My favorite Dalrymple pieces are those that make interesting intellectual arguments (interesting because they seem true and are also new to me) while also revealing new details about the biography of the man himself, and one of this month’s pieces for New English Review is a good example. It reads in part like one of his travel adventures, as he gives more details about an experience we’ve highlighted before (that he was “surveilled by the Indonesian police in East Timor”):
I was there to help in the making of a clandestine film about the atrocities committed by the Indonesians with the blessing, and even the actual connivance, of western powers… One of my few appearances on the silver screen, then, has been as a voice asking questions in bad Portuguese.
It makes an eyebrow-raising claim about Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher:
…I think that I discovered the identity of one of the main characters in it. Not being any kind of scholar, let alone that of the life and works of RLS, I cannot be sure that my discovery was original rather than a rediscovery of what was already well-known: an overestimation of one’s originality being the occupational hazard of the unlearned.
And it opens with a beautiful insight into the experience of growing older:
Once you have reached a certain age and experienced the majority of all that you will ever experience, almost everything reminds you of something else. It is as if the world were full of double entendres in which nothing meant only what it appeared to mean. The association of ideas becomes so strong that the past becomes almost as real and living as the present: you experience two realities simultaneously. This is pleasurable and is one of the compensations of age. It deepens and enriches life.