Lars Iyer’s Wittgenstein Jr (Book Acquired, 8.29.2014)

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Lars Iyer’s latest is now available in hardback from Melville House. Iyer discussed the novel a bit with me when I interviewed him last year:

Wittgenstein Jr? A difficult novel to write, not least because it is my first attempt at pure fiction. I had the safeguard of basing it on the life of the real Wittgenstein, replaying it in a Cambridge University of the present. But I had to dream up characters, narrative incident, narrative colour… Above all, I had to find new rhythms of writing, which fit my version of Wittgenstein himself, and fit his students. Everything is about rhythm!

There’s high despair and low humour – a lot of humour. There’s romance. There’s paranoia. There’s utopianism: dreams of friendship, of politics, of meaning. There’s lyricism. There’s madness. There’s anti-Cambridge-dons invective. There’s dance. There are songs (all novels should have songs). There are long walks in the snow. Allusions to Paul, paraphrases of rabbinical commentaries on the Bible, quotes from Wallace Stevens, from Goethe, lines from Pretty Woman… Dramatic re-enactments of great philosophical deaths…

We could probably maybe add the novel to David Markson’s list from Vanishing Point:

Books Acquired (Most of April)

I thought I’d jump in on the Books Acquired feature on the blog, so below is a picture and some words about the books I got this past April. Significantly fewer than average as I’m *trying* to read the books I already have but, you know, it doesn’t really ever stop.

Little Schopenhauer wanted to be in the picture.
Little Schopenhauer wanted to be in the picture.

 

It was in this interview on the blog that I heard about Gabriel Josipovici’s philosophical novel. I’ve been on the hunt for more books like this in the past couple of years, and if it’s anyone’s recommendation about novels that wax philosophical, it’d be a philosopher’s. Goldberg: Variations also promises to slake an obsessive thirst for books about composers and their madness (or illness). I also seem unable to shake an attraction for books that tell stories about other stories, with the latter being the “actual story” of the book. From the back: “At the turn of the eighteenth century, a writer–a Jew–enters an English country manor, where he has been invited to read through the night to his host until the gentleman falls asleep. What unfolds then are seemingly unconnected stories covering a vast array of topics–from incest to madness to a poetic competition in the court of George III. And what emerges by the end is a breathtaking tapestry in which past and present, imagination and truth, are intricately woven together into one remarkable whole.”

I saw Kate Zambreno read from this book back in 2011 when it was originally published by Emergency Press. Since then she’s written a “critical memoir” titled Heroines, which explores the writer’s relationship with the “wives and mistresses” of the 20th-Century modernist greats. It’s my understanding that Zambreno has also reworked through Green Girl for this republish. Which I can’t imagine doing. Seems terrifying and harrowing. Only about 20 pages in so far, but it definitely has, for desperate lack of a better term, a European feel to it that’s rare for American writers. The sentences vibrate along the same manic, anxious and panicky frequencies of favorites like Bernhard, Rhys and Woolf. From the back: “Ruth is a young American in London, trying desperately to navigate a world in which she attracts the unwanted gaze of others while grappling with the uncertainty of her own self-regard. Haunted equally by self-doubt and by a morbid fascination with the beautiful, cruel, and empty people around her, Ruth darts quietly through the rainy sidewalks of her present, trying to escape her future.”

I know Steve Mitchelmore, blogger of This Space, is a big Peter Handke fan. I tweeted him a couple of months ago and he recommended that I start with this one. I’m looking forward to reading an Austrian (or Austro-Hungarian and descendants of) that isn’t cantankerous and odorous a la Bernhard. But, as expected, this book seems like it’s going to be really fucked up. The back: “In the summer of 1960, Filip Kobal leaves his home in search of his missing brother, Gregor. Not quite twenty, he is armed only with two of his brother’s books; a copybook and a dictionary in which Gregor has, revealingly, marked certain words. Filip’s investigations of language–of the laws of naming objects, and of the roots of alienation in the discrepancy between objects’ names and our experience of them–becomes, finally, an investigation of himself and the world around him.”

“We Need Cruel Comedy” | A Lars Iyer Interview

I first interviewed Lars Iyer in 2011, after the publication of his novel Spurious, the beginning of a trilogy that concluded with Exodus (my favorite of the three). I asked Lars to talk with me about his trilogy for an email interview, and we ended up discussing failure, comedy, optimism, academia, American writing, Britain in the mid-eighties, and his forthcoming novel Wittgenstein Jr.

