Book Review

Anglo-English Attitudes by Geoff Dyer

Photo on 09-10-2015 at 17.29

I’m writing this on my phone, stood in the queue at the Apple Store where I’ve gone to replace my computer, which broke over a month ago.

I’ve been here half an hour and am nowhere close to buying the computer I’ve come for. If this had been quick, I’d be home by now. “Express service”? Bollocks. I’m too angry to write anything other than complaints, so am going to hold off until I get home where, hopefully, my review of Dyer’s collection of essays will be the first thing I write on my new computer. I mean, that can only happen if they sell it to me, I travel home, boot it up, set it up and sit down to type for an hour before I have to go to work. Which looks fucking unlikely.

The other people in the Apple Store are annoying. I overheard a couple of people discussing the merits of corporal punishment on children and how their parents (one of whom’s dad smashed his phone to pieces because he arrived home half an hour later than expected from a party) were way too lenient. No one else is this queue looks as pissed off as I am. Everyone looks like a twat. Do I look like I twat? I’m wearing a suede jacket, black trousers splattered with white spots, a t shirt that is fully covered in the design of a stained glass window depicting the annunciation, multi-coloured Nike airs and I’m carrying a massive bag from Agnes B.

I probably do.

And as I make this realisation, I am summoned to collection.

///

Now on a bus going home, pretty certain I managed to sneak on without paying the fare, but I’m not certain. I don’t think the machine beeped at my card, but the conductor thought it did, and I didn’t argue. I’m not an idiot.

So, terrible service and terrible people* in the Covent Garden Apple Store aside, it did give me a few moments of peace with Anglo-English Attitudes, Geoff Dyer’s late 90s collection of journalism, essays and reviews written over the preceding 10/15 years.

Exactly the same as Working the Room (the collection of his assorted writings from 99 through to 2010 – review here), the book is split into several sections, with the amount of interest the topics hold for me increasing as the book goes on. There are articles on literary theory, photography and art history – essays of a pretty high-brow and, for me, less engrossing, tone; there are then sections about boxing, about jazz, about travel, about literature, about extreme sports (not very Geoff, I know!) and a few articles about Geoff’s childhood in Cheltenham in the 1960s, with a focus on Action Man, American comics and Airfix.

In comparison to the later collection, Anglo-English Attitudes is much less nostalgic. Though there are, yes, articles about childhood, all the pieces talking about 20-something promiscuity and drug use that borderline overwhelm Working the Room are absent. The 30-something Dyer has no need to reimagine his escapades of a decade earlier in the way that he does, alas, as a libertarian who’s sprinted past 40 and gone on to hit 50 pretty hard, still priapic, still psychedelic.

///

Now at home, and the worst possible thing has happened. I have opened my beautiful, new, (cheapest) MacBook, and one of its first prompts is to see if I have any information I can transfer from my old computer. “Yes,” I think, “But my old computer is completely ruined. Maybe there’s a way to do it just by turning it on, now that my old computer is unuseable and has been for weeks?”

And then I do turn it on, and my ol’ fucking computer is completely fine. It turns on and it works. I’m using it now. I’m typing on it now in the hope, the very big, £750 hope, that the major faults it recently had do recur. And, thankfully, they do. Things are selecting themselves, the cursor is moving, programmes are loading slowly and the machine won’t let me open iMovie. Also, it thinks I’ve moving the mouse when I’m not. And it’s 4.5 years old. And I’ve had the CPU repaired twice and the screen replaced once. Fuck it, I do need a new one. Luckily, though, I’ll still have access to-

///

In terms of my digressions, I know these are the dullest I’ve ever made.

