Monday, November 19, 2012

Civilization and its Discontents

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I realize that there are probably few things less appetizing than a big block of text to start the week, but it is a short week – and I can't resist sharing this great piece from the Sunday Review section of this weekend's Times about the price of irony (by Christy Wampole, a professor at Princeton). Highly recommended, if, like me, you are cranky and generally sick of bullshit these days. A few excerpts:
The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.

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While we have gained some skill sets (multitasking, technological savvy), other skills have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present. Our conduct is no longer governed by subtlety, finesse, grace and attention, all qualities more esteemed in earlier decades. Inwardness and narcissism now hold sway.

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Where can we find [] examples of nonironic living? What does it look like? Nonironic models include very young children, elderly people, deeply religious people, people with severe mental or physical disabilities, people who have suffered, and those from economically or politically challenged places where seriousness is the governing state of mind. My friend Robert Pogue Harrison put it this way in a recent conversation: “Wherever the real imposes itself, it tends to dissipate the fogs of irony.”

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Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.

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The ironic life is certainly a provisional answer to the problems of too much comfort, too much history and too many choices, but ... this mode of living is not viable and conceals within it many social and political risks. For such a large segment of the population to forfeit its civic voice through the pattern of negation [] described is to siphon energy from the cultural reserves of the community at large. People may choose to continue hiding behind the ironic mantle, but this choice equals a surrender to commercial and political entities more than happy to act as parents for a self-infantilizing citizenry.
Read the whole piece here and then discuss over Thanksgiving dinner.

While we're on the topic:

Fran Lebowitz, Public Speaking (Martin Scorsese, 2010)

And, here, watch this again over Thanksgiving weekend too:

 


  
Kicking and Screaming (Noah Baumbach, 1995)

p.s. Just for the record, the irony that I'm blogging about all of this does not escape me.

2 comments:

Katie Rankin said...

Hi Emily, thanks for sharing this article. particularly the fourth paragraph..thanks for the reminder.

Toni said...

I appreciate this especially in light of your comments about football lacking irony.