Dogma in the Doghouse

* Dogma

* Lars Iyer

* Melville House

* Pages: 223, $14.95

In his recent "literary manifesto after the end of literature and manifestos", the Danish-Indian academic Lars Iyer said that literature nowadays was no more than a pantomime, and a tired one at that. He called upon writers to "resist closed forms", to "mark the absence of Hope, of Belief, of Commitments, of high-flown Seriousness" as well as a sense of imposture. "The end is nigh," he concluded. "The party's over."

All of this — along with a vein of dark comedy — was much in evidence in Iyer's first novel Spurious (though traditionalists would say it was more a series of linked blog posts than an actual novel). Spurious introduced to the world a pair of bumbling academics, the first one named Lars, the second simply W. Philosophers manqué, a pair of Brods without a Kafka, they made their way through a universe facing "end times", with the hapless Lars being grandly insulted and upstaged by W. at every opportunity.

The pair return in Iyer's new work, Dogma, with W. still firmly convinced that the end is nigh: "Our end or the end of the world?" "Both!" Happily, his insults are as Falstaffian as ever. He asserts that if he's a Socrates, Lars is "a Diogenes gone mad", exhorting him time and again, as the policeman tells the lost wayfarer in the Kafka story, to "give it up!" W. is also compelled to make fun of Lars' Hindu heritage, including a memorable occasion when, referring to a statue of Nataraja, he mocks his luckless confrère: "What's your cosmic dance like? It's the funky chicken, isn't it?" Dogma is virtually without plot, but in the course of its pages, the two embark upon a lecture tour of the US, visiting, among other places, Nashville and Memphis, which of course brings about much mock-philosophising by W. At other times, there's laughter from the abyss: "Philosophy is like an unrequited love affair. You get nothing back; there's only longing, inadequacy, a life unfulfilled." (As you can tell by now, Dogma's aphoristic style makes the urge to frequently quote from it irresistible.)

... contd.

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