Welcome to the December issue of Transnational Literature. The opportunity to take the reins of such a wide-ranging journal from outgoing General Editor Gillian Dooley has been a great privilege. With the help of the journal’s excellent editorial team, I’ve enjoyed the challenge of bringing together the diverse writing of 45 authors from around the world, from Australia, Chile, Germany, India, Iran, Pakistan, Republic of Yemen, Singapore, Sweden, Syria, the US and the UK. From its original premise of ‘New Literatures in English’ in Syd Harrex’s CRNLE Reviews Journal, the journal has grown to consider literature from a ‘transnational’ framework. These days, Transnational Literature welcomes creative writing in translation, and the languages sit side by side, in intercultural conversation. Migrancy and diaspora, intergenerational identities, questions of belonging, border crossings, statelessness and territorialisation, the socio-political condition of people within and outside national borders: all are subjects examined in the journal as it reaches far and wide.
It is also entirely appropriate that 40 years after the establishment of the Centre for Research in the New Literatures in English at Flinders University, we publish an interview with one of the most prominent scholars of postcolonial criticism, Bill Ashcroft. It is a sign of the times that this interview is a dialogue between the Chinese scholar Lili Zhang and Ashcroft and focuses on how postcolonial studies is still, more than ever, a relevant framework for thinking about transculturality today, especially when ‘classical imperialism continues the function of economic dominance through global capitalism’ (3). Ashcroft asserts that postcolonial studies has always done the work that more recent ‘transnational’ and ‘world literature’ critical frameworks claim to be doing: ‘So in this sense postcolonialism and world literature meet at the point at which they both interrogate the imperial spread of neoliberal capitalism’ (7). Zhang is not only interested in China’s relation to Australian literature, but also the question, ‘What is a postcolonial reading of China?’ (5).
While this issue of the journal does not have a specific theme, there are synergies between the articles and creative pieces and many of the authors are, whether as exiles, travellers or economic migrants, ‘diasporic’. Many of the essays analyse writing about cross-cultural encounters, language preservation, migrancy and intergenerational transmission, or critique hegemonic ideas that embed institutional power. What stands out for me is the way the diasporic characters in this writing struggle to negotiate home and belonging and pass on their ‘idea’ of home to new generations so as not to lose a culture through territorial conflict or colonisation. For example, intergenerational identity is beautifully analysed by Jameel Alghaberi, who clearly explains the unstable contexts of Palestinian and often ‘stateless’ diaspora in Randa Jarrar’s novel A Map of Home. He shows that the daughter in this story is able to negotiate home ‘in multiple places’, with a ‘plurality of vision’, and yet retain the knowledge of her parents’ history, for, ‘the one who writes his story inherits the land of that particular story’ (13).
Cultural and language survival is also a theme of many of these papers. Iakovos Menelaou’s essay on Seferis’s poems examines the nature and heritage of Cyprus and its importance to Greek culture. Daneshwar Sharma highlights the importance of language revival in literature, because ‘If one loses this distinct, familial way of speech, one loses something very personal: the culture associated with the language' (3). His subject is Subrimani’s upcoming novel Fiji MAA: Mother of a Thousand, written in North Fijian Hindi. Both papers show the works in original language (and script), alongside their translation.
Levi Thompson shows how transnational analysis is important in the way the Iraqi (Arabic) poet ʿAbd al-Wahhāb al-Bayātī references the Iranian (Persian) ʿUmar Khayyām, and how ‘transnational modernist exchanges [move] beyond interpretations restricted by national paradigms’ (12).
Lekha Roy and Rano Ringo claim a ‘post-black’ sensibility for Rita Dove’s poetry. The critique of modernist racial binaries in African American writing after the 1970s is instead offered to examine the poetry in terms of ‘the fluid nature of identity construction as a journey that must deconstruct race through a transatlantic crossing-over’ (abstract).
Similarly critiquing hegemonic ideas, Mike Piero’s essay on J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello links the technology of measuring (quantification, counting) to the colonial project in perpetuating structures of knowledge and systems of power that mediate social existence. He skilfully shows how the novel highlights a writer’s struggle against judgement and assertion of her role as ‘secretary of the invisible’.
Adnan Mahmutović analyses Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist using Sheppard’s concept of ‘wormhole travel’ to ‘examine how geographical location affects political agency’ in the life of the character Changez, a global citizen of Pakistani origin (abstract). The wormhole metaphor is a useful one to show ‘interconnectedness’, not physical proximity.
Robyn Walton’s bibliomemoir is a new form of writing for the journal, which takes as its subject the author’s changing interpretation of Herbert Badham’s painting 'Breakfast Piece' (1936) as she gains new knowledge about war frontiers and her own father’s efforts in serving overseas in the 1930s. It’s an interesting mix of scholarly art criticism, archival research and the ‘loose threads’ of memory, knowledge and family affiliation.
