The Griffith Review

At the end of 2011 I prepared for the new year by buying a couple of digital zine subscriptions. The Griffith Review was one of them and I received its 35th edition a couple of weeks ago. The theme of this issue is “surviving”. I expected mostly fiction and got mostly fact. It made for some serious, thoughtful reading. There’s lots in this edition, but picking some highlights:

Mara Bun had an interesting article, “The Path to Resilience”. She includes reference to Greensburg, the American town rebuilding itself sustainably after total tornado destruction. The notion of resilience is one that has intrigued me for years. For me (though this isn’t the element explored in Mara’s article) the defining feature of resilience is redundancy. Critical activities/necessities need to be achievable by more than one method.

Michael Gaurenda reflected on journalism and ethics in “Informed Consent”. A couple of ideas he discussed were new to me…but then, I’m not a journalist. The first was that victims of tragedy will generally talk freely with journalists, even producing photos, in the immediate aftermath of a devastating event. However, after 48 hours, this changes and they tend to refuse to deal with the media. So, how informed is their consent in that first, vulnerable and shocked 48 hours? The second idea questions whether a journalist tells other people’s stories or his or her own–in the sense that other people’s experience is filtered through the journalist’s (and editor’s) writing. To quote Michael, “The stories I wrote about them were not their stories, but mine.”

Finally, Kathy Marks has a terrible but important article on the sexual abuse on Pitcairn Island. “When Bystanders Fail” discusses exactly what its title suggests: the wilful inaction of outsiders, temporary residents of the island who were unconstrained by family or community ties or by habits of acceptance. This article, after outlining the abuse, raises the ethical challenge: Why did no outsider raise the issue of the sexual abuse of women and children? There is ample evidence that they knew it continued. Why was it left to a 15 year old Pitcairn Island girl to find the courage to speak out, and in so doing, to lose all contact with her family, community and homeland? Do we really live in a society where looking away absolves us of responsibility to protect the vulnerable and to fight evil?

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