[Geoff] Dyer’s main subject is the discovery of aesthetic affiliations—a kind of organized synesthesia. So while his work may appear “unprecedented,” this appearance could not be further from the truth. Precedents, and predecessors, abound.
An excerpt from an exceptional article about Geoff Dyer, which digresses effortlessly into John Berger and back to Dyer. “All art is also criticism,” Dyer says in the afterword to But Beautiful:
This is most clearly so when a writer or composer quotes or reworks material from another writer or composer. All literature, music, and art [says George Steiner] ‘embody an expository reflection on, a value judgment of, the inheritance and context to which they pertain.’ In other words it is not only in their letters, essays, or conversation that writers like Henry James reveal themselves also to be the best critics; rather, The Portrait of a Lady is itself, among other things, a commentary on and a critique of Middlemarch. ‘The best readings of art are art.’
Some of Dyer’s genre-defying books—if not the defiance itself—seem to come straight out of, or down to, this final dictum. But Beautiful views the history of jazz as cumulative, like that of mathematics: “Every time [a saxophonist] picks up his horn he cannot avoid commenting, automatically and implicitly, even if only through his own inadequacy, on the tradition that has laid this music at his feet.”