Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch


The other day I spent a delightful hour in Eric's office watching various internet goodies he'd collected to show me and other passers-by. The highlights were the "America: Fuck, yeah!" clip by South Park's Trey Parker and one by Dennis Madalone, The former was obviously intended to provoke the pleasures of irony, despite the best efforts of the irony-deprived -- check out the way the America: Love It or Leave It site frames the clip -- to turn it into the video equivalent of that Lee Greenwood song. The latter, by contrast, is sincerely sincere.

Mark Morford's always excellent San Francisco Chronicle column today does a superb job of conveying the feelings that flood me when I watch the Madalone. And he writes more edgily than I do. What interests me now, though, is the way that Morford's column underscores the complexities of consumption. One person can enjoy the Parker video as a sincere expression of patriotism. Another can regard the Madalone as high camp. Intention, as we have a way of remembering to forget, does not stick to the cultural goods it motivates. The glue dries out faster than a bowl of fruit in the desert sun.

I've been teaching my "Literary Analysis" class about the distinction between metaphor and metonymy lately. The other day, I confessed that, even though there's a cut-and-dried response I want to see on their final exams, there's a way in which that distinction will, if you think about it hard enough, blur into befuddlement. We spent some time on Tuesday talking about that most famous of twentieth-century poems, Ezra Pound's "In A Station of the Metro":
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
One student claimed that another instructor, one with a far richer relation to poetry than I possess, had argued that the second half of the poem was an example of metonymy. Another, who had taken a class with that same instructor, insisted that the word "faces" was his example of metonymy. I wasn't sure what to say, not wanting to contradict the argument of someone so learned, but committed to preserving my original distinction for the purposes of my students studying for the final exam. In the end, I tried to explain that too much attention to anything has a way of dissolving the lines that separate it out from other phenomena. Sometimes this dissolution is productive. Other times it merely confuses.

I mention this classroom conundrum because I think that the distinction between irony and sincerity functions an awful lot like the one between metaphor and metonymy. The harder people insist on their sincerity, the easier it is for others to perceive the irony in their insistence. The more boldly a text signals that it is ironic, the more likely that someone will miss the point. And then there's my realization, based on personal experience, that the sort of person who is given to responding ironically to the world is probably just concealing a sincerity to painful too express.

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