Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin

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By Bruce Chatwin

I initially thought I would dip into this as I was reading other books over a few months but after starting it became my main read and I finished Chatwin’s letters in quick time. It is a cliche but the art that you are exposed to in Chatwins’s books was present in his life: the books and letters and the living seem inseparable. There is much of interest here if you like reading. Chitin liked the same literature I like and had many anecdotes and thoughts on writers, artists and travel. Thoroughly enjoyable either as something to dip into or be immersed in.

 

 

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Songlines

songlines

 

By Bruce Chatwin.

Having had no interest, ever, in going to Australia. This made me almost consider visiting. There were so many great lines in this book and the characters who did exist were made a little more larger-than life by Chatwin as was his want.

“If this were so; if the desert were ‘home’; if our instincts were forged in the desert; to survive the rigours of the desert – then it is easier to understand why greener pastures pall on us; why possessions exhaust us, and why Pascal’s imaginary man found his comfortable lodgings a prison.”

 

“Richard Lee calculated that a Bushman child will be carried a distance of 4,900 miles before he begins to walk on his own. Since, during this rhythmic phase, he will be forever naming the contents of his territory, it is impossible he will not become a poet.”

 

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What Am I Doing Here?

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By Bruce Chatwin.

This was a great collection of articles. I read Utz years back and loved it – so this was a way of getting into Chatwin before starting the ‘novels’. There was much that was illuminating. A passionate traveller who could also write: a very cultured and interested person.

“We shall not lie on our backs at the Red Castle and watch the vultures wheeling over the valley where they killed the grandson of Genghiz. We will not read Babur’s memoirs in his garden at Istalif and see the blind man smelling his way around the rose bushes. Or sit in the Peace of Islam with the beggars of Gazar Gagh. We will not stand on the Buddha’s head at Bamiyan, upright in his niche like a whale in a dry-dock. We will not sleep in the nomad tent, or scale the Minaret of Jam. And we shall lose the tastes – the hot, coarse, bitter bread; the green tea flavoured with cardamoms; the grapes we cooled in the snow-melt; and the nuts and dried mulberries we munched for altitude sickness. Nor shall we get back the smell of the beanfields, the sweet, resinous smell of deodar wood burning, or the whiff of a snow leopard at 14,000 feet.”

 

 

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Dark Avenues

darkavenbues

 

By Ivan Bunin.

This is an absolute masterpiece. Dark Avenues is a collection of stories written in the late 30s and early 40s but they read as one. The themes of love and loss are consistent across them all and there is a strong poetic sensibility in the prose and the way the subjects are treated.

 

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The Jean Christophe Cycle

By Romain Rolland.

Comprising ten novels:

L’Aube (“Dawn”, 1904)
Le Matin (“Morning”, 1904)
L’Adolescent (“Youth”, 1904)
La Révolte (“Revolt”, 1905)
La Foire sur la place (“The Marketplace”, 1908)
Antoinette (1908)
Dans la maison (“The House”, 1908)
Les Amies (“Love and Friendship”, 1910)
Le Buisson ardent (“The Burning Bush”, 1911)
La Nouvelle Journée (“The New Dawn”, 1912)

This is a very impressive work. It feels slightly dated – though this could be the translation. I don’t understand how Rolland could have been marginalised as much as he has, being a Novel Prize winner. Perhaps because his preoccupations with pre-WW1 Europe have been forgotten to an extent. There’s a great amount here about creativity and art – the novel(s) are really an excuse for his musings on these.

 

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Chess and Journey into the Past

By Stefan Zweig.

Two short novels. Chess was the first bit of writing I had read by Zweig – having found him by mentions on the Pushkin press website and the fact he wrote a biography of Balzac. The novella was excellent  and I followed it closely with Journey into the Past. Both were lyrical, melancholy, and filled with the past and reminiscences. The framework was a touch trite for these – but the strength of the evocation meant I was happy to let it go. Something in these reminded me of Nabokov – probably the appreciation of the backward gaze. And, the chess theme.

 

 

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Ways of Seeing

waysBy John Berger

This book, based on the 70s BBC TV series, is used as a text in many art schools around the UK. There was an article by Berger on Mayakovsky in ‘Night Wraps the Sky’ which was good so I thought I should read this small book.

It was interesting and it got better as it went on. The first article seemed a product of its time and I was left harbouring suspicions of hippy dippy intent. That changed as it went on and things got more and more intriguing. The analysis of women in art was excellent and the final article is worth buying the book for. A great line was:

Publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy.

The word publicity can probably be replaced by ‘marketing’. There are many excellent ideas and analogies throughout.

Berger also has a very real consideration for the working people and how they are marginalised by the artistic establishment and controlled by publicity and capitalism. This isn’t  middle-class navel gazing and posturing without regard for the majority – the working population.

The upshot is that if you haven’t read Berger, as I had not, then this book is a very good introduction to some of his ideas which I believe are developed more fully over the next forty years in numerous fiction and non-fiction works. I will start to concern myself with some of these and they will doubtless be posted.


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Home-Made

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By Vladimir Arkhipov

What a brilliant brilliant book. I saw it in the shop and it was only a tenner. As soon as I opened it I knew I had to buy it. There are so many fantastic objects here and the commentary given by the inventors or their relatives has honesty and humour. These are working people who require a useful object – when the object breaks or wears out they look for ways to make it useful again. Some of them actually do look great though – the TV aerial on the cover or the strange hybrid crutch shovel or toy train (below). I also like the fact a shovel is made out a sign with a shovel – genius. I’m sure the inventor got a few laughs out of that. If you see this book buy it, or you can peruse the website the author has set up which is a very strange hybrid beast in itself. If you have anything you have made Vladimir takes submissions too. I have decided to re-examine my approach to broken or worn objects with a view to making them useful again – possibly in a different way.

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