the songlines


waiting for the green light 青信号を待つ #tokyo #pedestriancrossing #morning #winter #wait #greenlight #vsco #vscocam by tat

A young Bruce Chatwin in an earlier life as an art expert at Sotheby’s. From The Songlines:

When I was in my twenties, I had a job as an ‘expert’ on modern painting with a well known firm of art auctioneers. We had sale-rooms in London and New York. I was one of the bright boys. People said I had a great career, if only I would play my cards right. One morning, I woke up blind.

During the course of the day, the sight returned to the left eye, but the right one stayed sluggish and clouded. The eye specialist who examined me said there was nothing wrong organically, and diagnosed the nature of the trouble.

“You’ve been looking too closely at pictures,”, he said. “Why don’t you swap them for some long horizons?”

“Why not?” I said.

Wandering With Purpose: How Bruce Chatwin Rose Above The Travel Writing Industry

1. “[Chatwin’s] The Songlines begins as a novel before fraying into a commonplace book, in which a ragbag of quotations from two decades of reading about restlessness are deployed in lieu of an argument….."I’ve never seen anything like it in modern literature, a complete hybrid between fiction and philosophy,” he modestly remarked to Elizabeth Chatwin in 1983, having reached the second chapter. “It takes the form of about six excursions into the outback with a semi-imaginary character…during which the narrator and He have long conversations…Needless to say the models for such an enterprise are Plato’s Symposium and the Apology….”

2.  "Really, though, Chatwin was right: there had been nothing like it, and his patent was so strong that there has been nothing like it since. He wrote in his lifetime five books that were not only entirely different from anything that had come before but - much harder, this - entirely different from each other. He saved travel writing by changing its mandate: after Chatwin, the challenge was to find not originality of destination, but originality of form.“

3.  "Among those who have followed Chatwin, the most interesting have forged new forms specific to their chosen subjects: thus Pico Iyer’s sparkily hyperconnective studies of globalized culture and William Least Heat-Moon’s "deep maps” of America’s lost regions. Perhaps most important were W.G. Sebald’s enigmatic “prose fictions” - particularly The Rings Of Saturn - that likewise hover between genres, make play with unreliability, and fold in other forms: traveler’s tale, antiquarian digression, and memoir. What Sebald, like so many of us, learned from Chatwin was that the travelogue could voyage deeply in time rather than widely in space, and that the interior it explored need not be the heart of a place but the mind of the traveler.“

- Robert Macfarlane, Voyagers: The Restless Genius of Patrick Leigh Fermor and Bruce Chatwin, Harper’s, November 2011

The ‘dry heart’ of Australia, she said, was a jigsaw of different microclimates, of different minerals in the soil and different plants and animals. A man raised in one part of the desert would know its flora and fauna backwards. He knew which plant attracted game. He knew his water. He knew where there were tubers underground. In other words, by naming all the 'things’ in his territory, he could always count on survival…. man 'makes’ his territory by naming the 'things’ in it.

Bruce Chatwin on how man conceived the world through language, from The Songlines

“To lose a passport was the least of one’s worries: to lose a notebook was a catastrophe.”

– Bruce Chatwin inThe Songlines

Chatwin famously used Moleskine journals that he bought from a shop in Paris.  When the manufacturer stopped making the notebooks Chatwin, as he liked to tell people, bought all the notebooks left in the Parisian store so he would have as many as possible.

Personally I am both a fan of the Moleskine notebook (except for the price) and the quotation above.  I have been reduced to tears because I couldn’t find my notebook.
Rory Stewart, 'Walking with Chatwin'

‘The publication of Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines in 1987 transformed English travel writing; it made it cool. … Chatwin was as attractive as a person as he was as a writer. The New York Times review of The Songlines ran: “Nearly every writer of my generation in England has wanted, at some point, to be Bruce Chatwin, wanted to be talked about, as he is, with raucous envy; wanted, above all, to have written his books.”’

Burberry's Special Edition Sleeve Designs

Burberry has designed some clothbound sleeves for a set of novels by British author Bruce Chatwin. The books are limited-edition, and finely decorated in a range of colours, from red to orange. The venture has been launched by Vintage Books and it aims to cherish the work of the fiction novelist, travel author and journalist.

As Man Booker Prize nominee and James Tait Black Memorial Prize winner, he died in 1989 after contracting AIDS, hiding many information about the illness, instead claiming to have been ill from diseases, such as malaria. This year’s SS2015 collection had imprints of the handpainted graphics from typography book covers circa 1940s.

The limited edition collection comprising of six books, will have print run of 280. Selected Burberry stores and the online flagship store will stock the collection, and it includes Bruce’s most famous works till date, The Songlines and In Patagonia.

“On the other hand, if you smashed or lost your tjuringa, you were beyond the pale, and had lost all hope of ‘returning.'  of one young layabout in Alice, I heard it said, 'He hasn’t seen his truringa.  He doesn’t know who he is.’”

– FromThe Songlinesby Bruce Chatwin

A 'Tjuringa’ is a sacred stone, on which is written the piece of the songline that belongs to a particular person.  These are stored in a safe place and it is up to the individual to protect their tjuringa and keep it safe, therefore, keeping that piece of the song safe.


Elisabeth Chanler talking about her husband, Bruce Chatwin, and his use of notebooks both in life and in his work.

Chatwin talks a lot about the Pintupi people of Australia and seems to spend the most time with them.  They live out in the Northern Territory and Western Australia: the areas, I believe, are generally referred to as “The Bush”.  Bruce’s travels inThe Songlinesbegin for the reader in Alice Springs and, generally, lead the reader to believe that is the nearest and only ‘civilization’ in the area.

But, as the reader learns, civilization is what you make of it.