Testimony to the vivid nature of the novelist, Patrick White's, language comes from re-reading his, 'The Vivisector' after a pause of over 25 years and it floods back into memory, even particular phrases have their lodgement refreshed in my mind.

White was an accomplished collector of art and it seems to me a frustrated painter. His language is both exceptionally visual and visceral. Here he is describing the life of Hurtle Duffield - the fictional development of an artist from early precocious childhood through until death. It vividly draws on his extensive and deep knowledge of art and the artistic process - his own and borrowed.

But it is the extraordinary way of penetrating into and evoking human nature in its poetic complexity that arrests you. His capacity to capture the unique particularities of a character's behaviour and how it reveals deeper, shared patterning is compelling as is the way our moods shift and how we bear contradictions of mood. We are always a site of conflicting emotion and currents of deeper feeling.

A continuing theme is the way we betray our own potential for a freeing love. We are subject to many stranded and abiding fears that keep us captive, holding us apart from a vision of love. Yet is is a vision that beckons, often held by the marginalized and eccentric, who do not allow the contours of a shared, public, constrained world to prevent them seeing.

One of his 'arguments' in The Vivisector is the pain of seeing, of loving what is seen in startling honesty, and yet struggling and failing to embody that love in the actual contours of a life lived with and for others. The artist may evoke truth, loving the truth seen, and yet fail to live love.

Sidney Nolan was one of the artists befriended (and collected) by White - though they had a spectacular falling out (which faulty memory always associates with this book)!


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