Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant the accuracy of closed captions. These are derived automatically from the broadcaster's signal.
Elders With Andrew Denton -

View in ParlView

(generated from captions) Government is doing at the

moment. I think it's cost too

many lives. This hasn't been

the first and I wonder when

it's going to... like, how long

does it have to go on before

someone wakes up and does

something about it? That report

from Matt Peacock, and we should add that the insulators

who featured in Matt's story

were professional operators

following appropriate safety

procedures. That's the program

for tonight. Join us for our detailed coverage of the

Liberal battle and the future

of the climate change

tomorrow, but for now, legislation from Canberra

goodnight. Closed Captions by CSI

THEME MUSIC for one thing, I'd just like you to notice, this superfluity of adjectives, a lack of discipline. which seems to indicate 'Clive James has developed a talent ANDREW DENTON: at the right time.' for using precisely the right word Naive, but fragrant. I was gauche in those days.

and literary critic in the 1970s.' 'It's won him acclaim as a TV Oh! through the '80s and '90s.' 'And as a TV presenter more live television? And why isn't there I'll tell you why.

ELECTRONIC DISTORTION 'He's written over 30 books and is said to own thousands. An intellectual, a performer...'

has been preboiled for one minute. For your protection, the entire show clothed carefully in wit. 'A serious man Clive James.' Clive, welcome to your home. My pleasure. with this much light in it for years. I'm glad to see it. I haven't seen it They say, or, you say, in fact, by his relationship to his books. that you can judge a man This is your library. So how would we judge you? I should have thought. Intimately involved, the outer limit And this is just sort of of the books that I own. the question, And they immediately raise have you read?" not, "How many of them cos I really have read most of them. I've been alive a long time, and if I won't, why are they here? but how many will I read again read these all again if you could? So you would seriously I guess, or read more. why you keep things But you do start wondering once you've extracted the essence. I just like the look of them. that exists in the book I think the civilisation I like to have them around. gets into you through osmosis - more omnivorous than you I can't think of anyone in terms of information, culture. what not to consume? How do you decide what I find genuinely thrilling I only pursue what excites me, in any art form or in the sciences. So that actually cuts the field down. I still don't know, And how it all hangs together, but I know I know more now 70 years of life, at the end of, what, than I did earlier on I know much more about how things connect. through energy, through vitality They connect through creativity, between vital things in all areas - and it's these links and paintings here books here and films here and scientific discoveries here. that I think constitutes humanism These links are all areas and civilisation. someone like me can do, at this age, And I think the best

and seeing some kind of connection, when you actually start summing up pass it on to the next generation. if not a pattern, is to try and of information over 70 years. You've taken in an enormous amount What wisdom has stuck? A lot of knowledge. and then you lose it. Well, first of all, you take it in the power of forgetting. Never underestimate Most of what you take in, it goes. tends to be especially intense, But what's retained because the mind retains it. simply because it is retained, or what wisdom I'm capable of. And I suppose that adds up to wisdom a naturally wise person. I don't think I was Usually women. I met people who were naturally wise.

On the whole, I think women and know more about life. are smarter than men TRAM BELL RINGS in October 1939, 'Clive was born in Kogarah, Sydney, of World War II. right at the beginning Clive the toddler with his mother. His father volunteered, leaving

Mother and son were close, the outer suburbs, waiting for news. living frugally in When the war ended in 1945, had survived six brutal years they discovered Clive's father and he was flying home. as a prisoner of war But then the dice of chance rolled. and all on board died. The plane crashed fundamental wound of Clive's life.' This would prove the how bright you are You've said that it doesn't matter how many things you're good at, and it doesn't matter in control of your life. you always feel not entirely the psychologists and the analysts Yes. Well, that may be - that's where and say it's an early trauma and the counsellor would step in however you want to pronounce it, or trama, and that's probably true. But I get less and less inclined back to the initial shock to trace everything in my life from the war. of my father not coming home because I wanted I suppose that I've been so active my father and mother were denied. to achieve the things in my life that to do with what I can. I've been given their life,

that's a sufficient explanation. But I don't think by nature. I think you've got these things of lying down and relaxing. Some people have the gift I've seen experts at it. I wish I had it. not quite in control of your life? Do you truly feel did I? I didn't really answer the question, that much. My life doesn't concern me a ridiculous thing to say This may sound so self-obsessed. from someone who was, so patently, doesn't interest me that much. But my life, personal life, the value of existence And I wouldn't assess on my own life. on what's happening to other people, I tend, much more, to assess it especially helpless people, less of a problem as I grew older, which is - I thought it would become I get more and more depressed but it becomes more of a problem. world and what you can't do about it. by the violence and cruelty in the