In our translations section (edited by Rezaul Haque), we have two very different short stories – one crossing the borders of Iran and Russia (originally written in Persian); the other about a cross-cultural affair and family obligation on the island of Vanuatu (originally written in French).
Our book reviews section, edited by Sean Haylock, contains a mix of reviews of postcolonial and transnational criticism, poetry and fiction. Our creative writing section, edited by Ruth Starke, contains four short stories of diverse content – from Lyn Jacobs’s short piece about the geographical and psychological isolation of a young woman in a remote Australian location, to Nicholas Birns’s piece about migration and identity, to Mushtaq Bilal’s story about intercultural sexuality under societal and religious restrictions, to Ron Singer’s wry reflection on the way the Internet catalyses memory and encounter. Our poetry section continues to thrive – and I’ll let our wonderful poetry editor Alison Flett tell you all about her clever curation (below).
Thanks to Gillian Dooley for entrusting me with Transnational Literature, a journal that has, under her leadership, built up to be a thriving centrepiece for intercultural conversation with a wide network of over 2000 readers around the world. Her work in developing Transnational Literature from its small beginning in Quodlibet to its current scope is truly remarkable. Flinders University can no longer host this fine journal and we are hoping to hand it over to a new academic team. Many thanks also go to our editorial team who have worked tirelessly with me on the current issue: Piper Bell, Alison Flett, Melinda Graefe, Rezaul Haque, Sean Haylock, Ruth Starke and Emily Sutherland. Robert Phiddian has been instrumental in rallying for support at Flinders for this last issue and the journal’s transition. Thanks also goes to the Advisory and Editorial boards who have been a reliable source of wisdom. Finally, we sincerely thank all the authors who have contributed to this issue and submitted writing – to appropriate Mike Piero’s words in his essay on Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello, ‘the suffering occasioned by the work of writing and summoned by a sympathetic imagination leads to an understanding’ of human lives in all their contingencies (11). The future of Transnational Literature is still being discussed, but we are optimistic that it will continue.
And, while the journal is published in an online space free from the physical and historical attachment to land, it’s important to acknowledge that its editorial team are present on a site of great significance and heritage. For over a decade, Transnational Literature has been hosted on Kaurna land, Adelaide plains, on which Flinders University sits. I pay my respects to Kaurna Elders past and present.
Complete short stories and life-writing, Transnational Literature December 2018, including two stories in translation. Creative and life-writing editor Ruth Starke; Translations Editor Md Rezaul Haque.
Bill Ashcroft is a renowned critic and theorist, a founding exponent of postcolonial theory and co-author of The Empire Writes Back (1989), the first text to examine systematically a field that is now referred to as ‘postcolonial studies’. He is author and co-author of 16 books and over 160 chapters and papers including Edward Said (2001), Postcolonial Studies: The Key Concepts (2002), Caliban’s Voice: The Transformation of English in Postcolonial Literatures (2008), Utopianism in Postcolonial Literatures (2016). He is on the editorial boards for various journals, such as Textual Practice, New Literatures Review, JASAL, Postcolonial Text, to name just a few. The interviewer met Professor Ashcroft at the 16th International Conference of Australian Studies in China (21-23 June 2018, Beijing) and they had a preliminary discussion on the issues concerned in this paper; they agreed to complete a formal dialogue via e-mail. In this interview, Bill Ashcroft clarifies his area of study in postcolonial literatures; he relates world literature with postcolonial literatures and analyses the problem in the interdisciplinary study of world literature; finally, he discusses why and how to include China in postcolonial literary studies.
Transnational analysis has become an essential part of approaches to modernist literature in the academy, but scholars of Arabic literature have yet to embrace its possibilities. This article presents the benefits transnational literary inquiry holds for analysing Arabic literature as a significant instance of postcolonial literature, taking as a case study the Iraqi poet ʿAbd al-Wahhāb al-Bayātī’s references to the Persian ʿUmar Khayyām. Through my consideration of contemporary readings of Khayyām from Iran, I re-orient Arabist understandings of this poet’s function in Bayātī’s work. Moving beyond arguments centred within a nationalist paradigm of understanding, I employ a transnational mode of analysis to provide an alternative reading of Khayyām’s presence in Bayātī’s poetry and the dramatic work A Trial in Nishapur. The article seriously considers the modern Iranian reception of Khayyām, which presents him as a rationalist and skeptic rather as a Sufi mystic. I therefore offer a new way of understanding Bayātī’s use of Khayyām as a poetic mask that attends to Bayātī’s significant engagements with Iranian culture and Persian literature. Finally, I draw on this case study to argue that we must begin accounting for the transnational connections that have defined modern Near Eastern literatures like Arabic and Persian.
