Peripatetic, itinerant, eclectic musings about books, politics, history, language, culture, and anything else that interests me.
So strange: Jonathan Kirsch, in his 1998 biography of Moses (Moses: A Life), quotes Bruce Chatwin’s explanation of French philosopher Ernest Renan’s remark that “Le Désert est monothéiste” (“Renan’s aphorism implies that blank horizons and a dazzling sky will clear the mind of its distractions”). I hadn’t heard of Chatwin, or his 1988 book The Songlines, from which the quote was taken, but I saw that quote today in Moses: A Life, because I’m currently reading the book.
And then, just now, I ran across a review in Salon of a newly published collection of Chatwin’s letters, co-edited by Chatwin’s biographer, Nicholas Shakespeare, and his widow, Elizabeth Chatwin. Here is the first paragraph of the review:
Bruce Chatwin, who died in 1989 before the Internet swept away all other forms of written communication, was probably one of the last great letter-writers. And being, also, one of the most peripatetic human beings in history, he had no choice but to write a lot of letters. Read in its entirety, his correspondence proves something that even Nicholas Shakespeare’s wonderful 1999 biography didn’t quite get across: that while Chatwin may have been egocentric, a self-mythologizer, and a professional seducer, the high excitement he manifested for the world around him was absolutely genuine. Nearly every missive in “Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin” (edited by Shakespeare with Elizabeth Chatwin, the author’s widow) buzzes with it. One of his correspondents, the American author David Mason, put it well: “Some writers become self-advertisers out of a grating neediness. What I sensed from Bruce was more akin to uncontainable enthusiasm.”