Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence
North Point Press
D.H. LAWRENCE HATED soulless academics. So does British author Geoff Dyer. So do I. Which is why Dyer's unconventional analysis of Lawrence--more personal memoir than a dissection of a famous dead guy's oeuvre--is so intriguing. "The hallmark of academic criticism: it kills everything it touches," Dyer writes. "Walk around a university campus and there is an almost palpable smell of death about the place because hundreds of academics are busy killing everything they touch... How can you know anything about literature if all you've done is read books?" From page one, we're tuned into Dyer's neurotic psyche and his ridiculous struggle between writing a study of Lawrence and starting his own novel. He does neither for quite some time. Then, with Out of Sheer Rage, he finally does both.
Avoiding the library-bound dead, Dyer decides to do some slacker-style living. Some might interpret his adventures as a quest to find Lawrence, the author of Sons and Lovers and the once-censored Lady Chatterley's Lover, in the real world. Others might say that Dyer is stalling for inspiration. For instance, Dyer confesses to having made a game of cutting out Lawrence photos, and giving them captions. Then he mixed the captions and the photos in order to prove how words frame the pictures that frame the man. "Another picture of Lawrence, the one I always hoped to come across in bookshops, the one that I had seen when I was 17, showed him--if I remember rightly--standing towards the edge of a vast horizontal landscape," Dyer writes. "From the start, I read Lawrence in order to make sense of--to better understand--a photograph of him." Dyer travels the world in order to stand where Lawrence once stood, even if the critic gets nothing out of it. "I know this moment from previous literary pilgrimages," Dyer writes. "You look and look and try to summon up feelings which don't exist."
But mostly, Dyer beats himself up for his lack of productivity. At times, he seems daft; his procrastination tactics, odd. They're comedic, nonetheless, an intimate look at inventive ways of wasting time. Curiously, when it came time to do my own study of Dyer, I suddenly felt the need to do my laundry and check the oil in my car--things I haven't bothered to do for three months. How could I focus on Dyer, I reasoned, when my own life was a mess?
The tangents filling Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage are relentless. Though whimsical at first, Dyer's tone soon gives way a kind of self-defeating paranoia. Once, at a nude beach with his girlfriend, Dyer feels self-conscious about his body. Likening himself to Lawrence, a sickly child who grew into a scrawny man, Dyer also despises his own thin body and is afraid to undress. Dyer often sounds like he needs professional help, with the nervous breakdowns, the moped crashes, the serial recoveries. Through it all, Dyer somehow remains cognizant enough to effectively link his story with Lawrence's. Out of Sheer Rage ultimately proves to be an art form critiquing an art form, a writer mirroring a writer.