The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

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Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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The Tunnel

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Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

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Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

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A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

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Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

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.

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  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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3 comments to The Exodus Is Upon Us

  • SirJack

    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.

  • SirJack

    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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