January 28, 2011

The A to Z of Spurious: From Canada to God


“Two friends [Lars and W.] drink, walk in the English countryside, and talk (and talk and talk) in Iyer’s playfully cerebral debut,” says Publishers Weekly about Lars Iyer‘s Spurious, which it also describes as “piquant, often hilarious, and gutsy.” But what do they talk and talk and talk about? Mostly philosophy. Frequently God. Also alcohol. And a lot of nonsense. In case readers are curious about the esoteric/ridiculous topics of conversation, Iyer has prepared a handy “A to Z of Spurious” which he introduces like so:

I hope Spurious can be enjoyed by a reader entirely unfamiliar with the names and ideas mentioned in its pages. In large measure, I think, it is the way W. and Lars enthuse about a scholarly project or a specific thinker that makes the novel entertaining (if indeed it is entertaining). On the other hand, perhaps there is something to be gained from focusing in a little more depth on some of the recurring ideas, names and objects in Spurious, since they are not entirely arbitrary. That is the aim of this A to Z.

(If you missed the previous installment of this piecemeal encyclopedia, you may read it here.)

C is for …


W.’s utopia, where he spent much of his childhood and to which, through numerous job applications, he has tried and failed to return.


Town in southwest England, reached from Plymouth by passing through Mount Edgcumbe. W. and Lars visit a pub there.

Cohen, Hermann, 1842-1918

German-Jewish Neo-Kantian philosopher, who, in his late work, argued for the ethical significance of Judaism. His account of what he called the correlation of God and human beings, whereby, although independent, they reciprocally determine one another, was very important to Rosenzweig‘s thought.

Also notable in Cohen’s work is the role of prophetic messianism, which sees the defeat of injustice in the movement towards the realisation of ideal ethical laws.

W. finds Cohen’s work particularly suggestive regarding the notion of the infinite.

Conic Sections

A conic section is any of a group of curves (circle, ellipse, parabola, hyperbola) formed by the intersection of a right circular cone and a plane. Originally studied by the ancient Greeks, Kepler found an important scientific application for them in the seventeenth century when discovered that planets move in ellipses.

W. reads Cohen on conic sections, and dreams he might himself become the philosopher of conic sections just as Lars might become the philosopher of the infinitesimal calculus.

D is for …


Moisture on an inner surface of a building, promoting the staining of walls by salt and mould. Leads to the loosening of wallpaper and the rotting of wood, and sees paint and plaster flaking away.

Damp has a number of causes: condensation damp comes from water vapour in areas of the building where air doesn’t circulate; penetrating damp results from precipitation entering an inner surface as a result of faulty roof flashing or missing pointing; and rising damp is caused by capillary action dragging ground moisture up a masonry wall.

The cause of damp in Lars’s flat is, however, mysterious. Although we see W. helping Lars to clear the kitchen and bathroom in the flat in preparation for the application of a damp proof course, it appears that this remedy fails. The kitchen remains damp, and there is still the sound of rushing water. We next learn that the ceiling has been taken down, and new joists installed: presumably some kind of leak has been fixed. But the sound of streaming water persists. No amount of dehumidifying and fan heating seems to make any difference to the damp, which Lars calls his apocalypse.

Deleuze, Gilles, 1925-1995

French philosopher mentioned in passing in Spurious. Lars justifies his inactivity by comparing it to the ‘five year hole’ in Deleuze’s career. Deleuze actually refers in an interview to an ‘eight year hole’, the gap between his monographs on Hume (1953) and Nietzsche (1961) in which he was busy teaching in the lycées and working as an assistant in the history of philosophy at the Sorbonne. Deleuze’s expression is borrowed from F. Scott Fitzgerald, who writes of a ‘ten year hole’ in one of his short stories.


Scottish city on the Tay estuary, the fourth largest in the country. It seems to enjoy a microclimate that, while it is in the far north of Britain, makes it surprisingly warm and bright. This is why Lars puts on his sunglasses, which W. so despises, on their visit to the city.

E is for …

Esteem Indicators

Marks of respect from scholars and researchers in a particular academic field, including awards, fellowships of learned societies, prizes, editorial roles, conference organisation, positions in national and international strategic advisory bodies etc.

W. suggests that Lars, who lacks any of the above, fill in humiliation indicators instead.


American readers might find it surprising that the British speak of Europe as though they didn’t belong to it. But Europe, to the British, is invariably continental Europe, i.e. over there, across the channel.

W. and Lars also speak of Old Europe – a sense of culture and history very different from that in Britain. Indeed, they claim that the British no longer live in history. They feel they will never be part of that milieu from which the thinkers they admire emerged, neither speaking its languages nor having the necessary depth of scholarship and religious feeling.

F is for …

Flat, The

Lars owns a damp-ridden flat, the floors of which noticeably tilt because the flat was built above a mineshaft. The damp in the kitchen has long since prevented the electricity in there from working. Behind the flat, there’s an equally grotty yard. Sal refuses to visit Lars’s flat, and W. does so only under protest.


Full name: Freiberg im Breisgau. Small city on the edge of the Black Forest in the southwest of Germany. Freiburg was known as the ‘city of phenomenology’ in the 1920s, with Husserl and then Heidegger holding university Chairs there. Freiburg was painstakingly reconstructed street by street, house by house, after extensive bombing during World War II.

The Fish Quay

Historic part of North Shields, a small coastal town to the east of Newcastle, on the Tyne. Ferries run from the nearby terminal to the Netherlands (not Norway, as W. and Lars seem to think).


W.’s touching faith in friendship and love can seem at odds with his perpetual hounding of Lars. But nagging, he says, is part of friendship; how else might friends push one another to greatness?

W.’s plan only to publish with his friends has led him into difficulties with his editor, whose publishing company seems to have failed, resulting in W.’s book having gone almost immediately out of print.

G is for …


The characters cannot but struggle with the idea of God. They are not, in any usual sense of the word, men of faith, but they do see themselves as, in some measure, religious: that is, they feel a kind of religious pathos. Alas, this is not enough to save them from atheism.

(To be continued…)