Is it a worse world, though, than it was 50 years ago? Well, nothing could be worse than the years when I was born. I was born in 1939 and so before I was six years old,

1.5 million children my age had been taken away on trains and gassed to death for no reason. It doesn't get worse than that. Not even in Soviet Union, not even in China. In those days, the innocent were dying in millions. Nowadays, concerned and sincere young people weep when the innocent die in thousands and they're right, but they just don't know how wrong it used to be. So why do you feel it so deeply when...? Because injustice won't go away. If you have any sensibility in the world at all, you've only got to walk down the street and you'll see someone in a wheelchair who was born to a life of agony and a distorted body, who must always be thinking, "Why me?" And you've only got to see that once to realise that existence is so arbitrary. How can you possibly feel happy? I feel merry. I think, on the whole, I'm a merry man. But feeling happy, seems to me, quite irrelevant. I'd be happy if everybody else was happy and they're not, so forget about it. Do something else. What gives you, then, the most joy?

Oh, unquestionably, it's the arts. In fact, when you call it "the arts," you start sounding like Les Patterson and it's got the wrong capital letter on it. Creativity. When I get lost in something that's been made. It doesn't matter who it's by.

It could be Marvin Gaye singing I Heard It Through the Grapevine it could be the Adagio of the Ninth Symphony, it could be paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec, whom I adore. There's no end to it. I feel joy there and, of course, one feels joy in private matters,

in love and sex and all the things

that we can't talk about because you can't transmit them. We can talk about sex, actually. How would you answer the question that Kafka asked himself? What have I done with the gift of sex? As much as possible, Andrew. (BOTH LAUGH) In the short time we have available. Luckily, luckily, as time runs on, the capacity wears away and there are always certain people listening who you might be married to or your daughters ready to come forward and stone you to death

for even broaching the subject. (LAUGHS) But there's no point denying that I've always been extremely susceptible to the beauty of women. For example, there's scarcely any beautiful woman I've met who doesn't interest me on the... in the first instance more than you do. But on the other hand, she might turn out quite rapidly to be less interesting. But I wouldn't deny there was a powerful force, but the question is what you do with it and I've tried to turn most of that force into work as an alternative to going crazy.

Are men and women, do you think, on the same page when it comes to sex? I think sex is a much more profound thing for women. I think Karl Krause, the great Austrian satirist, said, "A woman's sexuality is to a man's sexuality as an epic is to an epigram." It's pretty good, isn't it? Yeah, that's very good. It's about right, because it gets the pacing.

For a woman, it's deep and it's endless.

And for a man, it's a spasmodic thing

and that's the way it's designed to be. But I don't think that if you use sex as a cure for your solitude you're going to end up very well. You have to be capable of self-sufficiency in order, even, to be interesting to the woman you desire. That I found very common in relationships, is that if one person is fulfilling themselves through the other, then the writing is already on the wall. They both need to be fulfilled. Two interesting people can be together or apart or in constant contact and it will last. But if one person is living through the other, then the whole thing is heading towards a collision. HORN BLARES 'Clive left Australia and his mother in his 20s to seek fame and fortune in London. It began inauspiciously enough, performing at Cambridge and, by his own admission, neglecting his studies. But his words were being spoken, his poems published and his talent was spotted.

