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.
Louis MacNeice’s Portrait of Athens, a radio play broadcast by the BBC in November 1951, came at a time of reconstruction throughout Europe but also at a time when the world was on the verge of yet another war. In it we find the city’s bones, Athens of Thucydides, Demosthenes, Pericles and Socrates, but also a modern city where you could hear street cries, radio tunes and trams and visit both Kolonaki and the district of New Smyrna where Asia Minor refugees had settled almost thirty years earlier. Twenty-four centuries were transposed to twenty-four hours and twenty-four hours squeezed into the space of one with the play focusing on questions of memory, identity, and lived or remembered traumas. What the audience got as a result was a representation of the varied layers that made up modern Athens, a portrait of the city as palimpsest in contrast to other accounts of the same period where the past dominated over the present making the latter non visible.
Was Plato the first philosophical dramatist to explore philosophical ideas through dramatic content, introducing dramatic structures currently in line with contemporary theatre? If Plato was an influential figure for philosophers as well as theatre-makers, it can arguably be said that he was a silent pioneer in creating the newly defined discipline of Performance Philosophy. There is an obvious polarity between performance and philosophy since both disciplines are on the quest of exploring and presenting what life is. At least this can be said of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. Conceived as “biou techne” the art of living, Greek and Roman philosophers, especially the Epicureans, Stoics and Skeptics, saw philosophy as a way of conceiving what a good life is (a life worth living) and pursuing its practical realization for the attainment of eudemonia. Plato was arguably the first significant philosopher to explore philosophical ideas through dramatic content, introducing dramatic structures currently in line with contemporary theatre views. As such, he can be seen as an influential figure for theatre makers as well as for philosophers. Plato’s artistic intention was to uncover the artist that lacked substance and support the knowledgeable creative philosophical mind that besides instant emotional pleasure has to contribute in social development.