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David Malouf Visit

About Reflections on Literature, Life and the Imagination

Previous Entry David Malouf Visit Sep. 11th, 2006 @ 08:43 pm Next Entry

I forgot my phone camera today so I don't have any "live" pictures of this extraordinary visit by David Malouf... but the whole lecture was video recorded so there will be some stills from that and there may even be an on-line video lecture if we can get it into WebCT... I was so gratified by the range and depth of questions asked by so many in the room. David afterwards said how struck he was by the variety of comments, the genuine interest and the aliveness of the group as a whole. He is as much a fan of our uni as we are of him! As I dropped him off at his place in the city he said "see you same time next year"... so I hope to hold him to his word. But in terms of his content there is so much to mull over. I was especially pleased to hear him speak - in response to Matthew's question- about the importance of "Imagination" as an agent of healing in the world. "Imagination" for David Malouf is not "Fantasy" or "Weird Imaginings" rather it is an instrument that enables us to empathize more deeply with the life of another. It enables us to enter the skin of others' experience and thereby expands the boundaries of our sympathies and understanding. Used in this way "Imagination" is truly restorative in that it restores us to that humanity that is capable of responding deeply to others and even to oneself!... This is such a critical faculty in this day and age where we are tempted from morning to night by distractions. "Distracted from distraction by distraction". Here is the context of this memorable phrase in T.S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton" from his Four Quartets. Here he summarizes so powerfully the condition of modern living (some of the time!):

Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.

But I found David's response to the question of fear in our time equally enlivening. He spoke about how all times have had their sources of fear. Ours SEEMS more frightening because of the over-exposure due to the media. But it is not actually any-worse than any other period of history...
David offered many wonderful insights into the creative process too. How for him it begins with a deep wish to resolve some internal confusion, then the story finds a way of expressing and uncovering this confusion until it finds some resolution. I liked very much also the way he evaded being pigeon-holed into a writer who is trying to persuade people about certain ideas. Writing for him is more a process of discovering and uncovering.... I think I can see that in the exchanges between Adair and Carney... their conversation evolves and gradually they discover more and more about each other... and it is almost as if the author is listening in on their conversation rather than manipulating it. In the car back to his place I said to David "It seems to me that your writing is not so much about ideas, rather it is a way of living out an experience of something in all its complexity. In that way it is like a process of getting to know your characters (or yourself) through an intimate kind of exchange that involves more than just ideas in the head; it involves feelings, bodily gestures and sensations as well... so the whole process is like a discovery of the truth of someones experience in all its rich contradictory, complexity..." David seemed happy with that kind of formulation.
But overall I must say I think it is so fantastic that we are able as a group to exchange ideas informally in this way with one of the greatest living authors in the English Language. I hope you all remember this day when you are teaching your own English classes some time in the future. Thank you all for your participation in what was an astoundingly successful event.
Sleep well
Now- thanks to Pedro B we have a great little gallery of pictures from this wonderful day with David Malouf:.....
So here he is talking to our international student Anna Pfundstein who has really discovered a fantastic author to take home with her... a writer whose style is very germanic in his long expressive sentences

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Date:September 12th, 2006 05:56 am (UTC)

Excellent visit...

It was an enlightening experience. My favourite parts were when David strongly advocated writers as people who are confused about something, and use writing as a means to ask questions, rather than answer them. I've always thought of most authors as people who ask the pertinent questions about life, death and our world, in such a way that we don't feel threatened or bullied into an answer. Writers may guide, evoke, question, propose or suggest, but the best ones don't preach.

As someone who didn't take an immediate liking to the book when I first read it, I was relieved after David's visit to find that I better understood the book itself and what David was aiming for. My previous frustrations with the book, while still niggling, I've made my piece with and even if it wasn't the easiest book to read, I can now appreciate it in all its complexity and beauty.

So thanks for organising the visit, and thanks to David for coming!

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Date:September 12th, 2006 07:35 am (UTC)

Re: Excellent visit...

I felt exactly the same way as you did, Susan. Even though I'm still struggling with reading Coversations at Curlow Creek, it's getting easier. Listening to David Malouf somehow opened something up for me. Now I know his ambitions and what he aims at with his writing, I find it easier to work through the book. I found it amazing to listen to him when he told us about his purpose of writing. Why he writes, what he wants to achieve, etc.
Regarding the purpose of writing, he told us that that it is to get things right in his head, things that he feels confused about. He said that writing is a way of trying to find out what you think about things. Then, he stated: “Why would you write if you knew already what you’re thinking?”
I really liked that. I've never thought that this might be the purpose of anyone's writing...

Thanks, MG, for giving us this chance!
I found this a great experience which I definitely won't forget! :-)

Date:September 14th, 2006 05:54 am (UTC)
I am glad you thought it to be an astoundingly successful day Michael. I got a lot out of it too.
I can see why David was happy with your comment about his writing, "It seems to me your writing is not so much about ideas, rather it is a way of living out an experience in all its complexity." If someone ever said that about my writing I would be very complimented.
I am glad that David enjoyed coming and talking to us and that he found our questions interesting. Thanks for posting his thoughts about it and thanks for organising him to come and share with us.
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Date:September 15th, 2006 01:05 am (UTC)
Thanks Gemma- great to have your enthusiasm!
Date:September 15th, 2006 02:06 pm (UTC)


This week it was MIchael who said something that caught my eye... He said:

"Imagination" for David Malouf is not "Fantasy" or "Weird Imaginings" rather it is an instrument that enables us to empathize more deeply with the life of another. It enables us to enter the skin of others' experience and thereby expands the boundaries of our sympathies and understanding.

I think that this discription of imagination is the powerful thing that draws me into Liturature.

I am a nosy person. I try to hide and curb it, but it is a part of who I am.

But when I venture into the world of words I can see and feel and become a part of what is happening around me. I love being drawn into that world of words, and made to feel and dream and experience so much that is beyond just myself.

Writers give us a beautiful gift. They give us their words and their worlds, opening their hearts, souls and minds to the scrutiny of those who will turn their pages.

Great way to put it Michael.

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Date:September 16th, 2006 09:50 am (UTC)

Re: *Commentary*

You have a good memory for significant detail.... well done Tamara... you have "hit the nail on the head"!
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