Tuesday, January 18, 2011

the new sincerity: creating meaning out of the circuitous apocalypse we call irony

Does irony mark the demise of everything culture has built? One might even ask, can irony be equated with this felt notion of the immanent apocalypse?

A formal and thematic tendency toward self-obliteration can be seen in many postmodernist works. When we employ irony, we are self-deprecating or destructive of others, relatively speaking. What I mean is that consistently ironic texts cast doubt on all values, and maintain endless circularity. The postmodern phenomenon of ever-present, circuitous irony might even be seen as a kind of continuous apocalypse or 'end without end.' In The Illusion of the End, Jean Baudrillard attributes this ‘apocalyptic’ fascination to “the auto-dissolution common to both West and East … visible in the deterioration of the structures of power and representation." As in, conventional narrative structures are manipulated or broken down, or if such forms are reused, they are ironized.

So, postmodernism is not an end or a beginning. It is simply a response. It is contingent upon the problems of modernism, or what Baudrillard calls "the weight of the non-degradable waste of the great empires, the grand narratives, the great systems made obsolete by their own gigantism" which face either the recycling bin or the incinerator. Postmodernism does not actually destroy modernism because it doesn't create anything new in its stead: it rather perpetuates the cycle of criticisms that both denigrate and uphold it.

The irony of postmodernism is not a 'thing' in of itself. It's not a school or a creed or a new religion. It's simply a response to the problems of modernism. And because it offers no solution or alternative, ironic people and artworks remain hopelessly entrenched in their own alienation and nihilism. (Call it the pandemic of depression and anxiety afflicting the Western world, if you like!) This is the result of the breakdown of meaning that leads nowhere.

But people, I think, are starting to find ways to transcend this 'continual apocalypse' - to both include and transcend irony, to simultaneously acknowledge the criticisms made of past structures and paradigms while also acknowledging that new meaning can be created by moving through them.

It's like the age-old circle of life. Birth --> death --> rebirth. Irony is the death that can bring about, as some are calling it, the "new sincerity." 

So far this term seems to have been applied particularly to the music world - to musicians such as Joanna Newsom or Devendra Banhart. But really, there is a growing proliferation of pursuits that can be said to express 'sincerity wrapped in irony wrapped in sincerity': meaning that is aware of itself, how it has been constructed and has come to be, but is also still content with its existence. In literature there is David Foster Wallace, among others. In the film world (I just took a postmodern film class so I can dole out a number of titles) there is Alfredson's Let the Right One In (2008), Tsai Ming-Liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (2006), and others...

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, irony isn't the end - or not yet. It's been, and still is, a medium for creating newer (deeper, more complex, richer) levels of awareness...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

the devotees

Breathe deep, intones
their tanned, toned, spandexed

Easy, they think, their joint inhale
the swell and crest of the time-honoured wave,
their exhale its retreat - just as she said.

Yes. Breathe into your limbs,
your eyeballs...

The arc-browed yoga moms and the bulbous
nine-to-fivers can only wonder
at the strange poetry of this command:
but try as they might, their breaths can't
get much past their collarbones.

Now reach up with your pelvis as we flow
into downward dog...

The mirrored walls catch the clumsy proliferation
of glutes in a combined thrust to heaven:
a sea of buttocks,
devout, vacuous.

Friday, January 14, 2011

literary kitty

calypso the cat with steinbeck's east of eden. it's lovely when cats share your hobbies.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

the chic adventurer

i found this lovely mural in montreal very inspiring and awesome.

a bracelet of bright hair about the bone

salutations! my name is courtney and it is a pleasure to meet you, potential reader, here in this blogosphere land or however the kids referring to it these days. i am new to the blogging world and really have no idea what i am doing, at least technically. that is okay, though.

i will sally forth into this post with makeshift confidence and leave introductory or master-plan (which may or may not exist) comments for another time.

so. second semester of my fourth year at u of t began this week, and today was the first meeting session for a fourth year seminar on english poet <<john donne>>. he wrote in the seventeenth century and is considered a "metaphysical poet" - a critical term used by johnson, t.s. eliot, and others to describe the fact that he wrote from an abstract rather than sensual perspective.

it made me wonder, of course, about the age-old dichotomy of 
cerebral / sensual
abstract / concrete
mind / body
and how this has been constructed over time. have we begun to reconcile it? can we overcome or transcend this divide? so i hummed and hawed...

my meditations were rudely impinged upon, however, by the asshole prof, whom my friend <<e.>> later confessed to have quickly developed a crush on. a flabbergasting revelation! i mean, okay, objectively he is a hot older man, but allow me to give you a representation of how the class proceeded under his extreme asshole-y discourse:

PROF: "okay, this is a class about john donne. sounds simple enough, right? but know that a great number of you will drop this course after today because most of your lazy minds simply won't grasp the greatness of his poetic output. you will be humbled, degraded, intimidated. so if you can't meet my challenge - to tackle these texts with the rigor of a tri-athlete, coached by yours truly - then get out."

CLASS: (sits up straight and smooths papers importantly. the minority scowls secretly.)

PROF: "now, studying english is a sport. it's a bloody competition. john donne is our target and our challenge is to rip him open and conquer him. like, we have to prove to the sciences that we can be just as rigorous and demanding as they. i just want to prepare you for the reality that english, like the rest of the university, is prepared to either mould you into what we want or cut you down. so i dare you to stay in this class."

CLASS: (feels challenged, wants to ironically prove him wrong by playing by his rules.)

alright, so that was an extreme representation. but that was definitely the gist, the overall vibes i came away feeling. despite hating the prof, i was very intrigued by mr. donne himself. i am intrigued in particular by a line we read together in class, and the title of this post:

"a bracelet of bright hair about the bone."

i am intrigued by the juxtaposition of vitality and bleakness, life and death. i am intrigued by the irony of this image - the idea that two or more things (and thus ultimately nothing) can be true at once - paired with the notion that donne was "obsessed" with unity and wholeness.

this image, i feel, indirectly gets at what i want to explore in this blog: the idea that current postmodern thought, which cuts down meaning and reduces it to an endless slaw of circuitous irony, can be transcended, or at least reunited with sincerity. call it post-postmodernism, call it reconstructionism, call it the new sincerity, call it whatever. call me an idealist or just a failed hipster. all i'm suggesting is that perhaps in music, in art, in literature, in popular thought, there are stirrings of some kind of desire to reclaim meaning and sincerity and a sense of communion with 'the other,' while remaining aware and critical of the problems of modern and pre-modern conventions. surely there is a way to be both, right? surely we can we self-deprecating about our experience as humans, while also finding beauty in it?

to quote something by someone,
"utopia is dead, so long live utopia."