Ken Gelder’s critical article in Friday’s Crikey — billed as “just a brief interruption to the ongoing vilification of Louise Adler and MUP by a few Ian Britain/ Meanjin cheerleaders” — demands to be inspected.
1) Ken tells us that he is writing to interrupt the ongoing vilification of MUP and its CEO by a few cheerleaders for Meanjin and its editor, including the Crikey reporter. In that very first line Ken descends into name calling. Using his own lens, does that make Ken Gilder merely one of MUP’s cheerleaders? We’ll return to those cheerleaders, but let’s be grown up about this and assume that all who have written speak for themselves and mean what they say, including Ken.
2) MUP doesn’t have a “stable” as Ken says. What it has, as does any publishing house, is a list. As far as one can see, its “product” is not strong on literary work or criticism, and does not include fiction or poetry — the combination of all of which is the raison d’etre for Meanjin .
3) Ken says: “There is no reason to imagine that the editor of Meanjin would be any more or less independent if the journal was housed at MUP than he is now.” It was on RN ‘s Book Show last week that Ian Britain, the editor of Meanjin , made a rather messy but insistent point about “physical independence”. Ken’s remark (note the word “imagine” in there, see point 6 below) makes me think he has never worked in a real world office — it’s called keeping an eye on you. Here’s a tip, Ken: Proximity is power.
4) Why point 3 matters has something to do with what an ex-board member, Sandy Grant, let slip in his remark in the Crikey report: “[Grant] was also frustrated with an editor who ‘didn’t want the board’s input’.” So when Ken says: “I’ve never heard of a university press interfering with a journal or its editor” it sounds distinctly disingenuous. The board did want “input”, whatever that euphemism might signify.
5) Ken says it was never a “takeover”, that it’s all about making Meanjin “(financially) secure and sustainable”. And yet, this simple, innocent idea was fought over for eighteen months of what Ken characterises as “groundhog day” meetings. As he notes, the CEO of MUP’s vote canceled out the Meanjin editor’s vote, so clearly there was deep division between the board members. Again, Ken’s point is shown to be disingenuous.
6) Ken writes: “Sixth, MUP has not said what it has “planned” for Meanjin because I imagine that it doesn’t have any (plans, that is), at least not in terms of editorial role and content.” Ken, an ex-board member during its interminable “groundhog” sessions IMAGINES there are no plans?! The board doesn’t know if there are plans or not for Meanjin after the move?! If I didn’t have question marks before, I certainly do now. Having “no plans” IS a plan — if that is a sticking point surely the board could simply have put it into black and white: “There are no plans to change Meanjin’s editorial role and content.” As they haven’t — one can only “imagine” what might be in store for Meanjin .
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7) There is an audible sneer when Ken writes: “It may indeed want to increase Meanjin’s subscriber base, which is far short of the imaginary figure of 2,000 by the way”. The imagination again. It’s been reported that 4 or 5 recent issues of the two thousand print-run Meanjin have sold out, which is absolutely remarkable for a literary journal, in a country where independent commercial publishers often do only a three thousand print-run on a title. And as anyone who works in publishing knows, readership far outstrips subscriber numbers, which also does not include retail sales.
8) Ken writes: “the more ‘knowledge transfer’ here, the better, a point I would think all the board members and all the folk out there who value the journal would agree with.” The key phrase is “all the folk who value the journal”. It is too obvious — the evidence is all over his article — that Ken Gelder is not a fan of the current editor. He has studiously avoided commenting on the quality of the journal under its current editorship. It’s hard to say even if Ken himself is one of the folk who value the journal.
9) Ken writes: “The editor and a few righteous affiliates have lobbied the media and the university to see it their way, trampling over Louise Adler in the process…” Made me laugh — good one, Ken! It’s hard to see Louise Adler — who impresses in public as being supremely articulate and assertive — as ever being trampled on. Let’s hope she is not offended! These righteous affiliates and cheerleaders would seem to be part of the readership of Meanjin . It raises a sneaking suspicion: that Ken actually doesn’t like this readership — that he would prefer a different readership for the journal, or to put it another way, he would like Meanjin to be a different magazine altogether.
10) Continuing from point 9, Ken adds: “I think this is a disgrace, the literary world is a small one and a little bit of righteousness can indeed go a long way, as your letter correspondents amply demonstrate”.
Ken seems to disdain the denizens of our literary world but surely he does not think his opinion is more valuable than theirs? And Ken, it’s a democracy — people get to say what they think.
And who are these people whom Ken contemptuously derides as “righteous affiliates” and “cheerleaders”? They include: Critic Peter Craven, Tony Moore of Pluto Publishing, Penny Hueston of Text Publishing, Sara White of Era Publishing, Tom Cho of the Meanjin editorial advisory board, ex-Eureka Street editor Morag Fraser and the writers Helen Garner, Michele de Kretser, Sophie Cunningham, Nick Jose, Sara Dowse and Frank Moorhouse.