Friday, February 08, 2013

Lars Iyer is not getting any more hopeful.

The gray and drippy depths of winter are the perfect time to read Lars Iyer. His new book, Exodus, the third volume in his Spurious trilogy, was just published, and in honor of that I'll share a brief piece about the middle book, Dogma, that I wrote a while back for a year-end-favorites wrap-up at my office that we didn't end up needing.

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"You should never learn from your mistakes, W. says. He never has, which is why he associates with me."

That's how Lars Iyer opens his novel Dogma, and that's the tone—lacerating, ironic, dismissive, fatalistic—that runs through the whole book. An account by a low-rung British academic (named Lars) of his friendship and intellectual collaboration with W., a professor of philosophy, the book largely consists of W.'s caustic enumeration of Lars's many failings as a thinker, friend, and human being. But what other than failure, W. suggests, can we expect other in this decrepit world of hollowed-out universities ("The rumour is they're going to close down all the humanities, every course. . . . They'll probably make me professor of badminton ethics."), sham intellectualism ("All our books, all our philosophies, are only articles in some gossip magazine"), and commercial pseudoreality ("Pigeon Forge. The end is nigh.")? Like a demented, brainy cousin of Withnail and I crossed with the early, blithe and vicious Waugh, the book is hilarious, rude, and deeply pessimistic, yet at times moving and even profound, the kind of satire that razes our sordid reality and then takes the extra step of salting the earth, lest we take it in our heads to let any of that nonsense grow up again.

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Spurious was one of my favorite books of 2011, Dogma of 2012, and I fully expect Exodus to hold a similar position for 2013. Hell, I'm only about twenty-five pages in and I'm already quoting it in e-mails. The following went out to a friend this morning:
My living room. W. takes his place on the Chair of Judgement: "Bring me gin!" It's going to be a long night. He has a lot to get through, W. says, leaning his chair back against the wall.

My failings, my failures: the usual topic. The failure of my life, of my thought. The failure of my books. Familiar topics. My past failures, my present one: yes we know about those, W. says. but my future failings . . . that's what W. wants to talk about tonight.

"Where will you have gone wrong?", he says. "What will you have done? What crimes have you yet to commit? How will you have managed to have failed anew?"

It's quite a tense, isn't it, the future perfect?, W. says. Who will I have disappointed? Him, of course, W. says. Whose hopes will I have defiled? His, of course, W. says. His hopes.

Ah, what will I have done to him, W., in the future? What terrors await him? -- "Will you have written another book? Will you have come up with another escape plan? Ah, but he know what will have happened. I know. We'll have been sacked, and living on the dole.
If that's whetted your appetite, you can get more of Iyer's inimitable writing at his blog--and after a bit of wandering there, I expect you'll want to make unseemly haste to your nearest bookstore and buy up the trilogy.

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