Writing from the ‘global south’: Dallas Angguish on Southpaw Issue 1

Issue 1, December 2011
ISSN 1839-7867

Reviewed by Dallas Angguish

Southpaw describes itself as ‘a journal of writing from the global south’. This notion of the global south draws on and intersects with the recent critique in scholarly circles of the Northern hemisphere bias in critical theory, cultural studies (especially literature and film studies), social theory and the academy in general. One of the first, and most potent, elucidations of this bias appears in Raewyn Connell’s book Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. In Southern Theory, Connell starts with a critique of Northern hemisphere sociology then relates social thought from cultures and theorists in the southern hemisphere which, by highlighting the biases and blindnesses of much north-oriented social (and cultural) theory, provides fresh and sometimes challenging insights.

Southpaw’s editors (Alison Caddick and Chris Beach) have taken up the notion of a uniquely southern hemisphere worldview or ‘position’ and applied it to the domain of writing. This is unique in itself although not unexpected. Much of the theory and criticism coming out of the southern hemisphere has been about literature. The theme for Southpaw’s first issue is ‘displacement’, a potent idea that draws on postcolonial theory and writing on colonialism, globalisation and the spectre of mass population displacement (refugees) due to the twin horrors of northern hemisphere driven (and funded) war and ecological catastrophe.

The journal includes a diverse range of writing (poetry, fiction, essays etc.) from an even more diverse cohort of writers. Issue One has contributions from and/or about many places in the global south: Australia, India, New Zealand, Oceania, South Africa, South America and Asia. The writers are all positioned in the global south either geographically or theoretically. Many are members of the cultural and ethnic diasporas that are a reality of life below the equator.

Ali Jimale Ahmed’s poetry opens the issue and provides perceptive reflections on the irreality or constructed nature of the borders between north and south. Ahmed elucidates this notion when he writes that a ‘poetic swoon’ provokes a reorientation to the south which may or may not be a return to another (or an ‘other’) way of seeing things. Paula Tavares’ suite of poems ‘Mukai (Woman)’ engages with the notion of displacement in a more bodily sense. These poems reflect beautifully on the displacement of being a woman in a masculinist world. Tavares’ poems suggest that the female body provides links (umbilical cords) to the earth and the past that might help to counter this displacement. Although this idea might evoke (for a certain type of scholarly northern mind) the problematic of essentialist ways of seeing the body, it also suggests that perhaps there is a way of linking the body to ecology and history that northern theory has missed.

Although the poetry and fiction contained in this issue are all of a high standard, the strengths of Southpaw are mainly in its essays and non-fiction. For me, Martin Plowman’s essay ‘Traveller’s Guide to High Strangeness’ is among the best contributions to this issue. In this perfectly tuned essay, Plowman relates his ongoing fascination with ufologists (UFO boffins) and UFOs as it plays out in a journey to South America. Plowman uses the term ‘high strangeness’ to describe the conspiracy-filled, paranoid and intriguing world of ufology. The term comes from ufology itself and means ‘total uncertainty, a complete lack of meaning.’ Plowman’s essay is expertly written, engaging, informative and humorous.

‘Traveller’s Guide to High Strangeness’ also provides a moment of relief to the other longer contributions which are, in many cases, somewhat heavy. Many of the pieces are negatively skewed encounters with displacement (and the southern hemisphere perspective). This is not to say these other works are not well written. I just found that the journal did not quite balance out the tensions between light and dark, pain and pleasure, in the way that I prefer.

A really good journal should provide the reader with a challenging and informative but also enjoyable reading experience. For me, the profit of reading is as much about enjoyment as it is about illumination. For what is the point of illumination if it brings us only sadness and no pleasure? Not that Southpaw is a total downer. The journal has definite highs (such as Plowman’s essay and the poetry of Tavares), but one definitely leaves the issue feeling pessimistic. There is not enough exploration into the positive possibilities that might be found in displacement. But that is a minor weakness and only my opinion.

Overall, Southpaw is a commendable journal. It’s ideological (and ethical) orientation is worthy. Certainly, the works included in this issue deserve the space the journal has given them. Many of the works deserve wider circulation. I hope, therefore, that the journal is taken up by as broad a readership as possible.

Dallas Angguish is a writer and editor based in Northern NSW. He has been published in a number of journals including TEXTLodestar QuarterlyRetort MagazineBukker Tillibul and Polari Journal (of which he is also the editor). Dallas’ work has appeared in the anthologies Bend, Don’t Shatter (2004), Dumped (2000 and US edition 2002) and When You’re a Boy (2011). A collection of his short works, Anywhere But Here, was published in 2006 and his collection of travel tales, America Divine: Travels in the Hidden South, was published by Phosphor Books in 2011. Dallas is also an Associate Lecturer in Cultural Studies and Writing at Southern Cross University. For more info: www.dallasangguish.com

15 thoughts on “Writing from the ‘global south’: Dallas Angguish on Southpaw Issue 1

  1. This is really interesting and, as you say, ‘worthy’. But they need to cheer up! No wonder you left the issue feeling pessimistic. I just looked at the themes on their website: ‘home and eviction, family and illness, migration and asylum seeking, diplomacy and oppression, cross-cultural dealings and cultural reclamation’. Yikes! They’ll never attract a broad readership unless they lighten up. And it would be a shame if they don’t. Thank you for the review!

