Monday, April 28, 2014

"Otherwise Known as the Human Condition"

"Otherwise Known as the Human Condition" is a collection of essays and reviews written by Geoff Dyer from the late 1980's until 2009.  It was published in 2011 but somehow missed here, unusual since at least seven of his wide ranging books have been read here over the years and he is followed with interest.  No matter, it was a good find now, a smorgasbord of Dyer's writing to choose from.

 For the reader, the beauty of a book of essays like this is that one can pick and choose what to read and in what order.  There is no linear requirement.  This book is broken into five thematic sections: Visuals; Verbals; Musicals; Variables; and Personals.  The easiest reading and initially most interesting part of the book as read here was Personals, as that is a section of vignettes about Dyer's life.  Having followed him closely here as a writer,  still little was known about him except the basics.  In Personals, his life is laid out to some extent, his history, character, and quirks made clear, and his widely dispersed energy made transparent, or so it seems.

Variables is essentially essays that don't fit into a clear category, Visuals is focused for the most part on photography, Verbals on literature, and Musicals biased toward jazz but with an appearance by Def Leppard.

Everything written here is characterized by Dyer's searching generalist mind.  He basically has no limits to where his interests could range and has cut out an almost uniquely varied writing career for himself in fiction, non-fiction, and opinion on a wide variety of topics.  If he likes something, his attitude is that the best way to learn about it is to do research and write a book about it.  He was interested in photography so he wrote "The Ongoing Moment" even though he does not take photographs except for infrequent snaps of friends with a bare basics camera.  His first revelations about literature came from reading D.H. Lawrence so he wrote "Out of Sheer Rage", a tour de force on writing, literature, and a highly entertaining view of D. H. Lawrence as the centering theme.  He loves jazz, so he wrote "but beautiful", venturing only where "experts" on jazz dare to tread.  In all of this and in these essays, a precocious sense of humor pervades his writing style, subtle at times, evoking a spontaneous laugh at others.

As might be appropriate, the next to last essay in this book is "Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (with particular reference to Doughnut Plant doughnuts)" and if there is a Dyer world view, it is hidden in plain sight here.   


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