Lars Iyer is a well known figure of the literary blogosphere, and as a relative neophyte in the space, I only recently came across his name, but liking what I sampled of Dogma, I decided to give it a full read. I like to keep up, when I can, with new fiction, especially that beyond the realm of typical academic fiction, which I generally find too cloistered. It reflects the austerity in Britain following the financial crisis and its similarity to the great depression. It reminded me, as I read it, of Orwell’s early work, Down and Out in Paris and London, and Road to Wigan Pier.
Make no mistake about it, Dogma is academic fiction. It seems cloistered, concerned as it is with the lives of two failed academics, but isn’t typical in other ways. There is no narrative structure, which is okay with me, as I generally prefer episodic fiction, but it isn’t episodic either; no stream of consciousness, a plus for me; and no story, about which I am more ambivalent. Among their greater glories, most of the classic works of literature, prior to Joyce, had a story to tell. Even E. M. Forster told stories, despite his disparagement of the reader who primarily wants a story. Though story may be the least of an author’s achievements, it does give the reader a path to follow, and a reason to continue reading, even as other elements slow the reader down.
What sold me initially was the freshness of the concept, (the novel as Laurel and Hardy routine,) the approachability of the text, the high and low humor, and the wit and charm of the two lead characters, whom I could well imagine, later in their lives, Waiting for Godot. Here is a writer, I initially thought, who is writing literature for those beyond the classroom, satirizing academic life in a way that appeals to non-academics. Indeed, it offered a chuckle a minute, until I came to the explication of dogma. Somehow, once he was through that amusing bit, about halfway into the book, the author took a much darker turn and the humor, if there was any, was totally lost on me, as was the point in going on reading the sadomasochistic musings of W. and Lars. I felt that I was reading solely to facilitate this review.
I would have enjoyed it more if the author did more with the American lecture tour, which peters out after a couple of pages. One imagines the author in trouble here, as if he had never been to the States and did not know how to depict it. He might have done much with Lars and W. as a latter day Duke and the Dauphin, presenting the lectures on dogma to ignorant or adoring American audiences (for the flavor he might read the blogs and comments on chronicle.com or the Washington Post) making an intentional hash of philosophical topics without anyone suspecting anything, just to see if they can get away with it. I can see these two celebrating their imagined overseas triumphs as word filters in from back home that their careers are in grave danger. Finally, someone figures them out, all hell breaks loose and people start throwing dead rats at them, or something.
The author might also have made a lot more of W.’s wife, Sal. Sadly it is a tale of missed opportunities, both for the characters and the author.