You can get Lars Iyer’s trilogy from publisher Melville House, check out his blog, and find him on Twitter.

Biblioklept: Why a trilogy? Was that by design? Is it a trilogy?

Lars Iyer: Spurious was only a beginning. I wanted to historicise my characters, to present their friendship as part of a larger social, economic and political context. Otherwise, I risked merely contributing belatedly to the literature of the absurd.

Biblioklept: I want to talk about the end of Exodus but that seems like bad form for an interview. Spoilers, etc. Can you comment on where you leave your protagonists, or how you leave them, or why you leave them?

LI: I leave my protagonists roughly where they were at the beginning of the trilogy: rudderless, rather lost, full of a sense of their failure, but with their friendship, such as it is, intact. ‘No hugs, no lessons’: my characters haven’t learned anything…

larsBiblioklept: Why can’t they learn? Why the repetition? Why not a heroic arc? Why not a saving grace?

LI: Perhaps because learning implies a kind of resolution that I think is inappropriate for the characters. Kundera says something apposite about Don Quixote. Cervantes makes his would-be knight-errant set off in search of battles, ready to sacrifice his life for a noble cause, ‘but tragedy doesn’t want him’. Kundera goes on:

since its birth, the novel is suspicious of tragedy: of its cult of grandeur; of its theatrical origins; of its blindness to the prose of life. Poor Alonzo Quijada. In the vicinity of his mournful countenance, everything turns into comedy.

So it is with my trilogy. No tragedy! No heroism! No tragic catharsis, that would see the tragic hero being dragged back into line. And no comic catharsis either, in which the older norms of a traditional societal system are reaffirmed. So much comedy is self-congratulatory, self-reassuring: the humour of good cheer, of port and cigars. It shores up things as they are. This is why I can never bear to watch comedy on television. It’s so rare to see comedians turn the joke on themselves. We need cruel comedy. Black comedy, which laughs at itself laughing…

Why the use of repetition in my novels? Because I want to portray the breakdown of things as they are, not once, but again and again. Failure, without amelioration. Serio-comic breakdown, without restitution. Anomie. Helplessness. Crushed hope. How else to acknowledge the prose of our lives?

Much of the humour of Don Quixote, depends on the contrast between lofty ideals and the concrete, everyday, corporeal life. The humour of my trilogy is analogous – but, of course, our everyday is utterly changed! A generalised precarity, un- and under-employment, free-floating anxiety, consumerism, the emphasis on self-representation, the sense that history is over, that politics is all played out, that financial and climatic catastrophe loom…

The tragedy of everyday life is that it’s not even tragic. It never reaches the lofty heights of tragic grandeur. Well, nor do my characters. When W. is at his most wretched, he cannot even die – that’s the end of Dogma. When W. is at his most revolutionary, participating in his own version of the Occupy movement, as at the end of Exodus … well, I won’t spoil the story, but it won’t surprise readers of previous books in the trilogy that there is neither a heroic arc nor a saving grace. Continue reading ““We Need Cruel Comedy” | A Lars Iyer Interview”

A Riff on Lars Iyer’s Novel Exodus

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I. Trilogy

Exodus is the third entry in a trilogy that Lars Iyer began with Spurious and Dogma.

What happens in Exodus?

Not much (but also maybe everything—like all sorts of philosophical investigations and intellectual adventure and despair and potential revolution and symbolic death, etc.).

If you’ve read Spurious and Dogma you’d expect this.

There is a quest though in Exodus, a quest that feels more visceral, more real, cuts closer to the bone than in the first two entries.

What is this quest?

Do our heroes W. and Lars vanquish despair? Figure out Kafka?

Do they save humanity (or at least the humanities department)?

Do they finally cast the One Ring into Mount Doom?

(They go on a lecture tour).

II. Quest

What is the connection between Kierkegaard and capitalism?: that’s our question, W. says. What does Kierkegaard tell us about the despair of capitalism?

And

‘The true and only virtue is to hate ourselves’, W. says, reading from his notebook.

And, perhaps more specifically

Of course, they’re going to close all humanities courses in British universities, W. says . . . They’re simply going to marketise education, W. says. They’re simply going to turn the university over to the free market. They’re going to submit philosophy to the forces of capitalism . . .

