His wife found it absurd. But then, Henry felt, she found most of his
activities absurd. Let alone his inactivities.
'I thought the idea of early retirement was to give up work.'
'And now you're applying for another job.'
The very thought of it made him sick in the pit of his stomach.
'No, I'm not.'
'So why are you fiddling around with your CV all day?'
'I enjoy it.'
'Enjoy it!' she said.
'I'm keeping it up to date.'
'What's the point?'
What was the point of anything, for that matter, in these twilight years?
'It's a record of what I've done.'
'Why do you need it, you've got the books?'
But having the books and the magazines and the journals and the anthologies
wasn't the point. They were part of the point, of course. If he'd had
the Master's study with its vast mahogany desk on which the blotting paper
is changed every day, its walls lined with indexed bookshelves, one of
which is reserved for calf-bound copies of the Master's own works, the
glinting paper knife, the crystal ink bottle, the paperweight, the whole
hallowed apparatus, that would have been something. But still, not entirely
the point. And anyway, he didn't. Those days were over. As Auden put it,
the soft carpets, the big desks will all be reserved by the management
for the whopping liars. Henry had a pine wood Ikea table in the corner
of the bedroom, or a share of the dining room table.
The point was the list. Though the only lists his wife seemed to believe
in were the shopping lists she pressed on him, sending him out to hunt
and gather. When he'd kept a list of the books he'd read, she had derided
'Can't you remember them?'
'Most of them.'
'So why bother?'
Why bother with anything, for that matter. Why let the autonomic nervous
system continue? Euthanasia now.
It was something he'd begun to do in adolescence. Lists of bus numbers,
lists of aircraft registrations, lists of books read.
'I suppose you keep a list of all your women, too.'
And was that so improper? Probably these days it was. It was not something
you could ask. He kept it in his head, anyway. Not the sort of thing to
entrust to computer or paper.
But the list of all his works. It was simply too large to keep in his
head. True, the ancient bards entrusted to memory immensely long epic
poems and heroic declamations. That was how you studied creative writing
in the old bardic days. It was possible to train the memory. But if he
were to train the memory in such a major way, wouldn't it be preferable
to memorize the works themselves, not just the list of them? Then he could
astound the audiences at writers' festivals by reciting an entire novel
without a text. Not that writers' festivals would welcome such a thing.
Not that they any more seemed to welcome him. Publishers' festivals they
were more properly called, these days.
So the memory remained untrained. It was a bit late in the day, anyway,
to work on that. Like everything else. So he relied on keeping the bibliography
up to date on computer, religiously so, so that nothing would be forgotten.
In theory it was all in the akashic records, but that was a matter of
taking things on trust. He didn't necessarily disbelieve, but he hadn't
stuck his fingers in the nail holes.
Sometimes it would be a session of delightful memories, recalling the
circumstances in which this piece had been written, that piece published.
Recollected images fluttered briefly in some region, not exactly before
his eyes, in the imagination somewhere.
In the past there had been students studying for librarianship diplomas
who had assembled the bibliography of some poet, some novelist, some literary
treasure, which had been subsequently published by some library board.
Henry hadn't noticed such items for a while. He had always kept in mind
the possibility of suborning some such student, some possible acolyte,
offering his assembled bibliography for her to submit and publish. But
he suspected that now they were all into information technology rather
than the fruits. The days for the publication of a bibliography in progress
had passed. Like everything else.
Somewhere in his consciousness he felt that there was a degree of indulgence
about this bibliographical activity, if activity it could be called. Reverie,
perhaps. It gave Henry pleasure, and that always worried him: was there
pleasure without indulgence? Surely there was. But for Henry, there was
always the doubt, always the guilt, the fear that something pleasurable
was merely indulgence, not work, not morally uplifting.
He tried analysing the source of the pleasure. Was it mere ego? Vanity?
Delusion of significance? Or was it more psychologically worrying, evidence
of some deep lack of integration and wholeness in his personality? Was
it the case that he doubted his very existence unless he could extrapolate
and externalize some aspect of it and so reassure himself? Reassure himself
he still existed, that he had done good work, and lots of it, lists of
it, even if he no longer worked. Was there an anxiety after all those
years of institutionalization that, no longer a part of the system, he
was no longer of any worth or significance? Was it the case that, without
the job that he was so glad to have left, he was now unnecessary? Was
he, for all his denials, missing the job? Or missing the structure of
justification for his existence? And so these searches through the pages
of his bibliography were a search for that justification, a way of reassuring
himself. Even more, a way to create a self, not merely reassure it.
