October 5, 2004

Historical Irony

Category: Anthropology — Biella @ 8:35 pm

I have been struggling with a concept and historical method I call historical irony and below is a first stab that I wrote tonight…

Historical irony is a method of positive critique that magnifies social struggles and alternatives that surface unexpectedly and as significant despite the undeniable existence of dominant ideologies and structures of powers. Thus historical irony accentuates a central feature of the human condition, namely unpredictability (Markell 2003) which I think can be productively thought of as vital force that deflates, even if only minimally, one of the crucial features of actually existing systems of concentrated power: the desire for perfect control. In other words, at a highly conceptual level, power seeks to eliminate the ironic in human affairs, rendering a world where nothing contrary to what is expected by those in power ever happens. To state more mundanely, it is world where every large-scale bureaucracy (from the IRS to the DMV to the U of Chicago registrar) can screw you for a late bill and where the president of Time Warner can convinces us that intellectual property is God’s gift to all earthlings. Aside from being a boring (and potentially very tragic) world, life without irony is a world without politics. Thus as method that wants to affirm politics, historical irony seeks to magnify

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