This is such a wonderful novel to teach because it deals with such simple matters so deeply and movingly. The scene at the end of the novel where Imogen Harcourt is grieving over Jim Saddler would have to be one of the most amazing moments in Australian literature:
It was that intense focus of his whole being, it’s me, Jim Saddler, that struck her with grief, but was also the thing – and not simply as an image either – that endured. That in itself. Not as she might have preserved it in a shot she had never in fact taken, nor even as she had held it, for so long, as an untaken image in her head, but in itself, as it for its moment was. That is what life meant, a unique presence, and it was essential in every creature. To set anything above it, birth, position, talent even, was to deny to all but a few among the infinite millions what was common and real, and what was also, in the end, most moving. A life wasn’t for anything. It simply was.
“intense focus”, “endured”, unique presence”, “It simply was”, “That is what life meant”…. words, phrases, that capture -as in a butterfly net- something essential, almost beyond words, and yet here in words. Malouf is here, through his story about Jim, Imogen and Ashley trying to evoke a sense of what is the most important thing in a person’s life. It is not all their public achievements (their position, talent etc.), but it it is the quality of their Being which is available to every single human being . It is their Presence, which is not for anything, but simply is or was. Most of us are distracted from distraction by distraction most of the time: what’s for dinner? who’s going to ring me? what messages have I got on Facebook? What’s the News? When’s this tutorial going to finish? What’s going to happen in the morning? Our minds are never focussed, never still. But they could be; like Jim Saddler’s mind. Could that be “what life meant”? Does this raise for me a huge question about what is most important in my life? Where I place my energies, my values?
What is needed to be focussed in such a way: “that intense focus of his whole being“? What is David Malouf subtly suggesting to his readers, beyond birth, position, talent even…. What is it that is essential to every creature?
I know I am answering the questions this passage raises by asking more questions. But that is in the nature of how this novel works: it draws you in to the beauty of its scenes and then confronts you with deep, penetrating questions that ask for a response that challenges the way you experience your life.
He was there but invisible…. hidden among those soft rods of light that were grass-stems and the softer sunbursts that were grass-heads or tiny flowers…
I look forward to hearing/seeing your questions to David Malouf at next week’s class and to hearing David’s response to them. Remember to post them into LEO!!!