June 6, 2012

The future of literature: in the hands of the obsessive, maniacal, disturbed


Fellow book lovers: word is, the party’s over. Last year, Lars IyerBlanchot scholar, philosophy lecturer, and author of the self-evisceratingly hilarious novels Spurious and Dogmaasked: what do we do after the end of literature? Now that we all dabble in writing, and writers outnumber their public, and fiction is a commodity, just what the hell are we supposed to do? His answer:

Mark your gloom. Mark the fact that the end is nigh… Don’t be generous and don’t be kind. Ridicule yourself and what you do. Savage art, like the cannibal you are.

This commentary came in his “literary manifesto after the end of literature and manifestos,” “Nude in your hot tub, facing the abyss,” which you should read immediately if you haven’t already. Like the works of the artists he loves (Beckett, Bernhard, Bolano, Kafka…), and like his own novels, it’s a marvel of desperation wielded so expertly that it becomes its own salvation—and is much too funny to be done justice in any summary.

The manifesto struck chords with readers and writers across the English-reading internet—see, for example, this thoughtful response in the New Inquiry—and it’s now become a bona fide international, multi-lingual sensation, after being picked up by none other than Enrique Vila-Matas in El Pais over the weekend. Vila-Matas is of a mind with Lars: literature has reached its end, and he’s right there at the party’s dying hours, looking at the dregs and wondering where the hell to go next. Like Lars, he sees some hope after the end:

I hear you, reader, and I won’t deny that the party’s almost over and that the black sky is indifferent to everyone, but imagine, for a moment, that you take this last path that’s left to literature, and you’re… lost in the Sonora desert, for example, at the end of all quests, or in the Great Gatsby’s gothic library, and you’re called Owl Eyes and you’re that guy with the thick lenses who wanders around in a daze after discovering, to your shock, that the books in Gatsby’s house aren’t fake.

Let’s suppose, too, that there’s a full moon and banjos in the garden.

“Don’t you see?” you say. “I checked. The books are real.”

The books are real, he says, and literature will be saved by losers like Bernhard’s: writers who are obsessive, maniacal, disturbed; that handful of writers who still capture the gravity of the moment.

Here’s to Lars and to Enrique Vila-Matas, international champions of losers.


Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.