Since the publication last year of his first novel, Spurious, Lars Iyer has received a lot of exposure for his essay, published in The White Review, announcing the death of literature. All that’s left for writers to do, he argues, is mourn its passing. True enough, his new novel, Dogma, bears all the qualities of a good wake: despair, drunkenness, laughter, philosophy, indirection.
A sequel to Spurious, Dogma is little more than a record of conversations had by two disaffected academics: Lars, who narrates, and his mentor, W., who berates, bewails and bickers. The pair go on a lecture-tour of America, during which time they outline the rules of their new intellectual doctrine known as Dogma. These rules start out quite admirably (“Dogma is Spartan. Speak as clearly as you can. As simply as you can.”), but become more ridiculous as time (and drink) goes by (“always use Greek terms that you barely understand.”). Before we know it, Dogma ceases to be spoken of in the present tense and begins life in the past. To nobody’s surprise, Dogma has failed.
Dogma succeeds, however, for it is a witheringly funny novel, filled not just with philosophical humour but also a banter that exhibits the unexpected angles of Iyer’s frame of reference. “Is he angry because he’s fat?, I ask of the singer in Modest Mouse. – No, he was angry and then he got fat’, W. says. Do you think he minds being fat?, I ask. – ‘He has other issues’, W. says.”
With the exception of Finnegan and possibly Ned, Dogma is a wake anyone would be happy to have. Literature may or may not arise like Finnegan. No matter what happens, though, you can be absolutely certain that somebody will make a fortune impersonating it, as they did Ned.
Words: Kevin Breathnach