A letter from the editors

Welcome to Paraxis 01

It’s never wise for editors who invite writers to send stories on a particular theme to make plans for a sedate stroll through a stack of submissions. It’s best to prepare to be surprised.  Indeed, our call for stories on ‘power’ for Paraxis 01 turned into a bit of a white knuckle ride when it came to selecting and organising material.

Not because we had any doubts about the quality of our stories, but because of the sheer range of interpretations of the idea of power. We weren't assuming all the stories would be about political power – far from it – but we’ve been astonished by the diversity, specificity and idiosyncrasy of the reflections on the personal experience of power and powerlessness you’ll encounter here.

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There’s an inescapable link between narrative and language and the creation, preservation and dismantling of power. 
For example, in his critique of untrammelled economic growth, The Turning Point, Fritjof Capra characterises economic theories as narratives designed to perpetuate the power of multinational corporations. For Capra, these narratives can limit the possibility of challenging the control of coercive institutions that cause social and ecological harm.

On a similar note, John Pilger talks about the PR industry as  ‘information warriors’ seeking to limit the socio-political imagination in a battle for information dominance: “They promote a “grand narrative” of a constant threat and the need for permanent war.” See: http://www.johnpilger.com/articles/the-charge-of-the-media-brigade.

Derek Wall, a radical anti-capitalist and green economist has a more optimistic take on the notion of power. Wall distinguishes between potestas, oppressive power over others, and potentia, a form of power based on informal organisation. His view is that a fairer and more effective society can be created through by shifting our idea of power towards this more creative and collaborative form. Similarly, psychologist Oliver James sees the key to a better society in freeing ourselves from the power of marketing and PR by letting go of our obsession with status and creating a new language of self-reflection and interpersonal perception.   

It is widely believed the way we talk about power influences our personal relationships, and that interpersonal factors influence the allocation of power. Sex, for example, can become a prop supporting the established order: for Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, power is “the ultimate aphrodisiac”. For psychoanalytical thinkers such as Norman O Brown and Wilhelm Reich, however, the pleasure of sex has a corrosive impact on power. 

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The gauntlet we flung down for new and established writers was simply to send us stories about power. Here are nine that astonished us. There’s an emphasis – but not exclusively – on the uncanny and unsettling. There are four stories, all of searing emotional power, from some of our favourite exponents of the short story. Writers we’ve been reading with a sense of growing admiration for years. Nina Allan’s dark and compelling tale explores the debateable lands where the personal is political; Nicholas Royle’s reflects on the collision of pleasure and pain and the shifting sands of control in personal relationships; Alan Wall provides an object lesson in the casual abuse of unearned coercive power; and Conrad Williams gives us an enigmatic study of psychological powerlessness and loss. 

We’ve chosen five stories by writers who were new to us: there’s Stephanie Lam’s subtle and utterly compelling tale of bullying and resistance; Jaki McCarrick’s bleak, mesmerizing and chilling tale of a profound loss of control; Elaine Walker’s condensed and witty grand narrative about grand narratives of power, ecology and change; and Sarah Nicholson’s tale of sex, love and emotional empowerment – funny and touching by turns. Finally, there’s Sarah Jasmon’s tale – another exploration of power within a relationship, but one with imagery that proved a bit much for one of the editors. It’s a testament to Sarah’s writing that both of us chose the story in spite of the phobia from which one of us suffers…    

We hope you’ll enjoy Paraxis 01. Please do let us know what you think. And if you enjoy it, please consider making a donation to our nominated charity Stop the Traffik. They are a global movement engaged in the fight against a profound abuse of power, working to prevent the sale of people, protect the trafficked and prosecute the traffickers.

Claire Massey and Andy Hedgecock
April 2011

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