Monday, 11 June 2007

The first I heard of Meanjin's crisis of identity was in Rosemary Sorensen's piece in The Australian. Today there's a piece by Steve Meacham in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Meacham goes further than Sorensen, and even interviews an academic, Ken Gelder, a professor of literary studies at Melbourne Uni. He implies that it's "a storm in a literary teacup".

It seems what Ian Britain, the literary magazine's editor, thinks is the main shortcoming of moving under the wing of Melbourne University Press is that he and his assistant will lose their "physical independence". Britain says that no other comparable journal is housed thus. His examples are Granta (circulation 50,000) and The New Yorker (circulation 1 million). Meanjin's circulation is 2000.

Melbourne Uni's VC, Glyn Davis, says "Meanjin always has been, and will continue to be, led by an independent editorial board".

Britain is also scared Louise Adler, the chief executive of Melbourne University Press, wants "to move Meanjin online". Adler "told The Age's literary editor, Jason Steger, she had no intention of scrapping the print edition and that Meanjin's editor would remain independent".

Frank Moorhouse weighed into the debate on 3 June with an opinion piece in The Age.

Moorhouse notes that Meanjin's circulation "has increased from about 1400 when [Britain] took over six years ago". But the nine literary magazines funded by the Australia Council have "a combined, single-issue distribution of about 32,000".

Moorhouse says Britain "sees the printed magazine as an enduring aesthetic artefact and the primary format for serious writing". Moorhouse says that "The physical, published magazine is a great aesthetic form, but it should interlock with other platforms".

He lauds the model used by Griffith Review.

[Julianne Schultz, editor of the Griffith Review]'s model is to interlock the magazine with other platforms - some of the content of the magazine is available free online, some is syndicated to newspapers, and through her partnership with the ABC, there is use of the magazine content on ABC radio. Each issue sponsors public events, with face-to-face discussion between contributors and readers.

I think the future is the GR model. The last essay I wrote for GR involved me in 10 public events, five radio interviews, and was syndicated in part in The Australian, the PEN magazine, and was republished in full in a law journal. The physical, published magazine is a great aesthetic form, but it should interlock with other platforms, following the GR pattern. Which brings us to the internet and its role.

Moorhouse flags the death of ideology: "Any style distinction is now more likely to come not from a grouping of writers exclusively around one magazine with a fiery manifesto, but through the selectivity and creativity of editorship."

And there is something Moorhouse tacks onto the end of his piece that is unrelated to the main thrust of this post, but it is interesting for me. He says:

Finally, I want to say this. A great literary magazine, online or printed, is constantly alert to the vulnerability of freedom of speech, not only when it is threatened by the state but also when the quality of freedom of speech is damaged by intellectual laziness, intellectual intimidation, easy certainties, and all the fashionable sensitivities and peer pressures that creep into our social communication.

The best of our literary magazines fight this fight.

In April, I mentioned that publisher Knopf (a Random House imprint) would reissue his "complete backlist". I asked publisher Meredith Curnow by email if The Illegal Relatives would be included in the plan. She didn't even know it existed.

To a post on Susan Wyndham's Undercover blog, I appended this comment:

To quote Frank in 'The Adelaide Review', July 1997:

"This power (censorship) to decide what people may or may not say to each other directly denies to an individual the opportunity to judge and assess for themselves."

A decision not to publish 'The Illegal Relatives' would be an act of self-censorship going against much that the author himself has been saying to the Australian public in many fora for nigh on thirty years.

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