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Something David Foster Wallace said


from his essay, "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction":

quote:

The 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. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that'll be the point. Maybe that's why they'll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today's risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the "Oh how banal." To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows. Today's most engaged young fiction does seem like some kind of line's end's end. I guess that means we all get to draw our own conclusions. Have to. Are you immensely pleased.



from a book of essays published in 1997

Chris

Last edited by ChrisD1, Oct/18/2008, 7:01 pm
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Re: Something David Foster Wallace said


This is good, Chrisfriend. I get Wallace's point. Often my material gets drawn from circumstances immediately surrounding me in which I find something essential about the human condition. What always surprises me is that others do not seem to see the same essentia until it gets pointed out to them. My characters can be lonely women circumstances have ignored, old men caught sitting in their back yard feeding a family of racoons, young girls facing that great cusp of time in which they have to make their first big life determining decisions, young men on the road with no resources. Just all the individuals people and circumstance have forgotten about but in whom I am able to find something big, something that speaks existentially. Is this what you take from the citation?

Thinking about it I figure I learned the trick from a whole bunch of 19th C novels and novelists. The likes of Flaubert, Chekhov, Turgenev, and so on. But wait. More than anyone else I probably learned the trick from Colette.

Corollary to what Wallace I think is pointing to is something I read a bunch of years ago. I wish I could remember the writer's name. In effect, the writer said that today's Romantics do not go off for exotic and foreign places. Instead they seek out forgotten places closer to home and just around the corner.

Thanks for the post.

Tere
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Tere,

Actually I was more struck by the idea certain post-modern themes/styles have become so entrenched that today's "rebel" might just be neo-romantic. I was wondering if there was an alternative. Here's more Wallace:

quote:

Irony in postwar art and culture started the same way youthful rebellion did. It was difficult and painful and productive--a grim diagnosis of a long-denied disease. The assumptions behind early post-modern irony, on the other hand, were still frankly idealistic: it was assumed that etiology and diagnosis pointed toward cure, that a revelation of imprisonment led to freedom.
     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. It's not a rhetorical mode that wears well. As Hyde...
puts it, "Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage."



Maybe Tere, you've been one of the literary rebels all this time, just didn't know it.

Chris

Last edited by ChrisD1, Oct/18/2008, 4:32 pm
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Re: Something David Foster Wallace said


On second thought, I'm sure you know exactly what kind of rebel you are! Silly me.

Chris
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Re: Something David Foster Wallace said


quote:

ChrisD1 wrote:

On second thought, I'm sure you know exactly what kind of rebel you are! Silly me.

Chris



Chuckling here, Chrisfriend. Here is something big I think I know, came to a bunch of years ago, and what grounds me.

All of the arts amount to a cottage industry. It is as true of music, photography, painting, fashion design, industrial design as it is of novel writing and of poetry. Nothing original ever gets committee created or engendered through program or workshop. Always the artist goes back to her personal space to first engender and then compose. I cannot think of a single exception to the rule. Not one. This is what your Wallace quote brings to mind.

I had a girlfriend once. Her name was Janet. This was up in Rhode Island and a good thirty years ago. She was a fashion designer. Her apartment was small and intimate and filled with the various creations she was working on in private, or in her private space where she could get both expansive and demanding of herself. Today I live across from a painter who manages to make a free lance living on her painting and on interior decoration. Her apartment is filled with both her creations and with painting materials.

In both cases what strikes me is that art is a cottage industry, gone after personally, standing outside all the isms and programs, not fawning after what might be the next new ideologically determined movement.

It is a funny thought to entertain. That a cottage industrialist, working alone, might be considered a rebel.

Tere
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Re: Something David Foster Wallace said


Amateurs in the very best sense of the word.

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fascinating discussion.

Chris--why did he do it. Do you know? I heard the news, and even though I wasn't that familiar with his work (while I do have Girl with Curious Hair on my shelf)--it made me very sad that he would just give up.

