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.
Shirley Jackson’s 1962 We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Iain Banks’s 1984 The Wasp Factory and Sonya Hartnett’s 2009 Butterfly are novels separated not only by decades, but by distance being produced in the United States, Scotland and Australia respectively. Despite this, each of these texts depicts a young adult in a mimetically recognisable world struggling to reconcile their intuitive occultism with that world. The mediation of magic through assemblages of charged objects creates a philosophy of things – modelling in intuitive and narrative terms the essence and nature of objects familiar from the philosophies of Martin Heidegger and Walter Benjamin. As such, the supernaturalism of Iain Banks, Shirley Jackson and Sonya Hartnett’s narratives implicates their readers – breaking the boundaries of fiction to comment on the material world itself, not through analogy or metaphor but through direct modelling of the potential power and worth of things.
This research paper explores the implications of returning to a cultural homeland. Using an autoethnographical approach, this paper follows my own recent ‘return’ to my mother’s city of Palermo, Sicily. By using personal experience to examine notions of home and belonging, this paper aims to articulate the dislocation and resultant longing for lost homelands experienced by the second-generation migrant child. It looks at concepts of exile and home, and feelings of unbelonging in one’s own birth country. Along with personal reflection, the methodology includes both theoretical and literary research, in addition to various personal accounts of the second-generation migrant experience. In questioning the nature of cultural nostalgia, this paper challenges the notion of a ‘true homeland’, and observes the impact of holding multiple cultural ties on identity and the self.
How does Caroline Bergvall's plurilingual poetic practice reimagine language embodiment? What are the implications for cultural identity and linguistic belonging? For the gendered and sexualised body? 'Fighting off one language with another,' Bergvall displaces standard English and crosses national borders. Her work explores how this crossing, this fighting and resistance, is physically articulated. Though accessible to a monolingual English reader, the texts collected in Meddle English incorporate elements of French and Norwegian, and seek to distort and undermine standard English. The Deleuze-Guattarian concepts of minorization and deterritorialization are explored and adapted to a feminist understanding of poetic practice. 'Cat in the Throat' is a literal translation of the French expression un chat dans la gorge - the equivalent in English being 'a frog in the throat.' In French chatte (female cat) is equivalent to the colloquial English 'pussy.' The cat (in the throat) is symbolic of Bergvall's cultural and sexual resistance to standard English. Her language incorporates these stuttering moments of untranslatablity, and is characterised by ellipsis, plurilingual puns, misspellings and linguistic contamination. This article will explore the ways in which these characteristics are used to assert a queer experience of language embodiment.
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.
In any serious discussion of contemporary Nigerian (African) poetry, the name of Niyi Osundare usually features prominently. This prominence is due in large part to his championing of an orally-informed, mass-oriented performance poetry, a unique poetic style described by African scholars as the “Alter/native Tradition” in contemporary post-colonial poetry. Not surprisingly, therefore, a burgeoning tribe of “singers” and poets has risen in Osundare’s wake, thus, invariably universalizing the distinctive stylistic/rhetorical hallmarks of his poetry. This short piece is an attempt to examine and evaluate the core features of Niyi Osundare’s verse.
This paper explores the precise influence of Moore’s thought on Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse. I begin with a brief exposition of Moore’s notion of ‘the good’ as experiencing moral obligation within an organic community. In doing so, I highlight a crucial loophole within his conceptual framework - he does not theorize the conditions for the possibility of experiencing moral obligation, and therefore renders the good ultimately ineffective in taking moral decisions. In the second section, drawing on Martin ?telf’s work, I read To the Lighthouse as conceptualising precisely the conditions for the possibility of moral obligation lacking in Moore’s framework, in explicitly epistemological terms - Mrs Ramsay’s ability to experience states of heightened perceptive intensity. Woolf thereby partakes in the anti-metaphysicalist and anti-naturalist rebellion characteristic of Moore’s ethical theory. In contrast to writers like Heidi Storl however, who consider Woolf’s works as mere literary embodiments or instantiations of what other ‘philosophers’ have said, I further argue that Woolf’s systematic philosophical intervention lies in the new kind of materialism she espouses, which is at once logically continuous with Moore’s realism and critical of the subject–object dichotomy he upholds.