John Scott

John Scott began his publishing life as a poet of considerable distinction (albeit as John A. Scott, as the second edition of The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature will not let him forget) and then changed brumbies in midstream to publish pure prose. Between 1975 and 1990 Scott delivered eight volumes of poetry; since then (there is a slight overlap), he has released five ‘novels’ (pardon nomenclatural nerves), if we include the present Warra Warra.

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Is it possible to admire a novel, to have enjoyed it on both first and second readings, yet to remain unconvinced that one can with confidence say what it is about? Isn’t that rather the complex response that poetry excites? Here it might be noted that John Scott, who subtitles The Architect not ‘a novel’ but ‘a tale’, is a poet turned novelist, as is his friend David Brooks, of whose House of Balthus something similar might be said. ‘Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully,’ as Wallace Stevens opined.

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A masculine reader, one assumes. From that (limited) point of view, John Scott writes the most erotic prose in the country. Linda Jaivin is ham-fisted by comparison. We are talking about a textual sexuality, the kind practised so exquisitely by David Brooks in The House of Balthus. We are talking about a sexuality that may, perhaps, be possible only in language. As Helen Gamer observes in her review of John Hughes film of Scott’s novel What I Have Written: ‘I must state a painful fact; sex in a book is sexier than sex on a screen.’ (The Independent, June 1996). I must state a further painful fact: bodies get in the way. Not of sex; not of lovemaking; but of the erotic. The body trammels the imagination.

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