///

I found some of Dyer’s essays dull. He repeatedly in Anglo-English Attitudes refers to his book about John Berger, Ways of Telling, as dull – but rather than Dyer’s writing I think it is his subject matter. No matter how many asides about arses or raving you put into it, an essay about literary theory is still an essay ab(YES! COMPUTER JUST DID A MAJOR FUCK-UP!!!)out literary theory. An in-depth essay about a photographer’s complete oeuvre is not just confusing, but downright alienating when the reader has no exposure to the images being discussed. Some, such as Robert Capa’s man dying in Spanish Civil War photo, yes, that is famous enough to refer to without showing it, but of the ten essays about photography in here, seven or eight were about people I hadn’t heard of, and most of them contained none of the images being discussed. I think many of these were written as introductions to reprints of photography collections, or as in-depth articles in specialist magazines. I made the exact same criticism about Working the Room – that the photography parts put me off, so maybe the lack is mine, and I should go away and read The Ongoing Moment (Dyer’s highly-acclaimed book ONLY about photography) and then revisit his essays on the topic. To be fair, I do very much enjoy his equally focused essays on literature, jazz and visual art (which I know more about), and it is only the cultural theory and the snappy snappy stuff I find trying.

And in here too there are, of course, moments of Dyer being a dick. Every time a girlfriend is mentioned, for example, she’s a different one; every time a woman is mentioned who isn’t old or the subject a critical essay, it’s usually because Dyer is (or is hoping to be) fucking her. He’s younger here, brasher. His internationalist lifestyle still seems to be something he’s not bombastically proud of – in Anglo-English Attitudes it feels less like Dyer’s bragging about his life than in Working the Room, more like he’s just fucking thrilled that his life has turned out how he’d hoped it would. He is funny, he is moving (an essay on war photography – sociohistorical rather than criticism) made me cry (though I had been drinking), and the final section of essays see him embracing the beginning of middle age, something which all the essays he wrote in the following decade completely disagree with.

Dyer was, and probably still is, incorrigible-

///

MY COMPUTER IS broken. Hooray! I’ve shifted to my gf’s to finish this off, as I don’t have enough time to boot my new one up and go to work on time. Boo hoo.

///

Geoff Dyer is able to be both informative and entertaining, and that is essentially his thing: the reader learns with him. As he mentions in the acknowledgements at the back of this book, he likes writing essays in order to learn about a topic – which is great, which shines through. He is engaged with every subject matter, even when I (as reader) am not. And as there are so many topics here – travel, music, arts, novels, poetry, childhood, war, memory, boxing, etc etc etc, it is very difficult to ever be bored. So what if you don’t want to read ten in-depth articles about photographers? Skip to the one about him refusing to do a parachute jump, skip to the one about safaris, the one about Serbia, Madrid in the 80s, Milan Kundera, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, John Coltrane, Graham Greene, Muhammed Ali, Def Leppard, Action Man.

Dyer spreads his net wide; Dyer has built a literary career on spreading his net wide, and his two essay collections offer an interesting safari, as it were, through his life. The next time I treat myself to a Dyer, though, I need to pick up one of his tighter, single-subject** books so I can enjoy him at his best.

Always a pleasure, is Geoff Dyer, on the page. Though, as I’ve said before, I don’t think he’d be fun to talk to…

___________________

* The fucking excitement in retired people’s eyes, man, it was embarrassing. Business men in their mid-30s chewing gum and audibly discussing the arses of the female staff members. Posh boys flirting instead of talking. The lowest of the low (though, I’m sure, they’d see themselves as the highest of the high): balding men with violin cases, students with more paper bags (that’s what expensive things come in, fyi) than I’ve ever bought in my life and piles and piles and piles of brand new mobile telephones, devices, machines, luring together all the most avaricious bastards of London. And me. I’m there too, observing from the inside (that’s how I feel far too much of the time – a spectator. Actually, thinking about it, isn’t that a major sign of psychiatric upset? Maybe I’m on the cusp of another collapse. Certainly all the nude pictures on this site, uploaded since the last book review, aren’t a sign of normative cognitive behaviour, are they???).

** Well, double-subject – a subject plus Geoff Dyer…

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