A lone sunflower on a bench marks a very special, poignant issue of the journal Law Text Culture http://lha.uow.edu.au/law/LIRC/LTC/index.html.
The 2015 volume, guest edited by Professor Joseph Pugliese and Jillian Kramer (Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University Australia), commemorates the life and work of Professor Penny Pether, whose life was cut tragically short in 2013.
Penny Pether was an Australian-born critical legal scholar whose work in law and language and law and literature scholarship changed the face of the discipline, and through her commitments to social justice, drew on this work to ground practical legal and social interventions that had real effect. Though based in the US from the late 1990s, her remarkable career as a legal academic began in the then newly founded Faculty of Law at the University of Wollongong. A law graduate and PhD in English literature, she co-founded Law Text Culture with her Wollongong colleagues, Joseph Pugliese (English), Robyn Handley (Law) and Maurie Scott (Drama) in 1994. As Joseph Pugliese and Jillian Kramer observe in their introduction to the collection, the co-editors’:
hope was that the interdisciplinary crossings that the journal would generate would work to bring into critical focus previously unseen relations and, in the process, precipitate transformations that would resonate across the bodies of law, text and culture. In its challenging of borders, disciplinary orthodoxies and received knowledges, the journal effectively embodied the generative and irreverent spirit of Penny. (page 3)
This generative spirt is celebrated throughout Volume 19, not least in its co-curation by one of the journal co-founders (Joseph), along with a young scholar (Jillian). They have brought together a collection which continues Penny’s:
exhortations for scholars to name and identify what remains ‘unspeakable’ or ‘forbidden’ within the law, popular texts and culture. In this special issue, Troubling Waters: Speaking (of) Forbidden (Legal) Subjects, we hope to honour this transformative vision as we ‘trouble’ the institution of the law on multiple fronts and engage with the urgent and ongoing issues of social justice that compel her extensive body of work. (pages 8-9).
Yet the immense sadness that lies behind volume 19 is never far from the surface, and indeed sits on the surface of this issue through its cover. Photographed by Joseph Pugliese at Villanova University, Philadelphia where she worked until the end of her life, the bench remembers Penny. Joseph is drawn to the sight of the ‘luminous sunflower strewn across that otherwise empty bench [which] evokes … Italian poet, Eugenio Montale’s paean to the sunflower, and its ability to transcend the harrowed ground of life’ (page 1).
The special issue of Law Text Culture had its origins in a Legal Intersections Research Centre symposium in Penny’s memory http://lha.uow.edu.au/content/groups/public/@web/@law/@lirc/documents/doc/uow174310.pdf. Organised by Joseph Pugliese and the Centre’s Director, Professor Nan Seuffert, the symposium, held on 18 July 2014, laid the ground for the collection, grounded in her legacy and the new possibilities that could be built from her work. It also speaks to the friendships and mentoring, the close connections and next generation work created by those who did not know Penny but who draw on her insights in new and exciting ways, as revealed in the introductory chapter to the collection.
The collection includes contributions from one of Penny’s longstanding collaborates, Professor Emerita Terry Threadgold, whose article ‘Critical and Feminist Legacies: Unmaking Law to Make Better Futures. An Introduction to a Celebration of Penny Pether’s Life and Work’ marks out Penny’s career as ‘a path-breaking scholar whose work forged the foundations of many fields of study, including the work that follows throughout this special edition on indefinite detention, colonialism, race, literature and gender’ (page 5). The shape that her work might have taken has been picked up by Nan Seuffert in her article, ‘Sexual Minorities and the Proliferation of Regulation in Australia’s Asylum Seeker Detention Camps’. Another of Penny’s collaborators and colleagues, Nan’s article builds on one of ‘Penny’s unfinished projects, a proposal for a book entitled ‘Perverts’, ‘Terrorists’ and Business as Usual: Comparative Indefinite Detention Before and After 9/11’ (page 5).
The links between the thematics of Penny’s work and her friendships and collaborations continue in the collection, through Joseph Pugliese ‘Geopolitics of Aboriginal Sovereignty: Colonial Law as “a Species of Excess of Its Own Authority”, Aboriginal Passport Ceremonies and Asylum Seekers’, continuing Penny’s critical work on native title (pages 5-6). In ‘Brokeback’s Bareback: Queering Lex Populi’, William MacNeil draws on a dinner party conversation with Penny, friendship and collegiality and shared critical agendas at play, to speak to the facet of Penny’s work in and around law and literature – and film – to open up matters of injustice grounded in and through sexual orientation (page 7).
We see another facet of Penny Pether’s legacy through three of the contributions to the collection. Maria Giannacopoulos was one of Penny’s law students at Wollongong. Now Senior Lecturer in the School of Law at Flinders University, she builds on Penny Pether’s legacy in her scholarship, and her article, ‘Sovereign Debts: Global Colonialism, Austerity and Neo-Liberal Assimilation’, drawing on Penny’s critical legal methodologies and her critical engagement with native title in new and challenging ways (pp 6-7). Julia Quilter, who had been taught by Penny at Sydney University, is now an Associate Professor in Law at Wollongong. Her article, ‘Rape Trials, Medical Texts, and the Threat of Female Speech: The Perverse Female Rape Complainant’ threads together the practices of the law with myth, literature, medical literature and the visual reveals injustice (pp 7-8). Co-editor, Ph D candidate and emerging scholar Jillian Kramer represents the continuation of Penny’s work through a new generation. Her ‘“Legitimating Fictions”: The Rule of Law, the Northern Territory Intervention and the War on Terror’, draws powerfully on Penny Pether’s work into indigenous injustice in Australia (p 6). Another young scholar, Dr Elaine Laforteza, undertakes a detailed review essay of At the Limits of Justice: Women of Colour on Terror, a volume edited by Suvendrini Perera and Sherene H Razack, harking back to the first issue of Law Text Culture which featured a number of review essays and book reviews. The journal no longer publishes reviews, and Elaine’s wonderful essay honours that facet of the journal under the curatorship of the co-founders.
Since that early issue, Law Text Culture has taken a highly visual turn, and the guest editors have curated two powerful visual essays that speak to Penny’s social justice concerns and her work on indigenous injustice. The first visual essay by Eaten Fish, an asylum seeker, renders the experience of incarceration in profound terms, accompanied by a commentary from Janet Galbraith (pp 3-4), while visual artist and academic, Zanny Begg has created a visual essay comprising photographs and film-stills entitled ‘Doing Time’. The children doing time are indigenous boys, and Joseph and Jillian note that the essay: ‘resonates profoundly with Penny’s own practice of teaching incarcerated men and women in the United States with the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program’ (page 4), work Penny continued until the very last, her scholarship and theory etched deeply with a desire to do something to fix injustice, social and legal.