Bruce Chatwin The Songlines 1987. NY: Penguin, 1988. Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol 57 вЂў The critics greatly admire In Patagonia, but they go crazy over The Songlines. (Me too.) вЂў Andrew Harvey: вЂњPart adventure-story, part novel-of-ideas, part satire on the follies of вЂ�progress,вЂ™ part spiritual autobiography, part passionate plea for a return to simplicity of being and behavior, The Songlines is a chaotic mix of anecdote and speculation and description, fascinating, moving, infuriating, incoherent, all at once.вЂќ Songlines вЂў Songlines are paths across the land that were identified by the Creator during the Dreaming (group creation) вЂў ChatwinвЂ™s goal is to trace and understand these вЂњlinesвЂќ that make up the landscape under this animist belief system. (animist: animals, plants, rocks have spirits) Central Questions вЂў Are we better off as nomads? вЂў Is Pascal right in that вЂ�All manвЂ™s troubles stem from a single cause -- his inability to sit quietly in a roomвЂ™? вЂў The question of questions: what is the nature of human restlessness? вЂў Why canвЂ™t Chatwin himself every stay still? Walter Goodman вЂў вЂњSonglines are a labyrinth of invisible pathways which meander all over Australia. ItвЂ™s a lovely notion, and in this rich book, Mr. Chatwin, a British writer and traveling man who feels linked to migratory peoples, dreams up scruffy little towns of the Australian desert that sit atop age-old deposits of myth.вЂќ Chatwin and Conrad вЂў Roger Clarke points out the ways Chatwin compares with Conrad from Heart of Darkness. вЂў In the Coppola film, Marlon Brando sweats over T.S. Eliot in the Vietnam jungle. вЂў ChatwinвЂ™s characters ponder Nietzche and Spinoza and Marx вЂў вЂњIs Chatwin a latter day Kurtz, throwing in a worldly career, seeking the extreme places of the world in which to ruminate?вЂќ Goodman вЂў Songlines: вЂњItвЂ™s a trip into anthropology, religion and philosophy, as well as into the edgy coexistence of the whites and aboriginals in his imagined outback. For want of a better word, he calls the result a novel, but thatвЂ™s misleading. Think of it rather as a travel book of a special, speculative sortвЂ¦.вЂќ вЂњPlotвЂќ вЂў A narrator named Chatwin travels with a railroad advisor who is tracking the aboriginalsвЂ™ sacred footpaths, meaning the вЂњsonglinesвЂќ of the ancestors. вЂў As they plotted the land by foot, they would вЂњsingвЂќ every rock and stream into being. вЂў In the meantime Chatwin refers to his notebooks that contain info about other cultures and references to philosophers and such, turning his journal of travel into a philosophical explanation of humanity . вЂў The Songlines are vital because they contain the history of the peoples that has been handed down through generations. вЂў Each tribe has its particular Songlines, and these mark the boundary of their territory вЂў Modern problem: these Songlines are getting in the way of progress. The railroad wants to continue a line through the middle of the country, but it keeps running into these sacred lines, which should not be cut. Arkady вЂў ChatwinвЂ™s guide through Australia is Arkady, a Russian Australian and a teacher, who was trying to mediate between the railroad reps and the natives. вЂў Hook: вЂњIn Alice Springs вЂ“ a grid of scorching streets where men in long white socks were forever getting in and out of Land Cruisers вЂ“ I met a Russian who was mapping the sacred sites of the Aboriginals.вЂќ (33) Arkady conвЂ™t вЂў Arkady likes the Aboriginals for their вЂњgrit and tenacity, and their artful ways of dealing with the white man.вЂќ вЂў Arkady: вЂњHe had learnt, or half-learnt, a couple of their languages and had come away astonished by their intellectual vigour, their feats of memory and their capacity and will to survive.вЂќ (2) вЂў вЂњIt was during his time as a school-teacher that Arkady learned of the labyrinth of invisible pathways which meander all over Australia and are known to Europeans as вЂ�Dreaming-tracksвЂ™ or вЂ�Songlines; to the Aboriginals as the вЂ�Footprints of the AncestorsвЂ™ or the вЂ�Way of the Law.вЂ™вЂќ вЂў вЂњAboriginal 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 вЂ¦ вЂў вЂњвЂ“ and so singing the world into existence. вЂў Arkady was so struck by the beauty of this concept that he began to take notes on everything he saw or heard, not for publication, but to satisfy his own curiosity. вЂў At first the Walbiri Elders mistrusted him, and their answers to his questions were evasive. вЂў With time, once he had won their confidence, they invited him to witness their most secret ceremonies and encouraged him to learn their songs.