Welcome to the May 2014 issue of Transnational Literature, which rounds off our sixth year of publication. We have a broad range of offerings for you, as always: contributions from every continent: articles, review essays, poems, stories, creative non-fiction, and book reviews.
I am delighted to welcome a new member of the editorial team this year. Patrick Allington has taken over as Book Reviews Editor, bringing to the task a wealth of experience as an editor and critic. I am also most grateful for the support of all our editors. The journal has grown well beyond the scale where one person can deal with everything.
While this issue has no special theme, it is striking that many of the peer-reviewed articles are concerned with gender issues. Muneer Aram Kuzhiyan discusses the treatment of the concept of the veil in a novel by the Malayalam writer Khadija Mumthas, while Anna Royal looks at marginal characters central to Sharni Mootoo's first novel, Cereus Blooms at Night. Robyn Greaves devotes overdue attention to Australian novelist Marion Halligan, and Aloka Patel turns her attention to an Alice Munro short story, 'Walker Brothers Cowboy', as a coming of age narrative. The other two peer-reviewed papers in this issue include one by Wei H. Kao, concerning plays by diasporic Irish dramatists, and the other, by Kenneth Usongo, on the use of both African and Western rhetorical devices in a novel by Cameroon writer Shadrach Ambanasom. In addition, we have a wide-ranging review essay on World Literature by Russell McDougall, and a passionate speech by Satendra Nandan given at the launch of A Country Too Far, a collection of writings about asylum seekers in Australia.
More than thirty book reviews of creative and critical books, biographies, histories and memoirs are included in the May issue. We also include a translation of two poems by Karen dissident Tee Noe.
In the creative section we have several prose works by Australian writers, covering topics as diverse as Christmas holiday work in the Adelaide Post Office, the difficulties of coming to accept the Sudanese neighbours, and ethnographic research in Bangladesh. There is a poignant first-person account of euthanasia in an unusual setting, as well as a powerful story by Indian writer Sunil Sharma and a creative non-fiction piece by USSR-born US resident Dmitry Shlapentokh. Eight poets have contributed to the May issue. Our poetry editor, Heather Taylor Johnson, writes, 'The poems are a really diverse bunch, ranging from the musings of travellers past and present, migrants considering home through the ocean's scape, migrants considering home through the fence boundaries of the desert, migrants considering home through lineage, and a bird as a symbol of all of the above. What captures these poems most for me would be a line from Libby Hart's poem, which reads: "each country carries your suitcase of songs", so that the emphasis then is not on the displacement of the subject, but rather on the possibilities of belonging.'
What better note to conclude on? Please enjoy our May issue.
Works discussed: Theo D'haen, The Routledge Concise History of World Literature (Routledge, 2011); Theo D'haen, David Damrosch & Djelal Kadir, eds. The Routledge Companion to World Literature (Routledge, 2011); Theo D'haen, Cesar Dominguez & Mads Rosendahl Thomsen eds., World Literature: A Reader (Routledge, 2012); Elke Sturm-Trigonakis, Comparative Cultural Studies and the New Weltliteratur (Purdue University Press, 2013); Emily Apter, Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability (Verso, 2013); Robert Dixon and Bridget Rooney, Scenes of Reading. Is Australian Literature a World Literature? (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2013); David Damrosch. ed. World Literature in Theory (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014)
This paper critiques what it calls the parochial conception of agency animating the narrative of the Malayalam writer Khadija Mumthas' novel Barsa (2007) that is anchored in the notion that acts of resistance to relations of domination exhaust the field of human action. Following contemporary cultural anthropologists Talal Asad (1993), Saba Mahmood (2005) and Charles Hirschkind (2006), I argue that if unveiling of a Muslim woman in the spirit of liberatory endeavour constitutes one modality of action, the religiously-inspired programme of moral formation, including adopting the veil, practiced by many Muslim women in Kerala, as elsewhere, often decried for their patriarchal proclivities is also a speech act that makes up agency, no less. I find particularly useful here the idea of 'docility' that Mahmood (2005) develops out of Foucault (1990): rather than being a synonym for passivity, 'docility' in this line of thought takes on a meaning of 'teachability' that demands will, effort and perseverance. This understanding brings to sharp relief the Foucauldian insight that specific relations of subordination enable and enact modes of human agency. Lost in Khadija Mumthas' monologue of agency is the fact that divergent conceptual understandings of a practice create divergent subjectivities and social and political life worlds and it would be a mistake to privilege one over the other. The novel, I argue, betrays the author's dis-ease with the modalities of agency other than subverting norms and belies the burden of proving Islam's compatibility with the ideals of liberalism-a burden she shares with many contemporary Muslim reformers who fit the bill 'liberal Islam.' Finally, by way of comparison and contrast, I call attention to the anglophone Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela's two novels The Translator (1999) and Minaret (2005) which, even as they exploit as one of their key thematic concerns the role of religion in the protagonists' identity formation and personal development, do not however, unlike Barsa, commit the mistake of reducing the agency of the female Muslim subject to disrupting relations of domination.
In her novel Cereus Blooms at Night (1996), Sharni Mootoo creates characters that simultaneously inhabit both the center and margins of her text. As colonized people, the characters in Mootoo's novel find themselves dispossessed and marginalized upon their native soil. When the character, Chandin, takes on the role of an abusive colonizer in his native land, his daughter Mala is rendered doubly homeless as a result. Because the reality of home does not exist for her either culturally or personally, she must imagine and create it in alternative ways. When Chandin is killed and his narrative accordingly silenced, Mala slowly redefines what home means to her, first by moving its focus into the garden spaces and ultimately by relocating it within her own imagination and memory. Furthermore, because Mala no longer has the ability to tell her own story at the novel's end, she must rely on others to tell it for her. Thus, in the same way her home is decentralized, so too is her story, for it is the interweaving of her story, along with several others, that creates a narrative that not only lacks 'a center' but ultimately defies it.