In an epoch during which few new ideas have emerged in the Western world, perhaps the most startling is Post-Ironicism, whose chief exponent is the literateur and critic, Patrick Macrory. Macrory, a polymath with total recall (he can remember the name and contents of every book he has ever read), postulates in a recent issue of The Catastrophist (October 2007) that most of the thinking done in American academia is no more than linguistic conformatology. So concerned are the intelligentsia to gain tenure and to evade charges of political incorrectness, absence of gravamen and charges of originality that, like ferae naturae, they have chosen an infundibular approach to the problems of modern society. Logorrhea has become a common problem, along with such supererogatory specialization the utility of which is undemonstrable. Consentaneousness has become the normative approach to scholarship.
As a result, the intelligentsia has closed its eyes to the dire conditions on its doorstep in pursuit of careerism. In the U.S it is no longer appropriate to use irony or anything approaching a joke. As a result the man in the street, always the first to sense a sea-change (his office-bearers and thinkers invariably follow rather than lead) has become so serious that he (or she) can only respond to jests of a sexual persuasion.
I met Macrory after his landmark address to the University of Serpukhov, where he was accepting an honorary PhA (Doctor of Anthroposophy) for his work on Comicality and the KGB. After meaningful prologos (he can remember the punch lines of every joke ever told by a Soviet leader), I spoke to Macrory and asked him about his work.
Author : Is there a new philosophic wave and if so, what is it?
Macrory: Post-Ironicism. The Victorians might have said, vestigia nulla retrorsum, but faith in progress is nowadays vestigial. Having examined some of the presuppositions and aporias that great discourses in the classical tradition embody, I conclude that all of the old philosophies of history and all the conceptual paradigms that refer to them are outdated.
Author: Why is that?
Macrory: The intrusion of real life into dispositifs of power marks the end of democracy as we have known it. History has been a constant drift towards de-politicization, with endless, unforeseeable happenings that typically no one could foresee, and didn’t. That under-rated philosopher, Donald Rumsfeld, encapsulated the idea in his famous aphorism, stuff happens. There is no mastery but the mastery of crises as they occur. If you cannot control events, you cannot see the funny side of them when they hit you at random.
Author: Does this mean the end of humour?
Macrory: As Roberto Esposito has shown, politics are dead. There is no liberal democracy or socialism, only national health services, the rehabilitation of criminals, and constant warfare. My thesis is that these are not humorous.
Author: It used to be possible to laugh at the old aristocratic establishment figures.
Macrory: Gone, gone. Now all is prosaic and pedestrian. Who can now extract humour from the contents of a hospital waiting list? Who can do anything but yawn at the debate over the future of Social Security or the debate on health insurance for children. Irony is dead, the pun is in intensive care, the epigram died with Oscar Wilde, and the wisecrack has become a television sound bite.
At this point Macrory took three heart pills, then, having described a number of cartoons (he can remember the punch-line of every joke in Punch magazine for the last two centuries) continued
Macrory: .. Politicians have ceased to be leaders and have become interpreters of opinion surveys. This is not democracy, and is hardly fun. The Greeks in their polis had fun. Imagine the gossip, the maneuvering, the cabals, and the backbiting in the agora! Now we watch democracy from long distance in little snapshots on the media, and go to the kitchen to make another cup of tea.
Author: So you see the end of irony in the Western world?
Macrory: Is there much risible about highway security, immigration, artificial insemination, and bans on smoking and drugs?
Author: What are the implications of this?
acrory: You can already observe them, especially in Washington D.C. This is one case where the capital of the worlds superpower has taken a world lead.
Author: In what way?
acrory: Laughter is disappearing. Joking is regarded as frivolous. Lips have become compressed, and the edges of mouths have turned down. Smiling is now un-professional. Satire, where it occurs, is met with dead-pan expressions. All is earnestness.
Author: But there are some amusing people on TV - - what about Comedy Central, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert?
Macrory: Just when you thought the dreary election process would be enlivened by Stephen Colberts bid for the Presidency, both the Republican and Democratic parties of South Carolina declined to include him on their primary ballots. They are a humourless bunch. Humour is being able to laugh at oneself. Where were the protests from the young, from Colberts supporters ? None!
Author: But these comedians have big followings.
Macrory: Only among youngsters who don’t vote, dont run anything and dont count. The movers and shakers are a generation older, dulled by their own incompetence. Their command of the English language is so meagre that they do not get puns on words. Most un-ironic. By the time the young have had ten years of working earnestly within the system they too will be un-ironic.
Author: What other manifestations are there?
Macrory: Taupe and what my mother used to call German Lavatory Brown have become the colors of choice, both sexes have deglamorized themselves.
Macrory: As the great names of clothes design have become globalized and accessible, the standard of clothing has become sexless and forbidding. This is post-ironic, because the wearers have no idea how badly dressed they are. Bad grooming and a big bank account are signs of relevancy.
Author: Can you have democracy and no sense of humour?
Macrory: As Esposito says, democracy had already come to an end in the 1920s and 1930s. It is no longer capable of being reconstituted, let alone exported elsewhere. Irony has followed it to the grave, and satire cannot be far behind. Swift proclaimed the purpose of satire to be the correction of vice and the reinstatement of virtue. Alas, in this environment the reinstatement of virtue is a lost cause! I have therefore declared the 21st Century Post-Ironic, a catch-all for taking oneself wholly seriously and finding nothing in the world worth laughing at.
Author: So what does the future hold?
Macrory: The future is dystopian. It was Karl Heinz Stockhausen who opined that the destruction of the twin towers was the greatest work of art that is possible in the whole cosmos. This is the signpost of the future, what the modern world offers in the way of art and culture, higher learning and amusement. There may be the older person who at a dinner party talks too loudly and tells silly stories for the intended amusement of the guests, but the old idea of wiling away an hour or two in gentle, nimble-witted banter is on its death-bed. Henceforward, talk will be of neighborhood policing and the progress of anti-terrorism in Anbar province. Facticity is mastery. Post-Ironic indeed.