Enough about Geoff Dyer, let’s talk about me for a second
I couldn’t be bothered to write this review. I enjoyed Out of Sheer Rage, in a certain voyeuristic sense. Watching someone indulge in intellectual masturbation the likes of which you wish you could get away with, and have the confidence to not give a fuck what anyone thinks. It’s thrilling, in a sense, like I’m sure masturbating in public is (I wouldn’t know). But, this book fails on it’s own terms, and so I can’t really say it’s worth much, bar the aforementioned pleasure of, essentially, watching Geoff Dyer jerk off over a picture of D.H. Lawrence.
So what are it’s own terms? Geoff Dyer wants to write a study of D.H. Lawrence, a sober, academic study, his “Lawrence book”. This far, it’s ok. It is a book, it is a book that is nominally about D.H. Lawrence. Lawrence is even on the cover. But, of course, our hero gets sidetracked, and he doesn’t quite get around to writing a study of D.H. Lawrence, or even, really writing anything at all, except writing about how he is not writing his book on Lawrence. Writing about writing is a fun gambit. I do it, quite a lot, actually. When done well it establishes the kind of connection between writer, reader and text that most artists would even be willing to take up a day job to be able to do. But. But. But.
I’d talk about why this doesn’t quite work, but I’d rather talk about myself. I’m about to start writing about writing and I’m even pointing out to you that I’m going to do it. Far out, dude. I’m writing this review because I read Geoff Dyer’s book on Lawrence, and I’m trying to write at least a little something on most of the stuff I read. I am trying to do something that feels like work. Of course, the work I should be doing is, I should be working on my novel. But, the idea of working on it scares me, because I know, if I do work on it, that, at a certain point, I am going to have to show it to people, more people than I have already shown it to. And even this is just work I’m doing (supposed to be doing) just to do something that feels like work, because I’ve just finished university and am about to graduate and I don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to be doing. People have assured me that no one else has any idea what they are doing, but this is even scarier, really. I don’t even know where I am taking this review. I am supposed to be talking about Geoff Dyer, and his book on Lawrence, but I don’t want to because I have nothing original to say about Geoff Dyer, or his book on Lawrence, and even then I’m only doing it because I feel compelled to do something, and am scared to work on my novel, which I am doing because I am scared about finding real paid employment.
See what I mean? It’s fucking annoying, isn’t it? And that’s one paragraph. I am now, even, going to replicate that main fault of Geoff Dyer’s book, within my own review of said book. He tried to write a book on Lawrence but ended up only being able to write about himself. That’s fine. Some interesting things happened to him and he has some interesting things to say, when this book is in its kinda-a-biography-kinda-a-memoir-kinda-a-travel-book. But, those buts again. He fucks it all up. He actually writes about Lawrence. In trying to have it both ways he writes an unsatisfying memoir and an unsatisfying study of Lawrence. He has intriguing things to say about Lawrence, too. His willingness to admit that he much prefers Lawrence’s letters and other ephemera to his “real” work in the poetry, stories and novels, is refreshing. This however runs in to the same problem that I pointed out in de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life. In piquing my interest with regards to Lawrence’s wider body of work, Dyer makes me just wish I’d read some fucking Lawrence instead of his book. I know the point of the book is that it’s not, really, a study of D.H. Lawrence, but in that case why does he actually study D.H. Lawrence’s letters and novels, quote from them, at length, discuss them, at a length which makes me think he obviously knows enough and has enough to say to write a study of Lawrence, but not enough that it isn’t engulfed in the wash of Geoff Dyer talking about himself. I feel this frustration, this imperfection and feeling of constant deferral and work in progress is supposed to be built in to the book, but making a point about frustration by frustrating the reader is not, as a rule, the greatest of strategies.
And I did it, up there, the paragraph above the paragraph above this one. Were you frustrated? You were supposed to be. Deferral leads to deferral and I knew reviewing this would basically turn me in to an arsehole, but there you go. Geoff Dyer, often acts like an arsehole, turns his readers in to aresholes. Why bother reading this, then, and why did I enjoy it. Come to think of it, I enjoyed it because I wished I could have gotten away with it, myself. When Dyer writes about himself he writes well, he obviously enjoys himself as a subject, and I’m not about to begrudge the man that. You’re supposed to write about what you know and he’s evidently a fairly insular person, a person that tends to turn events and ideas over and over in his head, and that’s fair enough, he mimics his thought processes in his prose. But he still writes about fucking Lawrence. He tags Lawrence on, uses it as a frame, says he wants to write an academic study of Lawrence and then says he believes that academic studies of literature are killing literature. He hates academics and then talks about and uses Barthes as a launching point for his own style. Barthes. The ultimate navel gazing academic wank-fest. I say this and I like Barthes, I love Barthes, I’ve read a lot of Barthes, but I recognise that Barthe’s poetics were an erotics, and recognised the sensual quality in writing, and writing about oneself. And I enjoy writing about myself, I enjoy analysing myself, I enjoy doing my best to step back and observe my own thoughts and ideas and actions and guessing as to their origins and their real purposes. I’d like to know myself, better. But it’s hard to write about yourself like that without annoying or boring a reader. You need to have a good excuse, or actually be an interesting person. I try not do it too often, and when I do I try and obfuscate it, or do it purely for my own, private, pleasure. But it’s so easy to get carried away, or fuck it up, and I need to end this paragraph here, because this isn’t fair on you.
Pretty much, I’m annoyed that Geoff Dyer masturbated in public, all the while adamantly denying this fact, and fucking got away with it.