D. H. Lawrence is the type of author that I loved to not read in college. I would spend entire days, months even, not reading the work of Lawrence. My devotion went so far as to never really read most of the other great authors of the age. That’s the extent of Lawrence’s un-impression on my mind. That I majored in English meant I had many opportunities to practice my avoidance of all things literary, until such skills were honed razor sharp.
The first time I read serious literary theory, the kind of thing Norton would eat up into a collection large enough to bludgeon someone to death, I called bullshit. Much like Dyer calls out in his book, I was so certain that literary scholarship was populated by a “group of wankers huddled in a circle, backs turned to the world so that no one would see them pulling each other off.” The whole enterprise felt dead and dated, as though the various critical lens — rather than shedding new light on engaging materials — served as a mortuary catalogue where medical practitioners would stand around examining the cause of death for a person they murdered.
My literary diet, as it were, consisted of science fiction and fantasy. Epics like the Lord of the Rings fed into *epic* epics like Robert Jordan’s _Wheel of Time_. Each of those worlds had life, and aside from a few of the literary greats, most people left them to fuck off on their own. Tolkien and Le Guin ran cover for the rest of the field, drawing critical appraisals so that other stories could afford to exist without giving up their secrets: namely that they also had something to say about life and the world.
Dyer’s _Out of Sheer Rage_ is about Lawrence in the way that Lord of the Rings is about World War I. They both have an effect on the material, but they occupy the space of a milieu rather than a fully formed character.
Instead of delving into biological or literary autopsy, Dyer provides us something more valuable: an insight into the ways that ideas populate our minds, and how our minds process those same ideas, very inefficiently, into new avenues of exploration. Procrastination serves as the protagonist of the narrative, and I found myself rooting for it as the book unfolded, if only so that another tangent would send us sprawling down some new direction.
It’s a story about searching for home all while rejecting the complacency of home. About the ways in which nostalgia can overlay stark reality — or maybe the reverse. Dyer brings us a world, our very own, where “puddles by the roadside offered no reflection: the water was too old for that, was no longer sensitive to light” and offers us a warning against stagnancy while making clear that stagnancy and even depression are parts of the fabric of life itself.
I find those themes resonant as I procrastinate my own research, as I struggle to articulate how and why theory means a damn thing against the backdrop of an angrier world. Lawrence and Dyer come to life through their struggle to find a place to be, forever moving onward and away from patches of stability. What strikes me — and what strikes me about most “great” writing — is that there is no thesis to be made. To paraphrase a bit of the late Joan Didion, neat little stories with morals are too precious to capture life. They feel contrived, like a drama.
Dyer might rather compare this ambiguity to the ambiguity of photographs, much like the one of Lawrence he references throughout. The act of meaning doesn’t lie entirely in the text, but in the act of reading the text. Perhaps that’s what makes this account of D. H. Lawrence all the more powerful: it refuses to attach singular meaning to the writer or to the author’s quest. The trail of Dyer’s bygone “serious” study of Lawrence gives way to a journey that gives us something new to explore.
It’s a book about being human, and about the despair we might uncover through the act of searching. The epic quest isn’t just Lawrence’s life, but Dyer’s life as it explores Lawrence’s. Our life as we explore Dyer’s. In probing the divide between artist and artist’s creation, we learn far more than we might through the dusty and deadening gatekept language of theory.
Or so I theorize.