Issue 1, December 2011
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 TEXT, Lodestar Quarterly, Retort Magazine, Bukker 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