UK LOCAL NEWS recently ran a story about an academic accused of keying 24 cars on a wealthy street in Northern England. According to reports, residents woke to find that phrases such as “very silly,” “really wrong,” and “arbitrary” had been etched into the sides of their luxury vehicles overnight. When I heard this story, the professor’s actions — righteous, quixotic, likely inebriated — immediately made me think of Lars Iyer. “Spurious” would have been a welcome addition to the graffiti trail.
Iyer’s books began as a blog that documented the adventures and nonadventures of Lars and W., two philosophy professors working in the UK. Their mutual affection is relayed primarily through the medium of insults, an art form they pursue with dedication and creativity. Besides the often-noted lineage of literary double acts (Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Vladimir and Estragon, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer) their relationship owes much to the antagonistic friendships of British television, particularly Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and perhaps even current series such as Peep Show. Iyer is emphatic about the entertainment value of his books, but Lars and W. are good on the intellectual precedents. Nietzsche provides one of the pair’s many mottos: “In one’s friend one should have one’s best enemy.”
Exodus is the trilogy’s final installment, but the end had been hanging over Iyer’s project from its very beginning. As W. observes at one point, “The language of the Last Days is wholly appropriate to our times.” The duo’s apocalyptic banter is continuous, and by the close of 2012’s Dogma they are steeling themselves for the inevitable. Still, they are disappointed: “It’s time to die, says W. But death does not come.” So what kind of calamity will await in Exodus, the actual final resting place of W. and Iyer’s Lars? Iyer builds his stories on anticlimaxes, and so followers of the series might assume that the end of this fictional world is going to whimper more than it bangs. But somehow, it manages to do both.
Spurious, which started the series, is emphatically a book about nothing. Our heroes bicker, drink gin, talk about the end times; they feel symptomatic of some great collapse, try to respond sincerely to that apocalyptic feeling, and bicker some more. Some narrative tension is provided by the damp affecting Lars’s flat, a fungus which occasionally attains a hallucinogenic beauty but mostly just makes the place smelly and uninhabitable. Lars lives there all the same, providing the damp with its metaphor, or vice versa — each is depicted as an ominous, dumb, incomprehensible force of nature. W. senses messianism in both friend and fungus, without really understanding what messianism is. They await the coming catastrophe, but in the end, of course, nothing happens.
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 non...read more