A Geoff Dyer Moment with Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer is the author of Out of Sheer Rage, my favourite book of all time. In this, he attempts to write a biography of D.H. Lawrence but is tormented, exhilarated, and exhausted by the process.

‘Looking back it seems, on the one hand, hard to believe that I could have wasted so much time, could have exhausted myself so utterly, wondering when I was going to begin my study of DH Lawrence; on the other, it seems equally hard to believe that I ever started it, for the prospect of embarking on this study of Lawrence accelerated and intensified the psychological disarray it was meant to delay and alleviate.’

The book takes its title from a letter Lawrence wrote on 5 September 1914: ‘Out of sheer rage I’ve begun my book on Thomas Hardy. It will be about anything but Thomas Hardy I am afraid – queer stuff – but not bad.’

Dyer tricks us into thinking he’s not writing about Lawrence but he’s writing about him all the time. Behind every vacillation and procrastination is an astute critical observation. For example, we find Dyer in a state of restlessness as he embarks on a move to Paris, or perhaps moving in with his girlfriend in Rome. These seemingly trivial details are annoying to the reader who wants explicit facts about Lawrence, not the bleddy author, but this is pure Lawrence. He was a notorious fidget arse. He never lived in the same place for more than two years. And then just when the reader is about to launch this self indulgent rant into the fire, Dyer gives us the connections.

‘And while he may not have owned a house, the Lawrences’ constant moving obliged them to keep making home. It is typical of Lawrence that, on the one hand, he became more and more anxious about finding a place to settle and, on the other, achieved the ideal condition of being at home anywhere: ‘I feel a great stranger, but have got used to that feeling, and prefer it to feeling “homely”. After all, one is a stranger, nowhere so hopelessly as at home.’

It’s full of subtle nuances like this that slowly reveal the essence of Lawrence’s personality. It’s also a commentary on the process and point of writing as well as the purpose of literary criticism. It’s with this in mind that Dyer reserves his greatest scorn for academia which ‘kills everything it touches. Walk around a university campus and there is an almost palpable smell of death about the place because hundreds of academics are busy killing everything they touch.’

I reread Out of Sheer Rage every year and it gets better each time as my knowledge of Lawrence deepens. It also partly inspired our approach (Paul Fillingham and I) to the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. We wanted to create an alternative to the linear biography and curate Lawrence’s life through artefacts rather than a rigid chronology. Just as Dyer’s book implores us to feel Lawrence rather than analyse him with cold detachment, so too we want the form of our project to reflect the content. If Lawrence was ‘was nomadic to the point of frenzy’ then our memory theatre must be nomadic too and retrace Lawrence’s footsteps across Europe and New Mexico.

Lawrence is impossible to pin down – either in movement or in classifying his work. He wrote plays, short stories, novels, travelogues, essays, poems, painted, and was pretty handy at DIY. Likewise, Dyer refuses categorisation. I saw Dyer give a talk at Nottingham Contemporary many years ago. I was sat close to the front row eagerly awaiting his entrance when a spindly figure turned up late during the introductions and sat down in front of me. He kept fidgeting. Everything about his presence was annoying. I was about to tell him to show some respect when the presenter called out ‘Now I’d like to welcome Geoff Dyer to the podium’ and the irritant in front of me got up.

In November I joined the Idler magazine ‘In Conversation with Geoff Dyer’ on Zoom. It quickly became a very Geoff Dyer experience. A week before the talk, co-presenter Victoria Hull asked if anyone had any questions. I replied and was asked if I’d like to ask Geoff the question myself. I said yes, even though I didn’t want to. On the day of the talk I was a complete bag of nerves, convinced I’d make a malapropism, or stutter, or the wi-fi would cut out, or the GF would interrupt and ask why I was idling about again instead of doing the washing up, etc. All of these possible permutations made the whole experience thoroughly unenjoyable. And of course, I never got to ask the question anyway.

