Sunday, 18 May 2014

David Malouf on works of wit and visual play

In his 81st year, the great David Malouf has returned to Brisbane for a series of events including a talk today at Brisbane City Hall: 'In conversation with David Malouf'.

David Malouf in conversation with ABC news presenter Karina Carvalho, at City Hall
Five Brisbane artists have honoured his work (which includes nine novels, five short story collections, nine collections of poetry including his latest Earth Hour, five works of non-fiction, four opera libretti, and a play) by selecting and interpreting something from this great body of work in art.
Malouf says he had no say in what the artists chose to represent because once a book goes out into the world, it is no longer your own.
'Books go out and find friends, lovers. Some come back with a response to what you have done in your own world.'
One artist has used just one line from the novel Fly Away Peter. Another artist has depicted what he considers to be the polarity between 'the classic' Ransom and An Imaginary Life and 'the domestic' 12 Edmonstone Street and Johnno. This artist uses plaster casts studded with Queensland crustaceans, flora and fauna laid out on a laminex table in one installation, and an aerial view of the 'serpentine' Brisbane River on amphora jars in another.
Malouf says they are all a beautiful way of playing with things from different areas.
'They are works of wit as well as visual play,' he says.
Then there are screens, which Malouf says we use for decoration as well as to shut ourselves off from neighbours.
'These are teasing you to look through and see more, but you can't. So they are physically and sensually very beautiful.'
He says the screens remind him of eavesdropping and peering through doors, which he did a lot of until he was aged about five at which time he was told to go and join the outside world.
'I was good at making myself invisible. I was always watching, always listening. I was a very clever eavesdropper and a very clever lingerer around doorways.' It is this, he says, that makes for good writers.
His advice to aspiring writers: 'Keep your eyes and ears open'.
The artistic interpretation of this great author's work, 'David Malouf and friends', runs until 23 November 2014 at the Museum of Brisbane on Level 3 at City Hall. Entry is free.
How pleasant it was to sit for an hour and listen to Malouf talk about his early influences, his love of growing up in Brisbane 'which was always subjected to the great Southern put-down' with its topography 'all hills and gullies'. And of watching General MacArthur getting out of his car outside Lennons Hotel during WWII in a culturally rich city of 400,000 people 'which was just big enough to have a grasp of absolutely everything [in terms of cultural offerings]'.
Despite Malouf's rejoicing at all things cultural, he is famously averse to technology and doesn't own a computer or a mobile phone.
He says there have always been changes, but some of these have not been for the better.
'In the 2nd Century, papyrus rolls were turned over to codex. But two-thirds were not transcribed and disappeared.
'Technology is moving very fast, and I'm not sure where it's going.'
He says the Doomsday Book, held for over 1,000 years, was put onto CD Rom at the National Archive in London where it lasted for 10 years, but it is no longer accessible in that format. Fortunately (and ironically), it is available online.
'We need to be very careful,' he says. 'So much can be lost.'
And on having turned 80 this year, he says 'writers never give up'.
'But if they have any sense, they will stop publishing; not stop writing.'