On the normally sound principle that there’s one thing worse than being talked about, the conversation stirred by Emmett Stinson’s observations on the state and ambitions of Australian lit mags was welcome, even here at Meanjin, apparently home of the cross-subsidised middle-brow. Fair to say that Emmett is not a Meanjin fan:
If there is one constant among literary journals in Australia, though, it’s that no one likes Meanjin except for those authors who have recently written for it. I haven’t published there since 2006, so my opinion should be obvious. But there are less subjective reasons to be suspicious of its current incarnation. Between 1987 and 2008, Meanjin had four editors. Since 2008, when the magazine was brought in-house at Melbourne University Publishing, it has had five editors — more than the number of people who have been Prime Minister in that same period. Unsurprisingly, the quality of the magazine has varied significantly over this span, and its place in the larger schema is increasingly uncertain. While Meanjin used to be the material expression of Melbourne’s Brahmin literary community by combining highbrow cultural elitism with middlebrow literary tastes, it has increasingly focused on political interviews and commentary. Reading recent issues is almost as thrilling as perusing a transcript of Q&A. The current edition is edited by Glyn Davis — whose main literary credential appears to be that he is the Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, the institution of which Meanjin is a subsidiary. The new cover features a complicated cartoon parody of Tony Abbott and his cabinet, a gesture that would have been topical but for the fact that the edition was launched on September 17, 2015, two days after Abbott had ceased being prime minister. Aside from tarnishing the legacy of one of Australia’s most storied (if secretly despised) literary journals, Meanjin’s new direction is also puzzling in that it replicates other existing publications. If you are really desperate to spend $100 reading dull, left-ish ‘hot takes’ on contemporary politics, why not just subscribe to The Monthly? At least it comes out more regularly.
Editors? Make that six. In line with the recent rate of Prime Ministerial refurbishment, Meanjin has a new editor, me: the Malcolm Turnbull of the literary middle brow. Hopefully Emmett will suspend his disapproval for an edition or two under my colours before making firm conclusions as to Meanjin’s ‘new direction’. The editions of the past year, guest edited by Hillary McPhee and Glyn Davis were generous contributions in a moment of unforeseen editorial hiatus, but probably shouldn’t be taken as proof of a new and coherent scheme for Meanjin’s future. The early evidence of what that might be will be available in the first week of December with our Summer edition. Emmett, we’ll send you a copy.