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“Your hands – they’re rough, like someone who’s worked outside all his life,” she said sweetly and softly. “I like that.”
“And I like how you borrow from Tolstoy,” he whispered back huskily. This was getting hot. His hand was under her shirt, this little twenty year old nymphet. He tweaked her nipple and felt it harden. Yes. Victory, nutty happiness, knot in the stomach of sweet anticipation, felt like a schoolboy again, blah blah…
But he had already fucked it up. “What do you mean, ‘borrow from Tolstoy’?” she asked, in a more normal voice.
Shit. “Nothing, forget it,” and he reached over to kiss her lips, but her body tensed.
“No. What did you mean.” More firmly.
“It’s just maybe you unconsciously took that from Tolstoy – you know, where Levin in ‘Anna Karenina’ is working on the field with his peasants even though he’s a landowner, and she …” He trailed off. Was that Anna Karenina? Or was the scene from a TV biopic on Alexander the Great? Or maybe ‘Shogun’? Was that Christopher Reeves? Who is Christopher Plummer? No…shit! Was it from ‘Little Lord Faultneroy’?. Damn it!
“I don’t ‘borrow’ heartfelt sentiments”, she said tartly. He caught one last wiff of that henna stuff in her thick auburn hair and her beautiful breath that tasted like artificially flavored strawberry. Tears welled up in his eyes as she gathered her things to leave.
It was not the first time this had happened to Fred. He had yet to consummate sex with one of the girls in his class. He always choked near the finish line. He realized that he had read this girl wrong, and that she was probably really more at peace with herself at the age of 20 than he was at the age of 43, which freaked him out and intimidated him. When she had said that about his hands, she meant it and wasn’t being all ironic, knowingly making whatever pop or otherwise cultural reference. He was actually the collegiate prick who’s too smart to have an experience for what it is; she was all exalted like the virgin mary or some shit because not only was she sweet and young but she was beyond the need to reference things – she just felt and spoke, there was no middleman clouding her consciousness telling her about what she was saying and why she was saying it as she said it; she had said those things to him because she felt them. She was sexually and spiritually complete: young tender flesh and a certain wisdom to boot – the wisdom of youth before it’s corrupted by the folly of smart-assed worldliness…And he was, well, a collegiate prick. And it made his heart hurt that he lost her and what stung him the most was that this sweet young thing had wanted him, yes him, for a moment.
Date Written: November 24, 2003
Author: Phony Millions
Average Vote: 5
Note that you should highly esteem this comment as it was written entirely without irony.
11/26/2003 qualcomm: i'm not entirely sure the author shares Fred's feelings in this one. i think the author was mocking both Fred's irony and his over the top guilt and remorse for being ironic.
11/26/2003 qualcomm: and mocking his glorification of mediocrity as well.
11/26/2003 Ewan Snow: (To continue my entirely un-ironic response and to answer Feldspar…)
Yes, there is some of that. Brad Evans is, as usual, being ironic to a degree while complaining about irony. But I don’t think Frank can be, by any means, dismissed as a purely ironic creation, or as not sharing the author’s feelings at all. I think that any irony in the short itself is more a side-effect/requirement of the short-short form.
1) "Fred" is Brad Evans' traditional pseudonym. (Brad, correct me if I'm wrong here.) I believe the author, at some level, identifies with Fred.
2) Fred is both ironic and hates himself for it. (Same with Brad?) Not sure…
3) There is little doubt from Brad’s writings as a whole that he has an axe to grind (or as he would say, "a few things to hash out,") with irony. He often complains about it, criticizes it, etc.
4) Since in this case the form is a short-short (which demands a certain silliness) Brad tells his truth here through jest; the truth being that he idealizes/romanticizes simple folk (blue collar laborers, naïve unpretentious girls) and demonizes fancy book learning (“college pricks”, those who employ irony).
I’m pretty damn sure there’s something to what I’m saying here and that it is not all pure irony on Brad’s part. He really dislikes irony. If I’m wrong, then I take back all of these comments and will have to reassess the short entirely…
But, assuming that Brad does, in fact, sincerely dislike irony, I wonder: what, exactly, is it that he dislikes? I can see being annoyed by the sort of banal and incessant irony exhibited, for instance, by several of the commentators on “I love the 80’s.” That, however, is merely poorly employed irony, or irony without sufficient wit. Irony itself is like any other literary mode or device, inert in itself, and useful in certain circumstances.
So, again, what is it exactly that is so bad about irony (or even the overuse/misuse of irony) as opposed to, say, the use of clichés or any other weakness of speech/thought?
Brad? Please end our speculation and set the record straight. What’s your beef with irony, if any?
(By the way, I should add that this short is pretty funny, in any case...)
11/26/2003 qualcomm: i misspoke when i wrote that the author doesn't share fred's feelings. he does. in fact he shares all of them: the love-hate relationship with irony, the glorification of simple folk, and the subsequent self-loathing for having both of these feelings. however, by writing a short in which he traces the progression of fred's (his own) feelings in minute detail, the author puts one mocking step of remove between himself and his alter ego, adding yet another rich creamy layer of irony to the proceedings, which is pretty ironic. thus, by creating a literary parallel universe in which his own ironic/self-analyzing foibles are exposed, the author forges a New Irony he can live with in reality.
11/26/2003 qualcomm: since we're talking about the hermeneutics of brad's shorts, i really would be remiss if i didn't bring up another interesting recurring image: that of the scrotal twitch. though not present in this particular one, i would direct the reader here, here, and here for examples.
