Synopsis

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 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 towards cynicism and the breakdown of Western culture.

Notable Award winner of the 2008 Eric Hoffer Award (culture category).

Praise

“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

Reviews

Chic Ironic Bitterness caught my eye with its perfect title…. R. Jay Magill deftly delineates the philosophic antecedents that have led to our present conception of irony, and takes the more difficult step of describing the societal effects that a widely adopted ironic viewpoint produces. To wit: ‘A culture falsely enthusiastic over the trivial is ironically expressing the dead energy of a loftier political ideology.’ The author’s self-deprecating style befits his subject, and he demonstrates, with flair, that Generation X did not invent detachment.”

—Michael Agger, Slate.com

Magill is a multitalented guy on whom I’ve had my eye for quite some time. Formerly the executive editor of the excellent magazine DoubleTake, he’s also a talented illustrator, and a scholar of American culture. His new book, which was awarded the 2008 Eric Hoffer Notable Book in Culture prize, got its start in 1999, when Magill wrote a small review of Jedediah Purdy’s supposedly anti-irony book For Common Things; since then, it’s blossomed into a close study of irony as an American social attitude and critique…Magill wants to resurrect irony’s moral dimension, its liberating powers. To this end, he approvingly quotes Samuel Hynes’s 1961 comment that contemporary irony is “a view of life which recognize[s] that experience is open to multiple interpretations, of which no one is simply right, and that the coexistence of incongruities is part of the structure of existence.”

—Joshua Glenn, Boston Globe

Magill places the ironic citizen at odds not only with the religious conservative, but also with the cynic, who assumes the world is hopelessly ‘brutish’ and who ‘has given up entirely on performing a social role’…Magill deftly traces the evolution of intellectual thought about irony, parsing Kierkegaard, Hegel, Nietzsche, and others, and he mulls the achievements of some of the great practitioners of our day, including the ultra-self-reflexive author Dave Eggers, and Stephen Colbert, creator of a pompous television alter ego…Magill declares, ‘satire is again serious business.’”

—David Beers, Wilson Quarterly



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