This is a piece of creative non-fiction merging art commentary, literary analysis, and a personal account of the writer’s research. Changes across time in the writer’s understanding of an Australian painting – Breakfast Piece (1936) by Herbert Badham – are examined, with the writer’s slowness to comprehend the painting’s overt allusion to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) highlighted. The writer’s discovery that Breakfast Piece was reproduced on the covers of a 1985 edition of Eleanor Dark’s 1945 novel The Little Company and a 1991 edition of Elizabeth Harrower’s 1966 novel The Watch Tower provokes an analysis of these authors’ treatment of international geopolitical affairs and local gender relations.
This paper studies postcolonial responses to prescriptive racial affiliations in contemporary America, tracing the transition of ‘race’ from a biological to a sociocultural concept, and the related rejection of modernist binaries in African-American writing after the 1970s. In her first collection of poems, The Yellow House on the Corner, published in 1980, Rita Dove deconstructs race as a dynamic construct encoded in linguistic and cultural signifiers that turned ethnocentrism into a hegemonic tool rejected by poets writing towards the end of the twentieth century. Positing that Dove’s travels through Europe provide for a cultural and linguistic sensibility that is liminal in its repudiation of cultural absolutism, the paper argues that her writing foreshadows a post-ethnic decentring of race through formulating non-prescriptive affiliations that transcend the colour line. Foregrounding history as a personal, transcultural space where frames of memory are juxtaposed to reveal the constructed nature of racially informed identities and affiliations, the poems create what Steffens terms ‘artistic enspacement’ (28), exhibiting a post-black sensibility that revisits race, memory and history as racialised psycho-spatial domains, and celebrating the fluid nature of identity construction as a journey that must deconstruct race through a transatlantic crossing-over into the domain of the white to reclaim its share in history.
'In this fictional memoir the mistaken funeral episode really took place, and it made me think a lot about my father's family. Then, thinking about my Peace Corps days in the 1960s, I remembered how many of my co-volunteers had died. I hope this story captures the spirit of those times, which combined idealism and serious work with silliness.'
The spread of English is like the spread of plague of insomnia in Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, at first it is convenient, it (English and insomanis) frees one to work more, spreading the reach but soon one realizes that they are losing memories of their dear past and they are unable to have dreams of their future. Living in present with no ties to the past and no hopes of future, one becomes an alien, speaking an alien language. To counter the erosion of memories, one has to write, label things and describe their function in black and white. Marquez’s character does so, and so does Subramani in his upcoming book, Fiji Maa: Mother of a Thousand. He recreates the world of Girmitiyaas and their descendants. A world lost long, long ago is made alive in front of eyes with the power of his magical words. Reading this book will be like starting a journey back towards the grandparents’ village. This book, yet to be published, encapsulates the history of a time which will never come back. The descendants of Girmitiyaas have migrated to far off places, have lost all ties with their collective memory. Fiji Maa: Mother of a Thousand will remind them what they were before the plague of the foreign tongue. The book should be supported, celebrated and gifted to the coming generations by the present generation. The paper highlights the literary resurrection of a bygone culture in Subramani’s novel which makes it a book of thousand readings, ritualistic reading for the people of today and for the people to come. Fiji Maa: Mother of a Thousand is about digging up the long lost Girmit memory. The spread of English is like the spread of plague of insomnia in Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, at first it is convenient, it (English and insomania) frees one to work more, spreading the reach, but soon one realises that one is losing memories of their dear past and they are unable to have dreams of their future. Living in the present with no ties to the past and no hopes of the future, one becomes an alien, speaking an alien language. To counter the erosion of memories, one has to write, label things and describe their function in black and white. Marquez’s character does so, and so does Subramani in his upcoming book, Fiji Maa: Mother of a Thousand. He recreates the world of Girmitiyaas and their descendants. A world lost long, long ago is made alive in front of eyes with the power of his magical words. Reading this book will be like starting a journey back towards the grandparents’ village. This book, yet to be published, encapsulates the history of a time which will never come back. The descendants of Girmitiyaas have migrated to far off places, have lost all ties with their collective memory. Fiji Maa: Mother of a Thousand will remind them what they were before the plague of the foreign tongue. The book should be supported, celebrated and gifted to the coming generations by the present generation. The paper highlights the literary resurrection of a bygone culture in Subramani’s novel which makes it a book of thousand readings, ritualistic reading for the people of today and for the people to come. Fiji Maa: Mother of a Thousand is about digging up the long lost Girmit memory.