Endless Curiosity

May 8, 2010

Out of Sheer Rage

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 4:34 pm

During the recent Conference on World Affairs here at C.U. Boulder, I helped with a panel called Writing-The Process. I remember only two things that the panelists said, one of them being that Stuart Schoffman highly recommended the book Out of Sheer Rage, by Geoff Dyer. Schoffman spoke so highly of it that I bought it and read it on my recent trip to Costa Rica.

It’s a book about not writing a book about D.H. Lawrence. It’s a wonderful book, beautifully convoluted at times, filled with the agony and psychological torture of having a big project to work towards. And filled with the agony and psychological torture of life in general. Let me give you an example:

“This is paradise,” I said to Laura, sitting on the terrace, surrounded by sea and sky. “I wish we were going to be here for six months.” Then, after a week, even a fortnight seemed intolerable. Except for looking at the brochure-blue sea and sky – which, after the first couple of days, we scarcely even noticed – there was nothing to do and for that reason it was impossible to get any work done. The best circumstances for writing, I realized within days of arriving on Alonissos, were those in which the world was constantly knocking at your door; in such circumstances the work you were engaged in generated a kind of pressure, a force to keep the world at bay. Whereas here, on Alonissos, there was nothing to keep at bay, there was no incentive to generate any pressure within the work, and so the surrounding emptiness invaded and dissipated, overwhelmed you with inertia. All you could do was look at the sea and sky and after a couple of days you could scarcely be bothered to do that.

OOSR is filled with procrastinations and justifications for making no progress. As such, it’s something I can relate to much better than I relate to the imagined process of a finished masterpiece where the author has magically organized immense amounts of information and ideas into a compellingly structured work.

Besides Dyer’s endlessly amusing justifications (the front cover has a quote from Steve Martin – “The funniest book I have ever read”), OOSR is filled with moments where I would think “yes, I know exactly what you mean”. Several times on our trip, on the long bus journeys, T would mention something to me and I would excitedly say that I’d just read a passage where Dyer talked about that very thing, and would want to read her the passage. T would dutifully act interested, but in hindsight I was probably invalidating her somewhat by elevating Dyer’s experience above hers. For example, a mention of how tiring it can be walking around a city would have me reading:

We paid for our Cokes, strolled down to the Greek amphitheatre and then strolled back into town, strolling ourselves first into a state of stroll-weariness and then stroll-exhaustion which was more exhausting than anything suffered in a forced march across Dartmoor in a blizzard. We collapsed into a cafe then made our weary way back to Lorenzo’s house.

Besides his wonderful insights into the human condition, the great thing about the book is Dyer’s willingness to bare his soul, to take responsibility for his feelings and thoughts and compulsions. T complains that I often hide behind studies and stereotypes, exchanging “I” for “people” or “men”. I will say, “well men tend to…”, or “there’s a great study that shows that people….”, rather than taking responsibility for my feelings or actions. Hey, it’s nothing to do with me, I’m just a typical man, a typical person. Don’t dislike me, it’s not my fault. A plaintive plea, don’t reject me, I’m just like everyone else.

In fact, I was guilty of this very behavior in my previous post when in the last paragraph I said “It’s a wonderfully honest statement of how most people seem to react, arguing vehemently but doing nothing, usually because nothing is possible.” Had I been honest I would have said “It’s a wonderfully honest statement of how I often react.”

Knowing that I hide behind statistics and stereotypes, I’m impressed and intimidated by Dyer’s willingness to put himself on the line, to expose his feelings and motivations to criticism and rejection by his readers. To risk humiliation. I cringe when I think about writing passages like some of his on my blog for all to read. And of course, it’s his willingness to risk that is one reason OOSR is so good.  

Besides illuminating our common motivations, OOSR also challenges us – there I go again – it challenges me to risk exposing myself. We’ll see. In the meantime I think I want to read the book again – although not as a form of procrastination you understand :-).

1 Comment »

  1. […] Filed under: Life,Psychology — Alec @ 7:05 am Following on from yesterday’s post, Out of Sheer Rage, the second thing I remember from the panel, Writing-The Process, was Michael Stoff talking about […]

    Pingback by More about Writing « Endless Curiosity — May 9, 2010 @ 7:09 am

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