Ten years as the TV critic for the Observer newspaper

made him one of Britain's most influential reviewers. Then the TV critic turned TV presenter and for the next 20 years, he joined the world of celebrity. One constant spanned this journey - his closely guarded marriage to academic Prue Shaw. Two daughters and four decades later, they remain together.' What makes a good marriage? Well, we're getting into deep waters here and we're getting into the point where that door will open and my wife will come through and... And she won't hit me, she'll hit you. I'll ask her why. It will make for great television. She'll say, "My husband's a bloody fool. Get him off the subject." (LAUGHS) The briefest and most impersonal and probably most instructive answer I could give is marry your superior, if you can. Meaning? Well, if the person you're married to has more mental resources and every other kind of resource than you have, then you won't be in the position of having someone dependent on you, which is quite damaging, I think. You've talked about how you've never loved too much, because chance could take it away. Yes. Because you lost your father when you were very young. There's a tendency not to. A tendency to view if you give everything to someone, it might be taken away, yes, there is that tendency. On the other hand, if you don't give yourself up to someone else and try and spend your life with them, you're going to miss out on the experience that might civilise you. I wouldn't have been civilised if I hadn't been married. I would have been dead by now. No question. But I haven't been an ideal husband and one of the reasons is too much of the time, I was an absentee husband,

because my work took me away. My work would take me away, even when I was in the house. In a joint profile with you and your older daughter, you talked about being an absentee dad for much of the same reason - you were in your own head. I rather caught myself out with that one, because I said this and there was my daughter, agreeing with me.

I think I visited her in Oxford once when she was there. In fairness to you, she didn't sound damaged by it. She now agrees that I pay her quite a lot of attention. She's a painter now. First she was a star student, then a molecular biologist, then she switched to painting and I can talk about her because publicity is part of her life because she's becoming famous. But there was no doubt that when she was very young, she was a child and although children are very, very dear little people, how interesting are they? You see what I mean? I like to think that I did my bit, but there's no question it wasn't enough. No. My work was just too demanding. I allowed it to be too demanding. Put it that way. That's interesting, because the great driving force in your life, shaping force, certainly for the first 40 or 50 years of it, was the absence of your own father. Yes. And yet, there you were, being an absent father. Yes, committing - willfully committing - the same injustice. I wasn't that absent, you know. (LAUGHS) Paul Kelly, the Australian songwriter, once said to me he thought it was good when his children were bored. Do you understand that idea? Boredom is essential. You've got to realise what it is and learn to enjoy it, because if you're going to be a writer, you spend a lot of time bored. Why's that? Waiting. Being bored. Waiting for it to come. You've got to enjoy the donkey work and I don't think you should bring up children in the expectation that boredom, that kind of discomfort can be eliminated, because it can't. What you have to teach them is a way to occupy themselves in time that is otherwise being wasted,

something I got better at in my life. I was impatient when I was young. And I got better and better, especially when I was in television

and doing a lot of filming - and when you're filming, you spend a lot of time waiting. A lot of time sitting in the car, waiting for the sun to come.

Three hours might be about to go down the drain. What do you do? Well, stupid actors play practical jokes or they start seducing each other, all right? If you're smart, that's when you read a book. That's your down time. Using your down time. I got better and better at doing that and now, at my age, I wish I could go back and fill in all the down time I wasted with actually learning something. Spare time is a gift. You should use it. I mean, how much time do you think you've got? I've already had 70 years. The Bible says that's all there is.

Thank God the Bible's out of date. Only the Old Testament. The New Testament's pretty up to date. Paul Keating, actually, was a great believer in daydreaming as a powerful creative state. Are you a subscriber to daydreaming? I agree. I agree.

Although, I'm stunned by the banality of my daydreams. How banal are they? They usually have someone with super power

who leaps in, not necessarily wearing a suitable cape and briefs, in order to correct injustice. And you do feel that if someone's being attacked in the street by six heavies wielding knives and you could step in there and by the employment of

hitherto unsuspected martial arts skills, disperse these assailants to all directions, I find myself daydreaming things like that, even at my age. And that's when I understand the power of things like kung-fu movies and Bruce Lee movies. And Batman. And, indeed, Bruce Willis movies. It's a great, great desire to think that you could have some control over injustice and, of course, you can't. Have you ever in your life been confronted by violence? No, not really, and I managed to talk my way out of it. What I'm scared about is not violence towards myself. I would lie there, curl up, hope not to get punched any vital place. It's violence against other people that I have no power to stop. That scares me. I saw a kid being beaten senseless one night in Cambridge when I was a student. Three guys had him in an alley and I walked past and I've been walking past in my own mind ever since. So much for the good Samaritan.

