Flat References or Round References?

Here, Lars Iyer, talking about his new book Spurious (and you should see the review in TQC, written by, literally, a PILE OF SHIT) says something that both pleases and frustrates me.

In one sense, the names are stand-ins, for which others could substitute. The name ‘Kafka’, in the book, might be replaced by that of any great author whose shadow falls over us. But then Kafka is more than a great writer: his life and work were marked by a faith in the vocation of the writer and a perpetual disappointment with the fruits of that vocation. In this way, he became emblematic of the modern predicament of living in the wake of traditional authority. It’s the way he experiences this predicament which makes Kafka so important to W. and Lars.

Something similar might be said of Rosenzweig. On the one hand, his name could stand in for that of any great philosopher, tackling the great themes of philosophy, but Rosenzweig also tried to break with what he called the ‘old thinking’, which began from the perspective of the abstract and the atemporal. He wanted to step ‘into life’ — the last words of his magnum opus, The Star of Redemption — and stopped searching for a university professorship in order to found a Further Education institution for adults interested in Judaism. Like Kafka, there is an integrity to him, a purity. Rosenzweig lived what he wrote.

As someone who believes quite strongly in depth, despite a world that wants to be ever more flattened, one half of Iyer’s comment doesn’t work for me. That’d be the part, for instance, where he says “In one sense, the names are stand-ins, for which others could substitute. The name ‘Kafka’, in the book, might be replaced by that of any great author whose shadow falls over us.”

But then, as someone who appreciates depth, how could I fail to enjoy a remark like “Kafka is more than a great writer: his life and work were marked by a faith in the vocation of the writer and a perpetual disappointment with the fruits of that vocation. In this way, he became emblematic of the modern predicament of living in the wake of traditional authority.”

My guess–based on reading reviews of the book and having some idea of Iyer–is that Spurious is having it both ways: using the flattening as a kind of spoof to point readers back to greater depth.

The rest of Iyer’s thoughts in the interview are equally interesting.



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