Finished: Invisible Cities, Now Reading: Songlines

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities Yesterday I finished Italo Calvino’s incredible Invisible Cities (thanks, Erik, for convincing me to read it now). I got the feeling that he just starts with any idea that comes to him—and they are sometimes banal at first—and then in exploring them he manages to give them life. His language is simple and yet evocative—or perhaps that’s the reason. Anyway, I will definitely read more of his books.

Today I began reading Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines. I really enjoyed his What Am I Doing Here?, and I’ve had this book on my shelf since Christmas, waiting for a reason to read it. That reason came when reading The Image of the City:

The environmental image may go further, and act as an organizer of activity. [...] In central Australia, since the legendary heroes of the natives moved along certain “dream-time” roads, these channels are strong parts of the landscape image, and the natives feel safe in traveling them.1


The landscape may be patterned by the lines of movement. In the case of the Arunta in Australia, the entire territory is magically organized by a network of mythical paths linking together a series of isolated totemic “countries” or clan estates, and leaving waste areas between. There is normally only one correct trail to the sacred storehouse containing totemic objects, and Pink tells of the long detour made by one of his [her!] guides to approach a sacred place properly.2

Bruce Chatwin, Songlines Writes Bruce Chatwin:

It was during his time as a school-teacher that Arkady [Volchok, Chatwin’s guide] learned of the labyrinth of invisible pathways which meander all over Australia and are known to Europeans as “Dreaming-tracks” or “Songlines”; to the Aboriginals as the “Footprints of the Ancestors” or the “Way of the Law.” Aboriginal Creation myths tell of the legendary totemic beings who had wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path – birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes – and so singing the world into existence.3

(A while back, I listened to an interesting short radio program4 from the Swedish experimental digital radio station SRc, where philosopher Fredrika Spindler quotes Chatwin and Gilles Deleuze, among others, on nomads. I wanted to read Songlines after listening to this program.)

1 Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City.

2 Ibid.

3 Bruce Chatwin, Songlines.

4 Fredrika Spindler, “Drömspår,” SRc, in Swedish (4.2MB MP3).

The above was posted to my personal weblog on May 21, 2004. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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