Or was it just a way of wasting time? Was it just a matter of occupying
himself so that he could forget the fact that he had nothing else to do?
Now he had all his time to himself, domestic duties apart, and he was
unable to find a use for it. Was it the case that the job had in fact
enabled him to write, that stealing time from the job had been his incentive,
and now that he no longer had to steal time, he could no longer produce?
Had the job been the equivalent of Balzac's huge debts, the engine of
his writing, the necessity and the compulsion to produce the fiction,
to invent a world in retreat from, or in response to, the pressure of
Yes, could be.
And if that put him in the driven and neurotic and obsessive company of Balzac, well that had its satisfactions. Indeed it did.
Scrolling through the publications list, Henry considered the various ways he could group the items. Currently it was framed into separate sections: scholarly, fiction, journalism. These were the priorities of the job. The job he no longer held. Thankfully. But when he had held the job, the bibliography had been shaped for its demands. Scholarly articles were deemed more important than fiction. For a while he had thought it would change with the introduction of creative writing courses. But all too rapidly it became clear that creative writing was going to be part of the education agenda. The interest was not in the writing produced, but in the theory and pedagogy. Careerists in creative writing were not expected to list novels or poems or stories they had written. In an addendum, perhaps. But the career focus was on articles about teaching writing, the theory of writing, writing and the fucking body. Henry's fiction, listed there in all its rich variety, variants, translations and anthologies, remained as irrelevant and marginal as it had been throughout his academic career. Former career.
He spent many hours restructuring the bibliography. In the past he had
separated the scholarly from the journalistic. Indeed some of the journalistic
he had not even recorded. It had been so frowned upon in the past. Now
there was a change! It had been the received wisdom when Henry began his
career that academics did not participate in journalism. At the worst
they might contribute an occasional book review to the press. As long
as it was something specialized, something quasi-academic. But regular
reviewing was frowned upon. And feature journalism or opinion pieces were
absolutely taboo. Of course some academics did write for the press, even
then. A few. But their careers suffered. Chairs were denied them because
of their populism.
So Henry, seeing not only no future in it, but also positive harm, had
kept his distance from the press. At various times he had done some book
reviewing. But it could not be listed in his annual publication report.
And so it was not listed in the list of his life's work.
He was not sure when the change occurred. It caught him by surprise,
he admitted that. He had not been observant enough of the shifts in acceptability,
in the redefinitions of the job. Maybe he had not been reading the papers.
But, whenever it had happened, now it was institutionalized. Now academics
in cultural studies and gender studies and education had their regular
columns in the press. Now the political scientists and economists held
forth regularly in the opinion pages, those with the right views. Now
everybody was scratching and scraping to get into the reviews pages. Now
academics eagerly sought out newspaper columns and achieved advancement
on the basis of them, as far as Henry could make out. There was nothing
else they seemed to have to advance on. Maybe just putting in the hours.
Time serving as it used to be called.
Henry had been thinking about newspaper work. The pretence of scholarship
was no longer necessary. Let alone the practice. Why write earnestly and
learnedly for a culture that had died and a system that had been destroyed?
Especially when such work was unpaid. Retirement was unregretted, but
financially it was a bit tight. He fiddled around with the bibliography
and rejigged it.
If he beefed up the journalism and so diluted the academic, recontextualized
it was probably the way to put it, he could make it look like the record
of a professional writer's life. Essays, reviews, commentaries. A bit
of scholarship wouldn't hurt. Mark of a good education. Make it look like
think pieces as the media called them. Make his literary production more
integrated. The humanist at the desktop.
Not that anyone was going to see the list except Henry. He wasn't applying
for work. Though a bit of freelance journalism would be good. If it paid
well. Some did. Reviewing didn't.
But something to do when the creative juices didn't flow. When the well
ran dry. Or the sap froze. All these sticky liquid metaphors. Why not
when the lines were down, when transmissions had ceased? Or were being
And listing it all resituated it all for himself. Now he could refashion
his past. Present himself as someone who had always scribbled for the
press, no narrow elitist, no ivory towered scholar, no corduroy and leather
elbow patched professor but a man of letters. If he rejigged it with that
in mind he would be able to see himself as that and approach the media
in confidence. It wasn't a matter of sending them the list. But of the
revised self-image the augmented list would give him. He did not need
to submit the bibliography to the broadsheet editors. But having restructured
it enabled him to reinvent himself. It gave him many happy hours, the
idea of producing journalism hovering there, but not impetuously acted
upon. For the time being there was enough pleasure in perfecting the lists
of times past.
