June 10th, 2012
Dogma is the sequel to Spurious, which I read last year and wrote about here. Like the last book, this one follows the meanderings of Lars and W., two English academics who share a tendency toward the apocalyptic and a fondness for gin. As in the last book, there is a lot of angst: about horrors both big (the end-times) and personal (the failure to read and write and work). And as in the last book, W. spends a whole lot of time disparaging Lars, whose stupidity, according to W., is endless. In this book, W. worries about losing his job—there are rumors that his university is restructuring, doing away with whole departments—and W. and Lars go on a lecture tour to America, but only make it to Tennessee. After that failed tour, W. and Lars decide to make their own intellectual movement, which they call Dogma: it will be “spartan” yet “full of pathos,” and driven by sincerity and collaboration (86). They start giving Dogma presentations, which start out sounding legitimately scholarly (the first one is on Kafka) but quickly deteriorate into the ridiculous—by the end of the third presentation, W. has decided that a new rule will be to “always speak of nuns, and dogs” (102). And things get better/worse from there: “For the seventh, but a single word was necessary, projected onto the wall behind us: DERELICTION” (105).
Lars and W. talk about religion, messianism, and thought vs. feeling, and namedrop various philosophers whose work they’re reading, or have read, or are trying to read, but really their main concern is their own stuckness, Lars’s stupidity and W.’s, too, and the decline of modern society/civilization as a whole. This is often quite funny: here’s W. on Lars’s stupidity:
The roaring of the sea is like the roaring of my stupidity, W. says. It’s a terrible sound, but a magnificent one, too. It’s the sound of unlearning, he says. It’s the sound of Lars, of the chaos that undoes every idea. (7)
And here’s how W. reacts when Lars loses the address of their hosts in Nashville, leaving them stranded overnight in the airport:
W. takes his copy of Spinoza’s Ethics from his man bag, the only thing you can do at times like this. —’Spinoza teaches you to affirm everything’, W. says. ‘Affirm, affirm, affirm, that’s what Spinoza says’. But W. can’t affirm the copy of National Enquirer I buy at the kiosk, nor the Twinkies I stuff into my mouth. Somehow I always stand in the way of his beatitude. (18)