Summary (Magill's Literary Annual 2004)
This is not, as one might suppose, a book for the sedentary bibliophile who would rather read about exercise than engage in physical activity. In fact, this is not a book about yoga at all, nor is this book truly “travel literature,” the category to which it is most usually assigned. Indeed, Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It is an admittedly difficult book to categorize at all. Is it fiction, nonfiction, philosophy, or humor? Are the pieces essays or short stories? Even the author, Geoff Dyer, deliberately blurs generic categories in his introduction: “Everything in this book really happened,” Dyer writes, “but some of the things that happened only happened in my head; by the same token, all things that didn’t happen didn’t happen there too.”
The eleven essays that make up Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It trace Dyer’s journeys from exotic location to exotic location as he attempts to find something, although just what that something is remains elusive. The travels span some twenty years of Dyer’s life, but he seems no closer to finding this special something (or someone) at age forty-four than at age twenty-four. Indeed, if anything, Dyer seems to become more isolated, more detached, and more immobilized with the passage of time. As he writes in the essay “Leptis Magna,” “I saw that I had spent the last fifteen years dragging the same burden of frustrated expectation from one corner of the world to the next. . . . I wished there were someone I could talk to, but as soon as this wish was realized I wished only to be alone.”
In many ways, the title essay is emblematic of the collection as a whole. Dyer writes of his sojourn to the sanctuary on Ko Pha-ngan in Thailand, where he meets a woman named Kate and an assortment of other odd characters, including a handsome man named Troy. Troy tells Dyer that because he wanted to experience mortality, he once drank a bottle of poison. Ironically, although Troy survived the experience, he is unable to remember it. Dyer has a brief affair with Kate before the two go their separate ways. Like the rest of the book, the essay is very funny, particularly Troy’s description of the blisters on his feet as a karmic exit for bad memories. Like the rest of the book, the essay is about drugs, drinking, and dissolution. Like the rest of the book, the essay is sometimes about nothing whatsoever, and it can be very sad. Dyer and Kate leave the island separately, their passionate connection reduced to the brief flickering of an e-mail message.
Dyer is at his best in the essay “Leptis Magna,” the story of his trip to Libya to see Roman ruins on the Mediterranean coast. The opening of the essay is characteristically concerned with the details of his getting to Libya and negotiating the bureaucratic nightmare of the airport and hotel. “By their airports ye shall know them!” Dyer writes, noting the smokiness of the terminal and the surliness of the officials. Checking into the hotel requires filling out “hectares” of paper. In spite of his now-familiar rants and aggravations, however, it becomes clear that Dyer is becoming increasingly unglued. He catches a glimpse of himself in the hotel mirror, and through this clichéd device, he recognizes the part of himself that he had thought to hide: “You will become one . . . of the hundreds of people to whom you paid the bare minimum of attention simply because you did not like the way they looked,” he tells himself. It is as if, in coming to see the ruins at Leptis Magna, he begins to confront the ruin that is his life.
Nevertheless, when Dyer finally, excruciatingly, gets himself to the ruins, the pettiness and minutia of life seem to fall away. “Ruins—antique ruins at least—are what is left when history has moved on. They are no longer at the mercy of history, only of time,” he muses as he tries to make sense of the experience. Even time, however, falls away as Dyer observes the sharp edge between a ruined column and the sky, the “absolute separation between the timeless man-made and the eternal.” Dyer realizes in the closing lines of the essay that from the “point of view of sea and sky—Leptis was still in the early stages of a career of ruination which would end ultimately as desert, when the...
(The entire section is 1755 words.)
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