In the last two decades, no writer has played around with the boundaries of literary genres as Geoff Dyer has. He’s written about music, war and travel; often blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction. In a chat with Amrita Madhukalya, he explains how natural it is for him to ruffle genres, and that he has long been a fan of Indian classical music.
Below are edited excerpts of the interview:
You’re this liberating thing for literature, fleeting across genres, messing things up. Are you a rebel?
There is no intention to rebel, or to be perverse. It comes rather naturally to me. It makes the act of writing more interesting to me; if I’m trying to arrive at something unusual. I like discovering a new form that is appropriate to a particular subject.
Is the form more important than the subject?
Not really. I always arrive at a form during the process of writing a rather formless mass of material. At some point the material generates the potential for some kind of form that is appropriate to the subject.
What led you to write on DH Lawrence?
I like his writing a great deal. As a young person, I was so compassionately in love with Lawrence.
He’s been a greatly influential figure in my life. I thought his life was, to put it mildly, incredibly interesting. And, when I’m writing about myself in the book, it was a way of dramatising in the present some aspects of Lawrence’s life, the way he was living it in the 1910s and 1920s.
Let’s talk about cultural criticism, considering that you have done a fair deal of that.
I do less of it as I get older. There are times you want to investigate why a painting, a piece of music or a book has a certain effect on you. Sometimes a page might be enough. But in the case of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, I needed 200 pages to do justice to the film in Zona. It’s a straight piece of non-fiction, yet very far from what Antony Beevor might write.
With Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It, you’ve written the essential India travel book. Do you love India?
Of course, I do. Sometimes it can get irritating, but it never gets boring. There’s a lot to see, to smell and to hear. The British influence in India is still so strong; yet it’s candour, not like the British. I like a country where people don’t spend their entire time apologising for things they do or how things are, like they do in England. India is a great country, but somehow it is cobbling together some sort of solutions to what are often quite ludicrous problems.
One of the main reasons I wanted to come to India, is that for the longest time, I loved Indian classical music. For Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, I came across two classical music concerts in Varanasi — one being vocal, the other being violin. That experience was quite something.
So what’s next?
I have a book out in May. It’s about my time on the USS George Bush – the American aircraft carrier. It starts as a straightforward reportage, and then it becomes unusual. But I must add, I don’t discuss the rights and wrongs of the American government.