Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence
|Publisher:||Farrar Straus & Giroux|
Geoff Dyer had always wanted to write a book about D. H. Lawrence. He wanted, in fact, to write his “Lawrence book.” The problem was he had no idea what his “Lawrence book” would be, though he was determined to write a “sober critical study.” Luckily for the reader, he failed miserably.
Out of Sheer Rage is a harrowing, comic, and grand act of literary deferral. Dyer doesn’t much feel like reading the major Lawrence works and would just as soon be working on his novel, which, actually, he also doesn’t feel like writing—he’d rather discuss Rilke, Camus, and Bernhard. At times a furious repudiation of the act of writing itself, this is not so much a book about Lawrence as a book about writing a book about Lawrence. Accompanied by his ever-patient almost-wife, Laura, Dyer hits the Lawrence trail—Taormina, Taos, Oaxaca, and Eastwood—with absolutely disastrous (and hilarious) results.
Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence is the best book about not writing a book about D.H Lawrence ever written. Other people have written untraditional, even loopy tributes to the priest of love before—including boon companions Anais Nin and Henry Miller—but no one has done it with Dyer’s chutzpah, or with such fantastic success.
Dyer started out with the intention of writing either a sober academic study of Lawrence or a novel based on his subject’s life but couldn’t seem to do either. The academic study, he realized, was really just an excuse to read Lawrence’s work, and the novel never even acquired a rudimentary shape in his mind. Instead, he somehow convinced his publisher to pick up the tab for his lengthy globetrotting pilgrimage, which took him from Paris to Rome to Greece to Oxford—not to mention such Lawrentian hotspots as Taos and Mexico and San Francisco. The result is an extended, often hilarious, meditation on seafood, English TV, Dyer’s own creative impulses, and occasionally even Lawrence.
In Lawrence’s seminal prose he finds some justification for his own capricious indulgences: “What Lawrence’s life demonstrates so powerfully is that it actually takes a daily effort to be free…. There are intervals of repose but there will never come a state of definitive rest where you can give up because you have turned freedom into a permanent condition. Freedom is always precarious.” Yet he refuses to read Lawrence’s novels, confining himself to letters, travel reportage, and other casuals. Indeed, “[o]ne gets so weary watching authors’ sensations and thoughts get novelised, set into the concrete of fiction, that perhaps it is best to avoid the novel as a medium of expression.”
Dyer’s fascination with Lawrence’s minorabilia suggests not only an oblique criticism of the contemporary novel, but a promising direction for the memoir. Perhaps clean, well-lighted subjectivity is a dead end, and the future lies with eccentric, provisional works along the lines of Flaubert’s Parrot and How Proust Can Change Your Life—or Out of Sheer Rage. After all, Dyer’s bright (and brilliantly shambolic) book of life reminds us of why we read in the first place: to see the surprising ways one person can be brought to life by another. —Michael Joseph Gross