by Geoff Dyer
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Pub. Date: January 2003
Geoff Dyer is a man who "lives in London where he spends much of his time wishing he lived in San Francisco." That's what it says on the jacket of "Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It," and it's exactly the feeling of restlessness one gets from Dyer's most recent book.
Cambodia, Libya, New Orleans, Bali, Amsterdam, Detroit - "Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It" is more of a travelogue than the Self-Helplessness book suggested by its title. But the journey logged is less geographical than psychological - an edgy ramble through the mind of the author as world traveler. In these 11 short vignettes, Dyer recounts vividly the particulars of a decade of wanderlust. Instead of a sequential narrative, Dyer gives us, "an endless accretion - a kind of negative archeology - of material."
Geoff Dyer is something of a drifter, as the title of the first piece, "Horizontal Drift," suggests. He takes his loneliness, his listlessness, and his general self-dissatisfaction with him wherever he goes, along with his Tevas. He treads among the details, finding evidence of the sublime therein and relaying it to his readers. A haircut in Cambodia: "This barber had only one leg and spoke no English, but his ability to cut my hair - which he did skillfully, with considerable pride - was in no way compromised by either lack."
Dyer seems to glide effortlessly through landscape after landscape, despite himself, pulling the reader along with oftentimes deliciously palpable descriptions.
"We'd never seen anything as green as these rice paddies. It was not just the paddies themselves: the surrounding vegetation - foliage so dense the trees lost track of whose leaves were whose - was a rainbow coalition of one colour: green. There was an infinity of greens, rendered all the greener by splashes of red hibiscus and herons floating past, so white and big it seemed as if sheets hung out to dry had suddenly taken wing. All other colours - even purple and black - were shades of green. Light and shade were degrees of green. Greenness, here, was less a colour than a colonizing impulse."
Throughout "Yoga," Dyer accesses a number of vehicles - mainly hallucinogenic drugs - to obtain a "peak experience." It is this goal that drives him from well-known destination to places like Libya's Leptis Magna and back again. It is the very root of his fascination with an elderly suicide in South Beach, Miami and the reason he becomes paralyzed watching pornography in a Detroit hotel room.
His use of drugs in these stories is not incidental. When Dyer's skunk-crazed Parisian companion ditches him after obsessively scratching her number from his notebook, or in Amsterdam, when he arrives at a friend's posh hotel high on mushrooms and his pants inside-out, Dyer's use of drugs is absolutely essential. We would not, however, be moved by Dyer's prose were he merely some stoned idiot recanting his narcotic escapades. We certainly wouldn't eagerly follow Dyer into the personal minutiae of his existence - two pages on his missing sunglasses - were it not for his consistent ability to wrest from these tales, keen and sometimes comical insights into the nature of being.
Geoff Dyer is comfortable, at home even, with his indolence, his perpetual lassitude. He mentions his interest in Frank O'Hara's "I do this I do that" poems and briefly considers "founding a counter-movement along the lines of 'I did not do this and I did not do that' but predictably, I did not do this."
In the final analysis, Dyer is his own phoenix, plumbing the depths of personal ruination before arising from the ashes in the "unmediated creativity" he finds in Black Rock City, Nevada at the 1999 Burning Man festival. One part "energetic torpor," one part incisive philosophical commentary, "Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It" is an engaging, often hilarious map of Geoff Dyer's landscape, worth the expedition.