There are a variety of reasons why I think it is important to subscribe to Overland. There is the sheer necessity of having a literary journal that isn’t suspicious or afraid of politics, that understands that we writers and we readers are as equally engaged in expressions of the imagination as we are in questions of ethical and social justice.
If you were to only read the mainstream press and listen to the mainstream media in Australia, you could believe that the ‘cultural left’ is something that is only to be sneered at, something to be reduced to the tedious clichés about effete, elite academics sipping latté while the western suburbs of Sydney burn.
Only the other day I heard Jamie Packer on the radio calling proposed amendments to gambling and gaming laws the work of ‘latté sipping elites’. I laughed out loud at first, wondering if it could really be true that the butler served him Nescafé instant coffee every morning, but then wanted to kick the radio through the wall when I realised there wasn’t a journalist willing to question such a fuck-witted statement.
That questioning happens in Overland, that’s why I am so glad it is there.
Overland reminds me that some of the best Australian writing – fiction and non-fiction – emerges from the history and struggle of ideas.
The journal also reminds me that the challenge of reconciling the promiscuous scoutings of artistic freedom with the imperatives of political actions and insight is still unresolved, still problematic, and for this very reason, still very fruitful. Issue after issue, at its best, I am reminded that such questioning and probing is vigorous and exciting, that even when I am arguing with a contributor, I am engaged in a rigorous, exciting conversation.
Does that always happen? No, of course not. But it is my impression that the strike average is better than most, that when the print media or the talkback shows or the blogosphere have driven me spare with their overheated rhetoric and simplistic moralism, an edition of Overland will arrive and I will find an essay or a piece of fiction that speaks to the complexity of this startling, confusing century.
One of the best things Overland does is give new writing space. The journal does something that is the opposite of the contrived ‘democracy’ of the ABC’s Q&A, where the same talking heads spew forth the same spin that we have just read in the opinion page of the daily broadsheet. That is the most exciting moment of being an Overland reader, coming across a moving or powerful short story, or a lucid and exacting argument, then looking at the name of the writer and thinking, I don’t know who this is, I can’t wait to read more by them. There are, of course, new digital spaces opening up for writing but it would be a fool who believes that this means that the ‘old spaces’ of print no longer need to be defended. It is the exact same reason why I subscribe to public radio. I don’t always agree with what I read or care for what I hear but I have faith and trust in the ‘editors’, in the people putting together the content. I don’t have that trust in Youtube, I don’t have that faith at all in Google.
What’s left? I certainly don’t know but if that question is still important – and I think it is, I think it is vital – then Overland provides one of the spaces in this country where one can explore, tease, confront and challenge that question.
And the final reason why I think Overland is important? For the sheer bloody pleasure involved in reading it, because reading Overland affirms that the culture of the left and of the alternative is not spent, is not moribund. When Overland arrives in the letterbox, I can’t wait to rip open the envelope, make myself a coffee or pour myself a drink, and jump into the conversation. That’s why I am subscribing.