Regarding the quote, I think Art is always filled with these diametrical shifts--it's the pulse of its life and process. John Gardner talks about the tension between the ironical and the sincere in his books, especially On Moral Fiction--for him it was a tension between those bankrupted or bored with narrative, the fictive dream, creating a world and characters to inhabit it realistically and unmessed with, in contrast to metafiction which plays around with technique and the architecture of building rather than the building itself. Seems like if there are schools of art it is this conversation that nobody moderates but seems to seep up through culture and the blood without anyone conducting.

Tere--the cottage industry comments are interesting and true, but don't you think that's only half the story. As Donne says, no man is an island, we are not creating out of nothing, but using language, using technique, and narratives and images--everything is borrowed--observed, adopted, transformed and co-opted for personal use and conversational purposes. Was it Bukowski who said there are no originals just amalgamations of influence? Art is about fresh creation and insight but just as equally about conversation, dynamic interaction and influences, eh. Thus here we are on this board talking to one another?
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Re: Something David Foster Wallace said


Good on you, Dave. Here is my riposte to your comment.

Poetry is best. Conversation about the same is a sweetening second best. You think?

Tere
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yes, except for the exceptions when the discussion is better than the art being discussed emoticon

I feel trite in saying it, but this is a question of poet and audience. audiences need/want poetry and poets and poems need audiences.

The discussion and criticism is basically fueled by an audience enjoying an artwork,eh?

the artist must have quiet and isolation, maybe alienation and wounding as well...

Gardner again--writers write from a wound--for him it was watching his brother (they were both kids) fall off the back end of a tractor into the discer to bleed to death.
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Well, if the art is so wanting the discussion is better I guess I would agree the art is wanting, which is a sad thing to say about art. Right?

Seriously. Who in discussion can match the likes of Dante, Caravaggio, Leonard Cohen for saying the biggest things beautifully?

Tere
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Re: Something David Foster Wallace said


The ironic stance has become so all-pervasive and so automatic that it, itself, has become inauthentic. Mannered rather than actual. There was a time, in the Modern period, when irony was a sane reaction to an insane and repressed and self-satisfied world. The revolt against Victorian manners was part of that. But now irony has become the new mannerism. And it, in turn, must be rebelled against.

That's what I get from Wallace. I've felt this way for about 20 years. I keep running into cries from the postmodern dedicated poetry wonks that my avocation and desire for a more vatic kind of poetry is in effect some kind of heresy. Then again, mystics have forever been labeled as heretics, and I don't mind being labeled a mystic.

Where I might disagree with Wallace is that I do not think that turning the clock back ever works. The Zen saying is: You cannot step into the same river twice. Meaning that each time you dip in, the river has moved, and the water has moved on, and you can't find the same bit of water that you stepped into before. Nothing retrograde ever works—not even irony about nostalgia.

I think there is indeed a third alternative to irony and neo-romanticism. I think some artists have quietly been exploring and developing it, usually under the radar, for half a century already. I don't mind being associated with that, when I have been. What I do find laughable is when the poetry wonks insist on shoehorning every possibility of a third direction back into their familiar categorical boxes. I've had this happen to me directly from well-known poetry wonks such as Ron Silliman, and similar poet-critics. What they all seem unable to comprehend is that I do not share their ideologies. No, it's deeper than that: it's not that I don't agree with their own ideology, it's that I have no ideology whatsoever, that they can label as such. The viable and growing third alternative is those very people who don't care to be in any of the ideological camps, but who are explorers, and are off wandering the land, finding things out that haven't been seen before. They usually don't trumpet their discoveries in the marketplace; they just quietly present them, and let them be on their own.

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Dragonman, your comments stir up a bevy of thoughts.

First is this. I am not familiar enough with the teachings of Zen Buddhism to speak to them. I am, however, a great fan and one-time student of the ancient Greek Presocratic philosophers. A particular favorite is Heraclitus of Ephesus. For him fire was the first principle, being emblematic of change and flux. For him flux was the natural order of things. (Looks like Modern Quantuum Mechanics has proved him right.) Heraclitus was an exact contemporary of Siddhartha Gautama. Here are two of his best known aphorisms:

49a. "In the same river, we both step and do not step, we are and we are not."