He set to work to find the unlisted, to supplement what he had with what
he had, if not denied, at least what he had, in that superseded past,
chosen not to draw attention to. He would represent the uvre as
that of a man of letters rather than a scholar, a contributor to the higher
journalism as it used to be called. It was not a futile activity: rather,
it enabled him to see himself more commercially. He would focus on the
press in future and freelance some pieces to supplement the cash flow.
The only requirement he could discern was that whatever was written should
be bland and uncontroversial. That did not seem to be a problem anymore.
He could write bland. Increasingly he wondered if he would ever write
anything else. These days.
So Henry rewrote himself. The appendix of reviews and occasional writing
was incorporated into the main body of the bibliography. Half-forgotten
pieces in ephemeral weeklies were chased up. Some he dimly remembered
he seemed to have no copies of.
He dragged himself into the university library one morning and tracked
down some of the reviews he had written in journals he remembered writing
for, preserved on browned and brittle paper in substantial bound volumes.
Dr Bee found him there, sitting at a desk by the slit in the ferro-concrete
that passed for a window, meticulously leafing through issue after issue
of a long defunct journal of opinion, other bound volumes stacked on the
desk. Each was as surprised as the other.
'Can't stay away, Henry, is that it?' Dr Bee remarked.
'Makes two of us,' said Henry. 'Like birds released from captivity, we
return to roost in our cage.'
'I wasn't planning on roosting,' said Dr Bee. 'Unless some particularly
attractive proposition should come by. But I don't see one.'
He looked round at the deserted stacks, the steel shelving, the fluorescent
lighting, the brutal concrete walls.
'Not a human form in sight. Much better pickings in the shopping malls.
Disaffected housewives, merry widows, all the fun of the fair. But here
'Where have all the flowers gone?' Henry said, half sang.
Dr Bee grimaced in distaste. He leaned over and looked at the date of
the magazine Henry was consulting. Thirty-something years ago.
'Lost in time, are we?'
'The good years,' said Henry. He reached out and turned one of the books
Dr Bee was clutching so that he could read the spine.
'Simenon. Up to the minute as ever, I see.'
There was no denying it. Both were focussed firmly on the past. And neither
could say they were very happy about it. But without a present to occupy
them, where else could they focus? The future? Unimaginable, or all too
'Next thing you'll be regretting no one lectures in gowns anymore,' Dr
'No,' said Henry.
'No regrets, or no you never did?'
'Both,' said Henry. 'Lecturing in a gown seemed, I don't know --'
'Too much of a freak show?'
'That too. Backward looking, I felt.'
'You were a moderniser.'
'Well, up to a point.'
'But now you are full of retrospective regret.'
'Not really. I just wish I'd done more journalism.'
'And made more money.'
'Yes. Except that thirty years ago we were quite well off. Comparatively.
So there wasn't the financial pressure. So it wasn't such an issue.'
'But it is now?'
'Now you want to supplement your pension.'
'Wouldn't mind,' said Henry.
'By writing for this sort of thing.'
He gestured at the bound volumes.
'Trouble is this sort of thing no longer exists. The serious weeklies
'What about the unserious ones?'
'They died too.'
'So now it's the tabloids.'
Henry bridled a bit.
'I don't know about that.'
'Elitism still survives?'
'It's not a matter of elitism. It's just that I'm not sure I could do
it very well.'
'Is it meant to be done well?'
'That's a point,' said Henry.
Neither Dr Bee nor Pawley had much interest in Henry's CV. Who wants
to be asked to stand in awe at an old colleague's achievement? It was
not something that could be expected of either of them. As a long shot,
he tried mentioning it to the Director of the Writers' Centre.
'What are you doing with yourself, Henry?' the Director had asked.
'Working on my bibliography.'
'Send me a copy when you're finished with it.'
'Really?' he said. Somebody cared? He didn't mention that he expected
never to be finished, it was an ongoing project, his life. But he could
send her the most recent version.
'We'll keep it on file,' she said.
'But you didn't,' said Pawley, when Henry mentioned it over lunch.
