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Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews Paperback – March 29, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1555975791 ISBN-10: 1555975798 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; First Edition edition (March 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555975798
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555975791
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,078 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this new collection of previously published writings, Dyer (Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi) traverses a broad territory stretching from photographers such as Richard Avedon and William Gedney (His gaze is neither penetrating nor alert but, on reflection, we would amend that verdict to accepting); musicians Miles Davis and Def Leppard; writers like D.H. Lawrence, Ian McEwan, and Richard Ford; as well as personal ruminations on, say, reader's block. In a fond tribute to the power and beauty of Albert Camus's life and work, Dyer reflects on his own encounters with the writer's work in Algeria: Coming here and sitting by this monument, rereading these great essays, testaments to all that is the best in us, is a way of delivering personally my letter of thanks. In a masterful essay on W.G. Sebald and Thomas Bernhard, Dyer writes: The comic obsessiveness and neurosis common to many of Sebald's characters is like a sedated version of the relentless, raging frenzy into which Bernhard's narrators habitually drive themselves. Dyer's writing does what the best critical writing always does, encouraging us to view, read, or listen closely to art, literature, and music as well as to pay close attention to various cultural forms and their impact on our personal lives. (Mar.)
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Praise for Otherwise Known as the Human Condition
"Mr. Dyer's new book, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, is a collection of his occasional prose. . . . They're 'bits and bobs,' he writes, but he takes them more seriously than that, and so should anyone who cares about joyous, wriggling sentences composed in the English language." Dwight Garner, The New York Times
"There's a restless current to these essays, as if a net were being thrown ever wider in search of fresh versions of that original burst of aesthetic delight, literature, which managed to turn a working-class grammar school boy from Cheltenham into an international 'man of letters.' . . . This is what I find most remarkable about Dyer: his tone. Its simplicity, its classlessness, its accessibility and yet its erudition--the combination is a trick few British writers ever pull off. . . . [Dyer's humor is] what separates him from Berger and Lawrence and Sontag: it's what makes these essays not just an education, but a joy." Zadie Smith, Harper's Magazine 
"You read Dyer for his caustic wit, of course, his exquisite and perceptive crankiness, and his deep and exciting intellectual connections, but from these enthralling rants and cultural investigations there finally emerges another Dyer, a generous seeker of human feeling and experience, a man perhaps closer than he thinks to what he believes his hero Camus achieved: 'a heart free of bitterness.'" Sam Lipsyte, Very Short List
"Dyer's writing does what the best critical writing always does, encouraging us to view, read, or listen closely to art, literature, and music as well as to pay close attention to various cultural forms and their impact on our personal lives." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"All of Dyer's work holds together very well indeed, but what holds it together is a voice, which becomes a persona. It's a very English, low-key, plainspoken, unassuming voice that invites you in, and can become intimate but not too intimate, and can smoothly transit between comedy and gravity. It takes on flesh in his reported pieces and personal essays and some of his fiction, and there it is often richly and sometimes darkly comic--self deprecating, stubborn, canny, forlorn, worldly, hapless, serious, romantic, dissipated." Luc Sante, Bookforum
"While contemporary writers such as David Shields decry the need to erase the lines between fiction and nonfiction, for years, Dyer has been exemplar, churning out smart essays with his own cocktail of fact and fiction, private and public, myth and truth and has proven that rigorous criticism and writing arises out of more than just an esoteric bookshelf. Good writing, it appears, begins with seeking what moves us." Bookslut

"[These are] brilliantly witty, surprising essays." The Daily Beast

"Geoff Dyer has won several prizes, all deserved. When you read accounts of Dyer's work you'll find praiseful critics comparing him to vast numbers of writers, hurling their comparisons into the useless heap that follows him everywhere he goes. I myself often think of G.K. Chesterton for the constant and dazzling flow of paradoxes in his prose." Jonathan Lethem, BOMB

"The essay collection 'is considered a pretty low form of book,' in Dyer's estimation, and yet Otherwise Known may be Dyer's masterpiece: a living journal documenting the wealth of his interests, the depth of his insights, and a stealthily powerful argument for the essay, not the novel, as the richest mode of contemporary letters. . . . And let us be thankful that this polymath chose to ignore his father's own words of wisdom: 'Never put anything in writing.'" —The Boston Globe

"Again and again, Dyer pairs an uncommonly precise description of what a particular artist does with an equally compelling, unexpected reason for why it is important. There are few more valuable things that a critics can accomplish in a review, . . . and Dyer's mastery of them is a testament to his achievement." —The Barnes & Noble Review

More About the Author

Geoff Dyer is the author of four novels and six other nonfiction books, including But Beautiful, which was awarded the Somerset Maugham Prize, and Out of Sheer Rage, which was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. The winner of a Lannan Literary Award, the International Centre of Photography's 2006 Infinity Award for writing on photography, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters' E. M. Forster Award, Dyer is a regular contributor to many publications in the US and UK. He lives in London. For more information visit Geoff Dyer's official website: www.geoffdyer.com

Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Travis on June 1, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I don't normally write reviews on Amazon but for this book I simply had to. Dyer's essays are amazing! I'm only 50 or so pages into the book but I had to sit down and write this review right now. I know that my opinion will not change - it's a wonderful book! Being a Literature person in college and grad school, I've heard of a lot of the folks Geoff is writing about in the "Verbals" section, but as for the other sections, I'm mostly clueless. Sure I've heard of Avedon and Metinides and Rodin and Def Leppard. But do I know anything about them, really? Other than that they were photographers or sculptors or musicians? No! But that's the really great thing about this book: you don't need to know a thing about any of these people, or their work, to appreciate what Dyer is saying about them. It's all fairly philosophical and subjective and meandering....and beautiful. He mixes quick, torpedo-like statements of opinion with drifting and rambling thoughts. It feels like Dyer wrote the book with the intention of readers strolling through it slowly, as if they're walking along a winding path through a dense forest. The torpedoes are meant to shake you awake, but then, really, he just lets you keep meandering at your own pace, leisurely, pleasurably. I couldn't help but write all over the pages. Some parts go faster than others, some parts are more detailed, and some parts are more interesting. But as a whole, the entire forest is really quite beautiful. So far, reading Dyer's essays has been both fascinating and illuminating. I've learned more about photography from reading the first five essays in this book than I ever have before in my life.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Serious Fun on December 21, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I love Geoff Dyer. He's brilliant. He's hilarious. He's smart as hell. But this collection is an utter failure. The pieces are too short and too occasional to be of interest. And, believe it or not, this is a revision of a former collection of his occasional essays! My god, this guy has an ego. But, repeat, I *love* this writer, so, presumably, I should love everything he writes. But I didn't and that, my friends, is the measure of how bad this collection is. Even the piece on sex in hotels is boring. It's all sad and boring. I wish I hadn't read it, as it has diminished my abundant enthusiasm for the author.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A fellow with a keyboard on September 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
I always thought that if someone cares about something deeply enough (and provided they are reasonably good at articulating it), then I will want to read it, no matter the subject. This book kind of overturned that.

Geoff Dyer is a special species of aesthete. Or maybe just an extreme example of an aesthete. The aesthete of all aesthetes. This is a man who cares more deeply about aesthetics and beauty than most of us care about our mother. It would be fair to use the term "obsessive." He speaks of jazz musician Don Cherry with a saintly if not creepy reverence. He will plead passersby to tell him where he can find a Doughnut Plant doughnut. He will organize his entire day around the right cup of cappuccino. The man can't help but to write essays examining the merits of chained-bicycle street memorials.

This all makes for a fascinating read, at least for a while. Geoff Dyer is the first person I would go to for an assessment of an object's aesthetic merits, but reading 415 pages of those assessments was for me - someone who could fairly be called an aesthete himself - sort of tiresome.

The troubling part is that Dyer's concern for aesthetics seems to supersede his concern for anything else, like, well, people. His concern is more for the chained-bicycle street memorials than for the people they memorialize. His concern is more for the immaculate fluffiness of hotel bathrobes than for the people who wear them. His concern is more for his mate's opinion of Burning Man than it is for the woman who will be attending Burning Man with him. He calls her "the woman that I had recently started sleeping with." (Notice he uses "that" instead of "who.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 9, 2011
Format: Paperback
Dyer likes the odds-and-ends he's gathered from '89-'10. Doughnuts, desert, lots of sex and drugs, photographers, jazz, book and art and music reviews, and autobiographical fragments fill these readable pages. Even when the topic didn't interest me, at least I paid attention, in case I might get interested. The unpredictability of his observations keeps you as alert as he is to what appears total recall of whatever this enviable Oxford grad (even if working-class background and after university unemployed for a long stretch) has seen, read, or done. His diaries unearthed from the early '80s attest to both his powers of recollection and his occasional lapses, which themselves gain, ironically, lavish documentation in his attempts at recalling when he was fired, when he met so-and-so, when he bedded her, when he got high with him, while thriving on the dole.

He has somehow constructed a career "as a gate-crasher" doing whatever he wants, writing when he wishes, wandering when he doesn't, or when he gets a magazine to pay for his expenses to write. A Serbian bus driver, sex in hotels, Airfix model planes and Marvel comics, unwanted books, being an only child. What appeals here as in his fiction and travel reporting and non-fiction remains his ability to capture a restless, disheveled mood. In Algeria, he remembers his stay. "In a restaurant--womanless, smoky--I order a beer. It comes in a green bottle and that is the major pleasure it affords. The food--chicken, brochettes, couscous--comes on a plate and half of it stays there."

One aspect that could have improved this collection? It begins with many eloquent essays from catalogues of photographic exhibits. Yet, few photos are included.
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