Lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living

“Drink up, fat boy!, there’s not much time”

Of course, I could just print out the pages of my blog, and bind them between hard covers, W. says. That would be enough. But how could my blog be contained between hard covers? My blog is infinite, W. says. It’s an example of the bad infinite, as Hegel would call it. The spurious infinite… It just goes on and on…

In Exodus, the final part of Lars Iyer’s trilogy, the constant interlocuter W. raises a question that occurred to me when I first heard that Iyer was writing a book based on his blog. Endlessness was such a significant feature of the experience of reading Spurious: if you didn’t read it even for a couple of days, you would find a great backlog of posts had piled up, of unpredictable length and genre. This isn’t an experience that can be replicated in a book, and even less in a trilogy, which seems to materialize the beginning/middle/end structure. As I was reading Exodus, though, I started to think that Iyer’s books do, in fact, have a three part structure, although, in keeping with Lars and W.’s preoccupation with the apocalypse, this structure is more like end/end/end. In Spurious, for all their talk of the messianism, it’s not clear if Lars or W. actually believe in the apocalypse; it’s a redemption they hope for in a vague and distant way. In Dogma, on the other hand, the apocalypse seems uncomfortably close: everything really might be about to fall apart. There’s something obscurely troubling in the scene where the previously assured W. breaks down in the face of American public transport:

A city without a train station!, W. says. He can barely imagine it. A city without trains!

On the big TV screen, they’re showing a documentary on airplane crashes, with footage of one crash after another. Screeching brakes. Metal crunching. Screams.

W.’s becoming hysterical.—‘Why don’t they tell us anything?’, he cries. ‘Are we cattle?’

I sit him on the floor and tell him Hindu stories to calm him down. I tell him how Ganesha came to have the head of an elephant, and Daksha the head of a goat. I tell him of the sage who temporarily substituted a horse’s head for his own, knowing that the secret wisdom he was about to gain would shatter it into a million pieces. (‘That’s what would happen to you if you ever had an idea’, W. says.) And I tell him how Dadhyanc’s head was lopped off for revealing the secret of the sacrifice to human beings.

‘Hinduism is a bloody religion’, W. says.

This is resolved in Exodus, not by either the arrival or the denial of the apocalypse, but the recognition that the apocalypse has already happened, and is continuing to happen:

The destruction of the world was the world: that’s what suddenly became clear to him, in his dream, W. says. The end of the world was already present in every detail of the world. The eschaton was already here; the apocalypse was already happening.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but there seems to be a certain – not comfort, but hint of redemptive possibility in this recognition of the omnipresence of the apocalypse; can we make a life by learning to live with (or in) the end of the world? Perhaps this is the secret of Lars’s idiocy: “I know what’s to come, and I’ve prioritised rightly. I live each day as though it were the day after the last.” In Exodus, W. mentions the cabbalistic theory of the minimalism of messianism:

A rabbi, a real cabbalist, once said that in order to establish the reign of peace it is not necessary to destroy everything nor to begin a completely new world. It is sufficient to displace this cup or this brush or this stone just a little, and thereby everything.

Benjamin, however, tells this story in a different, and to my mind more striking way:

The Hassidim tell a story about the world to come that says everything there will be just as it is here. Just as our room is now, so it will be in the world to come; where our baby sleeps now, there too it will sleep in the other world. And the clothes we wear in this world, those too we will wear there. Everything will be as it is now, just a little different.

And it is perhaps the this-worldy character of messianism that we discover through the course of Spurious, Dogma, and Exodus (the last in particular seems more richly affective, with its descriptions of “time piling up like a great snowdrift” or the squats of Hulme).

“Everything is made of meat,” says the schoolteacher in Beasts of the Southern Wild, explaining to her charges her own take on the worldly omnipresence of the apocalypse. The film shares, I think, something of the cosmology of Iyer’s trilogy. The apocalypse is both on its way and always already here, deep within the fabric of the world that the film’s protagonist, Hushpuppy, listens to with a stillness and concentration: to a world that is “talking to each other in a way I don’t understand.” But the immanence of the apocalypse doesn’t rule out a future. Hushpuppy is meticulously documenting her life, she says, “for the scientists in the future.” And Hushpuppy’s identification of the future with a science that exists at an indistinct temporal distance perhaps explains something that isn’t really examined in the Spurious books: why do Lars and W. have this stubborn attachment to thought? Perhaps it’s an attachment to the day after the last day, when it would finally be possible to think. Until then all we have is the world.

7.00 AM. All around us, on the grass, the Plymouth postgraduates are sleeping. All of God’s children are asleep. What are they dreaming of?, we wonder. Of wide, high Dartmoor, W. hopes. Of cider made from the apples of the moor. Of songs of peace and gentleness sung on the moor. And of Plymouth Sound, seen all the way from the moor, glinting like utopia. (Exodus)