Thursday, 20 February 2020

Book review: Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer (1997)

This copy of Dyer’s bibliomemoir – in which he talks about his interest in DH Lawrence – was printed in 2008 and I bought it online recently after finding mention of it in a review of books that were published in the 90s. I use AbeBooks for purchases like this, for books that are probably out of print (I didn’t check before placing my order).

Like Nabokov’s biography of the Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol, this is a minor classic. In it, the author melds his own preoccupations with those of the object of his enquiries, so that you get something like a confessional tone upon which he is able to weld observations about life, the universe and everything.

Lawrence belongs to the last generation of writers who were able to celebrate the individual. His vaunted hatred of religion – something Dyer chronicles in the book – betrays a desire to find meaning that clashed with the equally strong desire to maintain individual integrity. There is something universal about the themes in this book.

Writers these days are so bound up with the ethos of the collective that literature itself is a niche interest, and it is in the various types of genre fiction – in the sub-genres and sub-sub-genres that proliferate in our postmodern world of frictionless markets and immediate gratification, of bingeing TV series and of scolding streaming video providers for cancelling a promised third season for our favourite show – that the most politically engaged writing is found. With the deaths of writers such as Lawrence, Nabokov, and Miller came the birth of the selfie generation, the predominance of applied arts as objects of desire for a fetishizing collective, reality TV, and Donald Trump.

While the title of this book suggests anger it is actually very funny, and Dyer makes Lawrence accessible even to the most jaded Boomer. He might even appeal to Millennials, should any of them become aware of Dyer’s output beyond the confines of the universities he teaches at. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and found it made a refreshing change from the action thrillers I so love and that I have been watching in vast quantities since I got Netflix in January.

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