Ian Donaldson reviews 'Simon Leys: Navigator between worlds' by Philippe Paquet, translated by Julie Rose

Ian Donaldson reviews 'Simon Leys: Navigator between worlds' by Philippe Paquet, translated by Julie Rose

Simon Leys: Navigator between worlds

by Philippe Paquet, translated by Julie Rose

La Trobe University Press (Black Inc.), $59.99 hb, 720 pp, 9781863959209

The Belgian-born scholar Pierre Ryckmans, more widely known to the world by his adopted name of Simon Leys, was widely hailed in the Australian press at his death in 2014 as ‘one of the most distinguished public intellectuals’ of his adopted country, where he had lived and taught for many years – first in Canberra, later in Sydney – and where, after a titanic battle with the Belgian bureaucracy, he chose shortly before his death to become a naturalised citizen.

‘Public intellectual’ aptly describes one side of Ryckmans’s complex character, though it doesn’t quite tell the larger story. It befits the man who, near the time of Nixon’s and Whitlam’s earliest visits to China, famously alerted the Western world to the lesser known aspects of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and who dipped controversially from time to time into other areas of public debate. But in his courteous, reclusive, and faintly eccentric way, Ryckmans was also what might be called a private intellectual, quietly immersed in art and books and scholarly pursuits that he loved, regardless of their immediate relevance or appeal to a wider public. Pleasing Myself, the title that Frank Kermode gave to a late collection of his own critical essays, is a phrase that seems equally to capture the motive and spirit of many of Ryckmans’s writings.

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Published in April 2018, no. 400
Ian Donaldson

Ian Donaldson

Ian Donaldson is an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. He is General Editor of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson (2012), and author of Ben Jonson: A Life (2011). He was the Oxford theatre reviewer for The Guardian (London) for a decade.

Comments (1)

  • Leave a comment

    I enjoyed reading his metculate philosophical,moral and social writing .He was honest
    knowledgeable and direct without hesitation.

    Sunday, 01 April 2018 19:40 posted by Iradj Nabavi-Tabrizi

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