Dyer at the 2015 Texas Book Festival
5 June 1958 |
|Alma mater||Corpus Christi College, Oxford|
My reading of serious books about serious music is seriously compromised by the way that I can't understand any musical theory. Any mentions of D major or C minor are meaningless to me.
One of my great heroes, John Berger, he's in his 80s now. One of the reasons that he's remained young and all-around fantastic is his ongoing receptivity to new things. I think that's important.
The lesson of travel seems to be so banal, but so great, which is that people are just so amazingly decent the world over. Given the disparity of income and wealth, it's amazing not just that you don't get robbed everywhere – it's amazing you don't get eaten.
While admiring the pleasing evidence of wealth, we become complicit in – or, at the very least, recognize the extent to which we, too, are beneficiaries of – an economic system we routinely deplore.
We are moving beyond the non-fiction novel to different kinds of narrative art, different forms of cognition. Loaded with moral and political point, narrative has been recalibrated to record, honour, and protest the latest historically specific instance of futility and mess.
We have in our heads a pretty well-defined narrative of the First World War, and there are certain events that are obviously key.
I'll be writing essays long after I've stopped writing fiction. There is this unusually broad range in the non-fiction, but if you look at what I'm capable of as a novelist, I'm more limited.
We still go to nonfiction for content. And if it's well-written, that's a bonus. But we don't often talk about the nonfiction work of art. That's what I'm very interested in.
First, unreliability is not the sole preserve of fictional narrators. Second, the pleasure of patting oneself on the back for seizing on instances of unreliability and ignorance is, as the late Frank Kermode may or may not have pointed out, considerable.
Sharing a room with one person is worse than sharing with six, and sharing with six is in some ways worse than sharing with sixty.
There's one profound difference between secular and religious pilgrimages. It's inconceivable that a Muslim would feel a sense of anticlimax when reaching Mecca. But for a secular pilgrim, the potential for disappointment is always there.
Now, instead of loading up your jalopy and heading for California, you take a second, badly paid job; 'The Grapes of Wrath' has turned into 'Nickel and Dimed.'
I do understand my limitations as a fiction writer, which is why my novels are always going to be close to home.
I'm incredibly competitive in all sports in a way that is so mystifying to my wife because she grew up playing the violin and piano. I've always been like that.
What I've really liked doing is combining what you might call art criticism or music criticism with something that is happening in real life.
What I don't like is constructing a book that fits in with any kind of generic template, whether it's fiction or nonfiction.
Writers are not obliged to deal with current events, but it happens that the big story of our times – the al-Qaida attacks on New York and the Pentagon, and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – is being told in some of the greatest books of our time.
I could never write a book where the point-of-view character was a short person, because I just can't imagine what that's like.
The essence of my character is an inability to get used to things. This, in fact, is the one thing I have grown accustomed to: an inability to get used to things.
If you're not religious, like me, how do you explain the transformational power that certain places have? They bring an incredible degree of attention to where you are and the passage of time. You're looking at every flower twitching, wondering if it's just the breeze or some magical pulse.
In many ways, I was a typical young guy out of college. I was at Oxford, where every night there'd be a late showing of some great film.
I think that if you are a resolute, unswerving atheist, you have that sense that you are conscious of the God-shaped hole that has been left in the wake of any religious belief, and in a way, one is much more drawn to articulate why it is that certain places, or certain experiences, have a kind of power.
I really have to give the Navy all the credit it deserves. They were so flexible and accommodating, given that everybody on board had better things to worry about than this person coming on board who's just going to be in the way, really.
Have you ever stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai? I'd warmly recommend it. It's super luxurious, and right next door, there's a classic slum. So you can do a quick slum tour and get back to your sanctuary without any inconvenience but with some excellent snaps.
I didn't read much of anything till I was 15, except Alistair MacLean and Michael Moorcock – the sword and sorcery novels – when I was about 13 or 14.
When I'm writing, quite often I start having a good time when I see there's a chance to make myself look like a real jerk. I start chuckling and having an interesting, rather than a boring, time.
While writing, I'm always so happy in the middle of a book or finishing a book and really hate starting them, so I often think, 'I wish I had a really big book to write to which I could devote seven years of my life.'
Despite what Wordsworth says about thoughts that 'lie too deep for tears', I think tears are a pretty reliable indication of being in the grips of a profound experience.
In the 1930s, photographers such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange produced images of sharecroppers and Okies, which drew attention both to the conditions in which these unfortunates found themselves and to their heroic fortitude.
I am still moved by passages of Marx: the 'Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right,' for example, where, after the famous line about religion being 'the opium of the people,' he goes on to call it 'the heart of a heartless world.'
Cheever constantly voiced doubts about his writing. Reading 'The Naked and the Dead' made him despair of his own 'confined talents.'
When I started writing, the deal was that publishers gave you a grand or two as an advance to buy some sweets, with the promise that they would make a big putsch with your fourth book when you'd built up a bit of a following. But by the time my fourth book came out, previously unpublished authors were the new big thing.
You read 'Stalingrad' by Antony Beevor because you're interested in the Second World War or Russia or whatever.
I would probably, in my 60s, be ready to start having kids, as long as I was spared all the stuff about it that doesn't appeal to me. By then, I'd have lost interest in practically everything, so there'd be no opportunity cost involved.
The devastating scale and frequency of my disappointment was proof of how much I still expected and wanted from the world, of what high hopes I still had for it.
There are the tears of rage when books get praised when they're so obviously garbage. But then there are so many more that continue to move me: the end of 'Paradise Lost,' 'The Ruined Cottage' by Wordsworth, Prospero's 'Our revels now are ended' speech near the end of 'The Tempest.'
