Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Concluding Unscientific Blogpost (Poor Tom's Philosophy 3)

-- By Tom Phillips

(After fasting through the Winter Solstice, Poor Tom puts on his clothes and comes in from the cold.)

OK friends, I apologize.  As some of you realized, Poor Tom was just a naked disguise, and his impenetrable essays on Irony were no more than a post-election distraction for an old man -- an old man fearing for his grandchildren, trying to step back and love the world from an ironic distance, a literary perspective.

Still, it was a timely topic.

The primary definition of irony -- saying one thing and meaning another -- is Trumpspeak, the new lingua franca of our land.  A University means a scam.  I grabbed her by the private parts means I didn't do anything. "Make America Great Again" means make the rich richer.  "Lock her up" means drop the case.  A Wall means a fence, and then nothing.  NATO means NADA.

Everything he says means nothing -- he speaks in the moment only, and the meaning disappears like a post on Snapchat.   This is the ultimate in irony -- not the distance between one meaning and another, but the distance between meaning and non-meaning, being and nothingness.


(With little hope but firm resolve, Poor Tom puts on a scholar's robe, shakes his sleeves and begins to speak into the air)

Listen up, Mr. President-elect: 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Poor Tom 's Philosophy 2 -- The Irony of Irony

-- By Tom Phillips 

Poor Tom
Kierkegaard says irony is like a dwarf wearing a hat that makes him invisible.  But Poor Tom has discovered it's not so simple.   It's like a whole bunch of dwarfs -- and every time you look at one of them, they all put on their hats and become invisible.  The most you can perceive is distant laughter, as they chuckle among themselves at your vain pursuit. For irony takes many forms, none of them with any substance.

Thirty years ago, Tom took a shot at identifying the clumsiest of the dwarfs -- the slowest at putting on their hats.  At the time he was skulking along the dirt floor of Academe, disguised as an assistant professor of journalism.  So he set out to define at least the kinds of irony you find in newspapers.  He was able to identify three for his thesis, titled "Irony in Journalism: Teaching the Twisteroo."
  • The first type he called "surface irony" -- a clash of appearances, such as the bluenose senator caught in the bus stop restroom... 
  • The second was "dramatic irony" -- the reversal of intentions, as in the defendant who sneaked out of court, only to be found not guilty, then charged anew with jumping bail.  Or President Nixon bugging the oval office, creating evidence against himself. 
  • The third he dubbed "cosmic irony"-- bizarre or baffling coincidences, outcomes that seem wrong, but actually happen.  A twisteroo: which is more newsworthy, a car crash in which four people are killed, or one where no one is killed?  The standard answer is the fatal crash.  But what if a car carrying four teenagers plunges over a thousand-foot cliff, and they walk away unharmed?  (It happened..)
Today, Tom laughs at "three types of irony."  He knows now that there are as many "types" as there are types of human being -- a number equal to the population of the world.  Irony, we say offhandedly, takes place in the gaps between perception and reality.  But we have no access to unperceived reality.  Irony begins in the gap between perception and perception, person and person.

In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, the editor of Vanity Fair magazine declared that the "age of irony" was over -- from now on we had to face things head-on, as if we could.  Today the age of irony is back, big-time.   How else to look at a president-elect who regards himself as the greatest man who ever lived -- and is perceived by much of the world as a narcissistic buffoon?  The gap between Trump's view of himself and say, Alec Baldwin's, is YUGE, a yawning entry into a gold mine of humor.  Garry Trudeau has been working it in "Doonesbury" ever since Trump's presidential ambitions surfaced in the 1980s.  But Trump, by his own account, has no clue what this cartoonist is up to.  "It's too bad he's allowed to write this garbage," says the man who will be defending our freedoms.