Did you read … Meanjin?

The latest Meanjin, Volume 70, the first edition for 2011, is also the Meanjin-swansong of its editor Sophie Cunningham who took the helm in 2008 and resigned unexpectedly in 2010. Sophie’s editorial wraps-up her time with the journal and welcomes the newly appointed Sally Heath.

This edition of Meanjin begins with the rather droll ‘Mulgrave, je t’aime’ by Oslo Davis, a cartoon that should bring a smile to the lips of many Melbournites and friends-of-Melbournites. Goodness only knows what would happen to the ‘faux hipsters’ if they made it out as far as Warburton …

M701_medium_mediumWell, Warburton is a long way from Footscray, where the current and collectible final Cunningham edition of Meanjin fell into my greedy hands. And, therefore, it was on the train that I first dipped in to the magazine. The journal is a beautiful creature in layout and design (though I have to say, my eyes are not lovers of the pink text), and the vessel for many a finely crafted word.

Oslo treats us to a very different kind of illustration, and a most excellently disturbing one at that, for the opening article in Meanjin’s bite-sized ‘Newsreel’ section: ‘Flag waving on the beach’ by Paul Magee. Magee paints a convincing picture of the psychology-of-belonging and the complex juxtaposition of ego and depersonalisation associated with our flag and whatever it is the flag represents. Magee draws together the threads of at least seven diverse writers on the subject of flags in an enlightening, easy-to-read examination of bigotry and the ‘ideology of national character’.

Sure, we might be different in other respects, but when it comes to whatever the flag represents we’re equal, even substitutable.

That sort of depersonalisation gets promoted as a great thing, but it’s also a dangerous state of affairs. It gives people the opportunity to think of themselves as depersonalised agents of a power so much greater than them. […] Peirce wrote in 1871, [whenever] you have a social system built upon collective allegiance to the idea of a higher power, you will find brutal bigotry.

Next came the Essays section where I nodded along disapprovingly with Lorin Clarke as she lamented the loss of the ‘spirit of public cheek’ in the commercialisation of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The next essay, which made me cry, made me want to stand up on the train and rant, was written by Jacinda Woodhead and is called ‘This Woman I Knew’.

To me, ‘This Woman I Knew’ is an essay that leaps off the page – not just for its content, but also for its style and innovation in managing to write about a deeply contentious and difficult subject. (Those lovelies who are acquainted with me on Twitter will know that I am already a great fan of Woodhead but I’d like to think my colleagueship with the writer is irrelevant here.)

There has long been much debate about abortion – an issue for women, one presumes, since time immemorial. Rarely have I come across commentary on abortion that does not draw on stereotypes, patriarchal assumptions or a kind of shadowy sentimentalism; and that puts the reader firmly in the driver’s seat of the decision and impact of one individual’s story of abortion.

Steve Fielding suggested that women should be forced through certain hoops before having an abortion, such as viewing ultrasound footage of the foetus developing inside them: ‘Adequate information should be at hand for people to make a considered decision. This may include counselling and may also include scans of these unborn children–it’s very important this decision is done light-heartedly.’ Surely, I thought, this borders on torture.

Woven into a fiction-style scene-building is a well-considered insight into history and current chilling facts about women and abortion; and finally, an uplifting and hopeful shout-out to the possibility that women can, indeed, reclaim their bodies.

Meanjin’s fiction section offers up a fine selection, and none more innovative and interesting and clever (in the best sense) than ‘A Story in Writing’ by Ryan O’Neill.


He put his hand on her [censored] and pulled down her [censored]. ‘[censored] me,’ she said. ‘Quickly.’

The story is offered up in sections under headings so delicious and cunning as to send any history/literary boffin into spasms of delight – and to thoroughly entertain the rest of us. Annotation is a true redeemer of footnotes and Hyperbole (the most hilarious thing I’ve ever read in the whole world) had me throw back my head and laugh out loud.

As to Sophie Cunningham and Sally Heath and Meanjin’s ‘new direction’, may they all live happily ever after. Take a trip with Meanjin #70 – it’s a cracker.

It peers among the marvels to enlighten
A distant world’s attention, all agog
For each new vision that it sends.

(Stephen Edgar, ‘All Eyes’)

Clare Strahan

Clare Strahan is a two-time novelist with Allen & Unwin publishers, long-ago contributing editor to Overland, and teaches in the RMIT Professional Writing & Editing Associate Degree.

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