91. "It is not possible to step into the same river twice. (It is impossible to touch the same mortal substance twice, but through the rapidity of change) they scatter and again combine (or rather, not even 'again' or 'later', but the combination and separation are simultaneous)and approach and separate." Phrases quoted in Aritotle's Metaphysics.

Kind of cool, huh? Another famous aphorism of Heraclitus involves what he called the aristos, the best man for the circumstance. "One man to me is (worth) ten thousand, if he is the best." Just sharing in the spirit of exchange.

The problem I have with the ideologues you take exception to is the conviction that, in the first instance, all art is ahistorical. While it certainly can reflect, give expression to its Age, it also stands outside historical forces. Sure it can be shaped by such forces accidently, but it is not governed by them. Dialectical materialism cannot explain Goethe or Van Gogh, say. It seems like I've always known this. It also seems you and I are saying much the same thing.

As for the impossibility of turning the clock back, of course you are right. But there is another possibility that fascinates me. It is the extent to which the past can inspire, even incite the artist to new discoveries, even rediscoveries. Van Gogh was inspired by certain traditions in Japanese painting. Picasso and company were incited by Primitive Art. The pre-Raphaelites were incited by Medieval European traditions. I think I remember that Whitman was a closet Egyptologist. I have always wondered the extent to which his studies influenced his aesthetic sense. Goethe was incited by the discovery of ancient Persian poetry. And so forth. We all know the examples well enough. This is what I get a kick out of. This is what it seems to me certain ideologues, constrained by their programs, absolutely miss out on.

You are right, by the way, that there is a third way, an alternative to both neo-Romanticism and the Classical artist's insistence on ironic distancing. To me it is the Naturalist's tradition of which Goethe has to be the most perfect example. Here is a prose translation of the last stanza in his poem "Humility." I swear, Dragonman, I can easily hear you saying the same thing or something very much like it:

"I cannot divide life, cannot divide what is within and what is without; I must give all of you the whole, if I am to live with you and with myself. I have always written just what I felt, just what I thought; and thus, my dear friends, I split myself up and remain always one and the same."

I wonder if you catch the Osirian spirit of message. That of the vegetation god whose principle is moisture, what makes new life possible.

Just some thoughts.

Tere
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Dave, about the poet/audience dialogue, you are right of course. I can't remember who said it, that there is no great art without a great audience, but I get the point. (It might have been Aristotle.)

Here is an old poem of mine going back to '90 that says best what I think. It is called "Sheet Music," and is epigrammatic in gestalt:

Unsung
a poet's job is
half-done.
In print
lovers are left to
trace lips.

This is how it seems to me. On the other hand I do feel there is a danger we habitues of poetry boards court, regularly need to guard against. It is the notion of creating by committee. In my view the danger here is in effecting a certain levelling.

Tere
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Re: Something David Foster Wallace said


So, Chrisfriend, you got anything else to throw out? Looks like you srated something up. What else is in that magic bag of yours?

Tere
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Good to see this has been taken up again. I need
to re-read the new comments before I can add to them.

Dave, why did he do it? There's an excellent article in the current edition of "Rolling Stone" magazine. Seems near as anyone can make out, he struggled with real and intractable clinical depression. The anti-depressant, Nardil had been helping him for a number of years. When his life seemed to have achieved some balance (career, marriage, emotional stability) he decided to come off the medication
which had difficult side-effects. Then he got horrifically depressed (lost 70 pounds) and starting the medication again didn't help (nor did combinations of other meds. and ECT,
I think.) People who knew and loved him agree, he just couldn't beat it, though he tried for a long time.

I'm reading his essays now; they're wonderful. Also checked out his book, "Infinite Jest" and hope to get to it soon.

Chris
   

Last edited by ChrisD1, Nov/2/2008, 2:57 pm
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I'm all for mining all of history for fresh inspiration. But It's not clear to me that Wallace was suggesting that; it's not clear to me that he wasn't for trying to turn back the clock. From what I've read of his fiction, etc., I could be convinced that he was indeed for turning the clock back. (I am not a fan of his work, to be honest.)

