SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS on Lars Iyer’s Dogma.
Melville House, February 2012. 223 pp.
Our heroes: unlikely philosophers, whining their way through the American South and their hometowns of Plymouth and Newcastle in England. W. and Lars have Monty Python and Kierkegaard locked in a death grip in their DNA. W. is continually surprised and disgusted by Lars: his slackness, his torpor, his inability to learn anything. Lars (Eeyore to W.’s Winnie ille Pooh) is right to wonder who is the orderly and who is the lunatic on their lunatic’s outings into the world. “One day they’ll decrypt me,” W. says to Lars in one of many rants. “One day, the Rosetta Stone of my stupidity will yield up its secrets. — ‘You see!’, W. will say. ‘I told you so!’, he’ll say, when they solve my riddle.”
Together, they form Dogma, their religion. They make presentations to ever-dwindling groups in both countries, each time more drunken than the last. Eventually disgusted with America — “The United States of Thought-Robbery,” W. calls it — they head home to spread the word. W. is strongly against art: “We ought to fine artists rather than subsidise them, he says. They ought to be subject to systematic purges. He’s never doubted we need some kind of Cultural Revolution.” Dogma is chock-full of this and other modest proposals. Just when my hilarity over the first book of their misadventures, Spurious, had faded to a low chuckle, Dogma comes along. Between the two books, there’s almost no point in breathing, much less coming to any strong conclusions about life, the universe, and everything.
Nice to see Iyer get a shout-out from the LARB, but I’m pretty sure that quotation at the end of the first paragraph is incorrect (I should check that). Also, Dogma deserves more than a parenthetical review like this, IMO. It’s very easy to read Iyer’s books as minor comic novels, but they are also philosophical novels — very good ones, I think. The comic aspect makes them more fun and more readable (and thus better) but the species of humour is also totally crucial to the philosophical premises at work.
For instance, one of the principal points of both books is that high intellectual seriousness has somehow become unattainable for us. The context in which it once flourished has disappeared and so the mode is lost, or appears only as kitsch. And so in order to be serious without falling prey to the kitsch-effect, Iyer undertakes his project in the clownish mode. His characters are “mystical idiots” who are forced to be foolish because they want so much to be wise.