Overland 204

Jeff Sparrow, editor, Overland 204, Spring 2011

At a time where the terms of Australian political debate are set by the self-styled ‘centre-right’ Australian to the extent that vehemently anti-Communist Robert Manne is seen as left wing, everyone who’s more socialist than Ghengis Khan should subscribe to Overland. It has been appearing regularly for more than 50 years as a journal of ‘progressive culture’, unashamedly of the left from its beginnings, creating a space where dissenting voices can be heard (arguing with each other as often as not), and staying for the most part readable by people (like me) who wouldn’t know Althusser from a hole in the ground. Unlike the Australian, it has no Rupert Murdoch to prop it up. You can read most of every issue online. The point of subscribing is to help sustain it.

In this issue, in no particular order:

  • ‘The birthday boy’, a short story from an early Overland updated and retold in sequential art (ie, as a comic) by Bruce Mutard. While the story here stands on its own merits, I’d love to read the original, by Gwen Kelly, so as to follow the process involved in the updating (who were the 1955 equivalents of 2011’s Sudanese students, for instance?). I couldn’t find it on the Web. Maybe I’ll make a trip to the State Library …
  • John Martinkus, in ‘Kidnapped in Iraq, attacked in Australia’, tells the story of his capture and release by Iraqi insurgents in 2004 and the attacks on him by the then Foreign Minister and rightwing ‘journalists’. There’s nothing new here – I wrote to Alexander Downer’s office at the time and received a boilerplate reply – but it’s very good to be reminded of this shameful moment just now when Downer has been on the TV denouncing David Hicks again and one of the ‘journalists’ has been wailing about free speech after being held to account by a court
  • an interview with Afghani heroine Malalai Joya. I was glad to read this after attending a crowded meeting in Marrickville Town Hall where the acoustics and sight lines made her incomprehensible and invisible to me. The interview gives a sharp alternative to the mainstream media’s version of what’s happening in Afghanistan and it’s a great companion piece to Sally Neighbours’ lucid ‘How We Lost the War: Afghanistan a Decade on from September 11‘ in the September Monthly
  • some splendid, almost Swiftian sarcasm from Jennifer Mills in ‘How to write about Aboriginal Australia‘: ‘First, be white. If you are Aboriginal, you can certainly speak on behalf of every Aboriginal person in Australia, but it is best to get a white person to write down what they think you should be saying.’
  • Andy Worthington’s When America changed forever and Richard Seymour’s What was that all about? reflecting on the damage done to democracy in the USA and its allies by the ‘war on terror’
  • Reading coffee‘, a short story by Anthony Panegyres that reminds us of anti-Greek violence in Western Australia during the First World War (and is also a good oogie boogie yarn)
  • Ellena Savage’s ‘My flesh turned to stone‘, which I may have misunderstood (it quotes Lacan, and refers at one point to gender-based torture, which may or may not be how the academies nowadays refer to torture of women), but seems to be putting the eminently sensible proposition that terrible experiences have lasting after-effects on individuals and communities, and expecting people to just get over them isn’t realistic
  • A number of poems, coralled off together in a section up the back, printed in white on pale green, which is either a cunning way of making us read the poems slowly or a case of a designer for whom readability isn’t a priority. The ones that spoke most to me are Jill Jones’s ‘Misinterpretations /or The Dark Grey Outline‘ and John Leonard’s ‘After Rain‘. Jill Jones discusses the former on her blog here. You may have to be fascinated by swallows to enjoy the latter – which is very short – as much as I did, but who isn’t fascinated by swallows?
  • Peter Kirkpatrick’s ‘A one-man writer’s festival’, a hatchet job on Clive James’s poetic aspirations. I found myself asking why. The poor bloke’s got cancer. Leave him alone.

I didn’t read everything, which is pretty much a hallmark of the journal-reading experience. You can skip things because of an annoying turn of phrase on the first page (as in a reference to Sydney’s western suburbs as perceived as ‘some bloody hell, beginning somewhere around Annandale’ – Annandale! I doubt if that would have got past the editors in a Sydney-based journal). You might be put off because something looks too abstract, or promises a detailed discussion of a book you plan to read. Or you might be pre-emptively bored by anything about publishing in the digital age, even while admitting the subject is important.

I read this Overland in a grumpy post-operative state. And enjoyed it.

11 responses to “Overland 204

  1. Thanks – I think:) Really enjoyed your post.

  2. shawjonathan

    Hi Anthony. I love your story – maybe it’s ‘oogie boogie’ that created some doubt. I was running out of blogging time and it was a quick way to suggest the fantasy elements.

  3. Thanks, Jonathan – tongue in cheek. I loved ALL your post.

  4. Great post Jonathan … I really would like to read more journals, particularly this one, Kill Your Darlings and The Griffith Review.. Perhaps I need to be postoperative to find the time! Hmmm… BTW Hope you are way postoperative now and feeling less grumpy (not that it showed).

    • shawjonathan

      whipssperinggums: Sadly the second week is turning out to be much worse than the first. I’ve moved beyond grumpy to whiney. I know what you mean about journals. No matter how many you read there as many again sitting reproachfully on the shelves.

  5. I agree with W.Gums. Lots of this sounded really interesting. A couple of posts ago you led me to Manne’s blog and to loon pond. Enuf! Uncle!

    Just kidding. Keep ‘em coming.

    BTW, the difference is you can find/climb your way back out of a hole in the ground.

  6. shawjonathan

    That’s very funny, Will. I had to reread the post to know what difference you were referring to, which made it funnier. I apologise for mentioning the loon pond. She’s an incredibly addictive time sink. And at least just now Robert Manne is compulsive reading.

  7. Sorry to hear that Jonathan … hope it is just part of the healing process and not a sign of things going backwards. If you’re just becoming whinier, well then …. !

    • shawjonathan

      I’m assuming it’s part of the process, wg. If so, anyone contemplating seroplasty should be advised to enjoy their first post-op week because the second week is not nice. I’m glad I don’t have to go off to a job. There’s some work waiting on my desk and I have the luxury of a deadline that allows me to postpone it at least for a few more days.

  8. I’ll remember that…meanwhile, hope it turns around soon and the third week is less whiney.