I am in LA for work and I picked up Eliot Weinberger's new book An Elemental Thing for the trip. As I write this I am a fan of Weinberger but this book is really something. What he has done is to take a whole slew of very interesting subjects and to do essays on them that are readable, intellectual and fascinating.
All to often essays and essayists are boring self absorbed
morons who would rather talk about something arcane like what kind of makeup Truman Capote wore or the quality of Fenway Park Green. Weinberger is a serious essayist and I would argue that he is a true heir of essayists like Viktor Shklovsky who fuse the avant garde with everyday to make something truly amazing.
There are many essays in the work that are gripping one is about the Nazca lines of Peru. As many know I lived in the Andes and that idea of spiritual geography is so interesting. The idea that the lines, coupled with Huacas (Sacred stones and piles) are so interesting. He also talks about the Andean writing system Quippus which were bundles of knotted cords used to record history and money. This essay alone makes the book worth reading but there is much more.
His essay on the Mandaeans is so interesting. He deconstructs this Middle Eastern sect and shows the world that irony and scholarship are possible. He also wrote a bio essay of Muhammed which is in many ways better written than most translations of the Quran.
The last words of this book are "wonder alone in the vastness of the world" that is what Weinberger has done and his work will remain seminal and we can only hope for more books and more writing to satiate our dry literary world.