For me, there’s only one decent way to analyze literature : pick up a book you love, copy all passages that you’ve bookmarked or underlined, and explain why you bookmarked or underlined these passages. There’s that book I read a while ago, Out of Sheer Rage, and recently I picked it up again with an ulterior motive. This is a book that I bookmarked a lot, and there seems to be a common theme to all my bookmarks, the theme of losing interest, and I thought I may write something up about that. So here’s my analysis of Out of Sheer Rage, by Geoff Dyer. One perfect line, taken from the back cover, describes the book : “Sitting down to write a book about his hero D. H. Lawrence, Geoff Dyer finds a way to write about anything else.”
Excerpt no 1. When I fall in love with a writer, I usually go through his work voraciously, even though I want the pleasure to last. Geoff Dyer did the same with Lawrence. He went through all published words of his literary hero in no time, way too quickly. And then...
And then, abruptly, there were no more letters [he read D. H. Lawrence’s letters]. It was the end : oblivion. There were no more letters. If only, I found myself thinking, if only there had been Volume 8, 9, 10 or 11. I had read four thousand of pages of letters by Lawrence and I wanted thousands of pages more... I wanted them not to end. And yet at the same time that I was wishing they would not come to an end, I was hurrying through these books because however much you want it never to end, you are always eager for it to end. However much you are enjoying a book you are always flicking to the end, counting to see how many pages are left, looking forward to the time when you can put the book down and have done with. At the back of our minds, however much we are enjoying a book, we come to the end of it and some little voice is always saying, Thank Christ for that!
Been there, done that. By the time I reach the two-third of any book, no matter how great it is, I am in a rush, and may skip many words, not so much because I can’t wait to find out what will happen next, but because I want to finish the book, I am caught in a “momentum of death” (Dyer’s words). My eyes hurt, it is 4 am, I am reading the best book I’ve ever read. I should put it down because I am skipping paragraphs, I am too tired to concentrate or care any longer about the wonderful details, but I keep on reading, I want to finish the book. More than reading the book, I want to finish it.
Excerpt no 2. When you have all the time in the world to devote to a hobby or a book, you find no interest in sitting down and doing the work.
As it was, as things stood in Rome, as they had stood in Alonissos, as they had stood for many years irrespective of where I was living, I had nothing to keep me from writing my study of Lawrence, and so I never buckled down to it.
Here too, been there, done that. I once quit a job to write a book. After I quit my job, the book quit me. It took me a couple of years to get some momentum, and inspiration, and, by that time, I was working again, i.e. earning a living. The writing life should not be about writing. By putting the focus on writing, we lose interest. We should visualize writing as not writing, we should visualize writing as doing anything but writing, then we’ll have something to write about, then it will come. Before we know what we’re doing, we’ll find out that we have written something, a full page, and that more is coming. Of course, what I just said will not apply in all situations. The minute you believe that something is applicable to all situations, it ceases to apply to your current situation.
Excerpt no 3. Changing one’s mind, and one’s course, back and forth, is what defines our destiny.
On occasions doing what one wants actually means pursuing a course that, superficially, one has no wish to. By assenting to these decisions of his as if to an impersonal authority Lawrence gradually and tentatively began to have a sense of destiny that could be followed only by being forged. The perpetual questions of where to go next, whether to stay or move on, become crucial stations in the itinerary of one’s destiny. [...] A destiny is not something that awaits us, it is something we have to achieve in the midst of innumerable circumstantial impediments and detours. [...] A destiny is not what is finally achieved but the act of incrementally nudging towards it. [...] It can be your destiny, in other words, not to live up to your destiny, to fall short of it, to end up in Dullford. Needless to say I made no progress with my study of Lawrence after moving to Dullford.
