Having produced papers and books on the French philosopher Maurice Blanchot, Lars Iyer decided to go the fiction route and publish three novels about — you guessed it — philosophers. Really cranky, really serious, really funny ones. His latest book, Exodus, follows the intellectuals W. and Lars as they bemoan academia’s progressive decline. How do they carry on? With a whistle-stop tour around Britain, and humor so black you’ll think you went blind.
Here are five ways Exodus will have you laughing in the particular way Iyer outlines in his manifesto, "Nude in Your Hot Tub, Facing the Abyss": "laughing in spite of yourself, laughing helplessly at yourself, laughing to the verge of tears."
Lars brings Hello! magazine on his train trips, and W. notices how he reads it “like a Jew over the Talmud ... an intensity of focus that only the Husserl archives could warrant.”
4. Brutal Honesty
Universities? “Middlesex University has the crappiest of campuses.” What about cities? “Manchester lacks a river ... That’s why Mancunian thoughts are always claustrophobic thoughts.”
3. Mind-Boggling Similes
Being at Oxford is “like going around with a sulky ape.” W. thinks about “pass[ing] through the gates of publication like an opportunistic ninja.” Lars and W. wonder if the Essex University postgraduates they've met will eventually “wander like Japanese poets through the stone forests of Yunnan, leaving traces of their passage in fragments of as yet unwritten philosophical masterpieces.”
2. Subtle Biblical Allusions
Or, given the book's title, perhaps not so subtle: “I was a prophet who didn’t know that he was a prophet, W. says ... Which made it obvious what he was put on earth to do.” That is, to school Lars on his prophetic destiny. And, of course, to make some mystical sense out of the ruination that surrounds them.
“The British person has to drink in order to do philosophy, W. says. To drink away their Britishness!” Holidayers from the UK already have an international reputation for alcoholism, and Lars Iyer’s slightly despondent philosophers are following suit. The first essay question W. sends to his students is “In Vino Veritas. What have you learned from drinking?”
His own answer, and maybe even yours, is to be found in the pages of Exodus.