April 14th, 2014

Irony of ironies…

all is irony.

The author focuses on irony and lack of seriousness in art. But the hegemony of irony is certainly something I’ve noticed getting more and more widespread in recent years. It seems to be the default position of most millennials, for example, at least in their public personae.

I haven’t quoted Milan Kundera for a while, but the ironic stance towards life seems to be a subset of what he calls “lightness” versus heaviness in his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being [emphasis mine]:

But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid? The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously the image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

But belief (in religion, for example) can lend both heaviness and lightness to life. Belief in God—especially one with standards who makes judgments—can mean that each act has weight on a scale larger than our individual identities and lifespans. But at the same time, belief in redemption and grace can mean that “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Many people seem to crave heaviness and significance. If it’s absent (through lack of faith, the rise of moral and cultural relativism, or the prevalence of relative ease in terms of basic survival), they will tend to seek it out in other circumscribed areas of their lives. Thus we have a very serious attitude indeed on the part of the young, especially towards racism (imagined or otherwise), sexism, homophobia, and anthropomorphic climate change, to name a few. Heaviness can’t be banished; it sneaks in the back door.

Is the left aware of this? You betcha, and more.

[ADDENDUM: From commenter "Mac," this article on Letterman's ironic influence. I don't quite agree that Letterman did it practically single-handedly, but he certainly had a lot more than a bit part in the spread of irony as the default position.]

15 Responses to “Irony of ironies…”

  1. chuck Says:

    I first noticed it in the late 80′s when I went to an exhibit of works by the fine arts students at the university. At that time irony was noticeably gender specific, male painters were ironic and female painters were serious, but that may have been a local anomaly. I didn’t like the ironic stuff, it seemed pointless and shallow, an escape from life.

  2. parker Says:

    The heaviness in the rearview mirror is closer and moving faster than it appears. Heaviness is when your daughter is diagnosed with breast cancer. Lightness is when she is 3 years cancer free. Heaviness is the thumb of government picking winners and losers. Lightness is April snow floating down to melt on the grass. Heaviness is drought that burns the crops in the field. Lightness is the moment when your little granddaughter first calls you gampa. Life is hard and heavy, life is sweet and light.

    Shadows and Light: http://tinyurl.com/bjhvhj

  3. neo-neocon Says:

    parker:

    I’m so glad your daughter is doing well now.

    But I just want to say that, at least according to my understanding of the Kundera concept, lightness is not the same as joy, nor heaviness as sorrow. Lightness is not attaching much importance to life, or to its pleasures or pains. So the joy a person would feel on finding a loved one who has been gravely ill is free of sickness at this point would not be lightness in Kundera’s sense; it would be a happy form of heaviness rather than a sad one. Lightness would be not caring all that much either way.

    A good fictional treatment of that sort of lightness (the casting off of caring too deeply) would be Isak Dineson’s marvelous story “The Dreamers” in Seven Gothic Tales. I highly highly recommend it.

  4. parker Says:

    neo-neocon,

    I’m not a philosophical guy, just an Iowa farm boy. The Kundera concept is far above my pay grade. I was merely, perhaps ineptly, wishing to state that life contains moments of sorrow and joy…. heavy times and times of lightness. Our newest grandchild, age 22 months, is coming to stay with us tomorrow for 3 days. That is ‘lightness’.

    “Lightness would be not caring all that much either way.”

    That concept is way, way beyond my pay grade. Not caring all that much, for me, does not compute. I care each and everyday.

  5. Ymarsakar Says:

    Lightness and weight. Light and darkness. Good and evil. Yin and yang.

    Hate and love. The principle of the opposite, which says that two elements were originally composed from one source and they oppose each other because they are inevitably two sides of the same coin.

    I’ve found the Japanese entertainment to have done quite a good job with life and death drama, comedic and romantic drama, and various others where white emotion wars with black emotion.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    parker:

    Well, I was just talking about Kundera.

    I wasn’t meaning to make light of your concept of lightness, which is what is usually meant by the phrase. Sounds like a wonderful time! So glad things are going well in your family, after the stress you’ve all been through. It’s great.

  7. Mac Says:

    Coincidentally, there is this about Dave Letterman at National Review Online. I’ve never cared for Letterman myself; to me he just seems (or seemed, back in the ’80s when I watched him a few times) to be contemptuous of everything. When I read that piece this morning there were some very perceptive comments, including an excellent quote from C.S. Lewis about the habit of flippancy. Not sure how far down you would have to scroll for them now.

    That’s great about your daughter, parker.

  8. Mike Says:

    The youth of today and the culture in general are being robbed of seriousness.

    Everything is either a joke, or a guilt trip. It’s a joke; it’s a guilt trip, and nothing really matters but those.

    The joke is that there is anything good or beautiful or true; that it’s all not a power scam.

    The guilt trip is the main tool to control and ruin people’s true joy. Guilt and its sibling shame.

    You want irony?

    The people who use guilt and shame are guilty and shameful but they don’t know it.

  9. Cornflour Says:

    Neo said “you betcha.” Guaranteed not to have come from a childhood on the streets (or in the apartments) of New York. Maybe from an unexpected source of heaveness?

  10. parker Says:

    “The youth of today and the culture in general are being robbed of seriousness.”

    Sad, but in all too many cases probably true. Life is a serious affair. There are consequences involved in every decision/action, no matter how inconsequential it may seem at the time, that we make. The tiniest of pebbles ripples across the entire pond. We (wife & I) have lived our life together in a serious manner, which does not mean we have not given ourselves up to lightness. What is does mean is we never make decisions without carefully thinking about the ramifications of our decisions.

    “I wasn’t meaning to make light of your concept of lightness, which is what is usually meant by the phrase.”

    neo-neocon, I did not for a nanosecond think you were making light of my concept of lightness. However, I am a firm believer that it is usually best to cut to the chase. ;-) Simply because all that matters when we get down to the laughter, tears, the bitter and the sweet of life; is how we live each day. How we support family, friends, neighbors, and try to promote a sane and civil society wherever it might be that we find ourselves. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not a casual affair. It requires diligence and a certain level of stubbornness and bravery.

    I rarely post this much (fear of artfldgr syndrome) here, so I’ll stop by noting this is a great place on the www with a wonderful host and 99.7% wonderful commentors.

  11. neo-neocon Says:

    Cornflour:

    Channeling my inner Palin.

  12. Mac Says:

    Neo, re your addendum, I agree that Letterman doesn’t by any means get all the credit. I see him more as having ridden the wave.

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  14. blert Says:

    Dave once had on Dr Edgerton.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Eugene_Edgerton

    He tried to put down Harold, being his snarky clownish self.

    He lost control of the show.

    The audience was laughing at Edgerton’s jokes — and directly at Dave’s expense.

    He was not graceful about it. He almost attacked Harold — physically. The more he lost his cool, the louder the audience laughed.

    Letterman is a fundamentally small, twisted soul.

    Without snark, he is not.

    It’s of his essence.

    When confronted by a truly funny guy, Dr Edgerton, he had a complete melt down. The REAL Dave came out. NOT a pretty sight.

    The show was cut from all re-broadcasts, no doubt. It was a personal disaster.

  15. Pandora Says:

    Irony? Feh. It’s called “being a smart-ass”.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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