9th January, 2024

In conversation with BOTY winning editors Leah Jing McIntosh and Adolfo Aranjuez

Against Disappearance: Essays on Memory (Pantera Press) is exactly the kind of invigorating non-fiction that small, risk-taking publications like Liminal, excel at. It is a physically beautiful collection, presented with an understated sophistication that reflects those same qualities in the works. Edited by Leah Jing McIntosh and Adolofo Aranjuez, this collection brings together writers from across a variety of disciplines and thought, that reveals its themes of identity, love, family, home in fragments, traversing intellect and object, a tapestry that is felt as much as read. It is exceptional to read, and exciting to imagine a future of Australian publishing inspired by works such as this one.

—BOTY 2023 judging panel

We were lucky enough to chat with Leah and Adolfo about Against Disappearance: Essays on Memory, one of the shortlisted titles for the 2023 SPN Book of the Year Award.

To see the full shortlist, click here.

Q. You mention a deliberation on the difference between ‘against’ and ‘after’ in the book’s introduction, but could you elaborate on the meaning of ‘against disappearance’ for anyone who has yet to read this incredible anthology?

LJM: In the introduction, I try to explain the slippage between ‘after’ and ‘against’: “When we were making this book, I kept accidentally referring to it as ‘After’ Disappearance. Each time I did, my wonderful co-editor, Adolfo Aranjuez, would gently correct me. It became a sort of joke between us, an inexplicable slippage. I have been thinking about the space between after and against. What happens after a disappearance? Loss opens into a clear blue horizon, darkening with all we do not know.”

I think the essays in Against Disappearance try to untangle this knot, in complex and looping ways. I have to note, the title was all Adolfo’s idea! I spent weeks trying to figure it out—good titles are so tricky— but when I finally sent him a list of potential titles, he instead suggested Against Disappearance. It clicked perfectly into place.

AA: I’ll take the credit! It came about after I noticed that, while the theme of the originating Liminal & Pantera Press Nonfiction Prize was ‘archive’, the vast majority of the collection’s pieces explicitly pushed back against erasure, forgetting and denial—which is to say, disappearance. I was (and am) especially fascinated by the way in which the verb ‘disappear’ can point to both agency (a decision to not be visible) and an effect of another’s actions (to be removed from records/existence). It felt, to me, beyond apposite that our book be framed in opposition to both: against the wilful self-effacement born of navigating hostile societies and toxic bureaucratic structures and against the sanctioned excisions and exclusions that are often out of our hands.

Q. Could you give us any insight into how involved you were in the process of selecting the pieces and how you went about filing them into categories?

AA: We arrived at the final list of pieces as part of the judging process for the aforementioned essay prize. The Liminal editorial team were responsible for the longlisting process, while the winning pieces were selected by the prize judges (Brian Castro, Shakira Hussein and Arlie Alizzi). In terms of the longlisting, we set out to juggle a number of considerations: quality of the writing; strength of the perspective and message represented; choice of genre/form/style and its suitability for the subject matter; and identity-based factors such as culture, regionality, gender, age, sexual orientation and ability. As for the resulting collection’s structure and sequence, that was spearheaded by Leah, with minor notes from me!

LJM: Collecting the essays into the different sections—Inheritances, Archives and Opacities—took re-reading the essays a couple of times, until they fell into place. It was a task of finding images and moods and moments that looped the pieces together, to create some kind of narrative—and the end result, I think, is really satisfying.

The first section, ‘Inheritances’, contains essays that consider what we possess, what was stolen, and what is inherited. The second, ‘Archives’, circles around a provocation from theorist and writer Saidiya Hartman about the movement of history, and they all seemed to, in one way or another, think through the violence of the state, displacement and dispossession. And the third section, ‘Opacities’ shifted back to the intimacies of the self, or making or finding one’s own truth. But, in truth, many of the pieces could have been filed under other headings; this is just what made sense to us at the time.

Q. Some of the essays in the collection (This is Probably Sedition, as a notable example) are clearly extremely important and need to be read but, could put the authors in danger of persecution from Governments overseas. What do you consider as your responsibility to the safety of your authors?

LJM: The safety of the writer should always come first and foremost in one’s editorial practice. As such, we made sure to consult with Pantera’s legal team for a detailed review of the full manuscript. In regards to the story you mention, ‘This is Probably Sedition’, we spoke in depth with the author, Elizabeth Flux, about potential implications of publishing the piece in Against Disappearance. There are dangers in writing about things that matter. But, as Elizabeth said to us—‘‘Why put words on a page if they won’t reach beyond it?’

AA: Echoing Leah’s points, due diligence and duty of care were certainly at the forefront of our minds for a collection of this nature. Beyond Elizabeth’s piece, for example, we asked that any authors whose essays directly mentioned other people (such as family members) obtain permission for any such mentions—and, where necessary, request feedback/notes from external parties. As part of the editing process, we also thoroughly fact-checked every single assertion that wasn’t either common knowledge, historical fact or backed up by a citation. Not only as editors but as writers ourselves, Leah and I are profoundly aware of the tricky ethics involved in penning nonfiction: each individual’s life is inextricably linked with those of others with whom they cross paths and share space, and with the broader culture or society in which they live. As such, no story belongs to just one person. By the same token, every bit of testimony is (to appropriate race and gender theorist Patricia Hill Collins) inherently partial: at once carrying the person’s biases and incomplete as it can only represent their own limited purview of the world. In creating Against Disappearance, we took all the necessary steps—personal, editorial, legal—to ensure, to the best of our abilities, that the works in their final forms have accounted for these complex considerations.

Founded in late 2016, Liminal is an anti-racist literary platform that supports and elevates talented writers and artists in so-called Australia. Liminal showcases creatives from a wide range of disciplines—literature, art, music, journalism and more. Working towards a more equitable arts sector, Liminal is made by a dedicated team located around the continent.

Leah Jing McIntosh is a critic, researcher and the founding editor of Liminal. Through the Liminal project, she has published an extensive collection of longform interviews and award-winning writing and art by Asian Australian artists. Working towards and advocating for a more equitable arts sector, she has produced community events, established national literary prizes, and created mentorships, residencies and workshops for racialised artists. In 2020, she co-edited the critically acclaimed fiction anthology Collisions (Pantera Press). She has a Master’s degree in English Literature from University College London, and is currently completing her doctoral research at the University of Melbourne.

Adolfo Aranjuez is an editor, writer, speaker and dancer, and a member of Liminal’s editorial team since its inception. He has worked across periodical and book publishing for fifteen years, with past tenures as editor-in-chief of film/media journal Metro and LGBTQIA+ magazine Archer, and his essays, criticism and poetry have been published widely, including in Meanjin, Right Now, Screen Education, The Manila Review and Cordite. As an independent practitioner, he has performed movement and spoken word, hosted and appeared on panels, run workshops, judged literary prizes, and acted as advisor for a range of festivals, government, community and cultural organisations. Find out more: adolfoaranjuez.com

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