Another distraction was obsessing about how close I was to Dyer in the weird, disembodied grid that is Zoom. He was one up, two across. A crossword clue away. Yet technically he was miles apart, calling in from Los Angeles. The problem with having 300 odd squares featuring strangers is I instantly wanted to know who these strangers were and if any of these strangers were more significant than the other strangers. And so, another distraction began: celebrity bingo.

It was while scrolling through the pages of other guests (while trying to memorise my question) I noticed a woman painting while the talk was going on. Not only painting but eating and painting. Did she not understand the etiquette of Zoom? Was she aware she was eating with her mouth open? What was she painting that was more important than listening to Geoff Dyer? Was she being deliberately obtuse? Of course what made her rudeness even more annoying was it meant I was focusing on her rather than Geoff Dyer. Fortunately, the talk was recorded and is now available on YouTube – minus the other guests – so there’s no excuse to get distracted.

The next Idler talk is Adam Buxton on 3 December. You can subscribe to the Idler for £39.95 (6 issues and free entry to talks) here.

You can visit the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre here or pitch artefacts and ideas to us on our instagram account: DHLawrenceDigitalPilgrimage here

D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre project launch on Lawrence’s 135th birthday



For the last five years, Paul Fillingham and I have been working on a digital project to celebrate the life of D.H. Lawrence. We’ve done this without any funding (because we haven’t had time to apply) filling up every spare second of our evenings after a hard day’s slog. Our intention is simple, to bring Lawrence (kicking and screaming) into the 21st century. We don’t claim to be Lawrencian experts and fully expect some of our suggestions to be ripped apart. So please do tell us when and where we have got something wrong and we will consider revisions (although not biases). Our memory theatre will contain the good, the bad and the ugly: the complexities and contradictions of a human life.

It’s taken five years because this is how long we’ve needed to immerse ourselves in Lawrence’s phenomenal literary output – and we still haven’t touched the surface. Lawrence once chided Mabel Dodge Luhan that, ‘You don’t know your floor until you have scrubbed it on your hands and knee’. We’ve taken this attitude with the memory theatre. We don’t know Lawrence until we’ve read every word written by him or about him.

Representation of any author’s work is a challenge because there are so many interpretations of their work. This is particularly true for Lawrence who has been reviled and loved across the decades.  We understand how important it is to get things right. This means reading, reading, reading. Lawrence is a complex beast who can easily be misinterpreted. He can be infuriating and unbearable. Then profound and evocative. One thing he is not is mediocre.

To help challenge and cement ideas, the Memory Theatre project has been a dissertation option at Nottingham Trent University for the past four years. This has given me time to select and curate various aspects of Lawrence’s work, to identify recurring themes, and, more importantly, to understand what these themes mean to younger, digitally literate audiences. His ideas on money, industrialization, rananim, and the environment seem increasingly more relevant.

Paul has been constructing the website and coding for the project, thinking about the way the Memory Theatre can be accessed via different devices, developing the logo and branding, and visualising how the artefacts will appear. Due to Coronavirus, the memory theatre will have to be digital for now and so we need this to look right. This takes time.


Our intention was to launch the memory theatre in 2019 to mark the centenary of his self-imposed exile. But instead we are doing this today, on his 135th birthday, where we have our first artefact: Mr. Muscles. This is in recognition of his incredible work ethic, and the good spirit in which he approached life. Juliette Huxley said Lawrence cooked ‘as he did most things, with a radiating creativeness which was contagious. Even washing-up had its own charm, enriched with the satisfaction of putting everything back in its chosen place, glowing with fresh cleanliness.’

Lawrence constantly reminds us that we are transmitters of life and what we transmit has an impact on the way we perceive the world as well as the way we make others feel. Paul and I have given the memory project every ounce of our being. We hope it ‘radiates creativity,’ by pushing the boundaries of digital literary criticism and as an alternative to the linear biography.

You can visit the project website here and read the opening artefact essays using the links below.

Artefact 1: Mr. Muscles

Essay 1: A model of Neatness and Precision

Essay 2: Loves the Jobs you Hate

Essay 3: Roadmap to Happiness

Essay 4: We are Transmitters