Forget Joan Didion, ask the Delphic oracle instead

Oh gee – there might be an irony gap developing. How horrifying, how shocking, how alarming.

Its ill health was noted by, among others, no less an ironist than Joan Didion, the nation’s poet laureate of disillusion. The week after the election, in a talk at the New York Public Library, Ms. Didion lamented that the United States in the era of Barack Obama had become an “irony-free zone,” a vast Kool-Aid tank where “naïveté, translated into ‘hope,’ was now in” and where “innocence, even when it looked like ignorance, was now prized.”

Did she. Well that strikes me as quite a stupid thing to say. Is that ironic?

But Ms. Didion might be on to something. A Nexis search found that the incidence of the words “irony,” “ironic” and “ironically” in major American newspapers during the two-week period beginning Nov. 6 slipped 19 percent from the same period last year.

Really? Well hooray – there is nothing more unironic than constantly belaboring the notion of irony. Irony turns deadly earnest the instant you lay claim to it.

Some sometime cynics bristled at the suggestion that they had gone soft or lost their edge. “To me, it’s a false choice to say we’re either going to be running our own little ‘Daily Show’ of the mind 24/7 or we’re going to be completely earnest,” said Kurt Andersen…“One can maintain one’s ironic armor and arsenal where one needs it.”

Well quite. One can be not particularly ‘ironic’ about Obama without being earnest or literal or flat-footed about everything. Does anyone – even Joan Didion – really need to be told this?

But it is at times like these, Ms. Didion seemed to argue, when a distanced perspective is needed most. (Not that she was willing to elaborate on her talk. “Basically,” she said on the phone Tuesday, “I don’t like to talk about anything I’ve written or that I’m writing. What you write down, there it is and you’ve done it.”)

Could that be because it doesn’t mean anything? How ‘ironic’ is Joan Didion anyway? What does it mean to call her ironic? Is there any substance to anything she says or is it just style, just a tic, just an attitude, just a get-me-I’m-hip pose? Is there less there than meets the eye? In other words could it be that she was not willing to elaborate on her talk because she was not able to, because it was just some word-spinning as opposed to an actual thought or argument? I think it could. And I say that without a trace of irony.

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