Dyer is rambling here, because he’s trying to define something that is not. Rather than there being a destiny, there is a sequence of detours that we consider detours to what we believe is our destiny. These detours are detours until we question what our actual destiny is. This questioning is quickly followed by us trying to make sense of what we’ve just considered a minute or week ago to be a waste of time. And so on. Right now, I think that my destiny is all about me gaining interest, than losing my interest when I least want to lose it, and it is also about trying to cope with me losing interest, and trying to cope with other people losing interest in me.
Excerpt no 4. Not about losing interest, that one.
What you have to understand, I imagine myself saying, is that I am allergic to disappointment. I have had so much disappointment in my life that the tiniest amount of it now is enough to drive me to despair. I am so brimful of disappointments that even one more tiny drop will send me spilling over the edge. But I don’t say that, of course, any more than I do go back and burn down the delicatessen or the Farnese. I keep all this rage in my head.
Dyer is disappointed here because he wanted some pastry and the store that supplies that pastry has run out of that particular pastry. I can totally relate. There are days like that. What I find both wonderful and pathetic about life is that no matter how much we believe we cannot take any more disappointment, we stomach some more, because we get disappointments one after the other, and not a truck load all at once. If I had known what was awaiting me, say in the next five years, from whatever point in time in my life, it would have killed me on the spot. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was ignorant and had to live it day by day with hope.
Excerpt no 5. All considered, is any place the place where we want to live ?
‘It was a place with : marvellous air, marvellous sun and sky — strange, vast empty country — hoary unending bush with a pre-primeval ghost in it — apples ripe and good, also pears... but &mdash But — BUT — Well, it’s always an anti-climax of buts. — I just don’t want to stay, that’s all. But I love trying things and discovering how I hate them.’
Dyer is quoting Lawrence, but just like him he moves from place to place, from city to city, and from country to country. Me, I know better, or it’s just too much trouble to pack all my things. Or I am afraid to exchange a thing for something worst. It’s not where you are, but whom you’re with it, and that is no cliché. It’s not what you eat but how long you have not eaten it. And I never appreciate someone’s presence as much as when they’re gone. We can only appreciate a moment after the fact. I need time to appraise... It feels so good, so real, to spend time on a bed with someone you love, holding that person and doing nothing. People don’t want to be happy, they want to feel whole. We feel whole with someone else. Of the opposite sex. Amen. Life is sweet enough to make us forget this, because we spend most of our life alone.
Excerpt no 6. Going to a party.
Right on the brink of doing that which you came to do, close to achieving some long-anticipated wish, suddenly you lose interest. It always happens to me before parties. Even if I have looked forward to a party for months, even if I have enjoyed the process of choosing what to wear, still, at some point, minutes before arriving, I find I want to do nothing so much as return home, to stay in and watch TV. It’s not a question of dread, or social anxiety, but a strange becalming that leaves one stranded, inert.
That happens to me all the time. There is some social anxiety to it, though. But not just that. I feel this becalming too that makes me want to turn in, go back home, stay home.
Excerpt no 7. It takes a lot energy to be interested in something.
I am interested in all sorts of things but it is lovely to not be interested in the theater. Not being interested in the theater means a whole area of life and culture means nothing to me : there are entire sections of listings magazines that I don’t need to consult, vast areas of conversations I don’t need to take part in, great wads of cash that I don’t need to consider parting with. It is a bliss, not being interested in the theater. Not being interested in the theater provides me with more happiness than all the things I am interested in put together. There is a moral here. To be interested in something is to be involved in what is essentially a stressful relationship with that thing, to suffer anxiety on its behalf.
So true! To not be interested in something is like throwing away garbage in a chute. It feels good to make room for what matters. But then you can never spend all the time you should spend on what matters, i.e. what interests you, so being interested is painful and frustrating. All the more reason to not be interested.
Excerpt no 8. Writing a book or article or blog entry to kill whatever inspired it.
One begins writing a book about something because one is interested in that subject; one finishes writing a book in order to lose interest in that subject: the book itself is a record of that transition.
I am not convinced that I am always finishing a writing project with the intent of losing my interest in it, but I do, in the end, lose interest. As I have now lost my interest in the subject of losing interest.