Wednesday, November 15, 2006
My friend Eric, in town from Chicago on his twice-yearly visit recently, knowing of our shared regard for Geoff Dyer, gave me a copy of Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage, his unorthodox 'study' of D.H. Lawrence. It is one of the few works by Dyer that I had not read and I breezed through it, being entertained and enthralled, as ever, by the account of Dyer's inability to accomplish his planned 'sober academic study' of the filthy modernist and his subsequent penning of a book far better than the one originally intended probably would have been.
What struck me yet again however is Dyer's similarity to myself. There is nothing particularly hubristic nor fanciful about this; there are probably tens of thousands of dormant writers the world over that have noticed the same thing. I have remarked to myself before of my shared (with Dyer) disdain for academia and my distaste at the concept of a professional writer turning out industrial amounts of prose from their monastic cells in the blissful peace of dull suburbia, which Dyer also holds with. I also have an interest in photography (though piddling in comparison with Dyer, who is one of the world's finest writers on the subject) yet, like Dyer, I do not own a camera nor do I really know how to take photographs. Dyer has on the other hand has no interest in theatre and takes solace from such a lacuna in his cultural life. So do I: the last play I saw was in the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1997 and I can't say I've missed the experience too much. And we share many favourite writers: Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Roland Barthes, John Berger, Fernando Pessoa, Borges, Proust...
In Out of Sheer Rage however it was even smaller details that shook me. In the mid-nineties Dyer lived just down the street from where I now live, on the corner of rue Popincourt and rue de la Roquette (his description of it in the book is so exact that I was able to locate it instantly while cycling by the other night) and, like I have in the past, he felt the urge to put down some roots to put an end to the international listlessness that had been dogging him for almost a decade. His way of doing this was to subscribe to Canal Plus, as a way of committing himself to staying a bit longer. I too have had the same thought, a foolish one because of the outrageously expensive €30 per month charge which even being the best that French TV has to offer does not justify. When Dyer finally moves to Oxford - or Dullford, as he calls it - and buys a house, the first thing he does is buy a cork notice board to pin bills, postcards and other paper ephemera to. It was his particular conception of accepting domestication. Well, not that particular, as it was the very thing that I did when I moved into my current flat seven months ago.
To top it all off, Dyer admits to uttering profanities under his breath to innocent bystanders who happen to slow down his daily progress in supermarket queues, on crowded streets and on the Metro. Guess who does the same thing... Like the narrator of Poe's short story 'William Wilson' I feel I have found my double, one who might be even more me than I am. It might be said that I should not compare myself too conceitedly with Dyer as he has about ten books published in his favour against my none. But it did take the Loafer's Laureate as long to get started.