Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews
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*Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism*
*A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice*
*A New York Times Top 10 Nonfiction Book of the Year, as selected by Dwight Garner*
Geoff Dyer has earned the devotion of passionate fans on both sides of the Atlantic through his wildly inventive, romantic novels as well as several brilliant, uncategorizable works of nonfiction. All the while he has been writing some of the wittiest, most incisive criticism we have on an astonishing array of subjects―music, literature, photography, and travel journalism―that, in Dyer's expert hands, becomes a kind of irresistible self-reportage.
Otherwise Known as the Human Condition collects twenty-five years of essays, reviews, and misadventures. Here he is pursuing the shadow of Camus in Algeria and remembering life on the dole in Brixton in the 1980s; reflecting on Richard Avedon and Ruth Orkin, on the status of jazz and the wonderous Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, on the sculptor ZadKine and the saxophonist David Murray (in the same essay), on his heroes Rebecca West and Ryszard Kapus´cin´ski, on haute couture and sex in hotels. Whatever he writes about, his responses never fail to surprise. For Dyer there is no division between the reflective work of the critic and the novelist's commitment to lived experience: they are mutually illuminating ways to sharpen our perceptions. His is the rare body of work that manages to both frame our world and enlarge it.
means that the massacre at Oradour is exempt from controversy—for the presence of even one maquisard would have implicated the village in its fate. Faced with “terrorist acts,” the Germans often established a reprisal ratio, declaring, for example, that for every German soldier injured by résistants, ten civilians would be killed. But however it is reckoned, the essence of a reprisal is that it must be so far in excess of the original offense as to annihilate the possibility of
edge-of-the-envelope stuff for all to see, unhindered by anything as tedious as budgetary restriction. It lasted ten minutes, after which I expected to see either the planes’ designers or the Air Vice Marshal take a victory roll. Next up was Lacroix at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. The models emerged from a seaweed tangle of glowing bulbs, luxuriant as the growth of an electrically powered forest, the entrance to a grotto of unimaginable fabulousness. The runway was curved and
normal. It took years for me to understand that I had grown up in relative poverty. If we had enough money for everything we needed, that was only because of the extent to which economizing—a voluntary extension of the rationing introduced during the Second World War—had been thoroughly internalized. As with most things connected with parental influence, this later manifested itself in my behavior in two contradictory ways. As soon as I left home I became a splurger: if I bought a bar of
impossible: in this case, what if you could hear every note of Beethoven’s sonatas in an instant? What would that look like? And when we think of a piece of music that we know well, don’t we sometimes remember it not phrase by phrase, but in its amorphous entirety? It is often said that photographers freeze time but Khan does the opposite. This can be seen most clearly in his remixes of Eadweard Muybridge’s motion studies of the 1880s (a well-documented source of inspiration for Francis Bacon).
fiction. Of course, one could easily imagine a novelist taking none of the liberties enjoyed by Bigelow. But we would be left, then, with a novel that was almost a carbon copy of the best of the nonfiction books discussed here. For the assumed skills of the novelist—an eye for telling detail, stylistic flair, and so on—are deployed in abundance by many of these reporters, at least the ones who are (there’s no dodging this bullet so we might as well bite it) American. Within every comparable