That's a very elemental human moment. And then you start rationalising. "Maybe the punk deserved it." I care a lot about how I seem to others.

And so I think I would behave quite well when there are others watching. So vanity is a serious...? If there had been a crowd there, I would have got in, yeah. So vanity is a powerful force? Oh, yes. Sometimes a helpful one. In fact, you wrote that in a poem to Prue, your wife. Yes. You referred to yourself as an egocentric monster, then as now. I'm afraid so, yes. I wrote that quite early on. But, yes, egocentric, yes. And I don't know what it would be like to have a peripherally located ego. My ego is bang in the centre. Yes. But one tries to do something with it.

It's handy. It's better to have one, because modesty will wipe you out, because you won't survive your first failure,

cos there will be too many people ready to agree with your modesty. You've got to be able to ignore them, say, "I have a right to go on." That takes egocentricity. What needs to go with it is judgement and a sense of humour. Can we talk about the world at large? 70 years you've been around. Are you optimistic for the future of humanity? For the future of humanity, yes. The human race is very resilient or we wouldn't be here, because in the 20th century, for example, we really went through it.

Nearly lost everything during World War II. The only atomic war that there's ever been was fought while I was a child.

The exterminations of whole populations were going on while I was growing up. The powers of destruction were on the loose, but even when I was reading about them and learning to be more and more terrified of them, they always seemed, to me, quite pale against the forces of human creativity. The human race is just so creative.

It does so much. Left to itself, left in reasonable freedom, it will invent and invent and invent.

And there's every reason to be optimistic about that. What moves you to tears? Well, beauty often moves me to tears. I can very - the reason I don't play Toscanini's account of the Beethoven Ninth, especially the Adagio, is that it's too beautiful. Too beautiful to play? There are things that are too beautiful and there are things that are too unjust. It's the bolt from the blue. It's chance. I don't like chance. I don't like luck. And I've always been a lucky man with many, many chances, but I don't like that. And I - one thing I do daydream of is of a fairer world. Do you believe that people are fundamentally good? No, but I do believe the capacity for evil

is in all of us, but I don't believe that all of us would be driven to that by circumstances. Those of us who know what human beings are capable of often tend to think, "Well, circumstances might drive us to that, too," but, no, they wouldn't. Circumstances wouldn't drive you to be a torturer. Well, I don't know. Well, yeah. I don't know. Are you sure in your heart that you would not be a torturer? Yes. I'd rather die. There's a biblical concept called the bad seed, which actually gives you the notion

that these things are handed out at random and some have got it and some haven't and I'd rather go with that. But I'm fairly certain that there are things I couldn't do. I hope so. 'At the still centre of Clive's voracious life are words. Essays, poems, even song lyrics and, of course, his 30+ books.' How do you define success? It's a very, very difficult thing to define and any man who thinks he's got it is a fool, don't you think? I think there are a few things I've done that have been successful, but whether I'm a success, no, I would be - I wouldn't want to be in a position where I would have to say so. I don't feel a particular failure, but I certainly do feel incomplete. I would like more time. I'm running out of it now. I hear the clock very loudly now, at the age of 70,

and I think what I could do with another lifetime, especially with the Web. We're only just getting started on the Web. And...so I do feel incomplete. But the question of success doesn't preoccupy me much. You described yourself, looking back at yourself at the end of Cambridge, around 30, as a man with no great reason to believe that he exists beyond what he does. 40 years on, is that how you still feel? I'm afraid I still do. Yes. And I know it's more than a character flaw. It's practically an absence of character. It doesn't keep me awake at night. I sleep well at night because I don't sleep long and I have things to do in the morning. But, yes, I probably don't exist very much beyond what I do.