And

Imagine it! Two plastic cups of Plymouth Gin might usher in the reign of peace, W. says.

And

There are no jobs in philosophy — everyone knows that. No jobs in academia!

And etc.

III. The Call to Adventure

This is our last tour, W. says. He feels that strongly. Something’s going to happen. Something’s about to happen. . . Why does he feel such a sense of dread?

IV. The Road of Trials

Gin, Deleuze, Kafka, Kierkegaard, gin, Blade Runner, Guy Debord, postgraduate students, linguistic stupidity, anxiety over what Alan Badiou is doing right this very minute, gin, Gandhi, Marx, the blogosphere (so-called), Bartleby, Moses, God, logical-mathematical stupidity, the Talmud, gin, bodily-kinesthetic stupidity, cheap food, the Thames, Oxford, Rosenzweig, interpersonal stupidity, gin, Bela Tarr, Manchester, Wikipedia, gin, intrapersonal stupidity, Beckett, Gombrowicz, Middlesex, Weil, naturalistic stupidity, Abraham and Isaac, Old Europe, sports science students, moral stupidity, Solomon Maimon, gin, Plato (turning in his grave), public houses, existential stupidity, Kant, a friend from Taiwan, a plenary speaker, sartorial stupidity, gin, Krasznahorkai, blowing a great horn to have the horde come running (like that guy in Anchorman), a Dostoevskian innocence or a Grossmanian selflessness, religious stupidity, Master/Blaster as a metaphor for the mind-brain problem, Canadian laughter in the glittering light (etc.), Essex Postgraduates, gin, gin, gin, job security, painting-and-decorating stupidity, hangovers, posh people eating lunch in the sun, settling for cans of Stella from the trolley, philosophy of walking, gin, romantic stupidity, gin, culinary stupidity, gin, stupidity stupidity.

Revolution!

V. The Magic Flight

Alcohol makes people speak, that’s its greatness, W. says. It makes them religious, political, even as it shows them the impossibility of religion and the impossibility of politics. Drinking carries you through despair, W. says. Through it, and out beyond it, if you are prepared to keep drinking right all through the night.

VI. Apotheosis

W. dreams of the profound slumber from which we would rise reborn, ready for the morning, ready for work. He dreams of the great day that would follow our night of rest, and of the great ideas that would flash above us like diurnal stars.

How is it still alive in him, the belief that he might wake into genius?, W says. How is it that he still believes, despite everything, that he is a man of thought?

VII. Freedom to Live

Thought is the hangman, our hangman, W. says. Thought has its nooses ready just for us.

VIII. Cult Fiction

Judgment, evaluation, criticism: Exodus—the Spurious Trilogy, if that’s what we’ll call it—has reserved its own special place in the world of cult fiction. These novels (if they are in fact novels) perform their own deconstruction. They delineate metacognition. They frustrate. They are simultaneously sad and funny, and even a little bit scary, at least if you earn your bread by academicizin’.

They frustrate. Wait, do I repeat myself? Very well then, I repeat myself.

These novels dissect the problems of philosophy against the backdrop of late capitalism, but part of this dissection is also the covering up of the dissection: the fear, the failure, the despair, the doom. (Hence the anesthesia, the gin). So that the novels seem to be a series of references, contours, quirks, loops of dialog, declamations, insults . . . That the novels take their own central subject as the failure to mean, to communicate—and then perform these failures: deferral, delay, intellectual suspense. And that these suspensions replace the furniture and sets of the traditional novel, etc. Maybe I’m failing to mean. I’ve anesthetized myself a bit, I do admit.

I get it. I mean, that’s maybe what I mean, or hope to mean to say about these novels: That meaning is hard, that saying meaning doing thinking is hard; that thinking afteragainstbeyond other thinkers is hard, painful, produces despair, dread, etc. Maybe that’s why I like these novels. Because I think that maybe I get them even as I doubt that I do get them.

IX. An Idea

Publisher Melville House might consider putting all three of these books into one epic volume.

X. A Question

Do the eagles ever show up to fly W. and Lars out of Mordor?

Lars Iyer’s Exodus (Book Acquired, 1.15.2013)

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Lars Iyer’s latest, Exodus presumably concludes the trilogy that began with Spurious and DogmaExodus picks up the adventures/failures of our tragicomic (anti)heroes Lars and W. Here’s publisher Melville House’s description:

With philosophy professors being moved to badminton departments and gin in short supply — although not short enough—the two hapless intellectuals embark on a relentless mission. Well, several relentless missions. For one, they must help gear a guerrilla philosophy movement — conducted outside the academy, perhaps under bridges — that will save the study of philosophy after the long intellectual desert known as the early 21st-century.

