Quick Remarks on How to Live Sans Irony

A couple days ago (11/19/2012) Nick Steffens wired a facespace message to me from Salt Lake City to Fargo with the attached New York Times “Opinionator” piece by Christy Wampole entitled, “How to Live Without Irony” (11/17/2012).

The title of the article communicates a hipster trope from any age that seeks to outflank the absurd by acknowledging, amplifying and asserting that absurd. For example, “How to Live Without Irony” is a funny thing to say or read, although the humor is seven-chess moves removed (or what we might call deep humor). To live without irony, or to say there is a way to live without irony, is arguably irony.

Wampole’s introductory paragraph smacks of Anatole Broyard’s 1948 piece, “The Portrait of a Hipster,” and Wampole might do a bit more to tip a hat to Anatole within the 2012 piece. For example, check out this Wampole excerpt from November 17, 2012:

“The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.”

And then compare it with this excerpt from Anatole circa 1948 (first published in Partisan Review, June 1948):

As he was the illegitimate son of the Lost Generation, the hipster was really nowhere. And, just as amputees often seem to localize their strongest sensations in the missing limb, so the hipster longed, from the very beginning, to be somewhere. He was like a beetle on its back; his life was a struggle to get straight. But the law of human gravity kept him overthrown, because he was always of the minority—opposed in race or feeling to those who owned the machinery of recognition.
The hipster began his inevitable quest for self-definition by sulking in a kind of inchoate delinquency. But this delinquency was merely a negative expression of his needs, and, since it led only into the waiting arms of the ubiquitous law, he was finally forced to formalize his resentment and express it symbolically. This was the birth of a philosophy—a philosophy of somewhereness called jive, from jibe: to agree or harmonize. By discharging his would-be aggressions symbolically, the hipster harmonized or reconciled himself with society.

Maybe Wampole had initially included an Anatole reference in an earlier draft, but some hipster editor didn’t recognize it as important and therefore sliced it out? I don’t know. And this is not to say that the irony-amplifying hipster surfaced only after the Second World War. If thinking deep about the hipster-ography (which is the study of hipsters over time), the name Diogenes enters the brain, an Ancient Hipster, or moreso a Punk, from the Mediterranean if there ever was one. Diogenes lived in a gutter with his dogs and ate bags of onions and questioned everything — if his delivery was off, he would certainly be regarded as a jerk. In the words of Oscar Wilde, it is very impolite and even impossible to be 100% honest with everyone all the time. Was Socrates a hipster? I’m not sure. But I’m willing to pose the question if it leads today’s hipster or student into considering whether philosophers and thinkers from yesteryear were in fact hipsters in their own time and place. Thanks for the article forward, Nick.

Note: Perhaps the most thorough contemporary exegesis on hipsterosophy is the 2010 piece published by n+1 (Brooklyn, NY) titled, What Was the Hipster?: A Sociological Investigation.

2 responses to “Quick Remarks on How to Live Sans Irony

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