How Bruce Chatwin ‘Saved Travel Writing’
Travel Blog • Eva Holland • 03.07.12 | 8:39 AM ET
I was catching up on some back issues of Harper’s a few weeks back, and this quotation about the author of “In Patagonia” and “The Songlines” caught my eye:
He saved travel writing by changing its mandate: After Chatwin, the challenge was to find not originality of destination but originality of form.
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 “Rings Of Saturn”—that likewise hover between genres, make play with unreliability, and fold in on 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.
(It’s from “Voyagers: The restless genius of Patrick Leigh Fermor and Bruce Chatwin,” by Robert Macfarlane, in the November 2011 issue. It’s available online to subscribers only.)