Knowledge isn't Power

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Irony is rarely innately funny. It might provoke a strange acknowledgement that lurks in the corners of our mouths, but it doesn’t actually unleash unbridled irrational guffaws. It lurks too shallow in our consciousness and derives from knowledge: that somehow we have become too cognisant of the submission before forces beyond us. This does not mean that irony cannot be humorous to some extent, but it lacks something.

I'm not prepared to deal with a full exegesis of irony of yet, but I am curious as to humour. I like a good laugh. Recently, reading Andy Warhol’s Philosophy of A to B, and back to A again, I found myself smirking and amused in the strangest places. Andy’s humour, like his work, is so transparent, so frank, that we are unprepared to deal with it. His irony is a kind of anti-irony. So honest it’s rips apart the façade and leaves absurdity.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post that was highly inspired by Warhol. My own plagiarism of his particular form of honesty. It was, in my opinion, half-successful. Half only because nobody can really imitate anyone else with any sincerity. Half because in order to achieve that kind of frankness, one has to believe it absolutely. I have neither reached his level of sensitivity, nor chemical imbalance, to fully grasp in the interior of my being the full absurdity of life. I don’t and can’t say “so what” to all the things I know I should. I was ironic. Irony is intellectual without deeper understanding. It is, in fact, the purely animal response of a vaguely cultured person to the modern world.

A blazing intellectual conception of contemporary life, devoid of emotion and replete with needfulness, would be what Andy prescribes. In short: convergence of body and mind.

Why all this gobbledygook all of a sudden? I’m reading a stunning book. A book I only swallow at four or five pages at a time it leaves me so breathless. It’s Peter Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason. Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening… please. It’s what’s there.

And yet, I can’t recommend the book. At least not to everyone. Pretentious though it may sound, I don’t think everyone is prepared to receive this book. It’s that dangerous. It’s not a work to be absorbed solely with the mind, but with teeth and blood and soul mixed with the mind. For Sloterdijk talks about convergence: the imposed separations between needfulness (body) and thought (mind) that are central to our malaise. Why is it that being an adult means submitting our willful consciousness to the animal necessity of survival? It’s the violence of our everyday laid bare; of animal instinct mistakenly cloaked as common sense.

I cannot do justice to this topic. I’m just stuffing a sandwich into my mouth, and pattering away on the computer on my lunch break. I’ll leave you with these words from his preface:

“The violent, antirationalistic impulse in Western countries is reacting to an intellectual state of affairs in which all thinking has become strategy; this impulse shows a disgust for a certain form of self-preservation. It is a sensitive shivering from the cold breath of a reality where knowledge is power and power is knowledge. In writing, I have thought of readers, have wished for readers, who feel this way; this book, I think, could have something to say to them.”

Thank goodness! Someone who writes for the love of an idea, and not for strategy.

note to self - writing about humour is humourless