Geoff Dyer Takes on Michael Fried: Art History For People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Read It

geoff dyer 480 Geoff Dyer Takes on Michael Fried: Art History For People Who Cant Be Bothered to Read ItThe literary criticism of art criticism in Geoff Dyer’s debut column in The New York Times Book Review made our head spin.

The genre-defying English writer mounted a meta-takedown of the art historian Michael Fried. We didn’t know the author of Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot needed to be taken down, but who doesn’t enjoy a clever opening shot in a literary feud? And Geoff Dyer, master of the binary statement and the unconventional sex scene (seriously, he has never met a sex scene that he didn’t think would benefit from a little urination), is nothing if not clever.

Mr. Dyer begins by laying out the structure of his argument and what he plans to say in the first few paragraphs before explaining this is the very root of the problem he has with Mr. Fried’s writing. “I kept wondering why an editor had not scribbled ‘GET ON WITH IT!’ in huge red letters on every page of the manuscript – and then I realized that the cumulative flimflam was the it!,” Mr. Dyer wrote.

If his column is hard to follow and a bit dense, it is, therefore, not a reflection on the new columnist but on his subject. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, Mr. Dyer will take on more reader-friendly writers. Until then, we eagerly await Mr. Fried’s imitation of Mr. Dyer’s imitation.


  1. olympia says:

    Michael Fried is one of the foundational figures in post-war art history–his “art and objecthood” is probably one of the most-cited art-historical texts ever . This doesn’t of course mean that Dyer shouldn’t criticize him–if anything, the opposite, since prominent people are fairer game than obscure people. Just a neutral comment, b/c neither Dyer nor those commenting on the column seem to really grasp the context.

  2. Scott Lahti says:

    My letter in reply is due in the August 7 issue, the NYTBR staff has just informed me. A certain Monty Python sketch is its centerpiece.

  3. Stephen Campbell says:

    Regardless of what one thinks of Fried, this was a cowardly and opportunistic piece.  Dyer finds the prose style of an American academic irritating – but he’s not going to get much mileage out of that for an NYT article. So he states that Fried’s ‘self-absorbed’ rhetoric mask a lack of any other content: “I kept wondering why an editor had not scribbled “get on with it!” in huge red letters on every page of the manuscript — and then I realized that the cumulative flimflam was the it! And at that moment, as I hope to show, everything changed.” This is not just a quibbling about rhetoric, it is a rather substance-less attempt to discredit Fried intellectually, without actually engaging with what Fried is trying to say.  But who cares about Dyer, this is troubling for other reasons.  It needs to be regarded as a symptom of NYT’s condescension (at best) and aversion (in general) to to academic humanism: it ranks with the disgraceful ‘obituary’ of Derrida a few years ago.

  4. Kristie Han-Claridge says:

    Ah yes. Why am I not surprised that this guy is British? His ridiculously weak and self-centered (ironic?) diatribe against Fried is exactly as claimed by Bloomgarden-Smoke above: an exact replica of that which he critiques. His own critique instantly critiques him. Rank stupidity. What’s more, Fried is fundamental to art history. He has stood at the gates for decades. And we need a creepy little british dolt to come along and act like he knows what he is talking about, as if he really has any understanding about what Fried has been doing, saying, or thinking for decades? And all of this as he does the very thing he claims that Fried does? I mean, really, where in the world did the New York Times dig up this intellectual midget anyway?