The coincidence this week of Christy Wampole’s perceptive piece in The New York Times on irony as “the ethos of our age” and the Thanksgiving holiday has got me thinking about gratitude.
Posture of Irony
Although I am no hipster (not even close), there is much in Wampole’s description of the contemporary mode of irony that I recognize in myself. I use sarcasm (one of irony’s kin) as a default defensive mechanism to mitigate relational risk. I often content myself in trafficking in shared (and ultimately superfluous) cultural memes, rather than in engaging potentially meaningful conversation.
Wampole goes on to describe the posture of irony as self-defensive, protecting committed ironists from the risk of actually liking something or committing to a position. She suggests that many of today’s younger generation have lost the art of being present; that they are busy building identity through historic postures, products, and nostalgia for a way things were.
Some may agree with Wampole’s overall characterization of the ethic of irony without arriving at all of her conclusions. Others dispute her conclusions entirely, like this piece from Jon Fitzgerald that champions New Sincerity as a more fit description of our cultural moment. I find much that rings true.
I particularly liked Wampole’s efforts to balance her critique of irony with certain positive prescriptions for non-ironic living. Most fundamentally, she suggests that non-ironic living deals with what is real. She advocates simple practices that roll back our ironic posturing; practices like saying what you mean, and meaning what you say.
As I read these ideas on the cusp of Thanksgiving week, I couldn’t help but see opportunity. I’ve written before about my own struggle to wrest Thanksgiving away from cultural forces that make it solely about consumption and consumerism. A manifestation of the non-ironic lifestyle Wampole champions is a movement from detached indifference to genuine gratitude.
As I’ve reflected on the practice of gratitude this year, I’ve been helped by Christine Pohl’s book Living into Community. Instead of the virtual community offered by irony, Pohl promotes real community offered through embodied practices; practices like gratitude, promise-keeping, and truth-telling.
In Pohl’s estimation, gratitude is an effective antidote to entitlement and cynicism. True gratitude doesn’t allow room for self-defense. Gratefulness risks commitment. We lay out our allegiances and say ‘Thanks.’ All in all, Pohl establishes thanksgiving as a corrective to the posture of irony that so defines our time: “A posture of gratitude allows us to see beauty and receive it, to recognize goodness and to take pleasure in it” (54).
This Thanksgiving will you join me–for a moment anyway–in shedding the posture of irony in favor of full-bodied, warm-blooded gratitude for God’s many gifts?