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.
Australian author Marion Halligan admits that her life has been 'centred in domesticity' and this is where she draws on much of the material for her fiction. This could also be a reason why her work has been critically overlooked. Halligan is adept at capturing details of life in the domestic realm and weaving poignant, thought-provoking stories about experiences all of us can recognise in our own lives. It does not take the discerning reader long to discover the deeper considerations in her writing. According to Halligan, 'the world is a cruel and dark and difficult place and it is words that light the small candle flames that keep the dark at bay'. Words and writing are essential to Halligan's life. In an essay titled 'Why I Write', she says: 'I write in order to put the world into words. I've always done that in my head. I can't perceive anything without trying to find words for it'. Halligan's writing is an evocative exploration of the human condition. For Halligan, 'it is artists showing you what they see that educates the heart, in novels, in paintings, in photographs'. The following essay examines three of Halligan's novels which feature an artist protagonist who is struggling to come to terms with the experience of loss, grief and bereavement. Lovers' Knots (1992), The Golden Dress (1998) and The Fog Garden (2001) are rich evocations of lives which are 'a walk with love and death ... The same subjects as the Greeks, and Shakespeare. [The] characters aren't kings and queens, aren't noble and grand, but their passions are as real'.
Narratives of growing-up or coming-of-age, which have traditionally been referred to as Bildungsromane have particularly appealed to and inspired women writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Especially for women writers of minority and ethnic groups from former European colonies the Bildungsroman has transformed into a discursive tool to deconstruct imperialism and resist discriminations of race, class and sex, and to articulate multiple problems relating to the understanding of their identity. Such fictions by women seem to claim that women's experience of life and reality are different from that of men. Even as the experiences of the girl child are different from those of boys, literary representation of experiences of certain events in life as catalytic in the development of a child growing up in a particular culture, community, and family, are in my opinion, to certain extent similar irrespective of the gender of the writer or the protagonist. In this regard this paper shall focus on Alice Munro's short story 'Walker Brothers Cowboy' (1968) as a narrative of growing up of a female protagonist, not into a gendered being but a more mature individual in relationship with her immediate family and society. At the same time this essay shall also discuss the psychological development of the narrator's father as perceived by his daughter through memory and narrative, which will emphasize on human relationships as primarily determining an individual's identity and selfhood.
Using Afrocentric and Western rhetorical typologies, this essay explores the discourse of Achamba and Abaago, two leading characters in Shadrach Ambanasom's Son of the Native Soil. On the one hand, Achamba is discussed as a rhetorician whose ethos, logos, and pathos enable him to admirably anchor his message of unity and development for Dudum among his compatriots. On the other, Abaago is perceived as a man lacking in dialectical argumentation. Because of this shortcoming, he embraces violence in an attempt to realize his vision of making Akan the administrative centre of Dudum. While the one is showcased as an exemplar of effective rhetoric, the other symbolizes lack of rhetorical savoir-faire. Through these two protagonists, Ambanasom gives a synoptic view of rhetorical practices of not only Dudum (Ngie) people, but also of contemporary Cameroon. At the same time, Ambanasom seems to problematize, in the rhetoric of his characters, issues of minority rights, governance, democracy, and dictatorship in Cameroon or even, on a grander scale, Africa.
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.
Karen Resistance Poetry translated and introduced by Violet Cho. Tee Noe was born as M. No Noe in a village called Thavorta, Karen State, Myanmar (Burma) in 1952. After completing year 10 at a state high school in 1974, he worked as a junior clerk at a local government office in Karen State, eastern Myanmar. Later he joined the rebellion as a soldier for the Karen National Liberation Army and as a schoolteacher in Burmese refugee camps along Thai-Burma border. With no formal knowledge of the mechanics of poetry, Tee Noe has become a leading voice of the Karen diaspora. From a young age, Noe was drawn to poetry. He remembers singing a short hta (Karen oral poem) to thank his cousin who gave him a woollen hat as a present when he turned six: 'To school I run when the bell rings, with a woollen hat today I went.'
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.
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)