Re: virus: Irony as public discourse (fwd)

Marek Jedlinski (
Fri, 12 Apr 1996 03:41:07 +0200 (MESZ)

I think I can smell a fascinating thread coming...

On Thu, 11 Apr 1996, Ken Pantheists wrote:

> Question. I am thinking of writing an article. My current area of
> inquest is irony as public discourse. This works into a number of
> issues- especially in terms of Gen-X culture. But I am interested in the
> "convulsions" pop culture is experiencing between two or more dominant
> discourses (memes) if you will. The current popularity of Angels,
> Gargoyles and Vampires speaks of a convulsive 'phasing' between
> Christian spirituality and new age humanism.

This is probably only a minor point (for now at least) -- but are
you saying that all currently made references to Vampires etc. are
ironic in essence? I certainly agree about the 'phasing' and the
'convulsive' part -- but, at least judging from what one can read
on USENET these days, a lot of people speak about such thinhs with
not so much as a trace of irony. Plus the apparent revival of many
fundamentalist movements? Then again, you may _only_ be interested
in the self-conscious, ironic use of these concepts.

> My take on this is that
> irony is a form of culturally practiced masochism

I have thought of it that way too -- but are you interested in the
distinction between irony (in general) and irony which is self-inflicted?
Also, irony (where it is akin to self-deprecation, sarcasm, cynicism)
is probably an important self-defense mechanism in that it allows a
distance between one's immediate (and painful) perception of things
(or, say, negative self-esteem) and what one would like to believe
one "really" is. Irony may also be a mighty shield against all kinds
of abuse. "You think I'm a lame loser? Yeah, sure! I know it too!"
(read: if I am saying this, I am able to 'transcend' my deficiencies,
they do not restrict me or define me)

> and spawns pop artists
> such as Quentin Terantino (Pulp Fiction was pure genius) and Madonna. I
> was wondering if you have any thoughts (or sources) on the evolutionary
> purpose of remorse and grief. (From a Darwinian or Darwin-like
> viewpoint.)

Not yet. That's a good question in itself. But I'm afraid I am
missing your link, passing from irony to 'remorse and grief.' I
would think irony *precludes* grief, but that's only my immediate
gut-response. Similarly, do irony and spirituality tolerate each
other? Can one be ironic in/about one's religion? Think not...

I am not sure if you will be interested in this particular aspect, but
here is one angle on irony that *I* find pretty baffling. Irony seems
to me to have some "final" quality about it. What I mean is, you can
respond to a 'serious' (non-ironical) statement in an ironic way, thus
shifting the discourse one plane higher (greater distance, higher
level of abstraction) -- but this is where you have to stop. I cannot
think of any level *higher* than that. A related, parallel example is
that of parody: you can take any 'serious' piece of writing -- e.g.
_Paradise Lost_ or your national anthem -- and make it into a parody
of itself (I feel that irony and parody are close relatives, though
they need not go hand in hand); but you cannot *parody a parody*!
At least it seems so to me. Or -- you cannot poke fun at a *truly*
self-conscious, self-deprecating sort of person. Only if your target
is 'naive' will your attack suceed; but if one can laugh at oneself,
other people's laughter will not hurt him or her. This again seems
to point to the fact that while irony *may* be masochistic, its
other (major? minor?) function is also mental defense. (This is
how postmodern literature has adopted its ironical stance, in
order to survive when its basic principles/values were questioned,
and stripped one by one.)

BTW -- for your paper, have you adopted any particular, 'sharp'
definition of irony? That might help focus the debate. I'm asking
since I myself am using a rather fuzzy definition in the above musings.


If the Turing test were administered tonight, I'd fail it.