“He has turned from tiny steps towards nothingness and begun leaping towards eternity.”
– “David Foster Wallace was right: Irony is ruining our culture” on Salon.com
by Matt Ashby and Brendan Carroll
Dear Eleanor and Wesley,
…tiny steps towards nothingness…
Do you know what we need way more of? People saying things that they don’t really mean. But seriously, the opposite of that because irony is everywhere. Right now, nothing sells, garners attention, or carries more authority than a perfectly measured bit of irony. These days it rolls off the tongue and courses through the keyboard nearly effortlessly. I have recently been made aware that irony is a killer.
It is a tricky concept to master. Irony is technically defined as the effect produced by a communication gap between what is delivered and what is intended. The device is employed to bring out the absurdity of whatever is under the spotlight. Despite the nuanced challenges, it is becoming a native language.
Here is the problem. Irony is a parasite. It can only accomplish its end by tearing bit by bit at the integrity of its subject. Weak and false ideas or ideals deserve this. However, current conversation now runs every topic through the irony ringer. Our cynicism, disguised as humor, is tearing apart every idea that means something. This can feel like progress, but in the end all of that churning leaves us empty handed.
… leaping towards eternity.
The opposite of endless and fruitless destruction is the leap to create something of real value. It is the artist who attempts to capture beauty itself. It is the musician who reveals a glimpse of the height of joy, even if it occurs beyond the scope of “tonight” on the “floor” of the “club” with my (insert “urban” term for attractive member of the opposite sex).
Eternity calls us to pursue meaning and that can never come from garden variety flippancy. Flippant is easy and it is fun, but it is not satisfying. What is satisfying is striving towards something that rings true. Do the work to discover a vision of what could be or that sense of the way things were meant to be. If I’m honest, I’ve never been able to manage more than a taste, but just that bit is so worth it.
He has turned…
The turn described is a journey from one mode of being and behaving to the next. Outside our door is a cynic training school. Being immersed in this trend myself, I know I’ve already started developing your taste for it. I have to change. I’m making the effort to substitute offhand ironies for intentional moments created to share things of real, personal value with you.
If eternity represents the perfection we secretly thrill ourselves in imagining, then it is the perfect opposite to irony. The punch line of all these jokes is the great disappointment when what is promised falls flat. Perhaps eternity will work in exactly the opposite fashion, delivering on the promises of our greatest hopes far beyond what we could have imagined. Maybe you find this leap hard to swallow. I can say the world has never been short on cynics, but dreamers and doers are in endless demand.
P.S. This article on the subject is totally worth a read.