0

9

 

1

5

 

0

9

 

 

L

I

T

E

R

A

T

U

R

E

 

 

0

9

 

1

5

 

0

9

 

 

 

 

 

   


 

       
 

Geoff Dyer

 
 

Jeff in Venice,
Death in Varanasi

   

 

  

eCognoscente recently picked up Geoff Dyer's Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi.  Years ago, we had loved But Beautiful, Dyer's meditation on jazz, smoky improvised scenarios, part-fiction, part-fact, poetic riffs that were some literary approximation of the music he was writing about, 8 vignettes from Mingus to Monk….  Dyer is known for being an unclassifiable writer, bouncing all over the place with each new book.  There's also Yoga for People who Can't be Bothered to Do it, travel writing that takes us from Libya to Burning Man.

 

In this, his most recent novel, he's taken Thomas Mann and Death in Venice and then jumped off that starting point into strange Dyeristic territory.  The novel is a diptych: has twinned halves, mirror images, two cities, a book of reflected and refracted light.  Dyer said of Venice and Varanasi: "They're actually very similar: both are water-based, old, with crumbling palaces facing onto either the Grand Canal or the Ganges with alleys and narrow streets leading off into darkness and sudden oases of brilliant light.  And both, in their ways, are pilgrimage sites.  I'm not the first person to be struck by the similarities. There are quite a few occasions in his Indian Journals when Ginsberg is so stoned walking by the Ganges that he thinks he's in Venice, strolling along the Grand Canal!"

 

Then there is the obvious word play.  The marvelous title.  Jeff Atman (Jeff, possibly a version of his own name Geoff) is in Venice at the Biennale to write a freelance journalistic piece.  He is conscious of his ageing, has just dyed his hair (a play on Dyer, and a nod to Aschenbach of Death in Venice who also dyes his hair, attempts to look younger; Atman is the self in Sanskrit).

 

And there is also travel, sex, drugs, humor, Brit wit!  At the Biennale, Jeff Atman meets an American woman, Laura, and is smitten --- there is passion under the superficial sparkle of the Biennale, parties, bellinis, cocaine, and carnality.  In the second half of the book, a man (who may or may not be the same Jeff Atman) is in Varanasi, again on a journalistic errand, but he lingers, stays behind, gets lost in India… loses any desires he might once have had.  Hindus believe that if one is cremated in Varanasi, then there is freedom from samsara or reincarnation.  Varanasi then is in many ways a city of death, where Venice at the Biennale is perhaps one of the flesh, of desire.  Here in Varanasi, the river, the Ganges, is filled with the ashes of corpses (Aschenbach means 'ash brook').  And then the novel becomes a meditation, perhaps on love, on the fleeting moment, souls lost in the river of time…. Is the second story really the first story in Dyer's book, and then are they both really  Death in Venice all over again? 

 

Read: Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi 

 

Read: But Beautiful, A Book about Jazz

 

Read: Yoga for People who Can't be Bothered to Do it

 

Read: Death in Venice, Thomas Mann


Permalink   Save to del.icio.us    Digg This!

 

Tags:  india

 


 

 


BECOME A FAN ON FACEBOOK!

 

 

 

 

     

Subscribe About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy Editorial Policy  

Unsubscribe  Press Archives Search

 

 

 

©2009 eCognoscente