Possibly all art flowers more readily in silence. Certainly the state of simplicity and humility is the only desirable one for artist or for man. While to reach it may be impossible, to attempt to do so is imperative. Stripped of almost everything that I had considered desirable and necessary, I began to try.
Possibly all art flowers more readily in silence. Certainly the state of simplicity and humility is the only desirable one for artist or for man. While to reach it may be impossible, to attempt to do so is imperative. Stripped of almost everything that I had considered desirable and necessary, I began to try. Writing, which had meant the practice of an art by a polished mind in civilised surroundings, became a struggle to create completely fresh forms out of the rocks and sticks of words. I began to see things for the first time. Even the boredom and frustration presented avenues for endless exploration; even the ugliness, the bags and iron of Australian life, acquired a meaning. As for the cat's cradle of human intercourse, this was necessarily simplified, often bungled, sometimes touching. Its very tentativeness can be reward. There is always the possibility that the book lent, the record played, may lead to communication between human beings. There is the possibility that one may be helping to people a barely inhabited country with a race possessed of understanding. These, then, are some of the reasons why an expatriate has stayed, in the face of those disappointments which follow inevitably upon his return.
I've made use of religious themes and symbols. Now, as the world becomes more pagan, one has to lead people in the same direction in a different way...
Religion. Yes, that's behind all my books. What I am interested in is the relationship between the blundering human being and God. I belong to no church, but I have a religious faith; it's an attempt to express that, among other things, that I try to do. Whether he confesses to being religious or not, everyone has a religious faith of a kind. I myself am a blundering human being with a belief in God who made us and we got out of hand, a kind of Frankenstein monster. Everyone can make mistakes, including God. I believe God does intervene; I think there is a Divine Power, a Creator, who has an influence on human beings if they are willing to be open to him.
In my books I have lifted bits from various religions in trying to come to a better understanding; I've made use of religious themes and symbols. Now, as the world becomes more pagan, one has to lead people in the same direction in a different way.
Why can't a writer use writing as a painter uses paint? I try to. When I wrote The Tree of Man I felt I couldn't write about simple, illiterate people in a perfectly literate way; but in my present novel the language is more sophisticated. I think perhaps I have clarified my style quite a lot over the years. I find it a great help to hear the language going on around me; not that what I write, the narrative, is idiomatic Australian, but the whole work has a balance and rhythm which is influenced by what is going on around you. When you first write the narrative it might be unconscious, but when you come to work it over you do it more consciously. It gives what I am writing a greater feeling of reality.
The essence of what you have to say you pick up before you're twenty.
I always like to write three versions of a book. The first is always agony and chaos; no one could understand it. With the second you get the shape, it's more or less all right. I write both of those in longhand. The third draft I type out with two fingers: it's for refining of meaning, additions and subtractions. I think my novels usually begin with characters; you have them floating about in your head and it may be years before they get together in a situation. Characters interest me more than situations.
I have the same idea with all my books: an attempt to come close to the core of reality, the structure of reality, as opposed to the merely superficial. The realistic novel is remote from art. A novel should heighten life, should give one an illuminating experience; it shouldn't set out what you know already. I just muddle away at it. One gets flashes here and there, which help. I am not a philosopher or an intellectual. Practically anything I have done of any worth I feel I have done through my intuition, not my mind - which the intellectuals disapprove of. And that is why I am anathema to certain kinds of Australian intellectual.
I've lost interest in the theatre because you can't get what you want ever. I used to think it would be wonderful to see what you had written come to life. Here in Australia it's very hard to get an adequate performance because of the state of the theatre; but even if you have the best actors in the world it's never what you visualised. One can't say all one wants to say, one can't convey it.
I am interested in detail. I enjoy decoration. By accumulating this mass of detail you throw light on things in a longer sense: in the long run it all adds up. It creates a texture — how shall I put it — a background, a period, which makes everything you write that much more convincing. Of course, all artists are terrible egoists. Unconsciously you are largely writing about yourself. I could never write anything factual; I only have confidence in myself when I am another character. All the characters in my books are myself, but they are a kind of disguise.