I'm quite strongly influenced by poetry from japan and India, as you know. As well as Rilke, Paz, Elytis, and many others not from North American. (One problem I have with North American poetry and fiction, as it currently stands, is that it has become rather insular and parochial; everyone imitating everyone else imitating a few Modernist and postmodernist models, till all the cries of originality are lost under a welter os sameness. Frankly, I can't separate Wallace from that camp, based on what I've read of his.) The examples you mention are all good examples of seekers looking throughout time and space for their muses. And you're correct that the ideologues, dazzled by their own clever systems, miss out on all this. (That insularity and parochialism, again.)

The Naturalist's tradition. Osiris, indeed. And Horus, with his errands for Osiris. That's a good form of third stream. I'm all about the Green Man, the veriditas that Hildegard of Bingen wrote about, the inscape that Hopkins developed. I think of these as the third stream in exactly the same way that mysticism is the third stream in religion, alongside conservatism and liberalism.

I also think of the "leaping poetry" tradition Robert Bly tried to outline in his long essay of that title, and the examples he cited.

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I feel bad. I quoted Wallace out of context and probably over simplified when I summarized his statement as posing a choice between PoMo and neo-romanticism. He never once mentioned neo-romanticism. The essay is about so much more than the few lines I chose to post here because they were of particular interest to me and seemed to articulate something I've been sensing for a long time.

So while it seems to work as a good jumping off place for discussion--it may not be the most accurate reflection of Wallace. Funny about quoting and para-phrasing, huh?

Chris
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Don't feel bad for posting out of context. Sometimes it has to be that way. It would be nice to read the whole essay, though, as a corrective. Is it online anywhere? I did a quick search and saw he'd published more essays than I knew.

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Re: Something David Foster Wallace said


OK,
The essay's title: "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction."

found it at:

accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-5495526_
ITM

Sorry, I don't know how to do those links.

Chris

p.s. This wasn't my favorite. Probably his most famous and more enjoyable: "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."
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Thanks for the link. Unfortunately, that's only the partial essay, to read the rest one needs to subscribe. Ah well, much appreciated nonetheless.

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Chrisfriend and Dragonman, I keep thinking about the crit of the ironic tone in Modern and I guess post-Mod poetry. There is meat to the crit. Let me think on it some more and get back to you.

Tere
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hey Tere,

Here's Rilke on the subject of irony:

"Seek the depth of things: thither irony never descends--and when you come thus close to the edge of greatness, test out at the same time whether this ironic attitude springs from a necessity of your nature. For under the influence of serious things either it will fall from you (if it is something fortuitous), or else it will (if it really innately belongs to you) strengthen into a stern instrument and take its place in the series of tools which you will have to shape your art."

from "Letters To A Young Poet"
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Rilke's point, obviously, is not to avoid irony but to be sure that it is innate to the self, and to the writing, and necessary. That's when irony really makes or breaks a work of art.

The problem has become that irony is not just a literary trope, it's an existential pose. Everyone thinks they have to be ironic in order to be hip, to be this-minute. It's in TV commercials constantly; stand-up comedy is built on it; and much more.

Irony is the main theme of connection people in the arts think they're supposed to do now: the smirk, instead of the smile. The sideways glance instead of the direct look into the lover's eyes. This attitude, frankly, is why I don't read much "mainstream" American fiction anymore; it's become so pervasive, that it makes so much fiction so unreadable, because even writers as well as critics have become suspicious of the forthright and the sincere. When did sincere become such a bad word? That's the problem in a nutshell.

Rilke is an antidote to that, as to so many other superficial things.

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Hi Chris,

Stumbled across this today and thought of you:

"Smarter than You Think" by Wyatt Mason (a review of "Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace" by David Lipsky):

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jul/15/smarter-you-think/?pagination=false

And for good measure "Don’t like it? You don’t have to play" by Wyatt Mason (an old review "Oblivion: Stories" by David Foster Wallace):

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n22/wyatt-mason/dont-like-it-you-dont-have-to-play

Last edited by Katlin, Jun/30/2010, 9:07 pm
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Thanks Kat, I'll look at both.

