Monday, 19 September 2011

Exposing A Dark World

Hello and welcome to the first C21 Literature: Journal of 21st Century Writings Blog. As Editor, it has fallen to me to take the first steps into the blogosphere but my co-editor and members of the editorial board will be hot on my heels in the coming months. Together, we’ll be offering a behind the scenes look at the design, production and promotion of C21 Literature as well as our reflections on current literary developments. We have been inundated with submissions for our first issue and as a result the commissioning process has been a long but thoroughly enjoyable one. We would like to thank everyone for an excellent range of abstracts and creative pieces. After some intense and interesting discussions, commissions have been chosen and matched with readers who will be casting a critical eye over the full-length pieces. In the coming months we will be editing book reviews and an exclusive piece of creative writing by a rising star of contemporary literature.
C21 Literature will launch in two stages during 2012. Our first launch will be an informal affair at the First Fictions festival with the University of Sussex and Myriad Editions in January. The second launch will be held at the University of Lincoln in July as part of the second bi-annual What Happens Next? Twenty-First Century Literature conference. Full details and information about tickets and times for both events will be featured in forthcoming C21 Literature blogs.
At the time of writing in September 2011, the twenty-first century world has temporarily turned its attention away from the olympic fascination of 2012 and back to the start of the new millennium and the influential events of 2001. With the recent tenth anniversary of 9/11, questions regarding the role of literature in understanding contemporary events have arisen again. In the immediate days and weeks after 9/11, a widespread panic grew about the purpose of literature – and the author - in a new world of danger and uncertainty. Martin Amis famously claimed that ‘after a couple of hours at their desks, on September 12 2001, all the writers on earth were reluctantly considering a change of occupation’. While it is probably fairer to say ‘some’ not ‘all’ writers experienced this doubt, the role of the writer and particularly of fiction was the subject of much debate in the post-9/11 world. Writers were asking whether they had indeed found themselves living in ‘the age of horrorism’ Amis knee-jerkingly predicted or whether they had instead been thrust into a new international game of heroes and villains.
The ten years following the attacks have produced a range of fictional responses to 9/11. Some have forced us to reconsider not only the terrible events of that day but the weeks, months and years before it, to use a tragedy as a way of accessing a wider comprehension of other peoples, beliefs and ways of understanding the world. Others have chosen to focus on a sense of nostalgia for a time before the towers, a utopian vision of the past that we must fight to reclaim.
As Eisenberg wrote in the short story ‘Twilight of the Superheroes’, ‘The planes struck, tearing through the curtain of that blue September morning, exposing the dark world that lay right behind it’. Shaken from a state of perceived innocence, the events of 9/11 compelled - rather than forced - writers to reconsider the function of their work. While Amis speculated that ‘a feeling of gangrenous futility had effected the whole corpus’ of literary output, Ian McEwan felt it ‘wearisome’ to consider inventing fiction when so much remained to be learned about current events. His desire to use post-9/11 literature to educate, to use fiction as an informing force, has proved influential in literary responses produced in the face of a new and unknown world of danger.
Focusing on literature – and especially the novel – the first decade of the twenty-first century has seen authors attempt to understand both the events of 9/11 and the altered landscapes left in its wake. But the coming generation will have to look much further back, not only to understand the events of 9/11 but how they came about, why they reached such a demonstrative pinnacle of terror and the effect of their reverberations on the post 9/11 world. For twenty-first century readers, this new generation of literature has the potential to offer a valuable and focalising source of understanding for our present and future. In exposing a dark world, the events of 9/11 changed not only the course of international history, but the path of literature in the twenty-first century. C21 Literature aims to create a critical, discursive space for the promotion and exploration of these writings as well as new creative work.
Watch this space.

Dr Katy Shaw

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