Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pinning Down Irony

"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." [David Foster Wallace, "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," p. [183]
For what Wallace calls a "malign addiction" — where the irony is in a thing, like TV or alcohol, that offers a cure or relief for problems it only makes worse — the only response possible would seem to be a 12-step program or TTDTO (turn the damn thing off). When the cure for doing nothing, the doing something of watching TV, is more of doing nothing, there is indeed no way to pin the irony down and make it productive.

But what of the Socratic irony: "All I know is that I know nothing."  Was that just a polite means of concealing his own wisdom?  Was the irony an unending (as in can never be pinned down) joke on others?  Or was it the positive basis of argument?  Of considering reasons for believing things (which he did not know) were true?  In a world of scientific explanations (beginning, as they do, from indisputable facts) and expert opinions (dispensed from above as encapsulated certainties) we forget the need for arguments, the need for reasons for what we believe is true, because, pinning down that Socratic irony, the only thing we can really know is that we know nothing.

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