I know I will receive junks of comments on David Foster Wallace--his fans are rabid defenders of the faith. So, I will quote him on Irony from his essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction".
DFW is more concerned with herding techniques than he is with defining terms and rigorously examining his own points. His discourse is purely dialectical, always oppositional, and as such is atopic in the worst sense.
DFW: "So then how have irony, irreverence, and rebellion come to be not liberating but enfeebling in the culture today's avant-garde tries to write about? One clue's to be found in the fact that irony is still around, bigger than ever after 30 long years as the dominant mode of hip expression."
Me: What is "hip expression" really? The term itself is the problem itself. The ironic pose is a self-regarding and narcissistic pose. Hip Expression is about as hollow as a concept can be constructed. It is meant for YOU to fill, then and only then does HIS claim make sense and cease to be ironic. In other words, whatever Hip Expression means, his reader's are meant to supply the reason in support of its own claim, which is only its naming of itself.
DFW: "This is because irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function. It's critical and destructive, a ground-clearing. Surely this is the way our postmodern fathers saw it."
ME: Ironists make accidents. Little boo-boos. See David's pain? It is represented by the need to guard the Father. Very religious. Questions: Who are these "fathers"? And, is he aware of the masculinist framework in which he operates?
DFW: "The reason why our pervasive cultural irony is at once so powerful and so unsatisfying is that an ironist is impossible to pin down. All U.S. irony is based on an implicit 'I don't really mean what I'm saying.' So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it's impossible to mean what you say? That maybe it's too bad it's impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, today's irony ends up saying: "How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean."
ME: What a rant. What a lazy rant. Irony is one thing. Cultural irony is another. He slips between the two as if they were equal. They are certainly similar. But to regard all irony as cultural irony is to say that culture is the defining element in irony. Well, I always thought irony, when used properly, turned the gaze on culture itself. So, what is cultural irony? Is it culture-at-work in an ironic mode? And if so, then how does culture represent its subject to us and itself? Does culture embody itself? I thought we imagined it. If he is going to critique cultural irony, he should be able to define it working in society. Whereas his critique is a beginning, it doesn't even bother to examine its own logical implications that are visibly there in the language.
DFW: "And herein lies the oppressiveness of institutionalized irony, the too-successful rebel: the ability to interdict the question without attending to its subject is, when exercised, tyranny. It is the new junta, using the very tool that exposed its enemy to insulate itself"
ME: No, David. Cute move. But your essay illustrates the tyranny of the "too-successful" rebel. This is your confession. You expose yourself. If this is a purposeful gesture for good and useful reasons, fine. Regardless, it isn't ironic. It is simply unimaginative. And possibly unethical, since a reader would be justified in assuming the reason for such a gesture was to offer a mock apology or false modesty.
DFW: "The next real literary 'rebels' in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue."
ME: How can one rebel while accreting to a set of dogmatic principles. Write about life with reverence and conviction? Who is he kidding? Very bourgeois. Many young writers probably gobble this junk up. What purpose does it serve when confronted with the Ironic moment itself while writing. Should one steer clear because of the possibility that the ironic is no longer authentic? I see such a meeting as a fortunate opportunity to explore an individual(s) confronting the inauthentic. Because, no matter what DFW insists, there are two modes of Being: the authentic and the inauthentic. We aren't capable of living always in authenticity.
DFW: "Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval."
ME: Oh, the real rebels. I thought he meant the artificial rebels. You know, Splenda Rebels. Rebels on coke rather than crystal. He means the afficianados--those professional rebels. Again, the stench of the market.
DFW: "The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism."
ME: They didn't risk anything; they got what they wanted. A rebel isn't apologetic; and a rebel doesn't act in order to receive. Unless, the rebel is a market rebel; a rebel bound in the manner his books are to sales or bound by the love of his students.
Those are the fathers DFW is thinking of above. The writers who herd flocks. The shameless self-promoters. Fortunately, those fathers cannot now be nor have ever had the opportunity to become rebels. Their becoming will always be up for debate.
I submit that irony is a distraction. Rebels become. Not are becoming. They become at this time and now and now and now and now and now and never then.