Saturday, December 17, 2005
A review by John Berger of Geoff Dyer's The Ongoing Moment led me to read it. Only later I realized that Dyer had written a book about Berger and they were linked as writers-polymaths, interested in tracing out ideas of interest to them without real reference to external systems of logic--mixing observation, reflection, philosophy, fact and speculation in idiosyncratic amalgamations that are often beautifully written.
In Dyer's case, this was a book about photography, that is built around looping associations of subjects, rather than chronology, photographer, style, or any other typical referent. Dyer constructs dialogs between photographers based around intent (implied or explicit) and results across common subjects--blind people, men's hats, gas stations, white picket fences, out car windows. Though it can be self-indulgent in places, it mostly delightful and strange and thought provoking--it is one of those books that seems full of novels--seeds that could easily spawn epics. For those of you wrestling with what to write about, here is some starter yeast, courtesy of Dyer. If you can't make a novel out of one of these (or at least a good short story), you might want to think about another vocation.

Seed #1
From Diane Arbus: "...people who appear like metaphors somewhere further out than we do, beckoned,not driven, invented by belief, each the author and hero of a real dream by which our own courage and cunning are testing and tried; so that we may wonder all over again what is veritable and inevitable and possible and what it is to become whoever we may be." Ok, so The Great Gatsby has already been written, but it could easily be another, or another dozen.

Seed #2
From a description of Paris, from Colin Westerbeck: "More than a time, night is a place here."

Seed #3
Dyer himself: "The value of a life cannot be assessed chronologically, sequentially. If that were the case then the only bit that matters--like the closing instants of a race--would be how you felt in the seconds before your death....the acts that redeem a life can come in advance of everything requiring redemption. Chronology can, sometimes, obscure this." That should be sending novels screaming from your fingertips--the idea not of sinning and working to redemption, but of being redeemed and then falling into a state requiring the redemption already achieved/won....

Seed #4
From Cheever's Journals: "The most wonderful thing about life seems to be that we hardly tap our potential for self-destruction. We may desire it, it may be what we dream of, but we are dissuaded by a beam of light, a change in the wind." As suits Cheever, maybe better for a story in itself, but a long and dense and a rich one--digging into our thwarted dreams of self-destruction.

Seed #5
Dyer: "The fact that someone is passing through makes those who are staying put conscious of their fate so that their resignation becomes disturbed and unsettled by the possibility--even if it is never acted upon--of moving on. In turn moving on acquires a taint of desperation: the fear of being one of the abandoned, one of those doomed to stay put." Both sides contaminated by the idea of movement becoming a permanent disconnection from pleasure--the doom of staying put that eradicates the possibility of now--sort of the dark underside of Black Elk's idea that anywhere can be the center of the world.

Seed #6
Dyer again: "These were colors that emptied the world, made it seem like a dream--not a human dream, but the dream a room or road might have of itself." The dreams of roads and rooms--not just a seed, but nearly an excellent title for your fine short story collection.

You are welcome. I will await the fruits of your labors.


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