Not the Booker Prize: Spurious by Lars Iyer

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Spurious is available as a paperback here and for Kindle here

Today it’s the turn of Lars Iyer’s Spurious to receive its Not the Booker review from Sam. He likes it. And quite right, too. It’s a witty, incisive, elusive and allusive text that earns a place at the table of that great tradition of philosophic sofa banter.

It’s a pleasure to get to speak to Lars about Spurious, and its forthcoming sequel(s)

DH: Is the problem Lars and W have that they are unable to escape “stuff” – the damp, the mould, the crap, – or that they are trying to escape it?

LI: Lars and W. feel unable to escape the apocalypse which, they feel, is gathering its forces in the ‘stuff’ you describe. Which is to say, the characters see in that ‘stuff’ something of what Béla Tarr calls ‘cosmic shit’. On the other hand, the characters also feel that what they call messianism, which they understand in terms of an act of speech, might offer a certain hope. To speak about ‘stuff’, about the impending apocalypse, about cosmic shit, might also be, in some way, to escape it.

 DH: Taking that a little further and drawing on what other reviewers have said about Lars and W being moths to a lightbulb – are they really trying to get out, to let their minds cut loose on a higher plane? Wouldn’t that actually scare the bejesus out of them? Aren’t they, rather, willingly and wilfully part of the great British cultural trope of pub moaners (from Falstaff to Foggy and Guildenstern to Alf Garnett) whose happiness, even existence, depends on the fact that they are looking in at the things that preoccupy them, the looking-in-ness of those things giving them an ephemerality (it’s surely the great philosophers not, as some reviewers have said, W and Lars who are spurious) that means they can inspire, dazzle, and discombobulate without ever actually impinging?

LI: Moths to a lightbulb … Well, I think the characters are rightly drawn to certain exemplary figures from the past. For me, it’s not a higher plane which W. and Lars seek, so much as the plane upon which they already stand.

Falstaff and so on … Spurious is very much a British book. For a long time, I tried to write in a continental, ‘French’ style, but the narratives seemed ungrounded, unreal. Of course, the reality of Britain is all too grounding, all too real. The tyranny of conservatism, of what is thought to be commonsensical, the deference to perceived rank, as well as the hostility to the speculative, to metaphysics, to anything outside the ordinary, means that this country will drag you down pretty quickly to what it understands to be the earth.

W. and Lars, I think, are very much in the ‘pub moaner’ tradition, because that’s where you end up once you’ve been broken: the pub. That’s where you crawl on your hands and knees: into the pub. That’s where you find yourself when you have no other options … But where there’s despair, there might be hope, too. W. claims to find the messianic in the most ordinary of pub conversations …

For me, the great artists and philosophers that W. and Lars admire always deal a blow to what are perceived to be the forms of life and organisation that bind us and determine what we are. Things can be otherwise: that’s what great art and great philosophy shows. In this sense, I have every sympathy with my characters, who yearn for something which seems impossible only because British commonsense takes itself to have monopoly on the possible …

DH: Mmm, OK, so your next book, Dogma. The description on Amazon is wonderful – it sounds very O Brother Where Art Thou…

LI: The blurb on Amazon is very evocative: This time out, the duo embarks on a trip to the American Deep South, where, in company with a band of Canadians who may or may not be related to W., they attempt to form a new religion based on their philosophical studies’.

I hope the book lives up to that description! Actually, only a quarter of it is set in the American South, and it really concerns an intellectual, or anti-intellectual movement, and not really the religion the blurb suggests, although it certainly has aspects of religion …

Dogma‘s longer than Spurious. Better, I think. Sadder, maybe funnier, and with more Hinduism …

There’s a second sequel, too, Exodus, a real epic, with the characters touring all over Britain, north, south, east and west, diagnosing its ills, and mourning the great generation of Essex postgraduates of which W. was once a member.

DH: Dogma. Which is more pertinent – the 1999 film Dogma by Kevin Smith or the Dogme movement from 1990s Danish cinema?

The latter, I think. The movement called Dogma, in the novel, depends upon a set of rules which operate as a productive constraints for the characters, rather like Dogme (or, for that matter, OULIPO).

But perhaps there’s something of Smith’s film in Spurious, too: the sadness and vulnerability of Linda Fiorentino’s character reminds me in some way of W.’s sadness and vulnerability. And there’s a real sense of messianism in Smith’s Dogma, which perhaps resonates with my novel. I would never worship a God who looked like Alanis Morrisette, though.

DH: Back to Spurious (which I have to say feels a bit Dogme, and if it were going to be made into a film would surely be made by Lars von Trier; in fact, returning to the previous question, Lars and W are also a bit Jay and Silent Bob). Tom McCarthy used the phrase “failed flights of transcendence” to describe the theme of Men In Space. It seems rather apt here as well?

LI: Lars von Trier – now that would be wonderful if he were to film Spurious. I love the bells at the end of Breaking the Waves. They are completely unironic, completely real. And I love the paranoia and neurosis of his diaries, which Peter Holm-Jensen has translated seo services.

Trier is a wind-up merchant, of course, but who wouldn’t be in Denmark, which is a very conventional society? I, too, would feel the urge to profess to an extreme religiosity in response to the drab version of atheism that is slopping about at the moment. Naturally, Trier went too far with his Nazi comments at Cannes this year …

Jay and Silent Bob? Why not? There’s that terrible moment in Chasing Amy, though, when Silent Bob speaks, and he’s just like some Dawson’s Creek character (in fact, that’s what I object to in most Smith films: too much overarticulate, overearnest Dawson’s-Creekness).

‘Failed flights of transcendence’ is perfect, I think, so long as I can let transcendence name what I have earlier called the impossible (it’s probably a very unsuitable name for the impossible, but there we are …) But there is nothing necessary about such failure. And a failed flight can still be a flight …

DH: Transcendence and elusiveness – synonyms or antonyms?

Synonyms, I think. The impossible seems elusive, certainly. But there’s something obvious about it, W. seems to claim, when you find it. There it is, he says, at the end of a night’s conversation. The messianic is there, close enough to touch …

In Dogma, W. claims that the everyday is messianic, if you experience it in the right way. In Exodus, he claims it can be only discovered in what is absolutely ordinary

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2 Responses to Not the Booker Prize: Spurious by Lars Iyer

  1. Joe says:

    Nice interview. I loved the book and can’t wait for the sequels. Dogma sounds brilliant.

  2. danholloway says:

    It does indeed. There was another bit of the Amazon blurb that talked about this collection of misfits travelling the South unable to find their favourite brand of gin that sounded exactly like O Brother Where Art Thou. What’ll be really interesting is to see how the increased geographical scope and travel work.

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