In the 14th Century an anonymous English mystic wrote a book called The Cloud of Unknowing, the main theme of which is that God cannot be apprehended by man's intellect and that only love can pierce the "cloud of unknowing" which lies between Him and us.
I feel that in my own life anything I have done of possible worth has happened in spite of my gross, worldly self. I have been no more than the vessel used to convey ideas above my intellectual capacities.
In the last couple of years I've been doing this sort of thing constantly, often repeating myself, becoming an avoidable Doomsday bore. But anything of importance — like a garden, a humanrelationship, a child, a religiousfaith, even the most convinced brand of atheism has to be worked on constantly if it is to survive.
In recent years we have been served up a lot of claptrap about the need for a national identity. We have been urged to sing imbecile jingles, flex our muscles like the sportsmen from telly commercials, and display a heart optimism totally unconvincing because so superficial an unnatural. Those who preach this doctrine are usually the kind of chauvinist who is preparing his country, not to avert war, but to engage in it.
Many of those who hear me believe I am putting on an act, while others who had considered I am one who surely knows the answers, are depressed to find that, by my own admission, I don't. What I do know for certain is that what is regarded as success in a rational materialistic society only impresses superficial minds. It amounts to nothing and will not help us rout the destructive forces threatening us today. What may be our salvation is the discovery of the identity hidden deep in any one of us, and which may be found in even the most desperate individual, if he cares to search the spiritual womb which contains the embryo of what can be one's personal contribution to truth and life.
The ideal of non-attachment has been preached again and again in the course of the last 3000 years. It is found in Hinduism, the teachings of Buddha, the doctrine of Lao Tsu, in the philosophy of the Greek Stoics. The Gospel of Jesus is essentially one of non-attachment to the things of this world, and of attachment to God. What the Jewish philosopher Spinoza calls "blessedness" is simply the state of non-attachment, just as Spinoza's "human bondage" is the condition of one who identifies himself with his own desires, emotions, and thought processes, or with their objects in the external world.
I can only stick my neck out and offer my humble beliefs. If I become an outsider by doing so, this won't be a great hardship as I've been that as far back as I can remember — something strange and unacceptable in the eyes of those who believe they see straight. At least it's given me courage of a kind, which I'd like every Australian to acquire.
I don't think I am ghoulish in saying that I would like them, and every morally responsible citizen of the world, particularly my fellow Australians of the World War II period, to refresh their memories by referring regularly to the photographic record of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki happening — the rags of human flesh, the suppurating sores, the despair of families blown apart, the disturbed minds, the bleak black gritty plains where the homes of human beings like you and I once stood. Most of all, I would like every Australian couple born since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were blasted out of existence to consult these photographic records and for ever after do all in their power to prevent the children they are creating from suffering a fate similar to that thrust upon the children of those two Japanese cities. Let us rouse ourselves and realise this is what we shall have to face.
I have derived immense comfort, hope, faith, inspiration from a great American, the Cistercian monk-teacher-activist Thomas Merton. Initially a contemplative religious, Merton's spiritual drive was aimed at halting the dehumanization of man in contemporary society, a sickness he saw as leading to mass violence and ultimately nuclear war. War of any kind is abhorrent. Remember that since the end of World War II, over 40 million people have been killed by conventional weapons. So, if we should succeed in averting nuclear war, we must not let ourselves be sold the alternative of conventional weapons for killing our fellow men. We must cure ourselves of the habit of war.
The spirit may triumph where politics (the League and the United Nations), socio-political faiths such as Marxism, Italian Fascism and German National-Socialism — all have failed. I see our only hope in faith, charity, and in humbling ourselves before man and God.
In the 14th Century an anonymous English mystic wrote a book called The Cloud of Unknowing, the main theme of which is that God cannot be apprehended by man's intellect and that only love can pierce the "cloud of unknowing" which lies between Him and us. I feel that in my own life anything I have done of possible worth has happened in spite of my gross, worldly self. I have been no more than the vessel used to convey ideas above my intellectual capacities. When people praise passages I have written, more often than not I can genuinely say, 'Did I write that?' I don't think this is due to my having a bad memory, because I have almost total recall of trivialities. I see it as evidence of the part the supernatural plays in lives which would otherwise remain earthbound.