geoff dyer

“I love to watch the most banal things,” Frank has said, “things that move.” Many of the pictures - even those taken from a stable, fixed spot - look like they were taken on the move. America was becoming a place to be seen from a car, a country that could be seen without stopping. In Frank’s pictures, it is as if the camera only just succeeded in stopping time…The sense of being constantly in motion contributes to what has often been remarked on: the grim, bleak quality of Frank’s pictures. But there is also a snatched, self-cancelling lyricism, a grainy yearning that never quite has the opportunity to manifest itself fully. Articulating something similar, John Cheever confided to his journal that “this nomadic, roadside civilisation was the creation of the loneliest travellers the world has ever seen”. Unlike Kerouac - who considered Frank’s view of urinals “the loneliest picture ever made” - Cheever did not have Frank or any other photographer in mind when he wrote this; but his “vision of the waywardness of man and the blessings of velocity” serves as a sidelong commentary on a world glimpsed and preserved in The Americans.

- from The Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer

You can be in a state of generalised longing with­out knowing quite what it is that you long for. This might be the purest form of longing, the most dif­ficult to assuage, the least susceptible to being brought to an end, the kind capable of lasting longest—so much so that it can become all but ­indistinguishable from a generalised ­condition of existence.

prabuddha dasgupta (1956-2012)

Best Books I Read in 2013

Two things. I am going to restrict this list to only include books I actually finished in 2013 and, as well, their being all, in my opinion, five-star wonders.  I tend to compulsively read authors grouped into what I call studies as a way in which to deny my addictive nature, it seems, for buying books in bulk thinking I might want to read them at some point in my life. I already possess more books on my shelves than I could ever read in what remains of this lifetime, but my general practice is to continue to purchase additional reading possibilities to insure myself of some bullshit sense of immortality. Hence, I do own quite an extensive library of hardcover gems. If I really like an author I tend to read several books in a line until I get worn out by reading the same writer, or in some cases, bored.

My greatest discovery for 2013 was Josef Winkler. I doubt I will finish The Serfs before I present this list, but I can include two other titles that just knocked me out. Those being When the Time Comes and Flowers for Jean Genet

The book that saved my winter vacation back at the beginning of the year was The Tanners by Robert Walser.  I also read The Microscripts among other Walser titles I finished this year but these two were by far the best of the bunch.

W. G. Sebald was another writer I couldn’t be happier to have in my collection. Almost anything he wrote moved me in ways seldom achieved by most others. Even books about Sebald knocked me out and I cannot say enough good about this man and what a shame it is that he is no longer with us. Among the 2013 five star wonders were The Emigrants, Vertigo, On the Natural History of Destruction,  A Place in the Country, Unrecounted, Narratives Unsettled: Digression in Robert Walser, Thomas Bernhard, and Adalbert Stifter, and The Emergence of Memory. 

Thomas Bernhard is another of my favorite writers and I reread Three Novellas and again gave it the five stars it deserves. 

Stefan Zweig took up much of my reading time as well this past year and of all the fiction I read of his I rated Confusion the highest and also was thrilled with his study of Holderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche.  

The Essential Interviews starring Bob Dylan was another great collection to sink my teeth into. My youngest son actually recommended this title to me.  

I love to champion the work of Jason Schwartz and his latest book John the Posthumous was a dandy. Seems there are many other readers now who feel the same way about Schwartz as I do.

G.B. Edwards wrote a book titled The Book of Ebenezer Le Page which I struggled with initially and then by the time I was finished with it thought I had read something very special. A real treat and a work that should last as long as humans have heart.

Another amazing discovery was the Australian author Gerald Murnane who captivated me to no end. Of the books of his I read in 2013 I felt Landscape with Landscape and The Plains both worthy of a rating of five stars.

One of the hardest struggles I had in 2013 was with the title A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgård.  Five stars and worth all the trouble in reading it. 

Another title that knocked me out this year was Senselessness by Horatio Castellanos Moya.  

