Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage is such a good example of an interesting failure, in my opinion. He’s setting out to write this book as an appreciation — and a critical biography — of D.H. Lawrence. And so he reads everything — but he doesn’t even actually read everything. He researches in this half-assed way, but he’s constantly writing about his feeling about how he’s, even on page one, already starting to fail producing this project that he wanted to produce. He had this idea about this book about D.H. Lawrence that he wanted to write, and he never writes it. But the book that he writes instead is about, like, self-loathing and failure — the constant failure to produce this book that he was so sure he would be able to produce.
David Shields has actually called the resulting book a book about whether or not to commit suicide. It’s kind of a provocative way of describing it, but I would say it’s so much more interesting to me than the best critical biography of D.H. Lawrence could ever be. Perhaps that says much more about me than about the book, but there you are. You know, you find these books that just serve as reminders of this idea that when you write a book, you learn something, or, when you write a book, you discover something. Maybe you do, but I think generally what I learn and discover from writing books is, not like, wow, I found this entirely new way of thinking about suicide. I didn’t, really. Suicide is horrible and nightmarish, and it remains horrible and nightmarish, and writing this book has not taken away any of the horror or nightmarish-ness of suicide. It sort of attempts, very modestly, in, like, barely 100 pages, to accurately describe what it was like to survive my friend.
ES: When writing The Guardians, did you feel pressure to create an arc for the book?
SM: What do you mean by an arc?