The Exodus Is Upon Us

In the LARB, interesting review of Lars Iyer’s trilogy, which has just seen the publication of its final volume, Exodus. What strikes me about this quote from the review is how all the reference points for Iyer’s voice are philosophers/theorists:

Spurious also introduces the singular construction of Iyer’s books. Lars is the narrator, but his speech mostly consists in reporting what W. has said, and how W. has insulted him. Frequently the voices blur together. In this, Iyer’s writing recalls an alternative lineage, of stylistic experimentation in the history of philosophy: Nietzsche’s neobiblical fables, Kierkegaard’s split personas and alter-ego arguments, Blanchot’s fictions and blending into other writers. These are all innovations towards nonliterary ends, towards producing rather than transmitting thought, and putting into practice specific intellectual projects. And although Iyer parodies the grandiosity of such figures, in a small way he is part of their tribe.

This seems to say something important about the direction creative writing has been moving of the past couple of decades, as well as what kinds of literary voices seem most suited to describing our experience of the world, and where these voices emerged from.

Though, for all that I agree with here, I think that this sentence misses the point of what Iyer is up to: “And although Iyer parodies the grandiosity of such figures, in a small way he is part of their tribe.” Contra David Morris’ very smart review, parodying these figures is a way of declaring his allegiance to their tribe, just as it is for Enrique Vila-Matas.

Here are reviews of Iyer’s first two book in The Quarterly Conversation: Spurious and Dogma.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. 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...
  2. Not the End of Literature Lars Iyer, author of the very well-received novel/memoir/blog extension Spurious has written a very interesting essay that I cannot agree with but nonetheless encourage everyone...
  3. This Business of the Novel Being Over Daniel Mendelsohn, creator of straw men: I don’t know how people can still buy into this ridiculous, antiquated notion that the only really “literary” activity...
  4. Life Big Read: Question Thread So I want to try something new here. Each week I’ll post a question thread, and then we all can post any questions at all...
  5. Gertrude Stein’s iPhone If you don’t ever manage to read The Making of Americans, you can at least read this. There are many kinds of squares and many...

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Iyer’s much-hyped novels seem pretty underwhelming to me. I think that because of Iyer’s admittedly very cool manifesto and other such pronouncements on his blog (together with his academic credentials), these collections of witty conversations receive more earnest theorizing and critical attention than they might deserve.

I was thinking about how Iyer seeks to be “nonliterary.” It’s interesting how literary writers so often want to be nonliterary. But “nonliterary” usually translates to, More Literary. The idea of being nonliterary is supposed to announce your forthrightness and adherence to the “truth” of the “current situation.”

Being “nonliterary” can also mean: to reach out to include more of existence, stuff typically considered out of bounds, perhaps. Or, to apply new ideologies to writing that are not perceived to fit prevailing literary modes. Or, to undermine literary tradition and present your book as being beyond literature, the next step. Or to write simple, direct sentences.

Either way, when a book is commended as being nonliterary (and, as in the case with this LARoB review, it’s *only* the most literary outfits that make such pronouncements, and it’s *always* considered a deep compliment) expect something that’s actually very “literary.” War and Peace was at one time seen as nonliterary, and we all know how that turned out.

Sir Jack, the review refers to the “nonliterary”. Does Iyer say anywhere that he seeks to be so?

Also, Exodus alone refers to Jandek, Holderlin, Philip K Dick, damp, the sacking of Jerusalem, the country of Canada and friendship among cows.

In his manifesto, Iyer’s first helpful pointer is “use an unliterary plainness,” and he then states that Bolano’s Savage Detectives was “notably unliterary,” which LOL.

Concerning your second point, the fact that a literary work refers to Big Names and other amusing things does not make it inherently worthwhile or worth analyzing.

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