Flitting between worlds

Quicksilver, Nicolas Rothwell, Text.

Nicolas Rothwell is the image of the urban sophisticate, a scarf-draped journalist, one-time literary editor of the Australian, familiar with the greats of European literature. But he is also comfortable negotiating a four wheel drive alone through the scarily wide stretches of the Australian outback, an advocate for the beauty and history of our geographical top half. In Quicksilver, one moment he is in a park beneath the walls of the Kremlin, thinking about Soviet dissident and physicist Andrei Sakharov’s views on science and faith, the next he is by a river in the remote Australian north-west, observing a weary goanna. One moment he is discussing an astronomer in the mountains of Central Europe, the next he is reflecting on the beginnings of the Papunya art movement (reflections that go well beyond the standard art critic retellings). He links transgressive European religious movements to Australian indigenous ones. The book flits between the two worlds, drawing together surprising affinities, and asking what place landscape has in our culture (a question that becomes more profound and disquieting the more we think about it). He says of both Siberia and the outback that they are vast, scarce, monotonous places that create focus and ‘reverence’.


In a piece on filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (above) Rothwell writes about the prominent role of landscape in films such as ‘Stalker’, and how Tarkovsky thought that art tried to bring order into an imperfect world. Rothwell also writes on prominent historian of landscape Eric Rolls, and the profound effect of Rolls’ work on Rothwell’s own. He covers explorers such as Leichardt, and the writers that chronicled their travels. He writes on Maxim Gorky, D H Lawrence and Germaine Greer. All the threads that Rothwell spins connecting these figures makes for an intricate but clear, perfect and profound pattern.



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