virus: Irony is a virus

Ken Pantheists (
Tue, 16 Apr 1996 10:20:52 -0600

Marek Jedlinski wrote:

> 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.

Irony is at the core of all gothic fiction, even the 19th Century
literature. Irony is part of the literary mode, not always part of the
personal discourse of those involved in the current goth subculture.
>From my work so far, the gothic is an inherently subversive mode. It
borrows from morality plays and religious didactic tales; it even goes
the distance by having final scenes where the monster is killed, church
bells ringing, beautiful rosy daylight shining on a redeemed world, but
there is always the threat of the monster returning. The gothic world is
dis-easing. Evil simply goes into remission. The Ironic elements of the
gothic come from its own assertation that the world is governed by
forces more powerful than mankind- that nature itself is dark, and
malignant. Human acts of evil are simply an extension of this "gothic
landscape". The gothic narrative poses to be a moral tale, but actually
subverts the rosy- redeemed world. It leaves the gothic heroes blasted,
insane, or forever changed by their experience. The latest gothic
heroes- vampires who are the protagonists (i.e. Lestat & co.) are an
extension of the John Harkers and Dr. Van Helsings. They undergo the
same heroic journeys- stave off the encroaching decay of humanity,
resist temptation and seduction, try to drag the redeemable human out of
the mud of pure evil. Rice's work was about her own dialogue with
Catholicism. Her vampires fought evil on several fronts- internal and
external. The Prime Evil was that there is no god, no angels to sing the
sweet prince to eternal sleep. Lestat turns to himself, his powers of
self redemption to heal his despair. He develops his own code of ethics
in pure Neitzschian (sp?) fashion because he has been placed in the
confusing and perilous area "Beyond Good and Evil". There is a level of
Gothic discourse that fails to do this utterly. The 19th Century Gothic
melodramas *were* prissy little morality tales as are many film
treatments of gothic material. (Especially horror films through the 50's
and early 60's they deserve the treatment they got in the *very* gothic
Rocky Horror Picture Show. Yes, even some comedy is more faithful to the
gothic mode than self proclaimed monster fiction.) Seven is an excelent
example of a Crime Gothic. It follows the rules of both genres very
well, right up to the last seconds. (No threat of the monster returning
because the monster is already in us.)

> > 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)

Yes, you are absolutely right. Irony has the built in ability to
encapsulate *any* statement and subvert it, invert it, deflate it. That
is why Gothic is so derivitive. It always needs another genre to
subvert. Even "originals" like Stoker's Dracula are derived from other
literary forms: romantic poetry, travelogues, medical journals.

> > 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,

I do that a lot.

> 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 viewing irony as a masochistic response to the world. Oops, I'm
skipping ahead again. Taking a couple of steps back.

Evil is tied up in the concept of the Other. Otherness is evil because
it is not me. Dracula and vampires in general are a very pervasive form
of the Other because they are so sexy. They represent repressed or
regected areas of knowledge. (In Victorian times the repressed area of
knowledge was female sexuality. In the 80's it was gay sexuality ala
Lestat and Louis. In the 90's it's ... I don't know... the fact that
there really is a Devil? Memnoch? haven't read it yet.) Even Eve would
say that knowlege is sexy. Freud says that we all have a secret desire
to submit to what we've repressed. To be passively spanked by the very
things we control. It is tied in with guilt and remorse because we feel
guilty about our control, remorseful over rejecting a possible truth.
Irony spanks us safely enough.

> 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.)

Excellent point. Irony and parody are closely linked. That's why comedy
horror is sometimes more successful than horror (in the live theatre
world). Horror requires more of a willingness to be sucked in. Live
theatre cannot invade all of your senses as effectively as cinema.
Horror movies are very scary. Horror plays are sometimes very lame. That
is why a lot of them contain comedy.
> 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.

Good point. I haven't even started an abstract on this. (It's a side
project at the moment.) I suppose *this* (the e-mail thing) is a good
start. Conversation has a way of focussing fields of thought.

How's this? (A fusion of what you wrote and what I wrote.)

Irony is a discourse which ultimately subverts/inverts a previous
discourse. It is ultimately an act of deprecation because it diffuses a
threat by submitting to it- accepting it- whether the threat is a
personal barb thrown at you in a social situation (you suck) or a
cultural idea (women are sexual beings).

I wrote that on the fly. We could go to the Oxford English Dictionary
for more.

Two new thoughts---

I read a newspaper article about six months ago that linked the irony of
gen x culture to the fact that electronic media has preserved the last
fifty years of our history in sharp detail and it's not going away. This
has a good side. We don't want to forget the Holocaust. But we also
can't forget Nixon. Any thoughts on this?

Secondly- All of these ideas have sprung from my work on my thesis. (And
thanks, by the way, for giving me a "vent" and letting me bend your
ear.) My thesis is still coming along. It gets returned with notes, I
write, I get notes, seemingly endless circle. I realize that I am
actually better at musing than hard research. (embarassing, actually) My
university years were spent playing in the studio. So I have a little
question. I need a term for the kind of thought that is self referential
and uses language.
EXAMPLE: You are brushing your teeth and you think, "Oh, I'd better give
so-and-so a call. Hmm, I wonder if it's supposed to rain? etc." And you
are thinking in language and using the word "I".
If you have any thoughts or sources (short sources, as I don't want to
go off into a tangeant- I'm on draft three) please let me know.

I have no idea where all of this irony stuff is going. It might be a
theatre journal article or some kind of freelance project. Once we get
the debate rolling it might clarify itself. I think it has potential as
*some* kind of publication. It would have popular appeal if it's about
angels and gargoyles.

Thanks again.