Out of Sheer Rage

(Nonfiction; North Point Press, 1997)

“Out of sheer rage” is rarely the imagined provenance of a book, since books, as the collective fantasy goes, emerge from daily, contented contact with the muses, who deliver lighting strikes of insight and the buoyant tapping of the happily working writer. Yet any writer—of even emails—knows better; it is grueling stuff, stringing words together. British author Geoff Dyer borrowed his title from D. H. Lawrence’s description of his own inspiration—“Out of sheer rage,” he wrote to a friend in 1914, “I’ve begun my book on Thomas Hardy”—and Dyer’s book is a sustained pursuit of, if nothing else, Lawrence’s candor about the process of writing. As he tells the reader, Dyer intended to write a “sober academic treatise” on Lawrence that would lend the overbearing limitations of its genre—literary criticism—to Dyer’s own life, structure he longed for; alas, as Dyer writes in his opening paragraph, “the prospect of embarking on this study of Lawrence accelerated and intensified the psychological disarray it was meant to delay and alleviate.” Rather than contain the beast, Dyer tracked it faithfully, and this book is his travelogue. Dyer and his ever-patient girlfriend, Laura, tour the world in search of Lawrence, from Taormina to Taos, but Lawrence always stays one step ahead of Dyer, as though he has just departed the evening before Dyer arrives, leaving Dyer unmoved and his book unwritten. What eludes him, of course, is the initiative just to begin, and much of the book’s humor derives from the reader’s familiarity with the lengths to which the procrastinating mind will go.

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