Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

In Conversation: David Malouf and Ivor Indyk

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

In Conversation: David Malouf and Ivor Indyk

Article excerpt

The David Malouf Symposium was held at Australian Catholic University, North Sydney, on 31 May 2013 to celebrate the work of David Malouf. The program included a written tribute from Ihab Hassan, a discussion of Malouf's work via Skype between Colm Tóibín and Michael Griffith, and papers by Nicholas Jose, Stephen Mansfield, Brigid Rooney, Damien Barlow, James Marland, Kate Matthew, Yvonne Smith, and James Tulip. Malouf was present throughout and joined Ivor Indyk (Whitlam Professor in the Writing and Society Research Centre, University of Western Sydney) and the audience for a closing conversation on matters raised during the day.i

Ivor Indyk [Reflecting on all that he has heard at the conference but also on the visual images of David projected on the screen.] I am beset by a proliferation of images of David, not only behind me, but in front of me as well. And in a way that's appropriate because for the last six or seven hours we've spoken about David Malouf, but apart from his reading he hasn't spoken himself. Indeed it is quite transgressive to have the subject of academic, of critical, discourse in the same place as the discourse itself, and that is my first question, to ask David really whether he felt he had to rescue himself from our conversations about him, whether he recognised himself in that conversation, or whether he thought there were things that had been missed altogether?

David Malouf Well, yes, it is a strange business to be a writer listening to talk about his writing, because that's not often how it happens. And one of the things that's odd about it is that in some ways the person who has done the writing always seems to me to be a quite different person from the person who walks and talks, and that person is fairly distant from me. One of the strange things is that you have to believe, if you are a writer, that a great deal of what gets into the writing, and a great deal of the writing as it gets done, is being done by somebody who is not quite the conscious you. So you feel protected, in a way. You end up finishing a book and letting it go, and mostly you never read the book again. So you know I am listening this morning and this afternoon to people talking about books and I keep thinking 'Oh yes, I remember that happened in that book.' I know the books much less well than some of the people here. You feel distanced from the book. So for you as a writer the book's out there. If people are talking about it they're not quite talking about you. They're talking about something that exists because it was done by a person that you've now lost touch with in many ways. You know 30 years ago, 40 years ago, 50 years ago. Or they're talking about something that was produced by somebody who, as I say, doesn't seem to be you and is mysterious to you.

I was grateful hearing today how often people took it for granted that the writing is not autobiographical, not directly about the person who's done the writing. That seemed to me to be accepted in quite a sophisticated way by most people. That was very gratifying. There was no attempt to shoot home to me-the person sitting there-total responsibility for being the person who was saying 'I' and saying 'this is what happened.' Because one of the things you realise once you start writing is that no matter how close you try to stay to the truth of what happened you will always be led astray, because what you need to write-if it's going to be interesting-is going to be changed, in terms of making a better story than what really happened. You're always aware that half of what you write as autobiographical is lies, because it's more attractive that way. So I felt distanced from all of that. There's a phrase in that last poem I read 'At Lerici':

History is made up

of nights such as this when little happens.

That goes back to almost the beginning of the session this morning, because somebody actually said 'that you know a lot of the writing is about what didn't happen or nothing much happened. …

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