'Of course I did.'
'Oh, Henry,' said Pawley. 'I know I appeared insufficiently fascinated
in your literary production.'
'No, no,' said Henry politely.
'Yes, yes, yes,' said Pawley.
They sat in the Indian Summer garden restaurant, Pawley with his vegetarian
thali special, Henry with his saag paneer, Dr Bee with his beef vindaloo.
A bottle of Frascati in plastic netting that Dr Bee said reminded him
of fishnet stockings stood on the table.
'Because I am,' Pawley continued. 'Insufficiently fascinated by your
publications list. I did not invite you to email it to me and you are
'No, I'm not hurt.'
'Yes you are. I can feel it. I can sense these things. Empathy.'
'Heightens the senses,' said Pawley. 'The reason I did not encourage
you to email me your list, despite your all too transparent desire to,
was to protect you. If you were to email it to me, it would immediately
find its way into some secret agency data bank, since without doubt all
my emails are intercepted, just as the mail used to be, and still is.
I'm sure they would find it very convenient having the complete list of
your publications. Saves them having to hire some poor hack to compile
'I don't know - ,' Henry began.
'You have it on a secure computer, do you?' Pawley asked.
'Well - .'
'Not one you go online from.'
'I've only got the one PC.'
'I told you before, it's risky,' said Pawley. 'They could hack into it,
do anything. Anyway, not to worry,' he added. 'Now it's on the Writers'
Centre files for all to see. Every little detail. Serbian anthologies.
Iranian translations. All the details of the Californian alternative.
When will you ever learn, Henry?'
'Does the Director have every writer's CV on file?' Dr Bee asked.
'Perhaps you should find out.'
'I imagine she might for the writers who've run workshops. Or given seminars
'All filed and stored along with fingerprints and biometric data?'
'Seems like the obvious place,' said Henry.
'Indeed it does,' said Dr Bee.
'I don't see any problem,' said Henry. But falteringly. He reached for
a napkin to wipe away the pureed spinach that had dribbled down his chin.
'You were always so trusting,' said Pawley. 'And now your trustworthiness
is rewarded. Guardian of the National Treasury data bank. With someone
of your impeccable credentials, who could fail to trust you? A fine figurehead.
Luring in all the unsuspecting to deposit their intimate bibliographical
details in the archives over which you preside.'
'I don't think it's like that at all.'
'Well you wouldn't, would you?' said Dr Bee, piling on the hot mango
'Remember all that crap about the Soviets putting dissident writers in
asylums,' said Pawley.
'Wasn't it true?' Henry asked.
'Quite a lot of people claim to,' Dr Bee assured them.
'Well, anyway, that's not the point. The point is,' Pawley pointed out,
'that here we have a centre for dissident writers in the grounds of an
'What dissident writers?' Dr Bee asked.
'Well, how about Henry?'
'How about you, Henry?' Dr Bee asked.
Pawley pressed on before Henry could reply.
'And now all his dissident data is on file in a so-called writers' centre
in a lunatic asylum.'
'It is not a so-called writers' centre, it's a real writers' centre,'
Henry objected, chair of it after all.
'For so-called real writers,' Dr Bee.
'I'm just pointing out analogies, homologies, whatever,' said Pawley.
'Whatever, indeed,' Dr Bee agreed.
'Why do you think the Centre was set up?' Pawley demanded.
'Cultural policy,' said Henry. 'Every advanced democracy supports the
'You don't really believe that, Henry,' said Dr Bee.
'Well, it's true. What is there not to believe?'
'The motive, Henry. And don't say all that guff about cultural heritage
and fostering national treasures.'
'They may get the priorities wrong,' Henry conceded.
'Indeed they do,' Dr Bee agreed.
'Fund the wrong people. Support idiotic projects. But the intention --.'
'The intention is to control,' said Pawley, stabbing into his dhal.
'The intention is to buy votes,' said Dr Bee, digging into the lime pickle.
'Votes?' said Henry. 'How many writers are there? You could count the
number of votes from real writers on a couple of hands and a foot.'
