Monday, 19 February 2018
Review by Kevan Manwaring of "Out of Sheer Rage" by Geoff Dyer
An attempt to review a book is to put into words what one thinks about it. One perhaps starts off by not having a firm opinion but by the end of the review, if all goes well, one has been formulated. This does not really change the nature of the book, but it may change the person writing the review, or possibly the person reading it. It may persuade or dissuade this hypothetical reader to buy the book, or it may affirm or conflict with their existing opinion about it, if they’ve already read it – or simply read lots of reviews. It is a chain of ghosts, drawing us further and further away from the book itself, itself an articulation of an experience (either direct, vicariously, or imagined), encoded into black marks, which we translate in our minds into thoughts, feelings, images, and sounds. A homeopathic dilution of real life – that could be a working definition of fiction, creative non-fiction and especially literary criticism. Dyer’s book is, in some senses, a critique and deconstruction of this hall of mirrors. It is an anti-biography, an apparently ‘failed’ attempt at a ‘book about DH Lawrence’ (that we all end up writing, sooner or later, in the Dyerverse of ever decreasing circles – the singularity of futility which is his MO), which, in its gonzo approach of endless digression, indulgences, annoyances, paranoia, and transgressions, actually ‘succeeds’ in channelling something Lawrentian. Dyer makes endless comic capital at of the vainglorious absurdity of ‘experiential research’, while actually undertaking it – globetrotting in pursuit of Lawrence in a form of protracted displacement activity, an endless deferment of gratification – by gratifying every deferment. By the pathological deconstruction of such an approach Dyer actually reifies it, as he finally admits: ‘Had we not seen and done all these things we would not be the people we are’ (p231). Dyer’s antics is a form of invocation – though he protest too much (ad nauseam) his aches, pains, mishaps, moments of weaknesses, fury, frustration and many failings, all help to conjure Lawrence, to embody Lawrence, to live Lawrence: ‘hoping by this Lawrentian touch to persuade my audience of the all-consuming bond between the subject and the speaker of the talk’ as he quips about a botched talk on Lawrence he gives (p206). He argues forcibly against the aridity of dusty academic studies, far removed from Lorenzo’s full-blooded approach to life – mocking the ivory towers even as he moves to ‘Dullford’ as he calls Oxford, his very own alma mater. His restlessness and neurosis are very much first world problems from the perspective of male, white privilege, at that (the modest lower middle class roots long since abandoned), and as such, his self-ironic posturing would be facile if it wasn’t so frequently funny. And despite his disingenuity – Dyer wears his erudition very lightly – this is only a performance of philistinism within the context of … a book about DH Lawrence. Yet there is method to Dyer’s madness and there are moments of genius, or at least, great wit: ‘Spare me the drudgery of systematic examinations and give me the lightning flashes of those wild books in which there is no attempt to cover the ground thoroughly or reasonably’ (p105). And yes, Out of Sheer Rage is full of mini-lightning flashes as we observe the synaptic pyrotechnics of Dyer’s overheated brain. It is amusing, almost transgressive, like listening in to the ‘mad’ person at the party who says all the things everyone is thinking. This is writing as Tourette’s Syndrome. Dyer plays the court jester with gusto and perhaps makes some valid points amid his buffoonery. He is entertaining, but exasperating. To spend too long in his company would be grating, but for a while his Lawrentian ‘playback theatre’ is a gloriously irreverent read. And as an approach to ‘life-writing’ it has some originality and literary merit: it has a pulse. But that is perhaps only a reviewer seeking an ending to his review and wanting something positive to end on.
About the reviewer
Kevan Manwaring is a Creative Writing PhD candidate at the University of Leicester, currently working on a novel dramatizing the folk traditions of the Scottish Lowlands and Southern Appalachians. He blogs and tweets as the Bardic Academic.
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