Friday, January 25, 2008

Irony and the New York Times

Sometimes I feel the New York Times possesses - in spite of the mass of evidence to the contrary - hidden depths of humour, dark wells of irony. This struck me as a possibility when I noticed this tagline on an NYT blog headlined Memory Refill - 'Over a lifetime, coffee as a Proustian common denominator.' Nobody with any wit or literary sensitivity could have written that unless they were being ironic. Is this possible? There may be a further clue in the feature itself - 'I wouldn't be so pretentious as to say,' writes Judith Warner, 'that I have measured out my life in coffee spoons. But it wouldn't be so far from the truth.' Again, this is very funny if meant as irony at the expense of this kind of writing - that having the cake of pretension and eating it is just brilliant -  but plain stupid if not. My intention now is to test my ironic NYT theory by deliberately treating the entire thing as an infinitely subtle version of The Onion.

14 comments:

  1. Personally, of course, I have measured out my life in Nespresso pods.

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  2. I have no idea what they are. I had to look them up. I still haven't much idea only you can get one for your car, 'to drink while stuck in traffic' so the blurb goes. I don't know, one of the last things I'd thought you'd need whilst stuck in traffic is a caffeine boost.

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  3. I think I'll stick to days, weeks, months and years. Or, minutes, when I've tried reading Proust.

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  4. Very wise to treat it as The Onion - personally I have measured out my life in a very real Proustian way, by treating everything as though I was reading the Onion..

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  5. "My Aunt Fannie had a closet filled with secret things" - this has to be a parody.

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  6. I was measuring out my life with grains of sand, but the hourglass broke. Is it all over for me now?

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  7. Mt grandfather had a cupboard filled with Lux soapbars and tins of salmon. No parody.

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  8. Wild Young ChungyJanuary 26, 2008 12:23 am

    Don't diss the NYT - it's got better coverage of the SPL than the Guardian.

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  9. Gosh, but you Brits are deep. We over here can hardly keep up. I mean, either brilliantly ironic or incredibly stupid? But we want to learn. Can you help us, if only for old time's sake? For starters, does it matter whether the coffee spoons I might or might not have measured out my life with come from Starbucks or not?

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  10. Maybe there's a middle ground between incredibly stupid and brilliantly ironic.

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  11. Any newspaper which writes for the cultural and ethnic mix that the NYT does, then by its nature must bury any irony fairly deep. Irony like comedy, tends to be an IN thing.
    I'm sure that most Yanks might find The Mail a bit free in the irony stakes, when we know that its comic nature is in fact bordering on Old Comedy.

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  12. However Miss Warner meant it - or the NYT - the readers took it terribly seriously - look at the comments at the end.

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  13. Bryan: Again, this is very funny if meant as irony ...but plain stupid if not.


    The physicist Erwin Schrödinger proposed the analogous question - today known as Schrödinger’s Cat. A cat, locked in a drawer, is it dead or alive?

    The only way to find out is to remove it from the drawer. And, by that token, the terms stupidity or brilliant are meaningless, unless determined by the participant.

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  14. "The physicist Erwin Schrödinger proposed the analogous question - today known as Schrödinger's Cat. A cat, locked in a drawer, is it dead or alive?... The only way to find out is to remove it from the drawer."

    Why not just take a peak through the keyhole? The point of Schrödinger's thought experiment has been lost in summary here. It's crucial that the cat's fate is tied to the behavior of a sub-atomic particle. Schrödinger was making a point about quantum physics, not about the behavior of cats in locked boxes. And certainly not about the meaning of words. It's not true that words are meaningless until their meaning is determined by the participant. If that were true then we wouldn't be able to understand each other unless we prefaced anything we said with a set of stipulative definitions, and even that would be impossible because the definitions would have to be in terms of other words which themselves required definition. And there would be no reason for anyone to use a dictionary, far less write one.

    Lewis Carroll illustrated this brilliantly in Through the Looking Glass:

    http://sundials.org/about/humpty.htm

    Personally I don't see why there's anything mysterious or paradoxical about saying of a piece of writing that if it's an intentional spoof of a certain type of pretentious writing then it's brilliantly done, whereas if it's just another example of that type of writing then it's stupid. And part of the stupidity would consist in the author's failure to recognize how and why what he or she had written could be mistaken for a parody.

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