Sunday, February 19, 2012

"The mid-Neolithic: perhaps that's when it all went wrong"

Like many people, I read Spurious (the blog) for years, before Lars Iyer came out with Spurious (the novel), and now its follow-up, Dogma. I have wondered how non-readers of the blog experience the books, but for me there's a strange, not unpleasant, sense of deja vu. I think I prefer the experience of the books; I used to get overwhelmed by the blog. Of course, I was easily overwhelmed by all my blog reading, wasn't I? Didn't I fall so far behind, that the prospect of catching up was first implausible, then laughable? Weren't there, in fact, well over a thousand un-read blog posts, from well over a hundred blogs, sitting there waiting my attention when Bloglines announced it was closing shop? Did I bother with RSS feeds after that? I did not. I did not take to Google Reader. Oh, I started it up, added several of the old standbys, with no doubt the best of intentions, but never used it. Aren't there likely by now tens of thousands of items in my reader? I'd never be able to clean it up!

Yes, blog-reading quickly became overwhelming. But Spurious was even more so. Frankly, few of the blogs I liked best posted daily entries, so I didn't have trouble keeping up with my favorites. Spurious was the main exception (yes, there were, and are, others). Oh, the new posts came fast and furious! I didn't know what to do with them! It didn't help that Lars wrote long, interesting essays about figures like Blanchot who I wanted to know more about, writers I was just beginning to approach, but those entries, the ones that I wanted to puzzle over and understand, were quickly eclipsed by others, many just as worthy. Then came the W. entries, and I completely lost touch. Didn't I blog about this already? I did:
Will they be long ones? Will I have time to read them? If not, will I remember to get back to them? I don't want to click, afraid to lose them. I could check the actual blog, but no. Too easy; contrary to normal practise. I leave them for a while. Another day goes by, another new one. More. I see there are now eleven new Spurious posts.
So I wrote almost exactly three years ago (yes, I did just quote myself). In fact, fuck eleven, there'd be easily 45, 50, 60 unread Spurious posts sitting there, mocking me, mocking not only my slow reading, my ability to keep up, but mocking my slow writing. And, again, are they all W. posts? Am I in the mood for the W. posts? How can he write so much so quickly? Haven't some of these appeared already? (Didn't he make a practice of re-posting?) Where are the essays? (I demand essays! I want Blanchot! Kafka! Gene Wolfe!!) Why all the W. posts? Of course, when I'd finally take the chance, he was ready for this, as if on cue (I'd offer you a link for this, but I don't think it matters by now):
Reading Scholem makes me melancholy, I tell W. on the phone. He knows everything! He's an expert on all matters! That's because [he] studied for 40 years and then wrote, says W. How many years did you study? Are you studying now? But you're writing, aren't you? You're writing constantly.
I laughed! I did. I even, literally, laughed out loud. True! I wrote how I didn't always get the W. posts, how I'd often skim them, looking for the other longer ones. But when I took the time to actually read them, I found them very funny indeed. In truth, I found that they read much better in big gulps, ten or twenty entries at time, more. Which is only fitting, now that we have these novels.

It's always a fairly random decision, which book to read next. I picked up Dogma, looked it over. I'd liked Spurious (the novel), liked it quite a bit, but wasn't sure I was quite up for revisiting our 21st century Laurel & Hardy of the Apocalypse, Mercier & Camier of the End Times. So I flipped through it and saw this passage:
The Humility of Pain: now there's an album title, W. says. Jandek has seen things, experienced things, of which we can have no understanding, he says. He is a man of despair, of complete despair. But he is a man of God, too. Doesn't Jandek always gather his musicians for a moment of prayer before going on stage? 'Lord give us strength . . . Lord protect us'. We're not capable of God, W. Says.
Ah, yes! Lars' Jandek obsession! We wrote about this before, didn't we? Yes, yes we did. I never did follow up on that blog post (which was anyway really about Bill Callahan), by listening to any more Jandek. I still have just the one cd, which I listened to but once, maybe twice; I don't even know where it is. I, somehow, did not expect to see Jandek in these pages. But why? Why shouldn't Jandek be here? Why shouldn't it all be here?