Chris
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Seeing the thread refreshed took me back through the discussion of almost two years ago. Not a shabby discussion for a bunch of non-professionals. What is most striking is the amount of thought that went into the various posts.

I was looking for something I should have posted, surprised to find I didn't, that touches on Chris's comments regarding the romantic inclination (or instinct). It involves something Laura Riding wrote back in the twenties. She called the tract "A Prophecy or a Plea." It reads like a manifesto for what she called the New Romantics. From the tract:

"If they are to succeed their constitution must contain...the power of wonder that begets wonder, and miracle, and prophecy. They will be egoists and romantics all, but romantics with the courage of realism: they will put their hands on the mysterious contour of life not to force meaning out of it...but press meaning upon it, outstare the stony countenance of it, make it flush with their own colors."

I wish I had included Riding's thoughts back when the discussion was in full swing. But I want to share it anyway. Speaking for myself I probably gravitate to this poetic attitude more than I do to many others. These thoughts do put me in mind of my own career, my themes, my insistences, my slants. But they also put me in mind of other poets, perhaps no one more than Leonard Cohen. A kind of romantic attitude with the courage of the realist outstaring the stony countenance of life. Maybe this is why I have scant patience with all the isms and dogmas and programs, and with all the head heaviness of too much intellectualizing brought to poetry, to all art.

Chris, if mine is a rebellion of sorts, and it likely is, it is a lyrical rebellion, understated, voice ever so slight, even sometimes more insinuating than stated. All these years later and I can still go with Riding's thinking.

Tere
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Kat,

I read both articles, wonderful. Thanks again.

Tere,

I've seen that Riding quote before; it's a good one.

Chris
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I posted this recently in the Dew Drop Inn thread:

Thought that came to me the other day:

Cynics aren't always right but often enough that it makes them cocky. (I say this as someone who was once a cynic.) Also, I think there is something about being a cynic that can make people feel safe. These thoughts were sparked, in part, by something Tere wrote in another thread:

"What occurs to me is that this story has to be put down as a failure, since, unmodern, or unpost-modern. Nothing ironic in its tone.

Something else occurs to me. What is the motive behind the ironic stance if not as a means for the narrator to keep safe, at a distance, from the narrative?

Does this make sense to anyone?"


 http://bdelectablemnts.runboard.com/t1161,offset=60

Then I remember the recent tip Chris gave Tere about this thread and decided to revisit it. I'm glad I did. These two Wallace quotes are excellent on the topic of irony:

The 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. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that'll be the point. Maybe that's why they'll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today's risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the "Oh how banal." To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows. Today's most engaged young fiction does seem like some kind of line's end's end. I guess that means we all get to draw our own conclusions. Have to. Are you immensely pleased.

and:

Irony in postwar art and culture started the same way youthful rebellion did. It was difficult and painful and productive--a grim diagnosis of a long-denied disease. The assumptions behind early post-modern irony, on the other hand, were still frankly idealistic: it was assumed that etiology and diagnosis pointed toward cure, that a revelation of imprisonment led to freedom.

     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. It's not a rhetorical mode that wears well. As Hyde... puts it, "Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage."


  
Jun/12/2011, 8:32 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
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Re: Something David Foster Wallace said


Found I link to the Wallace essay Chris quotes from:

 http://jsomers.net/DFW_TV.pdf

Haven't read it yet, Chris, but I hope to get to it soon. (If not soon, then I've got it bookmarked.) Did spend some time rereading this thread. Much enjoyed. Lots of good points made during the discussion. My own sense is that an ironic stance, like use of fragmentation or polyvocalism, for example, has become the default position for some, an enjoyable cage, the safety net of the new status quo. Irony used well is dynamite; it blows things up. Irony, like cynicism, used automatically or defensively, is a punt or a crutch.

Last edited by Katlin, Jun/12/2011, 9:10 am
Jun/12/2011, 8:44 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 


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