Tag Archives: David Malouf

Mystery in writing

‘All writing gives you away. You are always consciously giving things away that the reader doesn’t recognize , and all the things he does recognize are things in which you may be unconsciously giving yourself away. Your writings are very personal to you, but how they are related to your actual person is not visible, or clear. . . .

One of the things that writing, or everything that claims to be art, wants to deal with, is what is mysterious, what is not capable of being answered yet, or known, the inexpressible. What hasn’t been expressed, and what maybe can’t be expressed, is precisely what tempts you each time. . . . I like books that retain an essential mystery, because that is what seems to be lifelike about them. That is what life is like.’

David Malouf Conversations: Interviews with Australian writers ed Paul Kavanagh Pete Kuch

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What prompts the writing of a poem, a story, a novel?

What provokes you into attempting to write a poem, or a story or a novel, is something you see back there which is engaging, but in a puzzling way. You want to know what is to be made of it – not just to understand, and discover what it was all about, but to finally give it shape. You may go back there and the thing that engages you may not be what you thought it was at all. It may lead you to a quite different question. It is finding out where that leads, to which questions and how they can then be given some kind of form, how they can be allowed to find their form .. …There is conscious control at the level of the actual writing, because every sentence is controlled and made. But there is also a way of working so that you let the unconscious, if that is what it is, keep putting things up to you to be considered, to be incorporated or thrown off .                           David Malouf

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In a famous essay in The Art of Fiction, Henry James, in accepting the proposition that ‘one must write from experience’, goes on to ask:

‘What kind of experience is intended, and where does it begin and end? Experience is never limited and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider’s web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every airborn particle in its tissue. It is the very atmosphere of the mind.’

It is important to see what James is suggesting here. Experience as he conceives it is more than an accumulation of informative occasions or interesting facts or perceptions, or of real happenings encountered by the self as it moves through place and time. It is a capacity to respond to what the world presents us with—to absorb, to register— and this capacity will be great of little according to each one of us. David Malouf On Experience

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