Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage [Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence] is just about the best non-study of D.H. Lawrence that I’ve ever read. Not that I’ve read any other non-studies of Lawrence, or any actual Lawrence studies, for that matter. But if you want to read a truly superb non-study of Lawrence, I can’t recommend Out of Sheer Rage highly enough. You will learn some things about Lawrence — but at a slant—and you will learn a world about Geoff Dyer.
That’s what I liked about it.
I’m a big Geoff Dyer fan. Call it a crush if you like. I won’t argue. It’s a literary crush. I find Geoff, as I like to call him, about the best company I can imagine: for entertaining me highly, making me laugh out loud, and most of all, for expressing to a T how life feels, at least to me a lot of the time: the existential angst of it all. Geoff is hilariously human, full of foibles, self-deprecatingly self-aware, with a navel-gazing self-consciousness, a keen intelligence about the human condition, and a love-hate relationship with his best subject, himself. He’s willing to let you in, up close and personal, so that it feels as if you’re his intimate. He’s a mess, and he’s willing to tell you all about it. But he does so with such aplomb, such delicious, sharp, acerbic observations about himself and everything around him, that to read him is to feel truly vindicated in your own human shortcomings.
The idea behind Out of Sheer Rage is that Dyer intends to write a serious study of D.H. Lawrence, the writer who most made him want to become a writer. But he keeps procrastinating, and Sheer Rage becomes a painfully comic description of his efforts to get a grip.
Here’s how the book opens:
Looking back it seems, on the one hand, hard to believe that I could have wasted so much time, could have exhausted myself so utterly, wondering when I was going to begin my study of D.H. Lawrence; on the other, it seems equally hard to believe that I ever started it, for the prospect of embarking on this study of Lawrence accelerated and intensified the psychological disarray it was meant to delay and alleviate. Conceived as a distraction, it immediately took on the distracted character of that from which it was intended to be a distraction, namely myself. If, I said to myself, if I can apply myself to a sober—I can remember saying that word ‘sober’ to myself, over and over, until it acquired a hysterical, near-demented ring—if I can apply myself to a sober, academic study of D.H. Lawrence then that will force me to pull myself together. I succeeded in applying myself but what I applied myself to—or so it seems to me now, now that I am lost in the middle of what is already a far cry from the sober academic study I had envisaged—was to pulling apart the thing, the book, that was intended to make me pull myself together.
I love this voice, and if you don’t, stay away from Geoff Dyer. He won’t be your cuppa. But he sure is mine.
The result is that Dyer ends up writing this very book — Out of Sheer Rage — which never manages to actually be the serious, intended study of Lawrence (though there is much about Lawrence in it, based mainly on his letters; no dazzling critical reading of Women in Love, however; so sorry, WIL scholars). But it is about a lot else, mainly the anxieties, frettings, and grouses of Everyman Dyer. The title comes from a quote of Lawrence’s, regarding his book on Thomas Hardy: “Out of sheer rage I’ve begun my book on Thomas Hardy. It will be about anything but Thomas Hardy I am afraid—queer stuff—but not bad.” The perfect epigraph for and description of Dyer’s own book on Lawrence. Continue reading “Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage: Writing Our Own Non-Studies of D. H. Lawrence”