'Real writers!' said Pawley. 'Who cares about real writers, whatever
cultural illusion they might be? Funding shuts them up a bit, buys them
off, stops them moaning in the press all the time. Like you said, their
numbers are insignificant. The real votes are in the people who think
they are writers. Those who would like to be writers. The literary ladies
of a certain age. The ones who go to writers' festivals or writers' workshops
instead of playing bridge or after playing bridge. Nothing wrong with
it. Hobbyists. Like it says on the 'Statement by a Supplier' tax form:
'Reason for not quoting an Australian Business Number (ABN) to an enterprise,
the supply is made in the course of an activity that is a private recreational
pursuit or hobby.' Old folks with hobbies. An integral part of our demographics.
'And then there are the inner-city upward-mobile bourgeoisie in marginal
seats who feel culture enhances their life style and puts up real estate
values. And don't forget the UNESCO statistics, of course. Looks good
in the international league tables to spend all this money on education
and culture. Diverts attention from the policy on asylum seekers and the
degradation of indigenous peoples.
'That's why they set up Writers' Centres. No real writers belong. One
or two desperates. Those losing patronage. Losing publishers. No offence,
Henry, nothing personal. The rest are wannabes. But if they feel the government
is supporting them, they support it.'
'I have no problem with that,' said Henry. 'As long as some of the cash
filters down to real writers.'
'Like Francesca Templar and Tuscan Bayes.'
'Yes, well, they get it wrong sometimes, I said that.'
'No, they don't,' said Pawley. 'They get it right. Those are the old
slags Foreign Affairs and the secret services like to support. The rest
of the funds are pissed away on mentorships and equity and writers' festivals
and writers' centres. And administration. Never forget administration.
That takes most of it. Makes sure the money doesn't get into the hands
of subversive artists.'
'I see you've thought about this.'
'Indeed we have,' said Dr Bee. 'We see our old colleague Henry putting
himself forward for honours. Should get a gong for this community service
even if he'll never get it for his novels. And we worry, Henry.'
'We are concerned for you,' said Pawley, breaking off a fragment of pappadam.
'Particularly when you front for a national data base collection agency
monitoring dissidents, deviants, subversives, potential terrorists and
other threats to civil order. I'd trash your CV now. While you can. And
the copy on the Centre's computer. Get in there and delete it. Who wants
to know the details of everything you've ever published, Henry?'
Henry looked at them, silent.
'No one with any good motives, you can be sure of that. The honours committee?
If they look at it at all it will only be to find evidence for grounds
to exclude you. And there'll be plenty of them. All those revolutionary
sentiments you spouted in obscure, forgotten, unremembered publications.
Which you so thoughtfully list. You want my advice, Henry. Wipe it.'
'Expunge it,' Dr Bee agreed.
'Trash it. And while you're at it, burn the books and magazines you still
keep copies of. So no evidence remains. After all, even though they've
got the bibliography, they can't really prove anything without the actual
copies of what you wrote. So I'd send those old radical utterances up
into flames straight away. And all those translations in pre-entrepreneurial
China. Let alone the non-aligned nation stuff. India. The Former Yugoslavia.
Libya. North Korea.'
'I never published in Libya or North Korea,' said Henry.
'Not that you know,' said Dr Bee. 'But you wouldn't want them speculating
that you might have. Best reduce it all to a little heap of ash you can
put in the Writers' Centre Garden of Remembrance.'
'What Garden of Remembrance?'
'Ah,' said Dr Bee, 'you have already forgotten. The Garden of Forgetfulness,
'You people,' said Henry, 'have you no faith in anything?'
'No,' said Dr Bee.
'Absolutely not,' said Pawley.
'You're worm-eaten by cynicism.'
'It has been remarked,' said Dr Bee.
'Corroded by conspiracy theory.'
'Conspiracies are us,' said Pawley.
'You undermine everything.'
'I think you will find the undermining was already done,' said Dr Bee.
'We merely draw attention to it to save you from falling through the floor
boards and breaking a leg.'
'Or neck,' said Pawley.
'Indeed. Or neck,' said Dr Bee.
'Is there nothing you believe in?'
'Cynicism,' said Dr Bee.
'Conspiracy,' said Pawley.
'Words fail me,' said Henry, breaking off a piece of naan.
'Thank heavens,' said Dr Bee.
'At last,' said Pawley.
The rest was silence. Except for the gentle tinkle of wine being poured. And Dr Bee tossing fragments of bone onto his plate after he had sucked out the last of their marrow.
'Creative Writing: The CV' is an episode from Michael Wilding's Superfluous Men, published by Arcadia, Melbourne, 2009.
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Vol 13 No 2 October 2009
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Jen Webb