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March 29, 2008


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Jeff Trexler

"Impotent irony" is an interesting phrase. There is indeed an irony unto death, to put it biblically, where one makes wry observations and despairs, but there's also an ironic distance that can make for more stable positive action. In fact, I'd argue that the lack of such ironic distance is one reason why utopian ideals so often end up as dystopian realities.


Right, so what is the payoff? Are you betting your own life energy on social ventures and intellectual property rights? If in fact the third sector has its own telos, as you suggested, I believe, in your Yale monograph, and if with Mcluan, the method is the madness, where do you come out? Got to be more than comic books, pop culture, and making a buck in social ventures? Where do you locate the dynamism for positive change? The market, the holy spirit, activism, pop culture, ironic distance, where? I think if you turned my questions back on me, I would go off on a tangent about Erasmus. You might be one of the few to get that. Pop culture, ads, comix, and Erasmus. Of those I would go with Erasmus. Not to resist Folly, nor stand aloof from our times, but to embody her and praise her, until we can pass among her favorites as a leader in our own right.

You take the point that we embody more than we say, evince more than we avow, that we are at best characters in a play we script, or that we run the scripts given to us. The words understood as content are of almost no consequence, in comparison to the tonus, habitus, body language, style, facial expressions. We bear witness at the level of the involuntary, in our automatisms, our tropisms. The topics change, but the coxcomb remains a coxcomb whatever the topic he or she addresses. I think you came to that insight via Mcluan, for me it was the dramatic monologues of Browning, but where do you go with it, beyond the comix, social ventures, and the law of contracts?

Utopians have an image, often rigid, of how things should be. My imagery is more from Swift, the Irish Parliament as Madhouse, the floating university of Lagado, the Wise Horses of social venture philanthropy, the ungainly gait of Martinus Scriblerus. We cannot change the world, of course, but can we at least change the smug expression in the mirror? When the gaze of ironic distance meets itself in the mirror, who glances away first? The spectator or the actor?

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