Geoff Dyer is fond of taking potshots at literary academics. He devotes considerable time in one of his novels to a professor whose speech at a conference goes off the rails. Which is why it’s odd that, in mid-July, the author showed up at a conference devoted to — what else? — his own work. (It’s apropos to point out here that our own Mark O’Connell wrote a great essay for Slate about Dyer.)
When I first travelled, I was naive, sloppy, wide-eyed, and nothing happened to me. That’s probably where the dumb luck came in. Then I began to read the guidebooks, the State Department warnings, the endless elucidation of national norms, cultural cues and insults and regional dangers, and I became wary, careful, savvy. I kept my money taped inside my shoe, or strapped to my stomach. I took any kind of precaution, believing that the people of this area did this, and the people of that province did that. But then, finally, I realised no one of any region did anything I have ever expected them to do, much less anything the guidebooks said they would. Instead, they behaved as everyone behaves, which is to say they behave as individuals of damnably infinite possibility. Anyone could do anything, in theory, but most of the time everyone everywhere acts with plain bedrock decency, helping where help is needed, guiding where guidance is necessary. It’s almost weird.
He stops to tell us that he must be up early in the morning – to get down to the factory. The factory is gone, his men are gone, but he still seems to be in charge of something.