I’m re-reading the classical anti-irony essay by David Foster Wallace, E Unibus Pluram (I’m reading it in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, but it’s also online here) and nodding along like all good nodders do when they see something laid out what they were thinking, but said in a way more elegant than their own thoughts could ever say. Because thoughts in the end are muddied wires running through thick rural wastelands, coming up in nests of electrical eggs and sparking around but not finding the current, not finding the actual actuality of it. Or something like that.
Here’s a quote that I think sums it all up:
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 don’t really mean what I’m saying.” So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it’s impossible to mean what you say? That maybe it’s too bad it’s impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, today’s irony ends up saying: “How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean.” (pg 67-ish in my copy)
And it makes me think of Vonnegut’s Mother Night, his darkest, dreariest book, with the humor in it so sharp and filled with morose about the human condition I always have to watch Looney Tunes for an hour after reading it just to fend off the cynicism. In it, of course, if you read it or whatever, you’ll note the whole point of it is We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
And when DFW is calling Irony as totalitarian instinct, that in the end it’s not about something but more about not being something, an oppression of self, so to speak, this line from Vonnegut (and the whole book, really) becomes an illumination of sorts- that irony itself is a wall trying to pretend we are who are not, but in actuality that’s who really are. In other words, irony is a cheap trick to wall off ourselves from reality, but in actuality it is in a way a reflection of our reality. It is, so to speak, who we really are, but disguised in a way not to leave ourselves vulnerable, a way of showing a true self but hide behind this wall of wit or pathos but is in actuality our truth in a way.
Or if it’s not the truth of the matter when it’s first thought of, it eventually becomes the truth of the matter. Another good quote that he quotes from someone else- irony is sincerity with a motive. It’s an interesting thought, about who we can be and who we are, and what we will ourselves to be.
It’s hard to search for truth and meaning (esp in fiction or narratives or works or whatever) when it’s occluded behind a jocular shell, something were we put ourselves at a distance from our surroundings, from ourselves, yet you have to wonder if this is irony or if it is actuality.
And with all the narratives/etc (movies, commercials, novels, poetry, etc) all hiding behind ironic curtains (oooh- a pun!) the actual truth that comes out is more refreshing and somewhat distrustful but somehow in the end a truth in a way and it leaves the person slinging things like that vulnerable and ready to be stabbed, but also more substantial. Of course, irony works best as an attack on conformity, but sincerity doesn’t have to be about conforming, about filling a mold. There has to be a sort of middle ground. Fuck if I know what that is. I just know I’m sick of all this put on concepts, where we feel like this distance and this fake-culture is more important than actuality.