Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sentiment & Irony

Sentiment & Irony

  It's a truism that we live in an "ironic" age. (1)  It is also a truism that people who discuss irony in an intellectual/zeitgeist/state of mind fashion almost 100% have no idea what they are fucking talking about, up to and including a working definition of the term "irony" itself. (2)  I prefer the definition provided by M.H Abrams in his book, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition:

Irony in this broadest sense entails the avoidance of sentimentality through the incorporation of multiple attitudes in a single work. (3)

 The reason that is the correct definition is because it contrasts irony to sentimentality, which was the "mind set" of people who actually cared about such things before those same people became modern/ironic.   It's common for people bemoaning ironic postures in art and life to bemoan the fact that irony somehow "reigns supreme" i.e. that there is too much of it and that public manifestations of ironic relationships to one's surrounding need to be reduced, but only a moron who has no understanding of how deeply powerful sentimentalism was/is and always will be, would say that there is "too much" irony in the world.

  It is hard for Moderns to access the Artistic products that properly convey the development of sentimentalism as a world view since we are both divorced from that pre-modern era (many sentimentalist art products date to the 18th century) and the era prior to that- the 17th and 16th centuries.   It's easier to simply describe the way sentimentalists reacted very differently to events than would someone looking at the world from an ironic perspective- artist or non-artist alike.

 In the "Age of Sentiment" people shed tears- A LOT- they cried over all kinds of things that someone with an ironic point of view would either ignore or laugh off-  A good example of this comes in an 'Index of Tears' that was prepared in the late Victorian period for reprint of Henry Mackenzie's Man of Feeling.  Each entry on the index has a page reference for each episode, and the sum total is 45 mentions of tears in a 100 page book. (4)

 All this is only to say that you can't use irony in a critical sense without engaging and acknowledging that sentimentality is so powerful today that people don't even identify as a specific state of mind, it's just everyone, everywhere- everything they like- everything they do- filled with aggressive sentimentality whether it is greeting cards, talk shows, movies or just their interaction with other people during the course of the day- sentimental attitudes dominate.


(1) This is an observation that has been made in certain circles since the mid-19th century and has been reiterated ever since.  A most recent illustration of the perennial homily about our "ironic" age was in the New York Times in November, See How To Live Without Irony.

(2) The classic statement of this truism is in Reality Bites, the movie, from 1994:

[assuming the question had no answer at all]
Lelaina: Can you define "irony"?
Troy Dyer: It's when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning. (MEMORABLE QUOTES FROM REALITY BITES IMDB)

(3)  Irony in New Criticism, Classics///Hits 2/6/12.  The Mirror and The Lamp by M.H. Abrams book review,  published 2/3/12. 

(4) Index to Tears, in Oxford World's Classics, The Man of Feeling by Henry Mackenzie, edited by Brian Vickers with an Introduction and Notes by Stephen Bending and Stephen Bygrave (2001 edition)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Vikings Invade England On TV

Ragnar Lothbrok as depicted by Travis Fimmel

  I watched "Vikings" on History Channel again this week- that would be the show I've described as "Sopranos meets Games Of Thrones meets shitty Showtime history based hour long drama of your choice."  But as good as the first two (potentially.)  You can never tell until later if a television show is actually good or not because of all the explaining that goes on within the context of a first and second episode.

Gabriel Byrne as Earl Haraldson of the History Channel's Vikings

 The awesomeness of Viking begins (as I expected) when they actually get to England, or the Kingdom of Northumbria as it was called back then, and sack the shit out of a Monastery and murder all (but one) of the Monks.  I had my copy of Peter Hunter Blair's, An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England in one hand and my DVR controller in the other so when they flashed a subtitle with the name of the to-be-sacked Monastery  I cross referenced it in the index of An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England and discovered that Viking is not just some quasi-fictional "any Viking" saga but actually purports to depict the initial Viking invasion of England in the late 8th century.  According to Blair, the sack of the Lindisfarne Christian Monastery in 793 represents, a "fundamental chang[e] in the course of English history."

 "The attack on Cuthbert's monastery on Lindisfarne in 793 marks the end of a peiod of about two centuries during which the shores of Britain seem to have been wholly free from attack.  Bede's church at Jarrow was sacked in the following year and in 795 Columba's monastery on Iona was plundered."
This map depicts the route of the sack of Lindisfarne in 793 by Viking raiders.  Viewers of the show will note that the characters in the television show only talk about heading "west" which would be more accurate if they were attacking from Denmark, but the geography of the homeland of the television Vikings is clearly Norway- with fjords, a scarcity of farming lands and notable mountains.

  So there you go- this is it, people: The actual invasion of England by the Vikings.  Grab your hat, and hold the fuck onto it because I am positive there are more elaborate depredations of the Vikings against the Anglo-Saxons to come.

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