Who is Ivan Boris??
New novel My Week Without Gérard is aptly described by its publisher as a “surreal, slapstick nightmare set in the end-times of counter-cultural journalism.” It is a book “so squarely at odds with the culture it mercilessly lampoons, it’s little wonder the author writes under a pseudonym.” True to the mind-bending textual labyrinth the author, “Ivan Boris,” and the editors have created, the two endorsements on the cover of the lavish first edition are from characters who appear in the book: fashion designer Rick Owens, who praises his own bloody death scene, and the fictional magazine editor Tim Sizebank, who declares it, “essential reading for any of the disposable maggots who ever worked in fashion or new media.” The story concerns a young, bedraggled reporter for a London fashion magazine sold by homeless people called Down N Out!, who blags an assignment to Paris to search for a superstar philosopher who has mysteriously vanished.
We caught up with the editor of the underground press Morbid Books, Lev Parker, to discuss their essential new book which, despite our praise, he insists he did not write.
Callum Berry: My Week Without Gérard is hilarious while still managing to sincerely reflect the absurdity of our new-media realities, as represented by the fictional Down N Out! magazine. Is this because the novel is inspired by real-life events?
Lev Parker: Almost certainly. As you say, the depiction of British style publications and Paris Fashion Week is so accurate, I find it hard to believe that ‘Ivan Boris’ does not have first-hand experience in these fields.
CB: How long did the book take to write? Do you know if the initial plan was to create a hallucinogenic detective mystery?
LP: Apparently it took about seven years. Having seen the earlier drafts, I know the initial idea was for a more simple story about a journalist looking for a superstar philosopher in Paris. But once the “cut-up” method was introduced, and Lester starts navigating contemporary Paris with a biography of the Surrealist poet André Breton, and weaving lots of other texts into the narrative, then it became a much more complex construction, gluing it all together like hip-hop samples. It had to be done so seamlessly that readers didn’t notice, and so far they haven’t…
CB: The book features an impressive array of characters, a world where André Breton, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Helena Blavatsky, Françoise Hardy, Jean-Luc Godard, Aleister Crowley, Wilhelm Reich, Jim Davidson, Zinedine Zidane, and many others occupy. Was there ever a list of all the individuals Ivan wanted to include in the narrative, or did their voices manifest during the process, appearing out of the unconscious in moments of automatic writing?
LP: There appear to have been few conscious decisions made when constructing the text, besides maybe some basic structural issues like getting Lester from A to B for the detective plot to work, although they may also have been decided based on some Oulipo-inspired method of random chance – I can’t say for sure! Although the further you delve into popular culture, Surrealism, mystical and psychedelic thought, these characters just appear, like they do in your media-saturated experience of “reality.” To that extent, I guess the novel is actually quite “realistic,” as a few readers have kindly said that it transports them vividly to the locations in the book. The only difference, I guess, is that we’re seeing Paris through the eyes of a protagonist, Lester Langway, who blurs his sensory perceptions with cultural references, so the novel is actually “set” across multiple time periods. There are scenes where it leaps back to Edmond Bailly’s bookshop in the 1890s, the 1920s and the birth of Surrealism – he’s literally walking in Breton’s shoes – and at others he’s in a 1960s New Wave film. While at the same time he’s also corporeally in the “present” of a city that has become notoriously “museumified.”
“Lester starts navigating contemporary Paris with a biography of the Surrealist poet André Breton…”
CB: Who is Gérard? And what is the significance of Kantian Philosophy in the book?
LP: All French readers instinctively know who the title character, the superstar philosopher Gérard Derenne, is based on. He’s both a national icon and laughing stock: it’s clearly Bernard-Henri Lévy, or simply BHL, as he is known colloquially. But he’s not very well known outside of France, so that element of the satire is lost on many Anglophone readers. As for Kantian philosophy, Gérard Derenne’s best friend is the world’s leading expert on Immanuel Kant. I’m not a philosopher or disposed to critiquing books I have published, so I wouldn’t want to delve too far into that kind of interpretation, except to say that having a Kantian philosopher as a character sets up a funny joke at the end of the narrative where the famous “intruder’s dilemma” is played for laughs. When the philosopher refuses to lie, as any good Kantian would, it causes quite a ruckus: “A truth had been revealed,” although it’s up to the reader to decide what that is.
CB: The cover images of the book are by Max Ernst. Was this your first-choice design, and what made you select this specific piece?
LP: Yes, A Friends’ Reunion (1923) is a group portrait of the Surrealists that is explicitly mentioned by the character “Magic Mike,” owner of the occult bookstore, to furnish his theory that Breton – wearing a red cape in the Ernst picture – was a magician, and the Surrealists were actually a quasi-Masonic order or secret society.
CB: The Morbid Books bent-spoon logo seems to be a reference to the famous mentalist Uri Geller, who also appears in the novel. Have you ever been in contact with him, whether psychically or by direct correspondence?
LP: I can’t talk about that. You would have to read my mind.
“There are scenes where it leaps back to Edmond Bailly’s bookshop in the 1890s, the 1920s and the birth of Surrealism”
"It was depressing to think that World War III had already begun, essentially, with a hair-splitting contest." *** Ivan Boris, My Week Without Gérard, 2021 *** Last couple hundred copies of the visionary masterpiece available from https://t.co/f4rsWOQkJI pic.twitter.com/zqTXQf3UNi
— Morbid Books (@morbidbooks) July 21, 2021
CB: The novel boasts a fine playlist featuring the likes of Serge Gainsbourg, Nino Ferrer and Claude Debussy. Can you tell us more about The Surrealist Temple’s musical endeavours?
LP: We have recorded an album with a couple of Insecure Men due for release on Trashmouth records, although apparently there’s a shortage of vinyl at the moment, so that has to wait. Until then we’re releasing videos. Live appearances happen every now and then, but musicians are notoriously hard to work with, and I fire the band after pretty much every show, so when they happen they’re always different, as any Surrealist band should be.
CB: For readers new to Morbid Books, how can they support the Temple of Surrealism, buy your books, or become initiated as a member?
LP: Join the Temple of Surrealism mailing list! We generally release between one and six publications a year, and subscribers get them delivered automatically at cost price. Otherwise, due to the absurd margins they take from us, we’ve pretty much withdrawn all our books from physical bookstores. So besides the odd one, our publications can only be obtained from the Morbid Books shop, which is currently online, although there are plans to establish pop-up venues in a few locations. If anyone wants a Morbid Books bookshop in their bar, nightclub or massage parlour, get in contact – either via telepathy or email – and let’s make it happen.