Geoff Dyer has in recent weeks become something of a super-parallel. His Guardian piece on Tarkovsky's Stalker ("the reason cinema was invented") more than convinces me of his taste, and this other Guardian piece on his life as a "literary and scholarly gatecrasher" sells me on his methods:
In the autumn of 1989 I did some time in the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. I'd gone to New York to write a book about jazz and was having a browse through the institute's archives. One of the librarians was more than a little curious about my unsystematic rummaging. He wanted to know if the book I was writing was a history. No, I said. A biography? No. Well, what kind of book was it going to be? I told him I had no idea. Having made little progress with this line of inquiry, he turned his attention from the book to its author. Was I a musician? No. A jazz critic? No. Was I this? Was I that? No, I was neither this, that, nor anything else. Becoming a little frustrated, he asked: "So what are your credentials for writing a book about jazz?"But read the whole thing. (And speaking of Cioran, he's becoming quite a parallel too. I wonder how to start with his work — penning a book about the man, perhaps?)
"I don't have any," I said. "Except I like listening to it."
[ ... ]
If the answer I gave the librarian was modest because I was in this haven of specialist expertise, it was slyly confident for exactly the same reason. When I meet specialists I am always conscious of all the things they don't know and are not interested in, all the things that lie beyond their particular area of expertise. So I was pretty sure that this jazz buff would not have read Roland Barthes's book about photography, Camera Lucida, would not have known that Barthes constructed his great book around a bunch of snaps of his mum, a few pictures that he liked looking at. EM Cioran's excellent suggestion - that "we are enriched only by frequenting disciplines remote from our own" - is ignored by the very people who would gain most by heeding it.