Discussion → Reports of the The Death of Irony were greatly exaggerated

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    Gary Percesepe
    Jan 10, 01:57pm

    In his book Negative Dialectics, Frankfurt School critic Theodor Adorno remarked that "after Auszwitz there can be no more poetry."

    We heard echoes of Adorno after 9/11, with talk of the end of irony. Comedians were asked if comedy would also be put on hold, or disappear. Both seem to have made something of a comeback, and our last thread (especially the penis/pussy exchange!) seems to have activated a spirit of silliness in this community. Is tis a good thing?

    Were reports of the death of humor and irony greatly exaggerated, and is this a natural product of mass culture, this over-reaction and mis-reading of history, in a way that Adorno missed?

    And please not the x in exaggerate, sex writers!

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    Darryl Price
    Jan 10, 02:47pm

    Mr. Adorno and followers,

    By god, I've always thought it should be the comedians who receive all the prizes of any kind given on this earth including the Nobel Peace Prize first because they are the only ones who are truly bravely sane enough to tell us the truth all the time(without guessing). We have met the enemy and he is us! Pogo nails it. Silliness is the single greatest emotional defense we humans have against monstrous evil of every stripe simply because it turns the monsters into mush (even if or as we die). Ever hear Monty Python's,"Always look on the Bright Side of Life?" He's hanging on a cross and singing(and whistling) that"life's a piece of shit/when you look at it/Life's a laugh and death's a joke it's true..just remember that the last laugh is on you."Sung with heartfelt sincerity of course. Takes the sting right out of death.Take that you scythe-wielding pyschopath. The English did this to great effect during WWII. BUT JUST LOOK AT WHAT ELSE these funny genius troublemakers of ours have given us over time:Groucho Marx, Tina Fay as Sarah Palin,CHARLIE CHAPLIN, Gary Larson,etc. you get it. They ask us, as Michael Jackson so famously put it, to "look at the man in the mirror and make that change".The Beatles would not have been the Beatles without their famous Liverpool humor well intact.Mark Twain.Philip Roth. Tom Robbins.RICHARD PRYOR. Lenny, Woody...it's the very silliness they created and imagined that helps alert us to our own way too serious stiffness in the face of the absurd circumstance of our being here in the very first place and offers a freedom and a way out that is both humane and honest.And a lot more fun. You remember fun don't you?Otherwise we would all be zombies 24/7.Thank you Minister of Silly Walks.Your job is of the utmost importance to all of us. Please keep up the good work.Most sincerely yours, DP

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    Stephen Stark
    Jan 10, 04:09pm

    Back during the Andres Serrano NEA controversy, Garrison Keillor, testifying before Congress, said in response to someone's assertion that very few NEA grants were associated with controversy that it really didn't speak very well of the art that the organization was funding that it was relatively controversy-free. He said it way better than I did.

    Brian Williams said recently that the Daily Show makes him better, because he doesn't want to say something that's going to be—rightly—ridiculed on the Daily Show.

    DP — don't forget Bill Hicks!

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    Gary Percesepe
    Jan 10, 04:09pm

    tina fey got me through last year, lemme tell ya--

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    Finnegan Flawnt
    Jan 10, 04:21pm

    love your tribute, d.p., just love it. and love tina fey, too.

    i have a piano piece by mr adorno. i shall get it out, tonight, and put it on the stand next to the piano. it is unplayable.

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    Katrina Gray
    Jan 10, 04:42pm

    I think that in comedy, nothing can be sacred. Because everything is fair game. It's the unexpectedness that keeps an audience on its toes, waiting to be jarred again and again. The ole one-two punch.

    There *had* to be poetry after the Holocaust because poetry may have been the only way to make sense of it all. Same as comedy after 9/11. I breathed a sigh of relief when Jon Stewart came back on, crying, telling a story of how he felt like a scared little kid hiding under his desk in Trenton, New Jersey.

    Poetry and comedy move our world narrative forward. They remove us from stagnant sadness (after tragic events) and propel us into something new.