вЂќ (2) вЂў Now he was charged with finding a way to get Alice connected to the railway without destroying anything sacred New Ways of Thinking вЂў Chatwin is struck by new ideas such as the AboriginalsвЂ™ Walkabout wherein men might vanish without warning and for no good reason. вЂў вЂњThey would step from their work-clothes, and leave: for weeks and months and even years, trekking half-way across the continentвЂќ (10) вЂў Ostensibly, Chatwin has come to Australia to learn for himself about the Songlines, but Arkady becomes his interpreter вЂў Arkady calls the Songlines, along with Dreamtime, the equivalent of the first chapters of Genesis. вЂў Each totemic ancestor вЂњwas thought to have scattered a trail of words and musical notes along the line of his footprints, and now these Dreaming-tracks lay over the land as вЂ�waysвЂ™ of communication between the most far-flung tribes.вЂќ (13) вЂў In this system, a song was like a map that could always show you the way home вЂў Chatwin asks: вЂњWould a man on вЂ�walkaboutвЂ™ always be travelling down one of the Songlines?вЂќ вЂў вЂњIn the old days, yes. Nowadays they go by train or car.вЂќ вЂў вЂњSuppose the man strayed from his Songline?вЂќ вЂў вЂњHe might get speared for it.вЂќ вЂў вЂњSo song is a kind of passport and meal-ticket? вЂў Again, itвЂ™s more complicated.вЂќ вЂў Arkady: вЂњIn theory, at least, the whole of Australia could be read as a musical score. There was hardly a rock or creek in the country that could not or had not been sung. One should perhaps visualise the Songlines as a spaghetti of Iliads and Odysseys, writhing this way and that, in which every вЂ�episodeвЂ™ was readable in terms of geology.вЂќ вЂў Chatwin: вЂњAnd the distance between two such sites can be measures by a stretch of song?вЂќ вЂў Arkady: вЂњThat is the cause of all my troubles with the railway people.вЂќ вЂњIt was one thing to persuade a surveyor that a heap of boulders were the eggs of the Rainbow Snake, or a lump or reddish sandstone as the liver of a speared kangaroo. It was something else to convince him that a featureless stretch of gravel was the musical equivalent of BeethovenвЂ™s Opus 111.вЂќ (14) вЂњAboriginals could not believe the country existed until they could see and sing it вЂ“ just as, in the Dreamtime, the country had not existed until the Ancestors sang it.вЂќ The above takes place in Alice. From there, Chatwin goes off with Arkady to discover Songlines. Walkabout вЂў As Chatwin and Arkady travel the country, theyвЂ™re on their own sort of Walkabout. Arkady has friends and acquaintances all over; they welcome Chatwin, invite him to eat, and share their stories. вЂў More about the Songlines: вЂў An unsung land= dead land. If the songs are forgotten, the land dies. вЂў The lines were interwoven: everyone wanted to have at least four вЂ�ways out,вЂ™ ways to travel in times of a crisis. вЂў Music= memory bank for how to get around Unanswered Questions вЂў вЂњPascal, in one of his gloomier penseвЂ™es, gave it as his opinion that all our miseries stemmed from a single cause: our inability to remain quietly in a room.вЂќ вЂў вЂњWhy, he asked, must a man with sufficient to live on feel drawn to divert himself on long sea voyages? To dwell in another town?вЂќ From the Notebooks вЂў Some of the book consists of bits and pieces from ChatwinвЂ™s вЂњnotebooks.вЂќ вЂў Starts with a quote from French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal: вЂњOur nature lies in movement; complete calm is death.вЂќ (PenseвЂ™esвЂ”book in defense of Christian religion, never completed, found in fragments) 163 Wandering вЂў Notes that there were two kinds of pilgrimages in the early Christian church: вЂњto wander for GodвЂќ or вЂњpenitential pilgrimageвЂќ who those accused of terrible crimes. The latter were supposed to set out begging, and work out their salvation along the way вЂў (Note that Cain goes walking to atone for his brotherвЂ™s murder) Travel вЂў Notes that вЂ�travelвЂ™ comes from вЂ�travail,вЂ™ which means to вЂ�toil, esp. of a painful nature,вЂ™ вЂ�suffering,вЂ™ вЂ�a journey.вЂ™ (194) вЂў In Middle English: вЂ�progressвЂ™ meant вЂ�a journeyвЂ™ (197) вЂў Rudyard Kipling: вЂњAll things considered there are only two kinds of men in the world; those who stay home and those who do not.вЂќ (198) Lines вЂў While it might be Songlines in Australia, in Great Britain it was stone circles вЂў Feng-shui had dragon-lines (traditional Chinese geomancy) вЂў Finns: вЂ�singing stones,вЂ™ also arranged in lines вЂў Cicero had вЂњmemory palaces,вЂќ or loci; the classical orators would assign a thought to an architectural feature to remember it. Songlines are loci in reverse вЂў Others compared Songlines to the lines on the plains of Nazca Fact of Fiction? вЂў Chatwin blends genres here, goes back and forth between fact and fiction, past and present, Aboriginal and вЂ�AustralianвЂ™ вЂў The book is more of an excuse for philosophical exploration as sponsored by travel вЂў How do we вЂ“ and how should weвЂ“ draw the line between fact and fiction?