A brilliant lyrical piece and actually written by a kid was titled The Cardboard House by Martín Adán.

Heinrich von Kleist wrote The Marquise of O and Other Stories. I learned about this title by reading the Stefan Zweig study on Kleist listed above. 

In the past I have read much of Sándor Márai and this year brought me another great work titled Esther’s Inheritance. 

Geoff Dyer has run hot and cold for me through the years but his title Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room was a feast to read and led me back to certain film studies I had grown weary of. 

Because of my love for the Hungarian film director Bela Tarr and newfound Aussie writer Gerald Murnane I was notified of this fairly new periodical and I absolutely loved both issues that I ordered from them. The titles were Music & Literature, Issues #2 and #3.

I was constantly surprised by how much people didn’t know. That’s one of the things about traveling, one of the things you learn: many people in the world, even educated ones, don’t know much, and it doesn’t actually matter at all.
—  Geoff Dyer, Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It
Photographing Borges

Richard Avedon … wanted to photograph Borges (‘I photograph what I’m most afraid of, and Borges was blind’) and, in 1975, he flew to Buenos Aires to do exactly that. En route, Avedon learned that Borges’s mother – with whom the writer had lived almost his entire life – had just died that very day. Avedon assumed the session would be cancelled but the great writer received him as arranged, at four o'clock, sitting on a sofa in 'gray light’. Borges told Avedon that he admired Kipling and gave him precise instructions as to where a particular volume of his verse was to be found on the shelves. Avedon read a poem aloud and then Borges recited an Anglo-Saxon elegy. All the while the dead mother lay in an adjoining room. Later Avedon took some photographs. He was 'overwhelmed with feeling’ but the photographs turned out to be 'emptier’ than he had hoped. 'I thought I had somehow been so overwhelmed that I brought nothing of myself to the portrait’.

Four years later Avedon read an account by Paul Theroux of an identical visit – the dim lighting, Kipling, the Anglo-Saxon elegy – and saw his failure in a new light: Borges’s 'performance permitted no interchange. He had taken his own portrait long before, and I could only photograph that.’ Is it an exaggeration to say that the photographer was left with nothing to see, that he was, effectively, blinded by the writer?

This is not the end of the story, however, for Avedon photographed Borges again the following year, in New York. As in almost all of Avedon’s portraits the subject is framed by a sheer expanse of white. This one shows an old man in a pin-stripe suit with messed-up eyes and white eyebrows looking, in Adam Gopnik’s unforgiving phrase, 'not sage but vaguely comical in his complacent blindness’. The key word here is 'vaguely’; not a word one associates with Avedon who is normally the most exacting of photographers. Unusually for an Avedon picture it lacks psychological focus, as if Borges’s blindness impairs the reciprocity of intention on which the photographer depends. Or perhaps the opposite is true: it brings sharply into focus a shortcoming in the photographer, suggesting that there was a potential for complacency not just in Borges but in Avedon’s unyielding adherence to his own method.

Geoff Dyer, The Ongoing Moment 43-44 (Pantheon, 2005)

Excellent book I am reading it now. I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in what lies behind a photograph and the history of photography.

Geoff Dyer’s ten rules for writing fiction

1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over—or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.”

Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris,dans les cafés … Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.

3 Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.

4 If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto-correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche,” “phoy” becomes “photography” and so on. Genius!

5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.

6 Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.

Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.

8 Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought—even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.

Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.

10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.


prabuddha dasgupta

Longing is not always oriented toward the future. It can as easily be retrospective. You can long for what you have ­already experienced. Sexual fantasies, for example, are memories (sometimes slightly improved on) as often as they are inventions, albeit memories that are in danger of fading even as they are summoned.

Nor is longing always person- or object-specific. You can be in a state of generalized longing with­out knowing quite what it is that you long for. This might be the purest form of longing, the most dif­ficult to assuage, the least susceptible to being brought to an end, the kind capable of lasting longest—so much so that it can become all but ­indistinguishable from a generalized ­condition of existence…“

- Geoff Dyer (The Paris Review)