The Visionary Imagination: Remembering Babylon

Sydney Writers FEstival - The Light Room

Photo Courtesy of Juno Gemes

Today we discussed the way in which Janet McIvor’s experience of being overwhelmed by a swarm of bees is the encrustation that heralds her liberation into a life of dedication and purpose as a Nun. This extraordinary episode builds on the earlier episode in which the young Janet peels a scab from her knee and becomes fascinated by the thought of what it would be like if all her skin peeled off: what would be revealed? It is as if the young Janet is from childhood on questioning the nature of earthly reality, wondering if there are other dimensions to life that might open up for her. This prompted us to talk about higher levels of Being, about what it needs to lift us beyond the stress and strife of everyday life into an appreciation, an experience of the “mystery of things” (Malouf’s words for Janet). This level of experience is what, clearly, she finds in the closing pages of the novel. How does Malouf take us there? What is his means of allowing us to engage with Janet’s deepest meditations on the meaning and purpose of her life, here and now- within living memory of Gemmy Fairley and all the new life that he seems to have stirred in her?

We talked a great deal about the way David Malouf’s novel hits the spot in the troubled context of our own times with the fears that are being provoked about outsiders in our own community. David Malouf’s answer is simple yet complex: by negating the outsider we negate something essential in our own Being; by accepting, opening to the outsider we hugely enrich our own capacity for being alive, for seeing through rather than with the eye.

These are deep and complex issues, but I have a strong sense that David Malouf is a powerful healing influence in the context of these negative dramas that are unfolding around us right now.

Here are some Blog Questions that might trigger your imagination:

Q.1 Do you see Malouf’s efforts to open our hearts to the outsider as beneficial in the current world climate?

Q.2 Take any paragraph from Remembering Babylon and try to convey your sense of how Malouf uses his writing to immerse his readers in the experience he is describing. What is it in the word choice (sound and meaning), the sentence and paragraph structure, that takes us on this sensory journey?

Q.3 Write a letter to Malouf telling him how important you think his message is to our current political, world climate.

Q.4 Write a paragraph in David Malouf’s style describing your meeting with a stranger. What thoughts did you find inhabiting you in the process?

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