04 March 2012

Geoff Dyer on Thomas Ruff, Porn but (mostly) Himself

From: Nudes - ma 27 (2001). Photograph © Thomas Ruff.

Well, The Guardian ran this promo by Geoff Dyer for an immanent London exhibition of work by Thomas Ruff. The works to be put on display appear to consist in (1) pornographic images that Ruff has appropriated from the web and manipulated in various ways and (2) satellite images of Mars that he also has monkeyed around with. The images definitely seem like they might be interesting.

You wouldn't easily get that from reading Dyer's essay which, posing as reflections on pornography, actually accomplishes two other things. First, exhibitionism. Dyer manages to reveal his early experiences with masturbation and late first encounter with porn. He also revels in his current willingness to be a potty-mouth ("At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, it bears emphasizing that the anus is designed primarily for shitting. Not that you would ever guess this from porn; the asshole, in the overwhelming mass of pornography, is hairless, odourless and shitless.")

Second, Dyer seems unable to resist flaunting his erudition. The essay is just a tad over 2000 words long and here is the list of names dropped: Philip Larkin, Martin Amis (twice), Christopher Hitchens, D.H. Lawrence, John Ruskin, Milan Kundera, Slajov Žižek, Jonathan Swift (twice), Marina Hyde, Michael Fassbender, Steve McQueen, Gerhard Richter, Alberto Moravia, Gustav Flaubert, Marquis de Sade, John Berger. I may have missed a couple. And I'll skip the
various fictional characters from works ranging from The Unbearable Lightness of Being to Blade Runner (the latter a seemingly compulsory reference for the hip). Mostly this dramatis personae have little more than walk-on roles, a bunch of very special guests who do not so much as shore up the reader's flagging attention as further disperse it.

The problem? I couldn't tell you what Dyer actually has to say about either Ruff and his work or about pornography. Dyer makes himself so intrusive that he is an overwhelming distraction. I have in the past posted quite a few complimentary comment's on Dyer's essays and his book The Ongoing Moment. I suppose everyone can have an off day. However, I can't help but recall advice Robert Adams offers about writing criticism. The first rule is to discuss the work and keep yourself, the critic, well off-stage.

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