July 19, 2021
“God is dead” was no celebration on Frederick Nietzsche’s part. It was a warning. Where would we find meaning now that the Enlightenment had rid us of the easy comfort of an unquestioned Lord? In 1942, Albert Camus attempted an answer in The Myth of Sisyphus. We recognize the absurdity but must imagine a happiness; “it is he who must give the void its colors.” It became our journey, our charge, our purpose, to provide the meaning. It doesn’t matter but as long as we’re here anyway, we might as well make it matter.
I’ve never liked it one bit. Neither, it seems, does Dara’s unnamed hero (& very occasional narrator).
“If his purpose is to generate purpose then that is no purpose at all.” (pg. 101)
The story is a manuscript appeared on the writer Richard Powers’ stoop in the early to mid 1990s. The manuscript was The Lost Scrapbook, the first novel from the author working in complete pseudonymity publishing under the name Evan Dara. The story is a good one, as literary stories go. The reclusive author, like Bolaño’s Archimboldi in 2666, DeLillo’s Bill Gray, and even in the unceasing cast of writers, real and imagined, summoned in Vila-Matas’ Bartleby & Co. where he goes about defining “the literature of the no,” is an alluring literary figure.
The story is the manuscript goes on to win the 12th Annual Fiction Collective 2 competition, judged by William T. Vollmann. The story goes it received one contemporaneous national review, an extremely favorable reading by Tom LeClair comparing Dara’s work to William Gaddis and was then summarily dismissed. The story is the famed critic and Gaddis scholar Steven Moore reached out to Evan Dara by e-mail to ask about the influence of JR, Gaddis’ massive 1,000-page novel primarily told in unattributed dialogue. This story is also a pretty good one. It feels specially tailored to spend the rest of its life performing as an interesting anecdote at parties put on by smartly dressed university professors. Evan Dara writes Steven Moore back. Says he checked JR out of a Paris library. Says he opened it once. Says he shut it. Says he didn’t want the influence.