Lars Iyer is the first literary polemicist whom I’ve experienced live, as he happens. Since the publication last year of his first novel, Spurious, he’s received a lot of exposure for ‘Nude In Your Hot Tub, Facing the Abyss’, his essay published in The White Review which announced the death of literature. All that’s left for writers to do, he argues, is mourn its passing. It’s hard to know how lasting this death will prove, but since it currently lies prone, it is appropriate that Iyer’s new novel 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’ — after ‘Dogme 95’, the avant-garde movement of that other Lars (von Trier). These rules start out admirably (‘Dogma is Spartan. Speak as clearly as you can. As simply as you can.’), but become more ridiculous as time — and drink — passes (‘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 the surprise of nobody who’s read Iyer’s essay in The White Review, Dogma has failed.
Dogma succeeds, however, for it is a witheringly funny novel, filled not just with philosophical humour but also a banter exhibiting 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 Devine, 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.
A version of this article originally appeared in the March edition of Totally Dublin.