Media Talk: Literary journals, pockets of hope

Media Talk: Literary journals, pockets of hope
Harvest issue #5, Extra Curricular issue #6, Kinfolk issue #1
You may be a precious snowflake, but if you can’t express your individuality in sterling prose, I don’t want to read about it. Young writers will have to swear off navel-gazing in favor of an outward glance onto a wrecked and lovely world worthy and in need of the attention of intelligent, sensitive writers.
–Ted Genoways, Mother Jones

Harvest issue #5 opens with Davina Bell's poignant contemplation of the above quote about the death of literary magazines and the dire state of literature, and a lament over her own ventures into prose in light of Genoway's damning assessment of young writers, which she turns into a hopeful and reasoned defense of her generation. She articulates much what I have thought, and points to the Dystopian State of the World felt in much YA literature and in misery memoirs. In part, Bell writes:

I took in Ted’s words with a sense of awed shame. It was as I’d always suspected – my prose was self-indulgent, thinly veiled autobiography with no wider import or appeal. Unreadable pap! With lashings of mournful analysis. Ted was right – I epitomised all that ails modern literature, and swore off writing altogether until blessed with the ability to crystallise the wrecked and lovely world into cogent, poignant prose.

Yet, as time wore on, it dawned on me that Ted had failed to consider just why it might be that these precious snowflakes are plucking ideas from their navels and not trying to ‘write about big issues’, as he suggests...

The truth is, no previous generation has had such instant and broad-ranging access to the back-catalogue of man’s cruelty and mistakes. This is to take nothing away from the experiences of the Allies who walked in to Auschwitz post-D-day, or the Vietnam vets scalded by Agent Orange and the scorn of their countrymen. It’s just that, without training, briefing or context, without knowing how to click together a rifle or having had our hair shorn short, we can witness decapitations and war crimes in real time while eating a cheese and ham toasty.

While our brains were not yet hardened, we watched a plane being flown into a building over and over, until it meant nothing and everything. In our school books, we saw the iconic Vietnamese girl run burning down the street with her skin peeling off. But we’ve also seen American soldiers – peacekeepers of the free world – trailing grown men around on leads and laughing. We witnessed Saddam’s execution, and it didn’t feel as good as we expected...

And far from shuffling us together neatly like playing cards, our attempts at patriotism are confused and divisive, our nationalism empty and menacing (cue the Cronulla riots). We have neither the comfort of religion nor the thrill of counter-culture atheism to fuel us.

Our opinions can be downloaded, read, watched and listened to by everyone instantly – and heard by no one. In a world where 12 million people can march on London to protest a war to no effect, it’s not hard to trace our desperation to record ourselves, if only to confirm that we have voices, like the mumblings of apartment-dwellers who live alone.

So in the little pockets of time we claim for ourselves to write, forgive us for not honing in on the ‘big issues’ we have never experienced yet have lived through; the ever-growing list of things we know both too much and too little about to act or care sufficiently.

It's a terrible shame that this futility might be felt by a generation that possess so much; it's almost as if we're imploding for lack of a greater cause. We over-shop, over-expose, over-indulge... all in the name of numbing and dulling the pain because life turned out not to be the Disney movie it promised.

And, yet, I can't help but feel hopeful, because I see so much potential – pockets of hope – everywhere. Last weekend, I attended a youth event in Brisbane and seeing all the young adults band together, with smiles on their faces and muck-around play, to produce an excellent drug and alcohol-free concert was truly inspiring. This week, taking in the presentations of students, I was mesmerised by the energy and positivity. Yesterday, my husband's band of youth workers and bike riders left to head around the country to share words of encouragement.

Then there's Kinfolk (tagline: A Guide for Small Gatherings), a new entry with an impressive list of contributors, which delights in community and shared time with family and friends, as well as the creative minds behind Extra Curricular magazine, which expands our idea of what can be done in our down time... there's nothing like a zine or side-project to keep hands at work (this issue, make a "Foraging Satchel" to take out into the woods!).

If the despair can be turned into positive action, as we've seen in London as the lovely folk have banded together to clean up the streets with their brooms and bins and cleaning things, in much the same way Queenslanders joined forces after the floods, and that can be sustained in the belief that we are ALL in this together – man is not an island – and responsible for the legacy we leave behind, then, well there's something to work towards.

And life, as far as I can tell, is 80 per cent work, so it might as well be for good – less for self-satisfaction and more with the view to creating a world that is at the very least bearable. As Dallas Wallard says in his book, Personal Religion, Public Reality?, "Life is primarily devoted to work. All legitimate work is devoted to the creation of value, of what is good to a lesser or greater degree. That was God's plan. He not only creates; He creates creators – you and me. One of the saddest things in human life is the desecration of work in a loveless world."

So, while they might be seen by some as trivial distractions, an encouragement for these wee literary magazines of substance, sharing ideas and integrity produced in the land of milk and honey we call the antipodes. Anything created in love is not a waste – even occasional naval gazing has its purpose.  

Girl With a Satchel


Lisseut said...

Love the quote taken from Davinia Bell's piece - however I think we all have a feeling of futility when we're young. I remember growing up and thinking there's no point to anything because we were all going to die in a nuclear war. However I do agree that governments pay less attention to protest marches, and more to marketing focus groups these days.