Just found this in among the 'Z' section at Fnac ... it had slipped under my radar ...
Finer moments indeed ... as a rule I don't much like the days between Christmas and the New Year marred as they typically are by bloatedness, fugged head, tensions, tantrums and the many other joys of the so-called festive season. All the more extraordinary, then, to report that I've actually rather enjoyed Wednesday through to Saturday. Being able to get down to some real uninterrupted reading is a major factor: Thursday I picked up Out of Sheer Rage and read it right through between 11 am and 4 pm and then yesterday I managed much the same with Zona. It's felt a bit like spending Christmas with Geoff Dyer which - given he's quite a subtle self-fictionaliser - is probably very different from the Real Thing.
Reading GD I'm constantly having flashes of self-recognition: he likes/hates this too, he did this/he does this too, he's read this book/listened to this CD/seen this film too ... You start thinking he'd be the ideal older brother you never had or the guy two years ahead at school or university who has the great record collection or has sussed that off-syllabus author and is going to let you in on it too. I read the essays on being an only child, the Oxford memoirs, the wasted twenties anecdotes with a distinct sense of deja vu (minus the drug appetite and - alas - the higher hit rate with girl friends (or maybe this is all part of the self-mythologizing ((I have it on good authority that Hunter S. Thompson just filed his copy from an office while sipping Perrier ...))). And, let's be honest, not a little downright envy - for despite the chronic dissipation and procrastination he has (damn it!) sat in front of the word processor long enough to squeeze out a string of novels and volumes of essays.
Be that as it may, the Lawrence book is a delight and I'm pleased to have snuck it in before 2012 is out. In a funny way it's as though I was meant to read it, a timely goad in the lead up to the New Year (pp 126 & 127 hit home with particular resonance - have a look and you'll see why). It's a funny book but not, perhaps, as funny as Steve Martin makes it out to be on the cover quote. One reason is that I detect behind the humour something much darker. GD is pretty upfront with his sources, the writers who've influenced and inspired him, often indeed incorporating them directly into his text. Thus, Rilke, Nietzsche, and - obviously - Lawrence get a look in (and read other Dyer works and they'll crop up again - sometimes even the very same quotes). However, I feel there are two other figures that haunt the Lawrence book of which he is either unaware or reluctant to declare. The first is Beckett - read any of those long permutational sequences and you're back in the world of Watt (for instance the absurd arguments and counter-arguments as to how Watt got into Mr Knott's house). GD follows through each possibility only to eventually abandon the whole charade. Pure early-to-Trilogy Beckett (did GD also have the benefit of Val Cunningham as his tutor at Corpus, I wonder?). The second is Deleuze, an influence which goes right to the (half-)heartedness of GD's project (since, despite protestations to the contrary it's bloody obvious that his volumes trace a trajectory for all the seeming haphazardness). It's not the air flights and geographical leapfrogging but the lines of flight GD is perpetually devising and inscribing as he deliberates which book to pack, or whether to write an essay or the novel or just go out for a coffee, or that wonderful closing sequence on putting on a CD (p 230 on).
And then ... Zona ... a book I curse for the very fact I should have written it or - more accurately - should have written on Nostalgia. Again, that sense of deja vu: as GD describes is first encounter with Tarkovsky, so I remember distinctly walking into the ( - name of cinema forgotten - ) on St. Martin's Lane and watching the opening sequence of Nostalgia (the VW driving across the screen and then back around, the mists, the Italian translator in that over coat, the Russian poet with the white bar on his hair ...). Cliched as it sounds, I was transfixed - I had never. seen. anything. like. this. before. Full stop. The film finished (it must have been an early afternoon showing) and I promptly paid again and went back in. Back in Oxford late that evening I raved about the strange valley sequence, the girl turning to look across at the house as the sun miraculously lifts above the roof. From then on Tarkovsky was the Absolute Test, a cultural shibboleth at parties (you like Tarkovsky? said blending tones of astonishment, approval, soul kinship and do-you-have-a-boyfriend? O callow youth ...).
This aside, what about Zona? I like it in many ways* - for the asides, for the odd insights thrown up along the way (although plenty others are easily available if you've read the same biographies, watched the bonus features, etc), for the irritabilities - how I relish page 48 where GD sounds off on Jeremy Clarkson et al. I also go for that deceptive immediacy of style that was also seductive in the Lawrence book, that impression that you're in situ with GD, hovering somewhere above his fingers as he types or just a few steps behind as gives up for the day and goes to the kitchen to make a coffee. If he's one of the best writers to embody the Deleuzean line of flight then he also has to be one of the best writers to write about writing. Forget Annie Dillard (well, not entirely, she's good, too) Dyer is your man. And, of course, that's really what Zona is about and why GD went for the film big time. And it explains, too, the title of that volume of essays: Working the Room (a title I couldn't quite work out before). The room. Which room? The room that Porcupine leads people too with no guarantee they will be admitted or what they will receive; the room that Dyer - like any writer - enters to sit and write and which itself is the threshold to that other space - or Zone - of what happens on the page.
You begin to see that GD is writing the same book again and again. I have to go back to But Beautiful although I can remember just enough of it to realise now it's about - again - the mystery of creation, specifically improvisation and Jazz. GD constructing the text out of a series of improvisations on photographs. Zona, a set of improvisations played off each frame of Tarkovsky's film. Out of Sheer Rage, an extended improvisation upon - a photograph of Lawrence? the idea of writing an anti-academic study of Lawrence? the idea of not writing a book at all? or (even more disturbingly) of doing nothing at all ? (& you see why Beckett is there in the background and why GD needs the counter energies of Deleuze and Nietzsche).
That's the figure in the carpet. That's what causes this writer to hesitate on the threshold. Or, to put it another way -
"And there you have it. One way or another we all have to write our studies of D. H. Lawrence".
(Out of Sheer Rage, p 231)
So true. And an important thought to take into 2013.
A happy & creative New Year everyone.
* however, the very asides are also what - for me, at least, also jeopardise this project. What Dyer commends in Tarkovsky - the absence of cliche, the refusal to stoop to popular culture, the Grand Design and absolute integrity sit awkwardly with GD's off the cuff remarks. The structure, too, which I am sure he'd defend as embodying the very principle of an unfolding experience is - um ... - perhaps a bit too easy/lazy? There are - to use Barthes' expression - places where the text prattles as GD is obliged to see through his commentary to the bitter end. What if he'd stuck with the idea of working in a series of sections dictated by the takes or - like Maggie Nelson in Bluets - an assembly of fragments? Yes, maybe that's what GD needs - a bit more poetry in the mix, the readiness for a more radical break with linear narrative. What happens when digression becomes the actual structure? Well, you probably lose your publishing contract as the sales plunge but it's worth a thought.