Literature, Politics, Media
‘There is no name for this: we read this as a truism. What is unnameable here is not some ineffable being that cannot be approached by a name; like God for example. What is unnameable is the play that brings about the nominal effects, the relatively unitary or atomic structures we call names, or chains of substitutions for names. In these, for example, the nominal effect of “difference” is itself involved, carried off, and reinscribed, just as the false beginning or end of a game is still part of the game, a function of the system’
- Jacques Derrida, “Difference”
‘Believing in progress does not mean believing that any progress has yet been made’
- Franz Kafka, The Zürau Aphorisms
‘Brexit means Brexit’
- Theresa May
We are living, as one Ancient Chinese curse aptly puts it, in interesting times. This observation has not gone unnoticed, of course, by that industry that both reports and manufactures news. Endless numbers of pages about the major topical stories of the past few months—ranging from Brexit to Trump and Syria—are being written as you read this very sentence.
As may be evident from the epigraphs above, however, there may be somewhat of a discrepancy between “the way things are” and “the message delivered about the way things are”. Typically, of course, the latter is tantamount to the news that eventually gets published. Brexit, it may be argued, has delivered a master class in this respect. Complex realities involving different groups of people are simplified to a ridiculous level in a patronising exploitation of the emotions of the disenfranchised. Simple enough matters, on the other hand—often to do with the failures of hegemony—are deliberately obfuscated or completely ignored.
Language and representation are, as always, at the heart of all this. Rupert Murdoch's catchy headlines, Nigel Farage's infamous NHS bus slogans, and Donald Trump's one-line foreign policy of building a wall are symbolic of the mindset that is keen on simplification ad absurdum. Their power, as we have seen, is not to be underestimated. There appears to be something of the memetic force about it, yet a meme does not imply the possession of an agenda or telos: its only concern is self-replication. Could there be some distortive echo, here, of the political pamphlet—that genre that protests through repetition and reiteration? Or perhaps of the Debordian spectacle, only this time it is ourselves we see on the stage from where we are represented? When protest is met by violence—whether in the form of a familial rift, representations of alterity, or the shocking murder of Labour’s Jo Cox in her own constituency—what does this tell us about the relationship between politics and empathy, the individual and the group? And, in the hopes of resisting this violence, what may be termed a literary corpus of resistance? Has literature pre-empted all these contemporary tensions, long ago, from the sovereign power held by Antigone’s Creon to the monstrous other that is Beowulf’s Grendel?
After all, language too seems to have noticed that the order of the day is division. It is easy to circumscribe this over-simplification to the dwindling nanoseconds of our attention spans; and yet, this does not explain why the same guilty parties sometimes go to great trouble in order to unnecessarily over-complicate issues. A brief and witty headline will sell a paper, but it is the steady feed of articles that keeps the newspaper business afloat. Within this context, it is suddenly normal for readers to discover that an article they had read was based on a complete fabrication (as with the infamous Katie Hopkins article from December 2015, falsely linking the Mahmood family to terrorism), and the concept of “fake news” and “post-truth” has only run more rampant since, finding its culmination, perhaps, in Kellyanne Conway’s famous defence of “alternative facts”. However, should we get off our high horses, and admit that literary fiction and representations of political possibilities are just that—alternative fact? Is not myth, the precursor to that institution we call literature, an alternative way of understanding the world? We must not forget Lord Jim’s Marlow, complaining that facts can explain nothing at all.
And what of reading? When a reader is trapped in the information filter bubble, how likely is it that one encounters viewpoints from the other side in the first place? Is this why one must out-outrage the other and say always the more preposterous thing, regardless of substance, simply to slip past the net and obtain a desired virality? And, after all, since when did the “virus” become desirable?
Presumably, this endless list of questions is not the message that Theresa May wished to be delivered when she glibly assured everyone that Brexit is what Brexit means. However, beyond any pure conjecturing, our special edition on the topic would like to invite tentative answers to some of these questions and others. In light of the above, the editors of antae welcome submissions on or around the topic of literary and philosophical thought as engaged with contemporary politics and media. The authorial guidelines are available on www.antaejournal.com, and the deadline for submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org is the 30th of April, 2018 (with a projected publication date of November, 2018).
Submissions should be in the form of finalised papers of around 5,000 to 7,000 words. Issues and topics relevant to this publication include, but are not limited to:
- Literature as alternative fact; political literature; the literary political
- Myth and politics; society and spectacle
- Satire; the political pamphlet; reading politics
- Post-truth/anti-intellectualism/alternative facts and emotion
- Contemporary questions of immigration, alterity, and representations
- The viral
- Contemporary warfare, digital warfare; Syria on Twitter
- Writing and multimodality; the power of the hashtag
- Political speech; rhetoric; history of wit
- Art and politics: photography, graffiti, digital art, and narratology
- Government, institutions, conflict and constructs
- Social networks, mass media, and democracy
- Spaces: real and virtual; information bubbles and echo chambers; the infosphere
Mr Aaron Aquilina