The defining feature of irony is this: it divorces the ironist from the World, and from feeling. Ironists are interested in appearing unillusioned, knowing, sophisticated, and (most importantly) smarter than the rest of us. But human emotion frightens and confuses them. Here is an example from the world of "Modernist" literature: T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound are as cold as ice. (I say this as one who retains a fondness for some of the poetry of Eliot and Pound. But I admit that I have no time for Joyce and his empty parlor games with words.)
When I read the poetry of, say, T'ao Ch'ien, Basho, or John Clare I feel that I am reading the words of real human beings who inhabit a World that is real. They are not always irony free. Such is human nature. But they never take the final soulless step of the modern ironist: standing in judgment of everyone and everything, leaving the World behind.
David Young Cameron (1865-1945), "Western Isles"
All of this brings me back (perhaps unaccountably) to the topic of my previous post: idleness. Ironists can never be idle in a self-reflective, detached, meditative sense. They require an audience. That audience usually consists of fellow ironists. Irony is a never-ending world of performance.
Imagine an ironist daydreaming. Imagine an ironist in reverie.
Imagine an ironist taking the following poem at face value.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
W. B. Yeats, The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics (1893).
Now, I acknowledge that the idea of W. B. Yeats -- he of the fur coats and Renaissance capes -- tending his nine bean-rows beside his hand-built clay-and-wattle cabin is to some extent risible. Further, as I have noted in the past, I have my doubts about his eccentric philosophical forays and his haughtiness. But I have no doubt that he wrote the poem without irony. I am willing to take the poem on its own beautiful terms.
David Young Cameron, "Affric"
For ironists, sentimentality and nostalgia are epithets. Hence, William Wordsworth mostly gives them fits. "My heart leaps up when I behold/A Rainbow in the sky." "I wandered lonely as a Cloud." "To me the meanest flower that blows can give/Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."
And certainly this sort of thing is beyond the pale for modern ironists.
The Reverie of Poor Susan
At the corner of Wood Street, when daylight appears,
There's a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years:
Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard
In the silence of morning the song of the Bird.
'Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.
Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
Down which she so often has tripped with her pail;
And a single small cottage, a nest like a dove's,
The one only dwelling on earth that she loves.
She looks, and her heart is in heaven: but they fade,
The mist and the river, the hill and the shade:
The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
And the colours have all passed away from her eyes.
William Wordsworth, Poems (1815).
Ironists are incapable of understanding, or accepting, a poem such as this on its own terms. It belongs to a way of thinking and a way of living that they have left behind. Not that they are aware of having suffered any loss, mind you.
David Young Cameron, "The Summer Isles" (1935)