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Chic Ironic Bitterness

R. Jay Magill

Publication Year: 2009

A brilliant and timely reflection on irony in contemporary American culture “This book is a powerful and persuasive defense of sophisticated irony and subtle humor that contributes to the possibility of a genuine civic trust and democratic life. R. Jay Magill deserves our congratulations for a superb job!” —Cornel West, University Professor, Princeton University “A well-written, well-argued assessment of the importance of irony in contemporary American social life, along with the nature of recent misguided attacks and, happily, a deep conviction that irony is too important in our lives to succumb. The book reflects wide reading, varied experience, and real analytical prowess.” —Peter Stearns, Provost, George Mason University “Somehow, Americans—a pragmatic and colloquial lot, for the most part—are now supposed to speak the Word, without ironic embellishment, in order to rebuild the civic culture. So irony’s critics decide it has become ‘worthy of moral condemnation.’ Magill pushes back against this new conventional wisdom, eloquently defending a much livelier American sensibility than the many apologists for a somber ‘civic culture’ could ever acknowledge." —William Chaloupka, Chair and Professor, Department of Political Science, Colorado State University The events of 9/11 had many pundits on the left and right scrambling to declare an end to the Age of Irony. But six years on, we're as ironic as ever. From The Simpsons and Borat to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, the ironic worldview measures out a certain cosmopolitan distance, keeping hypocrisy and threats to personal integrity at bay. Chic Ironic Bitterness is a defense of this detachment, an attitude that helps us preserve values such as authenticity, sincerity, and seriousness that might otherwise be lost in a world filled with spin, marketing, and jargon. And it is an effective counterweight to the prevailing conservative view that irony is the first step toward cynicism and the breakdown of Western culture. R. Jay Magill, Jr., is a writer and illustrator whose work has appeared in American Prospect, American Interest, Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Policy, International Herald Tribune, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Print, among other periodicals and books. A former Harvard Teaching Fellow and Executive Editor of DoubleTake, he holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hamburg in Germany. This is his first book.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xviii-xx

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Introduction: You Are Being Sarcastic, Dude

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pp. 1-14

I remember verbatim the above three lines from an episode of , that always calibrated cultural barometer.* Originally aired in 1996, this Simpsonian haiku remains just as telling today. And one can imaginatively supply a last line: “Whatever.” Further rejection is just not worth the time or effort. ...

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1. Good Morning, America

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pp. 15-72

Rosenblatt continued by unleashing a hefty amount of anger against “the vain stupidity of ironists” who try to see through everything. There will be no room in this new and chastened time for “columnists” and “pop-culture makers,” people who think that they’re “oh-so-cool.”* ...

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2. Excursus on the Genesis of Irony as a Worldview

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pp. 73-86

Nostalgia often plays a role in how we relate to the present, how we identify the present’s outstanding characteristics, even as one of relentless appropriation. But this extended note is a sidetrack: irony is also a way that we are relating to the present—a way that keeps some unpleasant realities at bay.1 ...

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3. European Romanticism Ushers in New Meanings of Irony

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pp. 87-110

Entirely new, overarching implications of irony that escaped the confines of unreflective, if very effective, usage were ushered in with the unraveling of some Enlightenment hopes in Europe. Continuing religious conflicts and persecution, political fragmentation, and Napoleonic sorties contributed to the faint sounds of European romanticism, ...

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4. Irony and Civic Trust

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pp. 111-146

Since the inception in the late eighteenth century of serious dialogue about irony as a social attitude, it has been conceived of as corrosive to social life, seen as an ethical show-stopper, brandished as a poor—if not impossible—neighbor and confidante. This belief has often originated from the perspective of a religiously rooted ...

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5. Trust, Civil Society, and the Social Contract

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pp. 147-172

The discussion about civic trust brings other concerns with it. It assumes certain values that irony was conceived of as eradicating: trust, sincerity, authenticity, and seriousness. While irony does indeed seem to trump these values, as an attitude it hides what it means under the guise of its opposite. ...

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6. The Descent of Inner Dependence

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pp. 173-194

There is a larger picture prior to the modernist model of how irony functions within the subject; it’s also a model essential to the role of the self in the social contract. Romanticism requires a certain view of the self to operate. Civility operates upon the same logic of social distancing. ...

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7. Inward, Christian Soldiers

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pp. 195-226

Long before September 11, of course, the idea that American society has been in decline because of a remove of citizens’ private lives from the public sphere, a lack of commitment to one’s public duties and responsibilities, has worried many interested in the health of the social body. ...

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8. Conclusion (i.e. Everything Summed Up Nicely)

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pp. 227-234

Attempts to pull irony and some contrary element apart, to oppose “irony” and “earnestness,” “sincerity,” or “moral values”—as the debate over the “end of irony” attempts to do—will never work. Not only have political figures and leaders of business and public life been repeatedly shown to be corrupt and hypocritical ...


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pp. 235-246


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pp. 247-256


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pp. 257-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780472024322
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472116218

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 651657320
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chic Ironic Bitterness

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Intellectual life.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1989-.
  • United States -- Social conditions -- 1980-.
  • Irony -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Trust -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Politics and culture -- United States.
  • Television and politics -- United States.
  • Romanticism -- History.
  • Irony -- History.
  • Social contract -- History.
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