Sunday, May 1, 2011

One academic's quest for grace and truth

Manning Clark was Australia's most famous and influential historian and was a colourful public figure. He was the son of an Anglican clergyman, who became an atheist, and entitled the second volume of his life memoir The Quest for Grace.
Ross Fitzgerald has a fascinating review of the new biography An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark by Mark McKenna. [An extract is here]. Manning Clark continues to attract interest, partly because of ambiguities about his relationship to the Soviet state and claims that he fabricated his presence at certain historical events.

Here are just a few extracts from the review in the Weekend Australian Review:
Clark sometimes admitted there wasn't very much difference between literary fiction and "his kind of history".
... in the romantic tradition of Carlyle, who spoke from his "inspired soul" to become "the light of the world", Clark "attempted to minister to [our] nation as a kind of spiritual soothsayer, uttering gnomic words of guidance in the form of historical parables".
Novelist David Malouf perceptively sensed in his friend Clark an enduring spiritual yearning, which manifested itself in "a desperate need for certainty", and a "huge desire for absolute truth". Yet, for all of his adult life, the historian's deep longing was as much sexual and emotional as it was spiritual and intellectual.
five months before his death, Clark wrote to his friend and ex-academic colleague, the Oxford-educated communist, Ian Milner, in Prague:
      I wonder whether any crude secular position is conducive to    poetry, music or painting . . . I see us all as people who have lost their "Great Expectations", either in any world to come, or in the here and now . . . just because 1917 fell into the hands of spiritual bullies, that does not mean we should give up the hope of stealing fire from heaven -- or that we should bow down to 5th Avenue.
My family thought this was a picture of me, not Manning Clark! I guess 50 year old Australian male Professors all look the same! 

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