[With reference to Jabès's The Book of Questions] A host of imaginary rabbis. They have names ('names of listening'), but are not individualized, They are not characters. Not even the shadowy kind of character that Yukel is ('you are a shape moving in the fog.... You are the toneless utterance among anecdotal lies'). Most of them do not speak more than once, though a few are allowed to dispute for several pages. Even then they do not really become persons. What they say is not necessarily consistent. They do not represent a position. They are not authorities. Gabriel Bounoure calls them 'candidates for presence, but hesitant to quit their status of shadows'.
Voices, rather. A chorus. Of commentary and interpretation. Of exchange. a chorus that points to the phenomenon of voice as such or, rather, to the phenomenon of changing voice, changing pespective. In a rhythm of voice - absence of voice - voice. This is why, in his later books, the rabbis, privileged interpreters though they are, disappear. They become absorbed into the white space between paragraphs, between aphorisms.
Even when his time is his own, later, Edmond Jabès works in snatches, in fragments. No matter where, in cafés, in the métro, while walking, at dinner, on little bits of paper, on matchbooks, napkins, in his mind.
Three rhythms layer [Jabès's The Book of Questions]. On the micro-level, there is the rhythm of the individual line or sentence. A rhythm that, in te verse, comes out of the tension between sentence and line, and in the prose, out of the tension between speech and the more formal syntax of writing[....]
On the structural level, there is the rhythm of prose and verse and, more importantly, of question and answer, question and further question, question and commentary, commentary on commentary and, later, aphorism after aphorism.
Rhythm of midrash, of the rabbinical tradition. Not a dialectic aiming for synthesis, but an open-ended spiralling. A large rhythm, come out of the desert, a rhythm of sand shifting as if with time itself.
Then, there is a third rhythm. It is on the level of the book: a rhythm of text and blank space, of presence and absence.
Even in 'normative' Judaism, the opening of interpretation is extraordinary.... The rabbinical word remains ever open, unfulfilled, in process. Yet there is great risk here; this inner dynamic accounts for both the creativity of Judaism and its own inversions and undoing. Where is the line between interpretation and subversion? I have elsewhere called this a 'heretic hermeneutic', which is a complex of identification with the text and its displacement. Jabès's book is precisely this identification with the Sacred Book and its displacement. The Book is now opened to include even its own inversions.
Mallarmé wanted to put all knowledge into a book.... But in my opinion this book would be very ephemeral, since knowledge in itself is ephemeral. The book that would have a chance to survive, I think, is the book that destroys itself, that destroys itself in favour of another book that will prolong it.
'You say you are an atheist. How can you constantly write of God?'
'It is a word my culture has given me'.
Then he expands:
'It is a metaphor for nothingness, the infinite, for silence, death, for all that calls us into questio. It is the ultimate otherness'. or, as he puts it later, in the conversations with Marcel Cohen: 'For me the words "Jew" and "God" are, it is true, metaphors. "God" is the metaphor for emptiness; "Jew" stands for the torment of God, of emptiness.
A favourite review of Dogma, from Hey Small Press, a publication that has disappeared from the internet:
Dogma by Lars Iyer Publisher: Melville House Publishing Publication Date: February 2012 ISBN: 978-1612190464 Paperback, $14.95
The United Kingdom has a Thomas Bernhard, and his name is Lars Iyer. Dogma is the second novel in a trilogy that began with Iyer’s first novel Spurious. It is the story of two Kafka-obsessed windbag British intellectuals, W. and Lars, on a mission to devise and hawk an odd, spartan meta-philosophy they call Dogma. W. is a hardheaded and hyperbolic Jewish professor who spends much of his time devising eloquent ways to insult his colleague Lars, a slovenly and depressed Danish Hindu with an inexplicable obsession with the mysterious Texas blues musician Jandek. The two are unabashedly referential, pulling inspiration from (and speaking constantly of) numerous avant-garde artists and directors: Dogma is a reference to filmmaker Lars Von Trier’s manifesto Dogme95. W. seems to be constantly projecting Werner Herzog’s film Strozsek on a wall in his house. They quote Bataille, Pascal, Leibniz, Rosenzweig, and Cohen. Dogma is hilarious and bleak and loaded with illuminating, brilliant passages, and Iyer’s rapid-fire staccato prose is well-suited to the task. For those who like their dark, difficult books to be funny.
While the state in decline lets its empty shell survive everywhere as a pure structure of sovereignty and domination, society as a whole is instead irrevocably delivered to the form of consumer society, that is, a society in which the sole goal of production is comfortable living.
'Product Placement'. Review of Exodus by Richard Jeffery in the Times Literary Supplement, 15th March 2013:
'To say that Literature is dead is both empirically false and intuitively true', wrote Lars Iyer in a manifesto released last year entitled 'Nude in Your Hote Tub, Facing the Abyss (A Literary Manifesto After the End of Literature and Manifestos)'. Despite the current abundance of writers and novels, declared Iyer, the disappearance of the last traces of modernist antagonism and tension represented a kind of apocalypse for fiction: 'Literature has become a pantomime of itself ... prose has become another product: pleasurable, noteable, exquisite, laborious, respected, but always small'. Long past the point of exhaustion, all that remains for the literary author is to mark 'the absence of Hope, of Belief, of Commitments, of high-flown Seriousness', and to write instead about 'a kind of hope that was once possible as Literature, as Politics, as Life, but that is no longer possible for us'.
The pomposity of the manifest is certainly something of a joke (a parody of the kind of radical avant-garde statements nobody takes seriously any more), but the message isn't meant to be facetious. Iyer is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and in both his manifesto and accompanying trilogy of bleakly comic novels - of which Exodus is the third - one of the principal questions is whether a longing for seriousness in art or philosophy today can be made to transcend farce.
The trilogy stars W. and Lars, two minor academic philosophers who spend their time travelling around Britain and America on an interminable circuit of university conferences, debating and drinking excessively along the way. Spurious (2011) and Dogma (reviewed in the TLS, April 13, 2012) were the first two installments in the series, but each book more or less stands on its own. Lars is the narrator, though he has hardly anything to say for himself. W. is the more magniloquent of the pair, given to impassioned outbursts on everything from Kierkegaard to Monsieur Chouchani to the futility of intellectual life under modern capitalism. Exodus takes place against the steady marketization of British universities, which is treated as a matter of despair and disgust. 'The language of the Last Days is wholly appropriate to our times', observes W., who copes with his sense of doom by relentlessly belittling Lars, who then narrates this belittlement to us, so that in the end most of what we're given is a picture of Lars through the medium of abuse: '"Do you think obesity gives you gravitas? Presence?" He pauses. 'At what stage would you consider gastric bypass surgery?'". It's a vaguely Beckettian double act, one that might be intended to resemble the intellectual bad conscience Iyer evokes in his manifesto.
Iyer's trilogy began life as a series of blog posts, and this makes it easy to see why the books take the shape they do: a succession of compact, almost interchangeable episodes that can be entertaining in small bursts. One can sympathize heavily with the ideas that animate Iyer's fiction, but Exodus can't have taken long to write, and it shows. Close to plotless, and too flimsy for any real engagement with the philosophers it cites, the book lives and dies on how much the reader enjoys Lars and W.'s idiots-in-the-end-time routine. The problem is that this quickly falls into a predictable rhythm, leaving Exodus in the awkward position of being neither sufficiently serious nor sufficiently entertaining