Monographic Course - The Songlines - Page eight

In this section, I'm going to try to write an essay on "The Songlines" by Bruce Chatwin, 1988 Penguin Books.

"Music", said Arkady,"is a memory bank for finding one's way about the world".

  • The Return
    Each time Chatwin returned from his journeys, he tried to stay at his home of Holwell Farm. He once admitted that "no man can wander without a base", but failed to stay long. He didn't like England and its society. Once he wrote to a friend "I agree with you about the London literati..[..] The review of [Thomas Berhard's] Concrete by some arse was enough to bring one to the passport burning stage. But then England, unlike Ireland, Scotland or Wales, is an utterly barbarian country." Although "Bruce's presentment of his mortality" when he was diagnosed with AIDS, "may explain his pressing desire to locate for himself the equivalent of an Aboriginal songline." Chatwin was richer each time he would come back, but he kept rejecting his community, setting up prisms as shields between him and the british society, just like he did with Sotheby's and Edinbourgh. Nonetheless, Bruce Chatwinn was a gifted person all his life, an animal on the prowl in search of knowledge. In 1986 he wrote to a friend "I'm only capable of functioning away from the hullabaloo...My impulse is to go away somewhere rather primitive-or at least isolated from the literary "buzz" that nags at me with the insistence of a pneumatic drill in a neighbouring street. The answer is this: that no amount of confort, padding, recognition etc., is, in any way a compensation for having one's head and time free. And London is such an abominable trap!."

    Aboriginals heroes return from a walkabout as different beings. They accomplished their mission, they sang their tjuringa line and they're ready to face the rest of their lives, even death. It is said that they go to die following their death song, like old animals that quietly and discretely disappear when they feel death call. Aboriginals who tried to make it in the western world and failed or just didn't settle down, might come back and rejoin their traditional life, even if temporarily, putting their new wisdom at the service of their community.

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