Midnight Oil introduced me to radical politics in the 1980s. Their lyrics opened my eyes to how the world and its problems were greater than my teenage narcissism had allowed. By the time I was studying literature at university, my journal of choice was naturally Overland. Established in Melbourne in 1954 by anti-Stalinist members of the Communist Party of Australia, Overland still prides itself on being the only radical literary journal in Australia, though others have made ground, attesting to an increased radicalism in literary culture generally.
The latest issue of Overland explores the meaning of “radicalism”, which the journal’s new editors, Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk, non-dogmatically suggest may be “a question of meaningful attention”. It is a definition that resonates with Micaela Sahhar’s essay about how “people struggle to share in the reality of other people’s disasters”. Sahhar writes primarily about her homeland of Palestine, but with reference to Australia’s recent Black Summer, which made it impossible for Australians to keep turning away from the reality of climate change. Sahhar rallies people to “believe in crisis” in order to believe that “another future is possible”.
Such idealism is a hallmark of radical politics and features widely in the other essays here, many of which are excitingly hybrid in nature. Clelia O. Rodríguez’s “On Radical Love” combines autobiography, storytelling and lyrical sloganeering, sometimes to hypnotising effect, in a celebration of compassion, sentiment and belonging. The essay surprisingly ignores a Christian tradition of radical love, but Rodríguez’s exhortations have a contemporary appeal, such as when she defines “radical love” as “sharing oxygen with living things”. When radical love is associated with “a cure outside traditional medicine”, however, the glorification of an anti-rationalist position becomes more troubling.
As Justin Clemens’ essay reminds us, our age of climate-change denialism and vaccine conspiracy theories means that a critical position “must make a claim to reason or immediately betray the lack of its own legitimacy”. However, the political efficacy of rational discourse is in turn complicated by Joshua Mostafa’s experimental essay, in which he points out that “enumerating what is wrong does not redress it” and advocates for the importance of “rupture”, including through art.
The work in Overland, which includes poetry and fiction as well as essays, provides opportunities for such ruptures, for triggering political awakenings. These opportunities could only be enhanced if the journal’s design forwent experiments with pink type and red pages, which are visually tiring, at least for this middle-aged lefty.
Overland, 96pp, $19.95
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 15, 2020 as "Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (eds), Overland, #238".
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