Saturday 19 October, 12.15pm until 1.15pm, Frobisher Auditorium 2 Private or public morality?
Over the past decade or so, there has been no shortage of people keenly forecasting the end of irony. And little wonder. ‘Being ironic’, which was modish during the 1980s and 1990s, came to be seen as decadent by beginning of the 21st century, a mark of a culture that didn’t take anything seriously, that valued nothing and everything. After 9/11, many thought things would change. An action that evil brooked no ironic distancing; it demanded immediate moral condemnation. Writing in Time magazine in 2001, Roger Rosenblatt claimed that ‘one good thing could come from this horror: it could spell the end of the age of irony.’ And yet, despite many echoing Rosenblatt’s sentiments, the age of irony has not passed. Just last year, one broadsheet commentator declared, once again: ‘I have had enough of the dominant discourse of irony’.
So why, in spite of the repeated demand for seriousness, does irony persist as an all-too-prevalent mode of being? We are all familiar with, and often critical of, its manifestions: a detachment from the world; a refusal to take anything seriously; a tendency permanently to speak in quote marks; and an unwillingness to judge something good or bad. So what is it about irony that persistently resonates, from the posing and posturing of yesterday’s Generation X to the posing and posturing of today’s hipsters? Isn’t it about time we made an effort to return fundamentals, to regain some sense of moral certainty, to speak in truth rather than quote marks?
Yet is there something to be said in defence of irony? After all, perhaps an assertion of moral certainty, of fundamentalism, is more harmful than ironic distance. Many of those criticising irony elevate authenticity, being true to oneself, in irony’s place. But does what one critic dubbed the ‘cult of authenticity’ have its own drawbacks? Is the predominant criticism of irony, of nothing being true to itself, from moral judgements to fashion choices, as problematic as the celebration of irony? Is being ironic a better way of being in morally uncertain times, than being unquestionably, fundamentally right?
Dr Julian Baggini
founding editor, the Philosophers' Magazine; author, Freedom Regained: the possibility of free will and The Edge of Reason: A Rational Skeptic in an Irrational World
novelist; screenwriter; associate editor, Prospect Magazine
Dr Tiffany Jenkins
writer and broadcaster; author, Keeping Their Marbles: how treasures of the past ended up in museums and why they should stay there
Irish newspaper columnist; author, Jiving at the Crossroads and Was It For This? Why Ireland Lost the Plot
consultant, SHM Productions
Universities are propagating nonsense where the fake intellectual invites you to conspire in his own self-deceptionRoger Scruton, Guardian, 19 December 2012
THE public appetite for things that went before is a sad indictment of young people who neither want to grow up nor learn anything new.Tiffany Jenkins, Scotsman, 7 December 2012
Viewing everything from from high art to Eurovision through the filter of superiority and detachment is the opposite of pleasureSuzanne Moore, Guardian, 30 May 2012
A new exhibition signals the end of postmodernism. But what was it? And what comes next?Edward Docx, Prospect, 20 July 2011
Why is so much contemporary art awful? We’re living through the death throes of the modernist project—and this isn’t the first time that greatness has collapsed into decadenceBen Lewis, Prospect, 24 May 2010
Your mind, your high: is recreational drug use morally wrong?
"I was impressed by the intensity of the debate and the high level of intellectual engagement, not least by the audience. It was an invigorating, even exhilarating experience to be part of a festival based on the conviction that disagreement is good. The Battle of Ideas is a fantastic concept, may it spread epidemically to the rest of the world. I am already looking forward to next year's event."
Thomas Hylland Eriksen, professor of social anthropology, University of Oslo; novelist