    I'm thinking of Art Speigelman, and how he dealt with both the Holocaust and 9/11 in cartoon form (Maus I & II and In the Shadow of No Towers). The cartoons were not funny, and he didn't mean for them to be. But the graphic art nevertheless added levity to weighty subjects. It was the only way he knew how to deal with them.

    We humans are complex creatures. We can laugh and love even as we mourn.

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    Edward Mullany
    Jan 10, 04:46pm

    great question, Gary. I agree with DP, Katrina, and others – a good thing about laughter is that it can diffuse the most solemn and painful occasions without diminishing the need for solemnity, or the reality of pain. It can give us a more complete picture of the world. Think of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch; there are few artists more concerned with the consequences of depravity or dissipation, yet one can glimpse in his work a self-deprecating sense of humor, an understanding of human weakness that is oddly democratic.

    I feel about poetry the same way I feel about laughter – it’s valuable to the degree that it gives us a more complete picture of the world. The human experience will never be uncomplicated, no matter what horrors we’re capable of inflicting on each other. On the other hand, I’ve had a relatively easy life. To people who continually suffer, poetry might seem irrelevant, non-existent.

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    Stephen Stark
    Jan 11, 06:13am

    Edward: I actually think that for those who suffer, poetry—whether it's the latest contemporary poetry or Psalms or scripture—may be the lifeline to a sane world. And being able to laugh, to find humor in the most awful situation, is it seems to me the best way to cope.

    By comparison to some, my life has not been easy. By comparison to others, it has been easy. We all experience pain, and we all will, at some point, suffer.

    I had ulcerative colitis and had my colon removed ten years ago, almost. It is an awful disease, and I won't go into too many gory details, but I remember once, when I was living in New York, I was having a particularly nasty flareup of the disease, and I had bought a CD of Beethoven's 10th, I think. I put it on and went into the bathroom. I spent the entire duration of the symphony in the bathroom, bleeding, writhing in pain, and thinking, this is funny. There is comedy in this. Same thing with when I got my diagnosis and I had on one of those hospital gowns and was on an examining table, my ugly ass in the air, and the light source burned out in the scope, and everyone stood around (except me) while one of the nurses went to find a new bulb. I kept thinking, I am so glad none of those people walking back and forth in the hallway can see my face.

    Guy I used to work with used to say, Got to laugh to keep from crying. It seems to me that a paroxysm of spontaneous laughter is one of the most marvelous things a human being can experience.

    WRT 9/11, it was hard then not to think that "this changes everything," because of the monumental nature of it. But watching Chris Rock singing with a bunch of other celebrities seems to me now hilarious.

    I agree with Katrina totally that in comedy nothing can be sacred. The comedian, like the poet or fiction writer, must be ruthless in what s/he steals from life to turn into the stuff of his/her art. We need to have people about whom we say, "I can't believe she just said that."

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    Darryl Price
    Jan 11, 02:06pm

    Mel Brooks--nuff said.

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    Darryl Price
    Jan 11, 02:33pm

    Springtime for Hitler answers every question Mr. Adorno might possibly pose while John Lennon's Revolution(We'd All Love to see the plan--you'd better free your mind instead)caps it all off nicely.There's your irony safe and sound. And in just two very capable hands. Even a hero writer like Anne Frank was able to postulate that"no one need to wait another minute to begin to improve the world" or something like that. There's a capital "I" around there somewhere.Point being, irony is part and parcel of the package in most intelligent beings. And there's always plenty of those around. At any given time. Look it up. It's A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD, ALRIGHT!We're not running out of jokes anytime soon.The young at heart will see to that.

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    Darryl Price
    Jan 11, 03:00pm

    My God--forgot the most obvious one--DAVID SEDARIS!!!!

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    Ann Bogle
    Jan 11, 06:06pm

    Stephen, I appreciate your candor and specifity in revealing what "humor" has meant to you in the face of illness.

    My "holocaust" took place the second time at my mother's house during a difficult period of years. I was visited by it and other specters. It was experiential instead of perceived in some other way, by reading further books or seeing films. It isn't normal to go alone through an historical nightmare, even for a weekend, decades after it has passed.