  2. I thought it must be an academic spoof, based on the preciousness of the review, and clinched by the obviously made up name, “Dallas Angguish.” I mean, who would have a name like that? It turns out he’s real, but this magazine, the contents of which I cannot find a link to, sounds unbearably pretentious. A magazine called Southpaw should be down to earth.

    • I assure you that Dallas is a real person (I’ve met him), and I think his review is a considered one. It’s a little unclear in your comment what exactly has bothered you, anyway, as you take broad swipes at the review, the reviewer, and the journal itself.

      • I was responding to the semi-reverential tone and the cultural studies jargon. I am genuinely interested in reading what the contributors have to say, but there seems to be no link to the actual content. If you can provide one, I’ll happily read the magazine.

      • There’s a link to the website but it’s a print magazine and you have to purchase it to read the content. I’m not sure what words you’re perceiving as being ‘jargon’. Dallas is an educated person and a good writer and his review is perfectly readable to me!

      • The paragraph beginning “Ali Jimale Ahmed’s poetry…” is a good example of jargon, but its peppered all the way through. I realise this is probably a cultural studies department writing for other cultural studies departments, which is reflected in the print-only stance, but that only adds to the perception of preciousness. You’d lose nothing by putting it online. I can’t imagine thousands of internet pirates waiting to loot this tiny but perfectly formed annual literary magazine of its word hoard.

        I did understand what Dallas is saying, having endured classes in literary theory as part of my English degree. The epiphany was that literary theory is like Klingon – learning it is useful for impressing your friends at Star Trek conventions or on forums, but not much else. That allowed me to relax and play with the ideas.

        If the idea of South is important, then it deserves an inclusive, online magazine, rather than a print-only outlet for cultural studies anoraks.

    • I agree, the magazine seems aimed at alienating the general reader. I wish it well but I doubt it will last except as a self-referential publication for its contributors, many of whom may be worthy of wider notice and appraisal.

  3. @poetmcgonagall I’ll have to disagree with you. I think Dallas has read the journal and translated its contents in a balanced and considered way for this readership. Obviously the journal is just not for you, but I don’t think there’s any issue with it existing and finding its readership. Maybe it will be a more academic one, but so be it. There are plenty of other journals and magazines that you can read online, ie. Overland, Meanjin, Griffith Review.

    @catherine there’s plenty of room for all sorts of publications, including those more academically skewed, like this one. Don’t you think? Not everything has to be for the ‘general reader’.

    • You have the advantage of me, Angela, in that you have presumably read the magazine. If you sent me a free copy, I’d be glad to review it on my blog, and then you could take a whack at my review. I’m all for equal opportunity criticism. It is, after all, the contributors’ writing that matters – we critics are merely baying jackals. Or should that be dingoes in the Southern context? Do dingoes bay?

      • I sent my only copy to Dallas, I’m afraid. You’d have to contact the eds/publisher, if you wanted to read it that badly (but it doesn’t sound like you actually do!).

  4. I think this kind of discussion is very healthy. Discussion and debate are what books are really about (in my humble opinion). I agree with Angela in that there is room for all kinds of journals, and this one is certainly targetting a more “scholarly” audience. I am delighted to be called precious! I’ve been called all kinds of things but this is my first precious – and I’m just thrilled. Lots of my favourite writers have been called that also. So, thanks. This is fun. Let’s do this again. Cheers, ciao etc, Dallas.

    • I was wondering if you were lurking, Dallas. I apologise for taking your name in vain – language is something I like play with, and a robust debate about books is a fine thing.

      I suppose I’m offended by the idea of literature in a self-imposed cultural ghetto, in this case refusing the democratic access afforded by the internet. Southpaw implies it should be punching at or above its weight, with an audience baying for blood, and maybe a sneaky knockout blow that Northpaws would never see coming. But as I said to Angela, it’s the writing that matters, and now I’m very curious to see it.

      • Yes, I agree, cultural ghettos don’t help but I think Southpaw chose the print format for aesthetics reasons. I really got a chuckle from the Klingon comment. Cultural Studirs does have its own language, but so does rap and hip hop and other “genres” of expression. I often feel like I’m speaking Klingon, but we academics are required to use that language. It’s like being a check out petson who’s forced to smle all day. It’s onerous but it’s part of our job. Great connectibg with you. Cheers, Dallas.

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