Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I've recently been writing about a certain "mode" of poetry that was first conceived and practiced by the British Romantic poets; what some have called the "epiphanic mode." I've joined them in calling it that. Which a fun thing to do-- join a tradition, a convention. I'm with these guys over here, doing this thing, yeah.

The argument goes that this "epiphanic mode" arose as a reaction against philosophical problems posed by enlightenment thinkers. Such as this one: There's really no way for you to express rationally all those things you thought you knew about, because your narrow little mind screws up any perceptions it has of the world. Love, Kant.

The Romantic poets seem to have had two reactions: 1. Romantic Irony, and 2. Romantic Epiphany.

The Ironists weren't a bunch of bad-ass college freshman who just discovered that religion is stupid, and take smug pleasure in pointing out the ridiculousness of Dogma. However, these college kids are the bastard children of the original Romantic Ironists, who believed something to this effect: Human life is an organic language game, and the best minds keep themselves apprised of this fact. "Irony" is to appear other than you are, and Romantic Ironists recognize that we are always other than what we describe ourselves as; their essence is their creative capacity, and not the descriptions it creates. Therefore, they were the fathers of those whose primary way of being is anti-everything-else. Stupid, inert everything-else.

Romantic Epiphany is what I'm more interested in. It says something like this: if we are capacity, capacity is something. Either way, here I am-- I am presence. The writers of the Epiphanic Mode wrote poems that tried to get people to think to of themselves beyond the representations that they have in mind, to think of their more primary way of being: presence. I'd argue that the epiphanic mode is structured in order to perform this enlightenment. It serves to answer Kant, because it tells him: Silly goose, you're still stuck in Cartesian Dualism.

Anyway, I'm sick of irony. I say: Irony is no longer in. The cool kids have moved on; they've moved on to sincerity, which is far more difficult. If not impossible. To talk about, that is. Without resorting to irony. Or non-sequitur. Refrigerator.


Ryan Hofer said...

Agreed. I think I am actually trying to mean what I say lately. Even the sarcastic notions have that creativity behind them.

Kelly said...

You probably thought you could slip this post by me. But "no siree!" as they say...

But, I actually agree with the heart of your post. I would only add that for Kierkegaard irony was the problem but sincerity was also the problem, because of its rhetorical partnership with irony.

I think my current position is that neither irony nor sincerity are helpful terms for epistemological or metaphysical enquiry. Or maybe I just don't find those enquiries helpful, or interesting. Anyway, this is where some of the Romantics and Romantic ironists went wrong.

Sincerity and irony are "social" concepts, and thus address social problems, and thus moral problems--problems of trust, benevolence, and justice.

For humans who interact with one another every day, who examine one another, who resent one another, and who love one another, they live with the interpersonal problems associated with those terms, and not just with the philosophical concepts to which we attach them.

Justin said...

Ryan: Yeah. Now that it begins to make sense how this can be done.

Kelly: Dang! No, I actually laid in bed last night, ashamed of my foolish little renderings of these concepts. I was using the philosophical discussion to get to the social, which is what I was interested in, at the moment. I was interested in venting about an attitude, a behavior, I don't happen to like.

I still haven't read Kierkegaard's thesis in it's entirety. What I know of it is garbled memories of the few words I read and what you told me. I was feeling the "rhetorical partnership" of the two (irony, sincerity) at the end of the post. If I start backtracking and making bad jokes, then you can assume I'm realizing the problems with what I'm saying.

I think philosophical and social concepts have a rhetorical relationship, too, though. And, it seems like there are a few basic postures you can take towards others in your life, and these postures have their root, somewhere, in the question of what you can know.

Ryan Hofer said...

I have been thinking of irony and sincerity as deeper than social concepts. I mean, I think I can sincerely desire to connect with the world around me. Maybe by preserving a forest. And then when the world gives me different than what I expected, sometimes opposite, it can seem ironic. Like maybe the forest houses a sasquatch who cripples me. Unless you are using social to mean individual in commune with everything, but I usually use social meaning human to human interaction. I guess I'm curious what you mean by "social" Kelly. I see sincerity and irony all over in social interactions, but I don't see them as contained within the social sphere because I feel them when interacting with the non-human. Is this spill-over, or can we view it the other way around? Maybe the human desire for connection is rooted in the nature of matter as connection-seeking and variety-producing stuff.

And yes, Justin, I think the philosphical/social connections are concepts I am just beginning to see, and I'd like to talk about this. If you come across any good literature, send it my way. I'm hoping to explore this more next year at PSU.

Ryan Hofer said...

Is it ironic that a creative writing graduate student hasn't posted to his blog in over a month?