Writing as ironic creation
July 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
When irony is controlled, it no longer believes, as do certain shrewd people in everyday life, that there is always more than meets the eye; but it also prevents all idol worshiping of the phenomenon. & just as it teaches respect for contemplation, it also rescues it from verbosity that believes that giving an exposition of world history, for example, should take as long a time as the world has needed to live through it. (329)
The idea that irony could be a controlled element [or tool for excising the falsity of systems] is among Søren Kierkegaard’s most unique & essential. It helps to define both his philosophic & writerly position; appropriately, it appears at the start of his career with the dissertation, The Concept of Irony.
Applying irony to existence belongs to skeptical methodology: “what doubt is to science, irony is to personal life” (326). It takes a near-Kierkegaardian intelligence to function so on a daily basis; this comprises of a long exposure to a unitary culture, an understanding of others’ positions, the denial of ones own understanding/politics, & a negative relationship to the world. It also takes no small measure of bravery. For those predisposed to ironical thinking, the obligation toward order, morality, & ethics is made arbitrary by preferring to destabilise the codes of conduct.
[We will leave the ironic action out of this brief, following Kierkegaard’s own preference to deal with the ironic speech act, its most usual manifestation.] Applying irony to language makes enantiosemes of ordinary words, or instances of language in disagreement with itself. As such, we can see how irony is also the precursor to dialectical philosophy by initiating the contradictory relation of ideas on which the latter rests [that is to say, Socrates is the intellectual father of Plato]. Their difference is that dialectics usually spring from a question & generally attempts to settle on a conclusion. While “as soon as irony is related to a conclusion, it manifests itself as comic” (145), destroying whatever notion it builds itself.
The mutual contamination of the public & private spheres [already severe, according to Kierkegaard, in the 19th century] forms an overestimation of actuality’s power — what today is more likely to be referred to as superficial, shallow, or even hollow culture. For their lack of faith in that season’s actuality, the ironic’s interaction & relation to the world is even emptier, of course; in this way the nothing that is their starting-point is validated by their practice. The conclusion matches the assumption.
Socrates is used to represent the circularity of ironic thought. Leaning always on his ignorance, the negative/ironic conclusion to all Socratic speculation is invariably his own ignorance. By this heightened awareness of perception, there is a second invention: the development of a self-reflexive subject “I”. Any figure distinguishing itself from a collective pronoun has the responsibility not of reproducing the world but of interpreting it; as a teacher this was the role of Socrates. “He helped the individual to an intellectual delivery; he cut the umbilical cord of substantiality” (191).
Living independently of State terms [of the collective “we”] made him offensive. Accusations against Socrates were two-fold: that he did not recognise the State-accepted Gods, & that he seduced youths. “[H]is crime (from the stand-point of the State) was that he neutralised the validity of family life, slackened the law of nature according to which the individual member of the family rests in the whole family — namely, respect” (187). He may have been a revolutionary had irony the capacity of a movement; however there is is no direction to irony, just “a multiplicity of beginnings. Thus as beginning he is positive, but as mere beginning he is negative” (217).
Irony may be acutely aware of potential, yet it never actualises potential. There is one exception, one possibly helpful application of irony. Of all human pleasures, writing can learn most from the ironical disposition — literary creation being always hypothetical, cannot be other than “ironic creation”. But it also shares in the dangers of knowing more than the reader [of the irony or the book]: irreparable pride & a negative relationship to the world. That is why we see in times of great upheaval & public dissent a rising number of ambitious writers. [Aren’t we, by this definition, in a crisis period today?]
Kierkegaard uses the poet as an example, for the poet’s use of language is most subversive of all writers’, alienating & charming in equal parts. The joy of distinction by disruption is key; “it is through a negation of the imperfect actuality that poetry opens up a higher actuality, expands & transfigures the imperfect into the perfect & thereby assuages the deep pain that wants to make everything dark” (297). This pleasure has revenge in its heart, just as irony does. Each is a bid for freedom & both are important to movements of political resistance. By seducing audiences either with language or ideology, both poetry & irony are able to penetrate into the very public that would exclude them were they better understood.
They come together for Kierkegaard as a controlled element where “irony’s great requirement was to live poetically” (280). By this, it is meant that the ironist always garners “the negative freedom with which he stands, poetically creating, above himself” (281). Abstraction & metaphysics are real problems to those with an ironic disposition. Actuality, on the other hand, is assumed solved, a closed system of world-reception where “world” is the present age & immediate geographic hegemony [actuality is decided a lie]. For this reason the ironics are more disposed to wanting to uncover the mysteries of knowledge, the universe, & its relations. The writerly & ironical are well-matched.