My hobby as an ironist was launched by Professor Wayne Booth’s “Rhetoric” class. We read Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and Professor Booth asked us to write an ironic essay of our own. I failed, confusing irony with sarcasm. The C- I earned on the paper woke me up to the difference. I strove afterwards to create highly tuned ironies.
Since coming to City Colleges, I have found myself becoming increasingly un-ironic. One reason is that irony is so difficult to pull off, especially when readers or listeners parse every word until speeches become more a series of fractional distillations than the rich stew of ideas originally intended. I have wondered if the loss of irony indicated a too-serious approach to the job.
Christy Wampoles’ article casts our ironic times in a larger frame. She asserts that
Ironic living is a first-world problem. For the relatively well-educated and financially secure, irony functions as a kind of credit card you never have to pay back. In other words, the hipster can frivolously invest in sham social capital without ever paying back one sincere dime. He doesn’t own anything he possesses.
Although later in the article she says that “irony has served useful purposes, like providing a rhetorical outlet for unspoken societal tensions,” the argument is solidly against irony. In her conclusion, Ms. Wampole states:
. . . it is my firm conviction that this mode of living is not viable and conceals within it many social and political risks. For such a large segment of the population to forfeit its civic voice through the pattern of negation I’ve described is to siphon energy from the cultural reserves of the community at large. People may choose to continue hiding behind the ironic mantle, but this choice equals a surrender to commercial and political entities more than happy to act as parents for a self-infantalizing citizenry.
In light of Ms. Wampole’s article, I am re-crafting my liberal arts post for a later date.