Thursday, August 1, 2013

Embarrassing Questions

In many ways, irony is sarcasm refined.  Young persons, let's say persons under the age of twenty-five, can be observed refining their sarcasms.  

Let's say, as an example, the taunt "Don't mind me." is a sarcasm directed by a young person to a peer or older.  Since we're speculatively saying things, let's say a plateau upward toward irony from "Don't mind me." would be, "I hadn't thought you'd noticed."  Same situation.  Different degrees of sarcasm.

You recall yourself being well into the default sarcasm of the early and mid teens until you discovered an early role model of irony, Oscar Wilde.  You were beginning to see the light of irony on your own and through reading, but the process was hurried along by the kinds of schoolmates one recalls with admiration if not fondness for the long haul ahead.  

These schoolmates brought you closer to Dr. Johnson, Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Schopenhauer, George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.  By the merest of good fortune, on your own, you discovered Dorothy Parker and Ring Lardner, of "Shut up," he explained, fame.

These forces all came into convergence one lunch hour afternoon at 7850 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles California, in the company of a group of fellow students at Fairfax High School.  At least two of those present were eleventh graders, a fact of social prestige.  The Fairfax High of your youth was probably every bit as stratified as the Fairfax of today, the strata and their implications having evolved from its then demographics and sociology to its current enlightenment.

You were not particularly fond of the eleventh graders, but there was some rub-off prestige in having been beckoned over to lunch on the lawn with them and a few of your tenth-grade friends who'd turned your attentions to philosophers and cynics.  However charged and lofty such conversations could be (try this:  "We hear you're reading Marx."), the subject of sex was as insistent as a show-off student, waving hands or arms to be noticed by a teacher.

When a sex-related topic came forth, your reply to it produced one of those moments that you can now, at this remove, relate more to irony than to the humiliation of being the center, not only of attention but of ridicule.  "You're in high school now,"  you were informed by an eleventh-grader.  "We don't get boners any more.  We get hard-ons."

Another semester, a year at the most, with the likes of Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker, and you'd have had some response other than silence. "Roger that,"  perhaps.  Even "Copy that."  Possibly, "Rise to any occasion."  

Early years are years of observation, looking for those key instruments of purpose and intent, which are both important instruments for the growing self to distinguish and determine, then find ways to use in composition. Early accusations that "You did that on purpose" were just as likely to be met with the defiance so common to the age or with the same near humiliation at the discovery that we don't get boners any more.

Another semester or two, and you could use purpose as a refined instrument.  "To what purpose?"  Those three words are, at the least, instrumental beginnings of an essay, which leads to a conclusion and a discovery.

For the next several years, you were asked your intentions by a number of girlfriends and, in some cases, their parents.  Now, you ask questions about intent and purpose of your characters, the characters of your students, of writers you are paid to edit.  But most of all, and on these very cyberpages, you ask those questions of yourself.  

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