January 25, 2011
The A to Z of SPURIOUS: Peter Andre to Maurice Blanchot
by Melville House
Lars Iyer, the author of our new novel Spurious, recently sent us a handy reader’s guide to his book. As way of introduction, he wrote:
I hope Spurious can be enjoyed by a reader entirely unfamiliar with the names and ideas mentioned in its pages. In large measure, I think, it is the way W. and Lars enthuse about a scholarly project or a specific thinker that makes the novel entertaining (if indeed it is entertaining).
Readers of the novel will know exactly what Iyer means. It’s a novel piled high with names, references, terms, and concepts: Blanchot, , Rosenzweig, Schwärmerei, Omoi… but it is not about these things, not at all. It is about two would-be intellectuals, the cruel W. and the lazy Lars, and about their foolishness and their friendship. It is about their ridiculous debates and endless chatter, their put-downs, quips, woes, and hopes. An example: W is visiting Lars’s apartment… “This place is a shithole, he says, and starts to read Spinoza to forget the cold and the dark and the damp.” Do we need to know who Spinoza was or what his philosophy involves to understand the absurdity and passion and ideals of W., a man who turns to 17th-century philosophy to rise above the dirty world and his stupid friends? Of course not. We know him perfectly. Perhaps we are even friends with someone like him. Perhaps some of us are him.
On the other hand [writes Iyer] perhaps there is something to be gained from focusing in a little more depth on some of the recurring ideas, names and objects in Spurious, since they are not entirely arbitrary. That is the aim of this A to Z.
Over the next few weeks, MobyLives will be publishing “The A to Z of Spurious.” We hope those who have read the novel will appreciate the added insight into the character’s odd obsessions. And for those who have not read the book, well, here’s a chance to learn about Spinoza. As the ever-contemptuous W. would say:
Get the Idiot’s Guide to Spinoza, then. But that’ll be too hard, too. Start with these letters on a piece of paper: S-P-I-N-O-Z-A. Ponder that in your stupidity’.
A is for …
Peter Andre, 1973-
Australian born singer and television personality, known for his huge hit ‘Mysterious Boy’ and his Reality TV assisted comeback, which saw him meet and subsequently marry Katie Price, AKA Jordan. They have since divorced.
Lars reads about the exploits of Peter Andre and Jordan in his gossip magazines.
The end of times; violent, climactic events. Etymologically, the word suggests a lifting of the veil, a revelation of a hidden truth. Thus, the Biblical prophet vouchsafed an apocalyptic vision learns something of God’s plan – for example, how the wicked will be punished. As such, for the righteous the
apocalypse is entwined with a sense of hope: the destruction and suffering to come may well make room for the coming of that restorative figure called the Messiah. More loosely, any event that sees the overturning of the security and predictability of life can be seen as apocalyptic – for example, climate change or the current financial crisis.
Lars, according to W., has a particularly keen sense of the apocalypse, but lacks what, for W., is the intertwined hope that he calls messianism. This might well be due to Lars’s Hinduism, W. says.
W. credits Rosenzweig with having a particular insight into the apocalypse, perhaps because of his experiences in World War I.
B is for …
Benjamin, Walter, 1892-1940
German Jewish critic and philosopher. Friend of Scholem and mentioned in passing in Spurious. Benjamin is famous for combining ideas drawn from Jewish messianic thought and Marxism.
W. compares Lars’s sagging trousers to those of Benjamin, which, in what W. calls a well known photograph (I’m not sure if it’s the one above), are pulled up tight around his waist.
Brod, Max, 1884-1968
Writer friend of Kafka and famous for refusing his friend’s request that his manuscripts be burned after his death. Brod’s renown in his own lifetime – he was a prolific author across a number of genres – has been almost entirely eclipsed by those he generously supported, Kafka among them. Brod encouraged his friend in his writing, and eventually oversaw the posthumous publication of The Trial, The Castle and America and other works in
contravention of Kafka’s wishes. He wrote several works on Kafka, in the form of biography and fiction, proposing a pious, almost hagiographical, interpretation of the life and work of his friend. Brod has not been forgiven for this by legions of Kafka’s admirers. In a famous essay on Kafka, Benjamin called Brod a ‘question mark in the margin of Kafka’s life’.
W. and Lars wonder which one of them is Kafka, and which Brod, before entertaining the troubling idea that they might both be Brod, and altogether lacking a Kafka.
Blanchot, Maurice, 1907-2003
Eminent French novelist, literary critic and philosopher. A concern with the significance of speech, and its
relation to networks of power, is, arguably, as abiding in Blanchot’s work as his better known interest in writing. In this regard, Blanchot bears the influence of his lifelong friend Levinas. Blanchot was also part of the group of intellectuals and activists who met in Duras’s flat on the rue Saint Benoit, and he was a friend of Dionys Mascolo.
W. and Lars discuss the photograph shown here of Levinas and Blanchot, reproduced in Salomon Malka’s biography of Levinas. Levinas is at the top of the picture, with Blanchot seated to his right.
C is for … (to be continued…)