Lars Iyer

Here is a brilliant extract from an interview with Lars Iyer. It perfectly captures the sense of total impotence that encompasses contemporary creative activity, and then turns it on its head, making it the only reason anyone should carry on creating.

Lars Iyer's new book Dogma is out in Febrary. His first book, Spurious, is a masterpiece of adolescent humour and philosophy and you should read it if you like that sort of thing.


Have you found it possible to make a living by writing the sort of thing you want to, without other work? Do you think there is a place in our current economic system and climate for literature as a profession?
Making a living by my writing? No! I have a job, and the writing I do is a sideline, a hobby. I use this belittling word on purpose. My literary endeavours bring in no more than pocket money… In some ways, I deserve to be mocked, not because I carry on writing literature without understand its posthumousness, but because I go on regardless of the very real material proof of its posthumousness!

There is something glorious about Kafka’s night-time writing in his room in his parents’ flat. Something wonderful about his obscurity, about the fact that he published so little when his friends published so much. We can read his diaries and letters and think: there’s a man of integrity! That’s what it means, really means, to be a writer! But our impression is dependent on Kafka’s eventual success, and on a culture, his culture, where there was a potential audience for his work all along.

There is, by contrast, something pathetic about my obscurity. The blog, Writers No One Reads, celebrates forgotten writers whose work is barely known in the English-speaking world. But I’m already a Writer No One Reads, whose work didn’t register sufficiently in general culture to be forgotten. I say this without self-pity, rather with a certain amusement. Nevertheless, it is pitiful in some strong sense. I really am wasting my time... Why bother?, I ask myself. But the challenge is to pose that question in the work itself.

How is that possible? It means, for me, the foregrounding a kind of imposture, not only in what the characters say or do, but in the form of the novel, too. For me, my novels mustn’t look like literature in the old sense. I’m not aiming at producing meta-fiction in the manner, say, of ‘60s American ‘high’ postmodernists. Their work, for me, still shows a belief in the novel. It is still supported by the collective fantasy of the novel, of ‘literature’. There was still a crowd before which they performed their hi-jinks. The experimentalists produced tolerable perversions of the still-sacred Novel, and their works could still be taught in the university.

For me, what needs to be exposed, laughed at, is the fiction of literary autonomy, of l’art pour l’art. For me, the literary novel itself is a fiction, existing through a kind of collective fantasy. In our time, the literary novel has to show its efforts to be itself – its sweat, so to speak. The literary novel must show how it hustles for itself, promotes itself. Because it’s become increasingly apparent that there is no ‘itself’, that the collective fantasy which sustained the novel is breaking down.

It might be objected that this breakdown reveals what was always the case: that novel-writing has always involved a performance of novel-writing — an act of belief, a kind of ritual on the part of literary reviewers, literary publishers, etc. This is true. But, still, it is the moment at which this fantasy reveals itself, the moment at which it breaks down, that is crucial. For me, this is what has occurred since the ‘high’ postmodernity of the 1960s, when it has become clear that all the ludism in the world cannot by itself expose the literary imposture. There is a terrible melancholy to this realisation, I think. It opens no new horizon, no fresh world for literature to conquer. Something really has been lost …

This is what, for me, career literary novelists, who understand literature as a profession, never understand. They believe in what they write, and their publishers believe in what they sell, and the reviewers believe in what they review. Good luck to them! The ‘current economic conditions and climate’ will allow them to thrive for a little while yet …