Friday April 15th, 2011

The (Non)Anxiety of (American) Influence

geoffdyerIn what is my best decision of 2011 so far, I’m on a Geoff Dyer kick. Having meant to read him for a pretty long time, I recently finished Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It. Last night I bought the new collection of his essays and reviews, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, which I dipped into briefly, and Out of Sheer Rage, his book about not writing a book about D. H. Lawrence, the work that probably did the most to cement his reputation as both a brilliant, hilarious writer and an impossible-to-categorize follower of whims and neuroses. I’m 50 pages in and loving it.

Dyer was recently interviewed at The Rumpus, where this exchange, among others, took place:

Rumpus: British writers often come across as biased against their American counterparts, as though they still think of us as their dumb younger brothers to be laughed at and maybe sometimes condescendingly patted on the head. You, though, seem to have a great interest in and respect for American literature. What is it about American literature that attracts you and why?

Dyer: I actually disagree completely with the premise of this question. I think many British readers and writers have found American writing to be way more inspiring than British literature. I think it’s to do with the voice, that lovely demotic richness of American English. And there seems a greater freedom in U.S. fiction to just go with the voice, to roll with it. People tend not to do that in Britain so much unless it’s a very obviously ― and often history-driven ― kind of ventriloquism. The great exception of course is Martin Amis, which is why we are so in thrall to him. But, you know, it’s not just American writing; I love America and, in so far as one can generalize, Americans.

I sent that excerpt to a friend, and she wrote back about the U.S. and the UK, “Each of us wants what the other has!”