For another, they must save themselves, perhaps by learning to play badminton after all. Gin isn’t free, you know.

Exodus is on deck in my reading stack.  I talked to Lars a few years ago about Spurious (and other stuff), and he brought up the idea of “exodus” (as in the concept, not the book) early on:

As someone who had made some progress as an academic – a journey which implies valuable training as well as compromise and despair – I thought a kind of exodus was necessary, from existing forms of published writing. Leave it all behind!, I told myself. Leave the Egypt of introductory books and academic journals and edited collections behind. Leave the slave-drivers behind, and the sense you have of being a slave. Leave capitalism and capitalist relations behind. Leave behind any sense of the importance of career and advancement. Leave behind those relationships that are modeled on investment and return.

I love the cover on this one.

 

Book Acquired, 1.30.2012 — Dogma, Lars Iyer’s Sequel to Spurious

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Lars Iyer’s novel (or anti-novel, if you swing that way) Spurious was one of the better books I read last year. From my review:

Lars Iyer’s début novel Spurious is about two would-be intellectuals, W., the book’s comic hero, and his closest friend, our narrator Lars. They bitch and moan and despair: it’s the end of the world, it’s the apocalypse; they find themselves incapable of original thought, of producing any good writing. The shadow of Kafka paralyzes them. They travel about Europe, seeking out knowledge and inspiration — or at least a glimpse of some beautiful first editions of Rosenzweig. They attend dreadful academic conferences; they write letters. They flounder and fail.

Iyer was also kind enough to talk with me in a long, detailed interview.

So like basically I’m a fan, and I’ve been eager for Dogma, so I was psyched when an ARC showed up in Monday’s mail. Dogma is new from Melville House at the end of this month; more coverage to come.

Lars Iyer on Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives

Great great great essay from Lars Iyer today at The White Review. The essay is called “Nude in Your Hot Tub, Facing the Abyss (A Literary Manifesto After the End of Literature and Manifestos).” You should really just read it; I think Iyer does here what David Shields might have meant to do with Reality Hungeronly Iyer is far more clear and cogent (and not, like, all whiny). Here’s a taste, Iyer on Roberto Bolaño’s novel The Savage Detectives:

A final example of literature that faces its own demise and survives: Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives is a book about an attempt to create a literary vanguard in 1975, written after the conditions for vanguardist practice had collapsed. It is a book about political revolution written in a period after the inevitable failures of such revolutions have revealed themselves. It is a novel about a literary avant-garde and yet the novel itself resists the conceptualization and stylization that a literary avant-garde requires. It is an ecstatic, passionate novel—Bolaño himself describes it as a ‘love letter to my generation’—that plays out as a parody of the desires for Literature and Revolution. It is a novel, like all recent novels, that comes too late, but unlike most others it finds a way to address this lateness. In doing so, The Savage Detectives provides another model for how all would-be authors can appropriately speak about our anachronistic dreams.

The supposed heroes of the book, Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, leaders of the literary ‘gang’ called the Visceral Realists, are rarely on stage in the novel for very long. For the most part, we hear of them only at a remove, through the disparate narrators Bolaño calls forward to tell their tale. And the verdict on them is mixed – they have an admirer in gauche and excitable law student Madero, whose brilliantly funny diaries bookend The Savage Detectives, but they have their detractors, too. ‘Belano and Lima weren’t revolutionaries. They weren’t writers. Sometimes they wrote poetry, but I don’t think they were poets, either. They sold drugs,’ says one of Bolano’s narrators. ‘The whole visceral realism thing was… the demented strutting of a dumb bird in the moonlight, something essentially cheap and meaningless,’ says another. In the end they head towards ‘catastrophe or the abyss’, as they wander the world, still attempting to strike literary and political poses when the time for Literature and Politics has gone. ‘We fought for parties that, had they emerged victorious, would have immediately sent us into a forced labour camp’, Bolaño writes of his generation. ‘We fought and poured all our generosity into an ideal that had been dead for over fifty years’.

(Read our review of Iyer’s novel Spurious. Read our interview with Iyer).