I finally picked up a copy of Geoff Dyer’s “Out of Sheer Rage”, spurred along by Lee Kofman’s article http://bit.ly/GeoffDyer, on which I commented last month. It was a book I had wanted to read ever since I saw Geoff Dyer speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year. In fact, watching him speak made me want to read all his books, which demonstrates his ability to captivate an audience. But if I was going to choose one to begin with, “Out of Sheer Rage” seemed to be the one. Especially after reading Kofman’s review. I wasn’t disappointed, in fact I laughed in all the right places, empathised with many of Dyer’s descriptions and will no doubt read it again, unlike many of the books permanently mounted within their individual dusty borders on my shelves.
But, out of the entire book, the line which jumped out and flung itself at me, demanding to be read and remembered, was not one of Dyer’s but a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke, used by Dyer to illustrate his regrets at moving to Oxford:
“We can so easily slip back from what we have struggled to attain, abruptly, into a life we never wanted; can find that we are trapped, as in a dream, and die there, without ever waking up.”
The lines Dyer quoted are from the poem “Requiem for a Friend”, written by Rilke, as a tribute to his close friend Paula Modersohn-Becker, who died a few days after giving birth to her first child. Interestingly enough, Rilke was a favourite of a young German girl who met and corresponded with my father during and after WW2. Her letters, peppered with quotes from German authors and poets, some of whom were banned by the Nazis, were beautiful and poignant and sparked my curiosity into their story, which I wrote about in my yet to be published manuscript.
But I digress. When I read those lines, on page 132 of the copy of “Out of Sheer Rage” which I was reading at the time, I had no idea they were written in praise of a dead woman. In fact, given the context of Dyer’s regrets at moving to Oxford, or Dullford as he terms it, I thought the words had more to do with life and the way we live it. But it is the great thing about poetry, writing and words in general. The reader can pull a few random lines off a page and paste them into their own lives to make sense of whatever they happen to be going through at the time.
Which is exactly what I did. I took Dyer’s lines, which he had acquired from Rilke, and I recycled them, refashioning them into something meaningful for me right here and right now. Although in refashioning them I have, in my mind, substituted “dream” for “nightmare”, because dreams to me are pleasant, unlike nightmares where we are more likely to feel trapped, especially when we are talking about “a life we never wanted”. Which is pretty much where I am now. Except Rilke’s words, courtesy of Dyer, have woken me up.