There have been times where I have stopped on the street and suddenly had the thought that I do not have thoughts. All around me are people whose brains are knitting and unravelling problems, meditating on beloveds or categorizing errors. Largely, when I move, I think with my body, or I fret. I may notice my surroundings, or I move with such impatience that my journey is fuelled entirely by desire but no reflection. Once, upon such a re-realization, I sat on nearby steps, desperately trying to think about thought and subsequently becoming narcissistically distressed. This is just the sort of problem that haunts Lars Iyer’s Spurious.
Spurious is the clearly signalled offspring of Waiting for Godot. The plot is as solid as a pair of worn knickers. Two academics, the unnamed narrator and his friend/antagonist W., speak, reproach, agonize, try to create meaning, try to write, try to think, try to contribute, acknowledge their own uselessness, struggle against inactivity and superfluity. It is the triumph of the absurd. They know – or are certain – they are derivative and this paralyzes them with melancholy.
Literature softened our brains, says W. – ‘We should have been doing maths. If we knew maths, we might amount to something. As it is, we’ll amount to nothing.’
The narrator is a shadowy character. The reader knows him through W.’s injunctions which are tinged with a loathing which betrays W.’s unpleasantness. The two travel with a certain English sad-sackedness paying homage to a modernist European greatness. They visit each other’s university towns. The narrator has a patch of growing damp which does not alarm him – it interests him – but it terrifies and outrages W. It’s an obvious metaphor but no less effective. It becomes a kind of decrepit leitmotif. The novel, in short sections, further divided into paragraphs. Revelations, and failures, come in single lines. The paragraphs are like days on a calendar, just passing time as the apocalypse looms. Their egos, their notebooks, their pretences, their strained hours of thought, their alcohol, self-castigation, their straining for a leader, their tiny projects which postpone the sense of the inevitable (messianism, Hindi, mathematics).
It feels like an exercise book, a means of exorcism. The writing is pared and simple, clear and honest. It is unpretentious in its exposure of the characters’ pretensions. The scattered italics stress the voice of anxiety.
The novel hits very close to the bone – my bone at least. It is the swan song for anyone who suspects there is no justification for them doing – or attempting to do – the things they love. Or rather, do compulsively. It is perhaps the love song of every academic who sees through the farce of their endeavour, to the discomforting truth that what they’re doing may be pretence. It is the tantalizing presence of the actual held behind a veil which shames them into realizing their pretence.
Spurious is the first of a trilogy; the second, Dogma, has been published but the third not yet.