An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark by Mark McKenna

Reviewed by
December 2011–January 2012, no. 337

An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark by Mark McKenna

Reviewed by
December 2011–January 2012, no. 337

Recognising biography as ‘one of the new terrors of death’, the eighteenth-century wit John Arbuthnot made sure his life would be sparsely documented. Manning Clark, preoccupied with his inevitable extinction, took the opposite tack. He massively archived all his thoughts and doings as a strategy for ensuring some spectral posthumous existence. A telling photograph in Mark McKenna’s stupendous An Eye for Eternity shows the historian’s papers rising hubristically shelf after shelf like a personal tower of Babel in the National Library of Australia. Not content with writing two volumes of autobiography, Clark put his turbulent inner life on display in an excruciatingly and embarrassingly frank diary, intended for publication from the time he began it in his early twenties. Well before death came for him in 1991, he had taken to leaving notes in the nooks and crannies of his study for the benefit of the future biographers who, he confidently expected, would rise to his bait.

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