Welcome to the November 2015 issue of Transnational Literature.
In this issue we mark the passing of our dear friend, mentor and colleague, Syd Harrex in May this year. Syd's legacy is evident in the many eloquent tributes in poetry and prose provided for this issue by those who knew him, as well as in a recent publication, Whaddaya Know? edited by Ron Blaber (Wakefield Press) and the June issue of Asiatic, edited by Syd's former student Mohammad A. Quayum. This will be followed by a special feature honouring Syd's work in December 2016 – available here
The significance of Syd's legacy for Transnational Literature can hardly be overstated. Simply put, without Syd the journal would not exist. Syd set up the Centre for Research in the New Literatures in English at Flinders University, and established the CRNLE Reviews Journal in 1979. Transnational Literature is the direct descendant of that journal, and is built on the networks that Syd fostered throughout the Anglophone world. Not only that, but without Syd's prompting at an early stage in my own academic career, while I was still studying for my Honours degree at Flinders University, I doubt that it would have occurred to me to submit my work for publication. Having begun on that path, I felt confident to enter the world of academia, effectively as a second career in parallel with my established work in the university library. Syd's gentle, collegial encouragement kept me going through my early forays into publication, and introduced me to the delights of literary conferences, both at the famous Penneshaw conferences and elsewhere. So when I was offered the chance to edit the journal, I barely hesitated – and here we are, 15 issues later. Syd served on the Advisory Board of TNL from the first issue until his death.
Aside from the direct tributes to Syd in this issue, we are offering a diversity of intellectual inquiry and creativity which is very much in the spirit of Syd's legacy. We have the second and more substantial part of a Special Feature on Philosophy and Literature which began in the May 2015 issue, including seven peer-reviewed essays on a broad range of literatures – French, Spanish, Indian, Australian, American, English – and a pair of essays featuring another larger-than-life Flinders personality, philosopher Brian Medlin. Firstly there is his own essay in words and pictures, titled 'Mysticism and Stuff Like That', and secondly, his former Flinders colleague, Brian Matthews, has contributed the text of his Brian Medlin Memorial Lecture, presented in 2014, a highly entertaining reminiscence of Medlin (who died in 2004) and of early days in Humanities at Flinders University.
As always, we offer a strong selection of creative writing in this issue. Ten poets have contributed to this issue, and there are seven pieces of prose creative writing, ranging from a Kafka-infused story set in Japan to a passionate defence of freedom of choice in modes of dress. There is also a translation of oral poetry from the Ahirani language of Maharashtra.
A varied collection of book reviews rounds out this issue.
Thanks to all the editorial team – including our new Creative and Life Writing editor, Ruth Starke, and new assistant editor Michael Lee Gardin from San Antonio, Texas. Particular thanks to Melinda Graefe, who has assembled the tributes to Syd Harrex, and to Kathryn Koromilas, who did much of the initial work for the Philosophy and Literature feature. And to the many anonymous peer reviewers we have called upon in preparing this and every issue, we are deeply grateful for your thoughtful and constructive reports. Almost without exception, your comments and suggestions are received gratefully, and provide authors at various stages of their academic careers with invaluable guidance. This is a substantial though largely unacknowledged service to the international academic community.
The philosophy, criticism, and poetics of George Santayana (1863-1952) greatly influenced some of the most important writers in the Modernist moment - and are widely regarded as an oeuvre shaped to the core by Santayana’s experience and identity as a native Spaniard. While critics and biographers of Santayana have upheld the view that Santayana’s Spanishness is deeply evident in all reaches of his moral, theoretical, and aesthetic outlook, this essay argues not for the particular importance of Santayana’s Spanish roots, but rather for the importance of the cultural traumas of his immigrant experience in the US as they relate to his philosophical worldview and poetics. His cynical, materialist philosophies that decry faith in institutions as well as institutional faith, coupled with his privilege of ethical underpinnings and syntactic complexities in poetry, can be attributed more to his immigrant purview than to an especially Spanish persona. Recontextualising Santayana’s poetics in light of his biography, this essay reexamines Santayana’s key contributions to ideations of American Modernism, particularly in the field of poetry: Santayana’s influence on Wallace Stevens’s doubt and T. S. Eliot’s ‘objective correlative,’ some of the most lasting tropes of Modernist poetry - poetics derivative of a disillusionment endemic to the interstitial cultural sphere of the immigrant.
Bahinabai Choudhari (1880-1951) was born in an agrarian village called Asoda in northern Maharashtra. She was a devotee of Vitthal – beloved God of the Varkari tradition, initiated by Saint Dnyaneshwar in the thirteenth century. To the present day, a special practice of the Varkari tradition is the vaari – devotees from across Maharashtra walk together for days, from their native villages to Pandharpur, Vitthal’s spiritual abode. They sing and dance to songs in praise of Vitthal, engendering a rich oral and performative tradition. Bound by her family and farms, Bahinabai did not partake in the vaaris. Instead, she composed and sang couplets called ovyaa, as she toiled in the fields and the kitchen along with fellow women. To be sure, there is hardly a kitchen in Maharashtra, not enriched by her ovyaa; they are known for their simplicity, light-hearted humour, aphorisms about nature, rhythm and, of course, their magical ability to comfort endlessly labouring farmers and home makers. This ovi is translated from an exhaustive collection of Bahinabai’s ovyaa, titled Bahinayichi Gaani, published by Suchitra Prakaashan in 2012. We are indebted to Sopandev, Bahinabai’s son, who scripted her ovyaa and published them posthumously; and also the many women who have kept this oral tradition alive.
This paper compares and contrasts two novels that take as their theme the reflections and regrets of a lonely male protagonist entering the final phase of his life. The eponymous Bruno in Iris Murdoch’s Bruno’s Dream (1969) and the butler Stevens in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1990) resemble each other in living only peripherally in the present. Bruno and Stevens are mainly preoccupied in old age with memories of times past and of family and friends who are dead or simply absent.
The novels are of similar length. They were both published in the latter half of the twentieth century, and both take place in England although written by authors who were actually born in other countries: Murdoch in Ireland and Ishiguro in Japan. Murdoch was taken to England as a baby and Ishiguro when he was six. This paper argues that Murdoch and Ishiguo both present life as a dream from which their protagonists struggle to awaken as they realize they are approaching their end. It is also apparent that Murdoch and Ishiguro both wrote their stories out of a sense of personal need, an attempt to deal with demons or insecurities that were related in part to their feeling of being ‘insider outsiders’ in their adopted country. Ishiguo has admitted impatience with critics who try to identify him as a Japanese author simply because he was born in Japan. He claims that, in The Remains of the Day, he was trying to write as someone more English than the English. His sense of ambivalence about his nationality arises in part from the fact that, from an early age, he was thoroughly immersed in English culture outside the family home while within it he was raised as a Japanese by parents who intended, one day, to return to their home country. In Stevens, with his obsession about work, Ishiguro managed to create a curiously Japanese figure. Iris Mudoch was similarly conflicted about her identity. She liked to think of herself as Irish despite living in England almost all her life. In Bruno’s Dream, she wrote of an old man possessed by memories and regrets. At the time of writing this novel, she was worried about losing or becoming estranged from friends and also hurt by criticism that the two novels she had just published, set in Ireland, betrayed a fundamental incomprehension of Irish history and culture. In being both ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’, Ishiguro and Murdoch were uniquely placed to describe Stevens and Bruno, characters who embody some of their own thoughts and feelings, who wrestle with their own concerns.