European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts · Malta · 15-18 June 2015

A call for papers from the European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSAeu):

This year’s conference is dedicated to the theme of Scale. In one way or another, scale is an issue deeply embedded in every discipline and every aspect of scholarly and scientific research. As the Call for Papers puts it, in the grand scheme of things Scale is the scheme of things itself. We do very much hope, therefore, that you will be as excited by the prospect of an interdisciplinary conference on Scale as we are. We are very pleased that the location of the conference will be Malta, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean with a rich history and culture, where effects of scale have exerted intriguing and complex energies for centuries, and which provides a particularly fitting and appealing venue for this year’s event. (more…)

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Spinoza memorial at the New Church in The Hague. Photograph: Dan Chung
Clare Carlisle (The Guardian) outlines the philosopher’s ideas in an accessible series of articles

One of the most important and distinctive features of Spinoza’s philosophy is that it is practical through and through. His ideas are never merely intellectual constructions, but lead directly to a certain way of life. This is evidenced by the fact that his greatest work, which combines metaphysics, theology, epistemology, and human psychology, is called Ethics. In this book, Spinoza argues that the way to “blessedness” or “salvation” for each person involves an expansion of the mind towards an intuitive understanding of God, of the whole of nature and its laws. In other words, philosophy for Spinoza is like a spiritual practice, whose goal is happiness and liberation. (more…)

My 2011 nomination for The Guardian‘s Not the Booker award

58430-larsiyerspuriousbookThis is not the Booker Prize. Let’s remember that. This is something quite different. The idea of an award named Not the Booker Prize is cheeky: it playfully challenges the prestigious honour of the Booker with a counterfeit alternative, an imitation of the real thing. Or is that going to far? I would suggest that the Not the Booker Prize is not so phoney after all: it simply awards on the basis of different values. Here, we are not looking for books that fit snugly on canonical shelves. Not the Booker Prize is our chance to praise new and alternative voices, writers that colour outside the lines.

With this in mind, what could be a more appropriate winner than Lars Iyer’s Spurious? The clue is in the title, surely. Beautifully awkward and wilfully absurd, Spurious is a short, funny text that celebrates the lowdown and the everyday. If we are feeling generous, we might compare its two protagonists with any number of other haplessly comic duos: Withnail and I immediately springs to mind, or Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet, or Samuel Beckett’s Mercier and Camier. But we’re already getting off the point – already lunging towards the classics and forgetting what draws us towards Iyer’s book in the first place. If we want texts of high-standing and lofty repute, we already know where to go. But the exchanges that comprise Spurious are something of an antidote, deflating egos and popping grandiose ideas. It’s a book that is, paradoxically, both below and above literary prizes and trinkets. What better candidate, then, for such a mischievous award?