Geoff Dyer – an aristocratic essayist

We're here to go somewhere else
COMPASSION? / A mixture of helplessness and arrogance: Have the Knausgård fans got someone they can identify with?


Flame Forlag has published a third book of essays by Geoff Dyer. This time we get two books in one, translated travel essays from 2003 and 2016. Dyer is a restless soul who has traveled everywhere. In the book from 2003 this is combined with a large intake of intoxicants. Substance experiments can be interesting, from the novelist De Quincy's opium dreams to Aldous Huxley's mescaline intake in Recognition gates to Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo project Fear and loathing in Las Vegas – where Hunter covered the drug police congress by taking in an arsenal of various drugs. These books have gone into canon. But no one gets brilliant just by drinking alcohol, smoking hashish or dropping LSD.

Dyer is good proof of that. A hundred pages out in the book he realizes it himself. But of late, the reader has long since drawn the same conclusion: "On one level, I realized that I had been fooling myself: that all intellectual discipline and ambitions of previous years had dissolved into half-hearted drug abuse, helplessness and disappointment, that I lacked goals. and direction and knew even less about what I wanted out of life now than when I was twenty […] »

Everything can be used

Dyer's self-esteem makes it hard to remember any of the people he meets. And the women he is fascinated with are reduced to wearing red bikinis or Dyer speculating on the size of their panties under the dress. Dyer still appears social and sympathetic: he becomes "friends" with people in five minutes.

The topics he writes about are also poorly remembered after reading. What remains is Dyer's distinctive personality. Wherever he travels, he meets himself in the doorway: "I had spent the last fifteen years dragging the same bar of frustrated expectations with me from one corner of the world to the other." who has chosen a "persona" or an essayistic mask he hides behind. Behind the role play, Dyer repeats a pattern of action that limits his radius of action as an essayist: "We're here to go somewhere else." For Dyer, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

The impressive thing about Dyer is that he – as he says in an essay on Paul Gauguin – is constantly trying to turn his weaknesses into advantages. Being unprepared, unable to write, feeling unhappy – everything can be used. No matter how damn dyer it is, the disorder can be turned into essayism. In fact, it is one of the things that sells at Dyer that he is so poor. We wonder if he'll do it or if he'll break down. He is all alone and depressed in a strange place where he knows no one. Dyer awakens our compassion. We hope he makes it survive. This trick causes one to uncritically overlook his arrogance. For almost everything he writes about, he treats disrespect – subjectively arbitrary without going into it properly.


It is this mixture of helplessness and arrogance that we find in many modern essayists. Therefore, the debate about whether the essay is an "aristocratic" genre cannot be canceled, as Ane Farsethås suggests in a well-written essay at the end of the interview book Limit (2018). Admittedly, some have been honored for their writing, such as novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie in 2007. But Dyer is from the working class.

When the essayist is "aristocratic on the sender side," as Georg Johannesen has argued, the nobility must be understood in a transferred sense. It refers to the essayist's subjective arbitrariness, that he is superior to his theme and does as he pleases: "I crap in conveying what happened, the main thing is that I get a kick myself."

Nobody gets brilliant just by drinking alcohol, smoking hashish or dropping LSD

Nothing indicates that the personal essay must be aristocratic in this way. But why then do we see this trend? The globalized world is incomprehensible and incomprehensible. Many feel powerless.

The self-delivery wave and the aristocratic essay try to cope with this situation. German sociologist Ulrich Beck (1944–2015) has highlighted globalization and individualization as two dominant trends – and Dyer is an involuntary parody of the synthesis of these two: His frenetic travel business is an extreme variant of the trend of globalization. The individualization consists in a neurotransmitter repeating its coercive actions in various parts of the world. This synthesis of powerlessness and powerlessness is typical of our time. Despite reflecting, Dyer appears to be a victim of this contradiction: he reproduces a fundamental tension in culture.

Adorno and jazz

In the travel essays from 2016, Dyer dropped the drugs and traveled with his wife. He visits philosopher Theodor W. Adorno's residence outside Los Angeles, where he lived in exile in the 1940s. In his house there is nothing reminiscent of Adorno. Dyer needs to spice up this travel essay with quotes from Adorno's culturally critical essay collection Minima Moralia (1951, in Norwegian in 2010), which was written in the United States.

Geoff dyer

Dyer tries to convey Adorno. He attacks Adorno's cultural criticism and the philosopher's snobbish attitude to Hollywood and the cultural industry. And of course, Adorno is too categorical – his criticism of the Jazz is hopeless. But here Adorno's criticism is striking that the jazz crushes the individual through their chord forms. This is not true of all jazz, where Adorno was wrong. But the worse the jazz, the more the form characterizes individual improvisation. The result is cliché.

Dyer's essay style has often been compared to jazz improvisations, but Dyer's prose is like the improvisation of a bad jazz musician: He is shut down in his essay form.

When the compulsory depiction of substance abuse, practical entanglements or health problems are intertwined, the essay is in the box. Along the way, Dyer flatter the reader's inferiority complexes by making himself as small and pitiful as possible. Here Knausgård fans have got one they can identify with: Karl Ove recently stated that he has such low self-esteem that he feels "like a dog".

Reluctance and weakness

After reading everything that has been translated at Flame Forlag, I am on track with Geoff Dyer. I wish him your pepper'n grows. The only problem is that he's probably been there too – eating mushrooms or testing out a local drug. And of course written "essay" about it.

This year is 50 years since Adorno died – a few lines from Adornos Minima Moralia can seem liberating after 350 pages with Dyer: "Humility and not believing that you are better than others is the same. By adapting to the weakness of the oppressed, one reaffirms the premise of power and develops even the coarseness, lethargy and brutality needed to exercise power. ”

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