Pompous Circumstanceby Tatiaana L. Laine
(Melville House, 2012)
Dogma, Lars Iyer’s sequel to 2011’s Spurious, based on his eponymous blog, has us meeting up again with our favorite drunken, misguided British intellectuals, narrator Lars and his friend/critic, W. These two friends (can we call them that, given the verbal and emotional abuse?) form their own vision of a religion, Dogma, to somehow give structure to their otherwise seemingly unguided lives. They embark on a lecture tour to spread Dogma to the American South.
Dogma includes contradictory rules which are often added or amended on the spot, such as: “Dogma is spartan. Speak as clearly as you can… . Really speak to them [others] using ordinary language.” “Always use Green terms that you barely understand.” “Dogma is sincere.” “Dogma plagiarizes. Always steal other people’s ideas and claim them as your own.”
As in Spurious, constant verbal battery is inflicted upon Lars. Lars is not his own harshest critic, as is the case with most people—W. is Lars’s harshest critic. We know what W. thinks of Lars (“Sometimes, in my company, W. feels like Jane Goodall, the one who did all that work with chimps.”), but the reader begins to wonder, what does Lars think of himself? “A series of jerks and tics, like those of a hanged man in his final throes; a series of involuntary and grotesque spasms: That will have been my life, W. says.”
Incredulous, dramatic, backhanded compliments are W.’s specialty, although he does not limit himself stylistically when commenting on Lars and their friendship. “‘You drink too much, that’s your problem,’ W. says. ‘Mind you, I’d drink if I had your life.’” When discussing pygmy elephants, he somehow even manages to relate them to Lars: “‘They had great flat feet, like yours,’ W. says.—‘And an improbably small brain, no doubt like yours.’”
In some of the few instances where Lars is allowed to participate in a conversation, the two discuss others ranging from the fat singers they admire (“‘Is he angry because he’s fat,’ I ask of the lead 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”), to famous writers such as Kafka and Blanchot.
But somehow, Iyer makes these two pompous, strange intellectuals, out of touch with the rest of civilization, completely likeable, as they discuss their constant “work”—their reading and writing, as if they are either stuck in yesteryear, where gentlemen simply studied and expanded their minds as a form of employment, or are mad scientists, working on a master plan.