Friday, 13 July 2007

My new Quadrant T-shirt arrived today. "I've never read Quadrant because I don't like it" is the slogan. True to its plain style, The T-shirt came in a plain manila envelope, addressed by hand (with two classic misspellings in my difficult name). Plain? Quadrant's circulation is 5000 per issue, of which there are ten annually.

Most of the people who were educated with me would never read Quadrant for the reason written across the front of the T-shirt. It's not for 'lefties'. And while I do not subscribe to every sentiment it contains, I read it because Quadrant takes ideas seriously.

Many pieces are written by laymen and -women, which adds to the magazine's charm. You can feel as if you're getting it straight from the horse's mouth. The editors clearly avoid fashionable orthodoxies in favour of content that challenges assumptions. And that gives a more in-depth view of the issue under consideration.

The mag also is one of the few to regularly publish original fiction, especially poetry. Some of it is very good. Some is not, but as a general rule the standard of submissions accepted for publication is high. The poet Les Murray is the mag's literary editor.

Every issue contains unexpected material, unlike other high-end mags, many of which favour canonical 'issues' such as Aboriginal land rights. Instead, Quadrant would approach the issue differently, and ask about the responsibilities of Aborigines.

The current (July-August) issue contains a dreary apologia by Leonie Kramer. There's a piece by a judge, J. J. Spiegelman, on Europeans in Shanghai that lost me within a few paragraphs, so I skipped to the next piece. Two pieces on universities approach the issues from a different angle. Both decry managerialism in academia. You wouldn't normally expect Quadrant to do this, but there you go.

Robert Murray's short piece, 'The New Story of English', looks at how recent scholarship and the science of genetics have turned accepted ideas about the origin of the English language on their head. This is a must-read and a guide to further reading if you're curious about such things, as I am.

And Bel Vidal's brief paean to stodgy old Australia takes the migrant's point of view. It also succinctly deals with recent politics in Bolivia, and sets everything in the context of nostalgia and patriotism. Alan Gould's short memoir says a lot about climbing. Trees, in his case, but the tone of the mag -- plain, unadorned, in plain language -- always prompts the reader to think laterally. What does climbing trees have to do with me?

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