So, with that passage, my decision was made: Dogma it is. Soon enough, the boys were in Nashville, on the lecture trip to America. I remember these, too. I hadn't had time for them, on the blog, had I? (Or had I? I remember both: having time, not having time; being bored, not being bored. It depended, I suppose, on when they appeared. As I said, entries were often re-posted.) The trip seemed to last weeks on the blog, though, didn't it? But it's only a few pages in Dogma. Lars and W. are overwhelmed by the vastness of America, its stupidity, its suburbs. It defeats them. But aren't they always defeated?: "Hasn't he always lived in this way, wandering around America with a moron?"

It's all too easy to invoke, as I already have, Laurel & Hardy and Mercier & Camier, Vladimir & Estragon, but the comparisons come easily with good reason: W. and Lars are examplars of the friendship of cruelty (the cruelty of friendship); the books are incredibly funny. Lars bears the brunt of the abuse, but then he's also the narrator: who's the more cruel? (And is Lars' flat the most unpleasant flat in literary history? The creeping, living damp of Spurious is joined in Dogma by an unholy swarm of rats.) Dogma is, if anything, both funnier and deeper than Spurious. Laughter in the face of despair. A sense of having come too late, much too late, the singular problem of Modernism. Intellectuals with no redeeming project; or projects, but no sense of urgency; or urgency, but no sense of the appropriate. A ridiculous sense that they themselves are a danger to society:
We should shoot ourselves, W. says. [...] and there would be a great rejoicing. But that's just it, isn't it: there would be no rejoicing. No one would see, no one would know what the world had been delivered from.

How is it that we've escaped detection?, W. wonders. How is it we've got away with what we have? It would restore faith in the world if we were hunted down and shot. At the last moment, the gun held to our temples, we would laugh in gladness because we would know that justice had been done. It would all make sense! The world would be restored!

That we're still alive, W. says, is a sign of the nearness of the end.
Coming too late is one thing. But were they possibly too stupid to notice the contribution they might have made, even so?:
Perhaps we've already had our idea, our great chance, W. says, as we climb up the hill towards the church. Perhaps it's already occurred to us, and we've forgotten it: what a terrible thought! Worse still, perhaps it was something we exchanged in conversation, something that passed between us and was immediately lost amidst the general inanity.
All kinds of serious topics (philosophical, literary, historical, economic) are touched on, with passing wit and apparent intelligence, before being made ridiculous. The problems are not ridiculous (they are all too, devastatingly, real), but what can be done? W.'s project is capitalism and religion (I recognize my own project in his: but what do I do with it? what can I do with it?); he riffs on the disaster of agriculture (italics his: words are liberally italicized in Dogma; Thomas Bernhard would be pleased, but not just for this). Have I not been reading about this very thing, that agriculture itself was the bad turn? (Don't I find it a ridiculously compelling argument? After all, what can even be done with the knowledge?) Where did W. learn about this? Playing Civilization 4, naturally: "The mid-Neolithic: perhaps that's when it all went wrong, W. muses." Now that's a fall, isn't it? But what a fall!

W. and Lars start an intellectual movement, of sorts, inspired in part by the Dogme 95 film movement, which included Lars von Trier. Original as ever, they call it Dogma. There are numerous rules, as these things go. It has its successes, such as they are:
Our third Dogma presentation was perhaps our pinnacle. Did we weep? Very nearly. Did we tear our shirts? It was close. Did we speak with the greatest seriousness we could muster—with world-historical seriousness? Of course! And did we take questions for one another like a relay team, passing the baton effortlessly to and fro? Without doubt!

W. spoke of nuns; I, of monks. He spoke about dogs; I, about children. We thought the very stones would weep. We thought the sky itself would rain down in tears. W. invents a new Dogma rule: always speak of nuns, and dogs.

In our fourth Dogma presentation, we spoke of love, the greatest topic of all, says W. But there can be no love in the modern world, W. says, there can be no such thing as love. I spoke of my years with the monks, of divine love and mundane love. I spoke of agape and eros. And then W. spoke of philein: the greatest kind of love, he said.

We were like a tag team, we agreed afterwards. Like two wrestlers succeeding each other in the ring. We should always use Greek terms in our presentations, W. says. That should be another Dogma rule: always use Greeks terms that you barely understand.
One of the rules of Dogma is that Dogma is personal: "Always give examples from your own experience. No: the presentation in its entirety should begin and end with an account of your own experience. Of turning points! Trials! Of great struggles and humiliations!" In this sense, this review, indeed this entire blog, amounts to a Dogma presentation. So be it. In any case, Dogma is a fucking funny book; you should read it.

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