Sunday, January 21, 2018 Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

David Foster Wallace

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So then how have irony, irreverence, and rebellion come to be not liberating but enfeebling in the culture todayís avant-garde tried to write about? One clueís to be found in the fact that irony is still around, bigger than ever after 30 long years as the dominant mode of hip expression. Itís not a rhetorical mode that wears well. As [Lewis] Hyde. . .puts it, "Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy the cage." This is because irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function. Itís critical and destructive, a ground-clearing. Surely this is the way our postmodern fathers saw it. But ironyís singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks. This is why Hyde seems right about persistent irony being tiresome. It is unmeaty. Even gifted ironists work best in sound bites. I find gifted ironists sort of wickedly funny to listen to at parties, but I always walk away feeling like Iíve had several radical surgical procedures. And as for actually driving cross-country with a gifted ironist, or sitting through a 300-page novel full of nothing by trendy sardonic exhaustion, one ends up feeling not only empty but somehow. . .oppressed.
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E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction

 
David Foster Wallace

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And make no mistake: irony tyrannizes us. The reason why our pervasive cultural irony is at once so powerful and so unsatisfying is that an ironist is impossible to pin down. All U.S. irony is based on an implicit "I donít really mean what Iím saying." So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That itís impossible to mean what you say? That maybe itís too bad itís impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, todayís irony ends up saying: "How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean."

 
David Foster Wallace
 

I keep seeing, over these past couple of weeks, people trying to make cultural pronouncements about what these terrible events will mean for our culture. The one I keep seeing is that Irony has passed. That it is The Death of Irony. Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fairóone of the foremost, by the way, magazine authorities on irony. I don't know if you've seen their Young Hollywood issue, but they don't mean it. Uh, but I was thinking... maybe we should wait to make pronouncements about what will happen to us culturally until the fire [at Ground Zero] is completely put outódon't you think? I mean, it's still smoking down there. Maybe we shouldn't necessarily decide what's the rest of History of Man going to be. No? And why did Irony have to die? Why couldn't puns have died? Or would that have been too devastating for Mr. Al Yankovic? No, no... apparently, only the kind of humor I'm fond of is dead. Thanks, Graydon.

 
Jon Stewart
 

Irony, forsooth! Guard yourself, Engineer, from the sort of irony that thrives up here; guard yourself altogether from taking on their mental attitude! Where irony is not a direct and classic device of oratory, not for a moment equivocal to a healthy mind, it makes for depravity, it becomes a drawback to civilization, an unclean traffic with the forces of reaction, vice and materialism.

 
Thomas Mann
 

Mr. Cabell has a profound creed of comedy rooted in that romance which is his regular habit. ... only gradually did his gaiety strengthen into irony. Although that irony was the progenitor of the comic spirit which now in his maturity dominates him, it has never shaken off the romantic elements which originally nourished it. Rather, romance and irony have grown up in his work side by side. ... He allows John Charteris in Beyond Life ó for the most part Mr. Cabell's mouthpiece ó to set forth the doctrine that romance is the real demiurge, "the first and loveliest daughter of human vanity," whereby mankind is duped ó and exalted.

 
James Branch Cabell
 

[On David Cameron] When I heard this inherited multi-million ex-Etonian talking about a culture of entitlement, well, I'm sorry, but my irony meter went through the red and then exploded in a gale of bitter laughter. It actually went "HAA!" I was furious, because I've only just had a new irony metre installed after Rebekah Brooks complained about how she had been unfairly reported by the British press.

 
Marcus Brigstocke
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