Jonathan Raban’s death was announced today. He was one of my favourite writers.
Ever since first reading ‘Soft City’ – his early London book, which explored the contrast between the physical built environment and the individual mental landscape or cityscape, Raban’s writing has often given me much to think about and to enjoy.
I understand he could be an awkward so-and-so and occasionally strayed into declamatory male travel writer mode, but the writing often transcended this. He could capture, with an unexpected metaphor or turn of phrase, a memorably vivid sense of a place and its people.
I remember clearly being brought up with a jolt by a section in ‘Passage to Juneau’ where he launched into a diatribe about the notion of the Sublime & how it and Romanticism had clouded much later writing – of place in particular.
As my default position in writing poems or prose in the past tended to what could be a sighy, or gushy response – a sort of post-romantic ‘O!’ – I found his position challenging, but also very stimulating. It certainly made me question certain responses and later impressions, when attempting to write a blog post or poem about an encounter with a particular place, or creature.
I now usually try to go for a more fully rounded image, or reflection, than instinct first suggests. The skull beneath the skin, as it were. Perhaps inevitably, Raban quite often broke his own rules, or strictures – not able to entirely resist the odd rapturous flight in a line or paragraph about a certain quality of light on a restless sea, or the catch-breath sight of a passing bird.
Thanks for the inspiration. Go well Mr R.
Links & References
“I felt pretty happy that I was still alive…” Guardian article
A few previous posts where I’ve referenced Raban, his idea and writing:
One world, 7 billion different maps
Along the Regent’s Canal – North London’s side entrance
Common Ground, or Private Park: whose nature writing is it anyway?