There is a private life, the married life, in which I'm amazed by what has been built. It's substantial, in my view. But talking about myself personally, the extent that I can detach myself from that, yeah, I think I'm basically what I do and it's never enough. You've described yourself a man who was built to be alone. Yes. Solitude's very important to me. I may have had that naturally. Maybe I got it after my early catastrophes of my father not coming back and being scared of being a mother's boy cos I was always with my mother and wanting to be alone, even when I was with her. But I did get used to my own company and it's the key to my existence. This place where we're filming is my office. I come here to work because nobody can get at me, right? And I can do the thing, the secret thing that all writers do, the thing that's never spoken about - I do nothing. Because a writer must be able to get up in the morning on a writing day and do nothing. Wait. Wait for it to happen. If it doesn't happen until five o'clock, it might happen tomorrow. But you have to have a place to go where you can do nothing and not be interrupted by someone thinking, "He's doing nothing. Maybe he should carry this upstairs or dig this garden." You've got to be able to get away. And, luckily, I enjoy it very much. But I have this other side where I like to be in the limelight. I like to go on stage in front of people and entertain them and maybe that's a form of solitude. I'm told it is. Is this where you're happiest? To the extent that the word "happiness" means much to me, yes. Yeah, I think T E Lawrence said that happiness is a byproduct of absorption. And although, in many ways, he was a reprehensible man, I think he was dead right about that. You practically don't know you're happy cos you're so absorbed in doing something. And if you stop to examine it, you cease to be happy. It's like opening the refrigerator door to see... ..try and guess whether the light goes off when you close the door. It would be self-indulgence to say that I was not content. I get paid well, always have been paid well for what I would do, anyway, which is - somebody once described that as the ideal existence. And it curmudgeonly - it would be churlish to say that I wasn't content.

But, no, I spend very little time feeling happy. I get the sense that you're... Gosh, I'm happy. What would it be like? Happy, happy... (LAUGHS) It's a bad musical. # Happy, happy... # Sorry, Andrew. No, it's OK. I'm enjoying you working at happiness. This is good. I get the sense that a part of you is surprised that you've actually had a family, formed close relationships with other humans. Stunned, in fact. I was the man least qualified, in my view, in my generation, of all the people I knew. Do you want there to be an afterlife or is this life enough? No, the afterlife has never appealed to me.

It was always apparent to me that there wasn't one

and the life that mattered happened between birth and death.

On the other hand, the human race had been centuries, thousands of years, getting to the point where I could think that. It was an inheritance. I wrote a poem about that, about The Eternity Man.

Remember Arthur Stace, who painted "Eternity" all over Sydney?

I wrote a poem about him and that's the sentiment of it, that his religious message was all accomplished here, eternity was now. I'm a religious man in the sense that, for me, everything is religious. Everything creative is such a thrill, so holy. But an afterlife, no.

I mean, what would happen? (LAUGHS) Almost nothing that interests me. Very low-quality jazz. (BOTH LAUGH) My dad used to describe us kids as his shot at immor-bloody-tality. (LAUGHS) Well, yeah, yes, genetic immortality. But you've come a long way to get to here. There are bits of you that came from the genes that came from the eels that came from the mud that came from the stars. Every element in our body was once in a star. I think I was perfectly formed, Clive. I'm sorry, I beg to differ. (LAUGHS) Do you think much about death as you get older? No. I think of running out of time. I would like more time. I'm just discovering things now - I'm just getting to where I want to be as a poet and really pulling it together. I have all kinds of plans, but, basically, I'm in the home stretch. What the great Australian race commentator Ken "Magic Eye" Howard - remember him? "As they settle down for the run to the judge." Well, I'm settling down for the run to the judge. I just wish there were more time. But the idea of being dead doesn't scare me. I'm just very, very glad to have got this far. Look, you've been very generous... very generous with your time.

A final question, what do you see when you look in the mirror? Apart from the wreck of a male human being? (LAUGHS) I see myself as a schoolboy still. I always tend to see the schoolboy when I look at any man. Not so much with a woman. I don't see the schoolgirl. I see the achieved creature. But with a man, I always see the potential creature. And there I was, barely in control of my bladder. (LAUGHS) Awkward and shy and, yet, assertive, all the complications already there. I still see him. I don't see a finished product. Perhaps I never will. Clive, thank you. It's been a pleasure. Closed Captions by CSI - Cassie Britland