I’m thinking about science, art, style and structure whilst reading ‘The biographer’s contract’ as delivered by Professor Frances Spalding in her Seymour Biography Lecture 2010 and reprinted in an edited version in the ABR February 2011 (http://www.australianbookreview.com.au/). Science because Miller spent his self education ruminating on science and philosophy and art because he found his point of interaction between the two only after dismissing a further pursuit of science and the great masters. His own mastery appeared when he let go.
Nabokov notes that ‘style and structure are the essence of a book’ and whilst I wouldn’t raise these two aspects in a hierarchy above the ideas they are vital in providing a writer with a conduit to a reader or two. Structure remains my weakness – I wrote a proposal for my Miller project and then followed through with several chapters and rejected it all. I first thought because of the lack of public persona and plethora of letters that I would write a creative non-fiction work based on the evidence provided in the letters with chapters that were Miller conversations with the writers, philosophers, friends and artists that were central to Miller’s cerebral and visual world. In part this structure was based on my own desire to converse with Miller. This proved to be problematic as it still required some traditional biographic ancestral and place type chapters and then the flow or integrity of the idea was compromised. It also raised the spectre of inaccuracy, wild innovation and lack of authenticity. This structure gave way to a more traditional form that I structured into three parts: An Ancient Spirit – NZ to Egypt, Wounded Curves – Gallipoli to Australia, Hiroshima to Mystery – Sydney and Miller’s Moon. Then I was left with a block – surely a traditional form would be inappropriate to relate the life of a master of form, line, colour and visual conversation?
How was I to contract myself to Miller in a way that brought him productively into the present but remained reverent to him as a man and artist?
I returned to the collated evidence (with much admittedly to be done) and re-looked and dwelt. I remember the writer and my writing teacher George Papaellinas saying to me “dwell and read it out loud to yourself….Linger in each moment so that you can show it better” So I dwelt on Miller; his sketches, forms, paintings and words and I began working on a two part biography retaining the letters as the axis but Part 1 is simply London and Part 2 is simply Sydney. From each place you move in and out of time as discussions, family tirades, paintings, sculpture and sketches are revealed in a dynamic, fluid form.
My contract has thus become one with Miller and paradoxically simplicity.