I didn't get on a plane until I was 23, after I left Oxford and was teaching at Lucy Clayton Secretarial College in London.
Physical violence is always a bore in films today. We don't see how much it hurts. We don't learn the true consequences of it.
I think I do have a sort of terrible propensity for boredom and for being bored, even though I am absolutely of the opinion that one shouldn't be bored and that there is no excuse for it and that it is a personal failing.
I was studying English, as you will, in the day, and five nights a week, I would be at the cinema. That continued throughout my 20s, which was also the 1980s – there was a lot of really good films coming out then.
It's one of these things that I've been struck by for so long about America. You know, this amazing politeness of American life that's not at all class specific. It's not like people get more polite as ascend the hierarchy of society. Just incredible good manners. It's always been something that I've noticed.
I remember being interviewed about my first novel, 'The Colour of Memory.' They kept using the expression 'your first novel,' and I said, 'No, I object to that phrase, because this is it for me.'
I first got a sense of that idea of nodality – but I didn't use the word back then – with 'The Missing of the Somme': that sense of a particular place in a landscape or on a map having some kind of tremendous power to draw us to itself… that made me conscious, and since then, really, it has been an abiding concern of mine.
For me, those little cinemas in Paris where I saw many art films for the first time meant that cinema became a kind of pilgrimage site.
I've always had this belief that you want to write about universal truths.
As soon as I hear that there's something to get used to, I know that I won't; I sort of pledge myself to not getting used to it.
Inevitably, most readers come to John Cheever's 'Journals' via his fiction. Whatever value they might have in their own right, their viability as a publishing proposition was conditional on the interest of the large readership of his novels and stories.
There is a thematic continuity here within Bigelow's work: 'The Hurt Locker' serves up a military equivalent of the thrill-trips that Lenny Nero was hustling in her earlier 'Strange Days.'
Once you've got through immigration, one is always made to feel very welcome in America, once they've let you in. It's a great place to be.
I've seen 'Stalker' more times than any film except 'The Great Escape.'
I'm as strong and supple as a pane of thin glass. I've got too many ailments – left shoulder, left elbow and left wrist – in fact, the whole of the left arm.
The CGI landscape is another world. It has its own physical laws; it can defy gravity. But surely the wonder of cinematic space is that it is wedded to reality?
I guess, when I left university, I liked the idea of being a writer, and I thought then that being a writer really meant that you were a novelist. But if one of the impulses for being a novelist is wanting to be a storyteller, I never had any urge to tell stories.
I'm never happier when writing than when I see gags taking shape – ideally, gags at my own expense. What I like is the shuttling back and forth, serious into comedy and vice-versa, ideally, both in the same sentence, or even simultaneously. The best jokes are always ideas in miniature.
The business of taking a book and transforming into a script to make this thing called a film – it's a mysterious process to me; sometimes it works.
Contrary to popular belief, Oxford has the highest concentration of dull-witted, stupid, narrow-minded people anywhere in the British Isles.
The ritual of film-going in some sense replaced that of churchgoing, because you share something communal, sometimes mystical.
It's funny, because people always say when they meet me, having read me – or they read me, having met me – that they are struck by how the tone is pretty similar, in real life and in the books.
One of the things I've really come to realise is that the chances of arriving at a universal truth are increased if you remain absolutely faithful to the contingencies of your own experience and the vagaries of your own nature.
I think I got into travelling because it was so not in my blood, so against my tendency to just stay put because my dad just hated going on holidays, because, as I've said in many essays, the thing that he hated more than anything else in life was spending money. And as soon as you leave your home, you're spending money.
One of the great privileges of my life was growing up in a house without books.
If you just take me as a fiction writer, then you're probably going to find me fairly limited.
I don't read 'genre' fiction if that means novels with lots of killing and shooting. Even Cormac McCarthy's 'No Country for Old Men' seemed pretty childish in that regard.
Borrowing something from one art form and relocating it in another always has a whiff of pretension about it, like in books if, instead of 'Chapter One,' you have 'First Movement.'
There's something awful about Oxford, I think. It's such a little ghetto.
In terms of target audience, who cares what a middle-aged guy like me wants; most mainstream are not catering to me at all.
My Tarkovsky idolatry was at its peak, but 'Nostalghia' really didn't do anything for me. 'The Sacrifice' was similarly disappointing for me. Next thing we knew, he was dead.
I like things that are funny and have a lot else in them besides that – ideas, for example.
Once you've published a few books, you drag around this ball and chain of a back list. All the evidence of how few you've sold is there. I think a lot of writers my age have this strange experience of going from would-be to has-been.
In terms of behaving in a civic way, I feel my behavior is always exemplary.
Practically everyone I know now is from a middle- or upper-middle-class background, and I no longer have the huge chip on my shoulder that I carried around for so many years. I'm not sure it comes out much in the work, but coming from this kind of background is absolutely central to my identity, to my sense of who I am.
It doesn't require much thought for one to realise that any travel book worthy of the name has to be a departure from the standard idea of the form.
The person doing the learning is the person writing the book as much as the person reading it.
In history books, or the one about the guy who cut his hand off to get out of a canyon in Utah, you really want them to be accurate. But my stuff is such small beer by comparison.
The series 'Generation Kill' is, along with everything else, a sustained critique of the structural and conventional fictions of 'The Hurt Locker.'
I have this long-running idea that the distinction between fiction and nonfiction is not just, 'Did it happen or didn't it happen?' It's one of form.