    9/11 has in some ways been hardest for the people who believe that it was perpetrated by our own government. I have not been one of those people, but I know some. There is apparently documentation of it. I couldn't handle it if I did believe it. I prefer to think of it in the common way as an illegal act of (first Gulf War) retaliation by a band of Afghani terrorists. Still, I feel fear and anger over airport security. It is a breach of our rights to privacy and against unwarranted search and seizure. Seizure of toothpaste tubes and miniature shampoo bottles, so of course, we go along with it. I have developed vertigo at airports. The doctor said my blood pressure drops dramatically in that situation. Walking is nearly impossible. I feel fear of ill-educated security personnel, but not because my intentions are low: my intentions are high, too high for this culture. Next they're planning to take naked pictures of us. I'm looking at Amtrak.

    I am friends with a woman who has cancer and a son whose autism means he has a very low IQ; he can't experience love; and he has anorexia. He's fifteen. She's a recognized poet. For years before she had cancer, she took care of her mother who had Alzheimers and after that she experienced psychotic breaks; she doesn't use the word psychosis; she uses the word "terror." It's what she remembers of it. Pills did nothing to help her, but later she became addicted to pain pills for cancer. Unbelievably, her husband hasn't left them. She is beautiful to look at, in a gentle way, beautiful with auburn hair, and deep. They're not rich. Many of her friends have died. It's a lot of daily struggle. She worries that when she dies, if she dies young, that her son will not survive it, and already he says he doesn't want to survive.

    She laughs a lot. She is not afraid of deep emotion in her own or others' writing, and she responds to humor. I laughed when she told me that she had been in a local poetry slam in New Mexico. No poetry scene there, she said, except slam, so she went. Aspects of the poetry world mortify her because she feels people are insincere and into promoting imaginary careers.

    We tell each other what parts of our emails make us laugh. We laugh. We are our own comediennes.

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    Edward Mullany
    Jan 11, 07:00pm

    Thanks, Steve, for posting that - you make a good point.  In my less optimistic moments, I wonder if art can actually give meaning to suffering, as we often hear it can do, but ultimately I wouldn't concern myself with it if I didn't believe it could.

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    Meg Pokrass
    Jan 12, 01:50am

    Mel Brooks, Tina Fey, Flight of the Concords, old Woody Allen, all Christopher Guest, Arrested Development, Father Ted, Black Adder... it is.. they are what got me well after 9/11 and every stinging minute of George W. Bush and his merry band of fuckwits and continue to get me well...er... wellish through all the ups and downs of living. I mean, well enough to write pussy stories!

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    Stephen Stark
    Jan 12, 02:55pm

    Ann: Such darkness. And such beauty.

    When my mother died, I couldn't get out of my head the line from the Wizard of Oz. She's not merely dead, she's really quite sincerely dead. And of course my mother was no witch. It was she from whom I got my ironic and facetious sense of humor. It was just the way she looked on the bed. How really sincerely dead she looked. My sister came into the room and said, When I came in, they said your mother expired. All I could think of was the library. Can we renew her? We laughed. A little later I cried more than I can ever remember crying, at least until my father died.

    A sense of irony, it seems to me, is part of the awareness we have of the multivalence of things, the impermanence of events and our awareness of the ephemeral nature of existence. Without it, what would the point be?

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    Darryl Price
    Jan 13, 03:56pm

    You people, all of you, make me want to cheer for the human race. Reading your words and thinking about the things that you've said..well, it gives meaning to me at least for our suffering here and now. I mean, what courage, what intelligence you show and share. Thank you. I know those words get overused but I choose here and now to overuse them once again. I like a world with all of you in it.That's about all I can honestly say about that.
    As for poetry it's a laugh that people think they know what it is. Remember the scientist and the rose? He carefully took apart each and every piece down to the atoms and still had no idea what a rose is. Poetry is an experience. You can't nail it down. It's not one experience. It's not static. It's not logical, but it can be. It's not physical but it can be. It's not a craft but it can be. It's not just words but it can be. I guarantee you it's been around for as long as we have and will continue to be with us to the end. To say you understand it or that it has somehow become irrelevant or extinct is foolish in a sad way.

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