Origins of Silence, a review of Dogma by Toby Lichtig from The Times Literary Supplement, April 13 2012, p.22:
The epithet 'Beckettian' is perhaps the most overused in criticism, frequently employed as a proxy for less distinguished designations such as 'sparse' or 'a bit depressing'. But Lars Iyer's fiction richly deserves this appellation. His playfully spare - and wryly depressing - landscape, incorporating a bickering double act on a hopeless, existential journey, is steeped in the bathos, farce, wordplay and metaphysics of the man John Calder referred to as 'the last of the great stoics', its characters accelerating towards a condition of eternal silence, fuelled only by the necessity of speaking out. Other influences abound, self-consciously so, including Franz Kafka and Maurice Blanchot, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Antonio Gramsci; but it is what these thinkers share with Samuel Beckett that stands out: an interest in what might be termed the tragicomic flight of Zeno's arrow.
Following on from Spurious (also the name of his blog), Dogma is the second in Iyer's proposed trilogy of buggering-on-in-spite books, featuring a narrator also called Lars (half Danish, half Hindu) and his splenetic companion W. (half Jewish, half Catholic), vagrant philosophers (where Beckett was fond of philosophical vagrants) bound by a friendship of loving antagonism). Lars and W. shamble around the corridors of academe, attending ever-more futile seminars and lecture tours, and sinking with increasing resolve into degradation, alcoholism and insult. This bullying is superficially one-directional: W. ridicules Lars, but it is Lars who reports this ridicule to us.
Thus we learn that our narrator is (for W.) gauche in his emotions, simian in his manners, stone-age in his intellect, at best a 'savant', at worst 'Scandotrash', 'a squalid man amidst the squalor', a 'Homo Floresiensis of thought', 'an administrator of the spirit', 'fundamentally bureaucratic', 'a petty man, yes; a troubled man, no'. This tool of reported insult, as well as being entertaining, provides a curious sketch of the tormentor himself, a frustrated minor academic who cannot come to terms with the endless disappointments offered by the contemporary life of the mind. W.'s own sense of self-worth (despite his many self-acknowledged talents) is wavering at best, but perception, pace Derrida, being a system of relations, there is thankfully always Lars to buck him up: 'W. feels like Socrates, he says. And I am Diogenes, Socrates's idiot double'. At other times, our narrator merely appears to drag his friend down: 'Somehow I always stand in the way of his beatitude'. The endless affront also serves a higher purpose: it provides a language for the author's exploration of existential crisis.
With their souls in such a parlous state, there is clearly only one thing for it: they must found a new philosophical movement to while away the time between the morass and the apocalypse (an inevitability that Lars, with his Hindu's attitude towards cyclicality, cannot, says W., hope to comprehend). Taking their inspiration from the avant-garde realism of the filmmakers Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, as outlined in their 'Dogma 95' manifesto, W. (with dubious help from Lars) invents 'Dogma', a school of thinking rooted in spartanism, sincerity, collaboration and plagiarism, before expanding its principles to include reticence, alcoholism and something far more violent ('But we got scared and backed out'). The first Dogma presentation, on Kafka, goes well: 'W. spoke very movingly of his encounter with The Castle in a Wolverhampton library. I spoke very ineptly (W. said afterwards) ...'. Further talks on love and friendship lead to fissures: by the eighth lecture 'we were almost incoherent' with drink and for the ninth 'we went to the pub instead'. The fifteenth presentation 'was for our benefit only. We gave it in secret, under cover'. In their babbling, beer-sodden hopelessness, they gradually, and failingly, approach what for Beckett, as for Wittgenstein and Blanchot, one always feels was the preferred option: silence.
Along the way, there is much scope for garrulous reflection on the human condition, fuelled by the characters' (and author's) academic interests, including the (Henri) Lefebvrean conception of 'eternullity', the Blanchotian 'infinite wearing away', the Gramscian crisis ('the old is dying and the new cannot be born') and the Leibnizian differential: 'It is the infinite that founds the finite and not the finite the infinite - this is why the infinite is not a negative concept'. At times, Iyer's fiction feels more like literary philosophy than philosophical literature, and the relentless metaphysical hammering can wear thin. Ungenerous reviewers might even ask whether we need another quasi-Beckettian prober of the abyss, retreading the old ground between late modernism and poststructuralism with a pair of grim-gay revelation-awaiting no-can-ers and a series of disposable quotations from a doubtless impressive library (Iyer is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and the author of two books on Maurice Blanchot).
Those critics, however, would be ignoring the countless charms of the text. Iyer's fiction isn't likely to change the world but perhaps that's the point, and in the meantime we can be diverted by its irreverence, intelligence and, perhaps above all, its darkly cheerful exploration of friendship. The real joke of the novel is less W.'s cruelty than the fact that Lars retains the upper hand by controlling the reportage. This opposition sustains it, and within it there is sufficient love almost to gesture towards something beyond the void.