On which of course I am at home, preparing for today's chairing gig, a session with Michelle de Kretser late this afternoon which I am expecting, and intending, to enjoy a lot. I have also acquired a new late-breaking 'In Conversation' gig with Robert Dessaix on Thursday.
But yesterday I got briefly to do the things you do at writers' festivals when you're there as a punter: went to a book launch and afterwards caught up with three lovely friends for an impromptu lunch of Cath Kerry's Vietnamese cold rolls (Adelaide Writers' Week does the best food you'll ever find in a tent) in the deep shade under the trees in the rose garden, where we had a fairly scandalous discussion about the SA Labor Party and its prospects for the March 20 election.
We'd just been to the launch of Peter Goldsworthy's new book of short stories, Gravel, being launched by J. M. Coetzee, who made the kind of speech that you take away with you and turn over and over in your pocket, a perfectly-judged book-launch speech in that it used the book as a starting point for more general observations about the world and lifted the occasion effortlessly above discussion of a particular thing to an abstract yet razor-sharp reflection on the way we live our lives.
Peter's stories, he said, were partly about life as a moral education, and moral education as a painful process by which we learn how to live good lives by processes of trial and error, and cause and effect, along the lines (my words now, not his) of 'Oh God look what hurt I've caused / how ashamed I feel / what a mess I've made: I'll never do that again.'
As has already happened several times this Writers' Week, I later felt a strong connection to something another of the writers was saying; talking late last night on the phone to Robert Dessaix as we discussed how his Thursday session might go and what sorts of things we might talk about, still mulling over what John Coetzee had said that afternoon, I was startled to hear Robert saying 'I'm interested in the question of what a good life is, and what we have to do to have one.' What I heard, when he used the word 'good', was a seamless meshing of meanings, both as in 'living the good life' and as in 'being a good person'. Some people might argue that these two things are mutually exclusive but not, I think, Robert. Something to ask him in the session.
One might be forgiven for imagining that the Dessaix conception of a 'good life' could be very different from the Coetzee conception of it, but maybe not, so much. They have a great deal in common: born only four years apart, happily settled in small Australian cities, much-travelled polyglot fellow-Aquarians, citizens of the world.
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