. In engaging with the alter|native, writers in this issue consider World Literature as a new site for conceptualising and articulating contemporary politics, culture, and crises. Through experimenting with and creating new literary forms, an alter|native World Literature can challenge false and hegemonic narratives of the past and present while also shedding light on speculative futures.
In the spirit of Brathwaite, who sought to go ‘wider than Shakespeare’ (2), World Literature can address postcolonial concerns and go beyond the geo-political confines of single countries and regions. Just as Brathwaite advocates going beyond Shakespeare, World Literature also attempts to go beyond Anglocentric literature, knowledge, and canons, acknowledging disparities within the global circulation of culture and focussing on the marginalised (Mufti, 2016). The articles in this issue are all engaged in this alter|native endeavour.
Building from the work of Jonathan Skinner, Joan Retallak, Joshua Schuster, and others, Dr Martin Schauss’ article charts a vision of ecopoetics that does not consider leafy, ‘green’ environmental art to be necessary for registering the world’s ecological unconscious. Rather, Schauss understands ecopoetics as the tracing of subtle adjustments and attunements between ecological actors and what changes these can create in cultural forms and modes of expression. To illustrate this vision, Schauss turns to Caroline Bergvall’s trilogy (2011-2019) of multi-modal, cross-platform literatures, which focus on the Mediterranean Refugee Crisis. Drawing parallels with the work of Kamau Brathwaite, Edouard Glissant, and M. NourbeSe Philip, Schauss examines how Bergvall’s representation of the refugee crisis through collage, audio-video, written word, live performance, images, and music, uniquely attends to the materiality and polyvocality of language. In doing so, Bergvall’s texts represent an ethically-conscious and forceful world-making, one that attends to a changing cultural ecology and which remains alive to the possibility of realising an ecological commons.
Aisyah Saiful Bahri and Nurul Fateha challenge the Anglocentrism of World Literature in turning to what they term ‘MySF’ – that is, Malaysian Speculative Fiction. Bahri and Fateha trace a literary landscape of cultural stagnancy in twenty-first century depictions of Malaysia and its colonial history, one resonant with Mark Fisher’s own lamentations about the inertia of contemporary literature, film, television, and music. Yet, in focusing on Zen Cho’s short story “Extracts from DMZine #13 (January 2115)”, Fateha and Bahri illustrate how cyberpunk speculative fiction can create an alter|native vision of Malaysia’s past and future, one counter to the hegemony of Anglocentric World Literature, typical depictions of Malaysia’s position within a system of neoliberal globalisation, and a sense of unending political stagnancy in Malaysia stemming from the legacy of British colonial rule.
Dr Josephine Taylor’s article speaks of the alter|native space of science fiction novels and science fiction’s ability to reconcieve energy transition in a world after oil. Her analysis of Liu Cixin’s ‘Moonlight’ draws a link between petroculture and capitalism. Through this, Taylor establishes that a truly sustainable relationship with energy and our environment can only occur when moving away from capitalism and reliance on technological advancement, with green capitalism’s promises of sustainable solutions to the ecological crisis impeding the development of a truly sustainable energy model. Further analysis of Stainslaw Lem’s Solaris shows the failure of human mastery, when attempts to colonise the fictional planet Solaris are met with failure. By posing the planet as a sentient being, Taylor suggests a new relationship must be made with our own planet and the resources it provides for human consumption.
Aiman Khattak considers the future of World Literature in her article. Her critique of World Literature’s tendency to homogenise and ‘nativise’ minority cultures shows what ‘nativisation’ may look like for the marginalised. Khattak poses what an alter|native approach to World Literature may look like, and simultaneously how this may affect our relationships with the marginalised. A focus on Khaled Hosseini’s novel And the Mountains Echoed (2013) presents the complications of a World Literary genre which prioritises publication in English over marginalised languages. An application of Jean Baudrillard’s work on ‘genome’ theory shows how globalisation has resulted in cultures being homogenised globally and how homogenisation cements dynamics of developed and developing countries in the global arena, encouraging individuals to adopt the hegemonic cultures of developed countries.
Misbah Ahmed, C.J. Griffin, “Alluvium Editorial 9.5: World Literature and the alter|native,” Alluvium, Vol. 9, No. 5 (2021): n.pag. Web 22 Oct 2021. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7766/alluvium.v9.5.01
About the Authors
Misbah Ahmed received her Masters in Global Literature and Culture from the University of York. Misbah’s research primarily focusses on contemporary British South Asian women’s fiction with a special consideration of trauma, gender, and the everyday. She was recently shortlisted for the Ruth Selina poetry prize and writes fiction in her spare time. You can tweet her @misbahahhmed
Christopher Griffin (he/him) (@CJGriffin) is an AHRC-funded PGR of Contemporary Anglophone Literature at the University of Warwick. Christopher holds an MPhil in Modern and Contemporary Literature from Pembroke College, Cambridge. His research centres on the C21 Anglophone novel in Britain, neoliberalism, and the aesthetics of the secret. His broader interests lie in the intersection of literature and continental philosophy, literature and neurodivergence (esp. autism), aesthetics & affect theory, and postcritique. He is an affiliate of Pandemic Perspectives and his writing has appeared in Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds.