Friday, October 29, 2010

A dried chameleon and the eardrum of a lion

At the TLS, a rather lovely reminiscence by William Dalrymple of his encounters with Bruce Chatwin (the occasion is the publication of a collection of Chatwin's letters). For me as a reader Chatwin has been eclipsed by Sebald, who seems to me immeasurably the greater writer, but I am attracted to Chatwin's curiosities of course - I think Dalrymple may slightly overstate Chatwin's current lack of fashionability?

Here's a good bit, anyway:
“I’ve never liked big books”, he writes while hard at work on The Viceroy of Ouidah, “so I don’t see why I should try and write them. Unless you’re Tolstoy most of the ‘great books’ of the world should have been cut in half.” One characteristic remark notes how “I have written four bad pages and will reduce them to a single line”. He also advises younger writers to avoid journalism “because ultimately it corrodes”, and while he occasionally writes for the TLS, he believes that “the besetting sin of all English writers is their fatal attraction for periodicals, their fascination for reviews and their passion for bickering in print. Resolution of the month: Never write for newspapers”. Above all he advises writers to avoid listening to reviews, which he says are “paralysing”: “Don’t flap too much about the critics – and never try to please them (it isn’t worth it). The function of an artist is to work for a) himself b) to leave something memorable, for the future, to shore up the ruins. Fuck the rest of them!”.

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