Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Flying Away in Peter


Like Gerald Murnane, David Malouf has always been fascinated by a landscape that stretches out on all sides so that it takes over the mind -- the sheer overabundance of grasses and sky and the teeming of insects and the grains of crushed anthills -- but whereas, in Murnane, the mind itself is sounded for its infinitely replicating images of this overabundance and, perhaps more importantly, for the secret channels that are gouged through it, Malouf's world is smoothed of these inner chasms. The mind -- minds -- are located as regions of unknowing glow. Thoughts hover, hardly touching, in some larger and more perfect (than mine) contemplation. Whose is it? What is it? Thus I start to imagine the mind of Malouf. I've been rereading, after so many years, my precious but dust furred, stained edged -- stained, that is, with the commas of cockroach crap -- first edition of Malouf's Fly Away Peter, and immediately I recognise the wide, tussocky landscape of An Imaginary Life. Here Malouf has, in bringing his safe, calm, intelligent eye to the swamp scummed hinterland of Queensland and then to the trenches of northern Europe, dragged its netted scope south from the earlier book's classical anchorage in such a way that he is able to pull -- or at least seem to pull -- the whole globe of the world together into one vibrating whole. Delia Falconer shares something of this careful, dispassionate sensitivity to grass blade, bird, sky, mud, corpse's hand, as well as those quiet, nearly wordless minds that are somehow able to reflect it all, undistorted. And it is only as I note this that I remember, of course, that Elliott Gyger, whose opera of Malouf's Fly Away Peter premiers tomorrow, has also set the work of Delia Falconer.

There is a whole literature about the quiet, redeeming beauty of ordinary things -- even the notion of what constitutes this ordinary (what is it, this ordinary thing?) -- that rings us with such solid, valuable assuredness that, clearly, anyone who is compelled to rent a hole in it would have to be a cur.

After Saturday

Still thinking about the terrifyingly sticky/slippery-looking textured beauty of the white clay ziggurat on which the opera turned itself almost too earnestly at first, one step after another -- the awkward greeting between Jim and Imogen, the naming of birds hailed in the air over our heads -- but which then became wonderfully (appropriately) fractured -- blurred; the hypnotic setting out of the prussian blue buckets on all of the levels (buckets filled with clay, with water); the clay gradually consuming Jim (Ashley halting it, Imogen wiping the place from which to view it); the music, which pressed its beautiful, strange abstractions under my skin so that for some time afterwards I could still feel its coursing.