Stewart on Chatwin; Or, The World Intricate

Well after the fact, but Rory Stewart has a nice evaluation of Bruce Chatwin at the New York Review of Books. Two paragraphs in the middle stood out:
This is not the way that Chatwin describes the world—and not the way he experienced it. In his facts and in his fiction (he once observed that he didn’t think there was a distinction), the world is intricate but not opaque. Everything, from Aboriginal myths to childhood memories and adult encounters, is fixed, placed, and overdetermined. The connections between his darting brief images may be omitted, but they are not ambiguous, and the reader can only draw one conclusion from his parables. Chatwin does not second-guess himself and he does not expect the reader to second-guess him either.
His clarity and confidence draws on an improbable range of references and experiences, mirrored in every dateline of his notebooks in The Songlines. He tells us he has been in “Picos, Piaui, Brazil,” “Djang, Cameroon,” “Kabul,” “Miami,” “The Night express from Moscow to Kiev,” Dakar, Senegal, Kalevala, Sydney, Sudan, Timbuktu, Yunnan, Persia, and Niger. He has sophisticated tastes (his notebooks are made in France) and obsessions (he claims, in letters, essays, and books, to spot and smell his favorite semimythical beast—the leopard—in Nepal, Kumaon, and the Hindu Kush). But he is a tough guy. Even Australians rely on him to make fires, change tires in the desert, fix roofs, and calmly rig up a ground sheet against snakes (or at least, so it appears). His comments, though laconic, are learned. This is a man who knows his Malevich from his Melnikov, and his witchetty grub from his caterpillar. And he does not have the anxieties of an anthropologist.
The rest is here.


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