Geoff Dyer was caught in confinement by the crisis of the 60s. Away from his daily life, the 64-year-old writer wondered if, after having published brilliant essays on jazz, photography, Tarkovsky and art, as well as novels and chronicles of his numerous travels, of physicists and others, he had not given and to his best self: "I expect to live to be over 60, but if we translate the old sixty years of life expectancy into days of the week, now it's early Sunday morning," he writes in the irresistible The Last Days. by Roger Federer (Random House), an anthology book in every way. As emphasized by Zoom Dyer from his home in Los Angeles: "It is not an encyclopedic book, nor an exhaustive review of relevant characters, but of personalities that, at some point in my life, have been particularly important to me."
The Swiss tennis player, his favourite, is nothing more than a starting point, linked to the fact that Dyer has also always hit the racket until injuries accumulated. After one last operation, his doctor stated that "now there is nothing with a guarantee. Now everything is Zara. Nothing lasts for a lifetime, not even life." Overwhelmed by the possibility that he might no longer be able to write all the books he had left to write, Dyer decided to bundle them all into one, which he enjoys like everyone else. Not only because Dyer's insatiable curiosity covers all areas, but because he does it without a trace of academicism, with hilarious humor and privileging experience as a form of knowledge. His look will never be that of a prude who doesn't see beyond the screen of his Mac. On occasion, he can disagree with his boldness, but never in how he expresses it. "Of course," he confirms, "a book is not a police state."
It is already known that the professional life of elite athletes is marked by the peak of their physical performance. But, although millions will later be left over to face the void, there are those who do not resist pathetic returns to the media arena, such as Björn Borg or the footballer George Best who, for Dyer, meant a foundational return: "It was the first time that he would hear someone leave and then return to the activity they had stopped. In Best's case, the routine of giving up alcohol and then giving up trying to quit became the pattern of his life," he writes. And live, he adds that the idea of unnecessary return has always fascinated him: "When someone already has a great reputation, they are expected to produce more books, records or paintings, and often the increase in production coincides with the collapse of the quality".
In literature, prestige can be a trap for readers. For Dyer, Martin Amis, one of his most revered writers of his generation, was also a revelation: "He could have said much harsher things about some of his books, Stray Dog, for example, although it was him, to give him some credit." , the one who woke up in me this alarm to say: wow, there are authors with a fantastic career and then experience a certain decline!".
The curious thing is that, according to Dyer in his book, Amis coined the wonderful concept of nobelity when describing Jose Saramago: "It's what happens when magnanimity becomes second nature, as if you didn't just make yourself a cup of tea in the morning, but you make yourself a cup of Nobel tea to drink with your Nobel eggs and a few slices of Nobel bacon".
Another Dyerian pearl: "Better pompous than solemn; the former at least has the redeeming hint of the ridiculous, and since purposeful self-promotion is always perceived as self-abasement, it's primarily a comic quality."
There are more tremendous examples of literary decadence, like that of Friedrich Nietzsche, who embraced madness in the form of a horse on that famous corner in Turin. In his case, the recognition was conspicuous by its absence. "Before he went crazy, he wondered: How come I write such fantastic books and no one notices!" says Dyer. The confrontation between the philosopher and Richard Wagner also occupies part of The Last Days of Roger Federer. Curiously, Dyer is not a big fan of Twilight of the Gods, the opera that is considered the ultimate in the art of decline: "I am sensitive to that romantic attraction to ruins, but I am more attracted to the less orchestrated version of all that. I'm more inclined towards Nietzsche's individual collapse than Wagner's. Beethoven's symphonies are fantastic, but there, too, I'm more interested in his more private sonatas."
Much of The Last Days of Roger Federer has background music. Who has not had mixed feelings when attending a recital of the hits of yesteryear? I tell you that the last time I gave in to nostalgia, going to see one of those groups that I couldn't see in my youth, the first thing I detected in the audience was a toupee. The group had become "its own tribute band". Dyer puts Dylan in his book as a recurring example: "I'll be listening to Dylan [...] until the end of my days" [...]. But I wouldn't go to the trouble of going to see him tonight, or tomorrow, or any other night, either, even if he was playing for free at a venue down the street. (...) People don't go to see Bob Dylan, but to have seen him". Live, he adds "I saw Miles Davis play, but surely there were 5,000 other occasions when it would have been better to see him than when I saw him I".
The painting is also a blank canvas for Dyerian disquisitions about the perhaps not-so-inevitable fall. If De Chirico ended his career "falsifying his own paintings", that is, without adding anything of value to his legacy, "the dissolution of the physical world in Turner's works (...) was seen, at the time, as a sign of that his abilities were gradually diminishing, a symptom of 'senile decrepitude'". Today, on the other hand, they are a prelude to abstraction, works ahead of his time and the myopia of his contemporaries. Thus, there is still hope of shining in the last stretch of a race, even if it is in the face of the world's misunderstanding. Indeed, "this book about having nothing more to say has convinced me that I still have enough to write about. I have been very happy writing it. It is not a parting elegy."
Geoff Dyer has gray hair, but it's clear he's long since downed the elixir of eternal youth. Generous, shares the recipe: "The basic and fundamental thing is to maintain the capacity to discover new things, the capacity for wonder. Not to reject the contemporary world, although we can also discover something new in texts written more than 200 years ago. We must not fall in nostalgia, although, at the same time, it is clear that you can no longer have that feeling of brutal adventure when you went out at night in England in the 80s. when you meet friends, it's for dinner".
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