11/26/2003 Phony Millions: Jon and Ewan have totally undressed me here! Feldspar really nailed it in his comment right under the scrotal itch one: If you keep on piling on layers of self-awareness like so much cream, you insulate yourself in self-referential contentment and have the illusion of closure, of something viable like Feldspar says. It works for me in the short context as a device, because of course as an amateur (said without irony!) I have to have some ploy. The amateur tendency will be to get at least somewhat autobiographical, as Ewan points out correctly that most of my shorts are, to a point. They’re more like composites of myself and others - what was, could have been, might become…For instance the character of Fred in the above short could be a sort of failed Ewan – staying at that cushy grad-school in Beantown where he and Jimson went, single, teaching writing, trying to get laid – with equal parts my own personality foibles. (In fact, any reference to anything having to do with institutions of higher learning in my shorts will invariably be colored by what I think of, proverbially, as “Ewan’s College Experience.”)
I can’t generate enough of my own interest in creating a character that’s completely 100% not referring to me because I lack the skills. So I build up characters that are flawed because I betray a certain contempt for them. Now, Feldspar in his shorts often displays complete contempt for his characters in a really outright way, and the humor there for me is he’s saying, “I can do this because it’s a short.” In the short medium he’s absolved himself of the responsibility that usually an author or screenwriter or whatever is supposed to have: they must not betray either contempt or its opposite, a sort of partisan sympathy for their character; the reader or viewer shouldn’t feel like they’re being preached at and led on in terms of their reaction. (Feldspar’s of course being ironic then, but his irony is much more pure and less puffy than mine, admittedly.) But I can’t do what Feldspar does; because I can’t avoid betraying at least the contours of affection if not outright enthusiasm for my stilted characters; because they’re to some extent self-referential, I can’t murder them completely. So there’s this level of seriousness going on in the shorts – I’m not totally sending them up. But this attempt at narrative breadth, at actually engaging the reader into sympathy with the character, is not appropriate in the short context, so I have to be ironic, as you point out more or less, about not being ironic. Trying not to be preachy, but not able to be completely contemptuous - at its worst, the effect is a kind of preachy contempt which collapses into narrow self-pity, which I all too readily acknowledge.
But Ewan’s right, irony’s a good thing because it’s all about never having closure, constantly re-contextualizing something. As to Ewan’s question – what’s the beef with irony – my beef maybe isn’t with irony itself, but with the impulsive self-awareness that’s often associated with it: You’re having this experience that’s incredible or whatever, and then the self-awareness kicks in and it short-circuits whatever might have been sublime, because facing something sublime (and now I’m speaking as a fan or viewer or whatever – take your pick, Shakespeare, Coltrane, Grand Canyon) is for me at least all about not being self-aware; it’s about losing yourself completely in that object, and the impulse to wax ironic at that point is more of an intellectual tic, a hindrance.
12/2/2003 Jon Matza: I don't have anything to add to this dialogue (though I enjoyed it). I just wanted to see my name up here.
12/4/2003 Ewan Snow: Brad, I guess it's a testament to the interest of your shorts that they bear this much discussion. Your assessment of yourself as an amateur doesn’t make a lot of sense, though, for a couple of reasons. First, we’re all amateurs, or we’d be writing these things for The New Yorker, not Acme Shorts (no offence, Will). And second, the quality you describe -- of not making cartoonish characters, but always giving them a bit of yourself -- is in general a characteristic of real fiction, as opposed to what most shorts are: glorified jokes. You’re right in saying there’s a certain seriousness, though… That's what makes them unique and interesting.
I do find it strange, however, that you have some “proverbial” conception of “Ewan’s College Experience.” There’s something a little condescending there, but I’ll leave that one alone for now… As for your conclusion that it isn’t so much irony in itself, but an inability to appreciate the sublime without getting in one’s own way that annoys you, I don’t know if I buy it; it seems like back-pedaling. Isn’t there a certain love/hate relationship with fancy book learnin’ going on as well?
12/4/2003 Will Disney: no offense taken. first of all, the fiction in the New Yorker sucks. Second of all, I don't own AcmeShorts. We all do. At least some of us, that is. Most of us, maybe.
12/4/2003 Phony Millions: Now Will, hold on a minute! Let's remember that almost every one of John Updike's short stories has appeared first in the New Yorker - one as recently as a few months ago - and before that his predecessor at that magazine was J.D. Salinger. (They just published a new collection of all Updike's short stories from the 50's and 60's. He's pretty amazing, had a big impact on me at least. Anyone ever read any of the 'Rabbit' books?) Evan if it was condescending it wasn't intended. Honestly (and now we're getting sappy here) when you were in school I always wished I was doing the liberal arts thing and if anything was a little jealous, because I have an affection for the academic environment, but from afar - I never experienced it. It's a little romanticizing going on. I think honestly I'm going to wind up on a campus teaching some music theory/history class someday probably...
12/4/2003 Phony Millions: Also, Will, did you consciously or otherwise riff on "The Nation" byline for their ads to sell their magazine, which goes something like, "We don't own The Nation. You do. Everyone does." Very proleteriat of you in any case. I'm trying to figure out - is Will more a Nation reader, or more the 'National Review' type?
12/5/2003 Will Disney: The Nation
12/6/2003 Phony Millions: Pheww! Thought so.
04/8/2004 Will Disney: now that we're #4 on google for "new yorker sucks", i'd like to say that while i almost never read the fiction in the new yorker, i'm told it doesn't always suck. lethem had a short story in there this week. i couldn't get through it but his book 'girl in landscape' is great so there's that. also, 'motherless brooklyn' is okay.
04/8/2004 qualcomm: i don't see how you could say it's okay when i haven't okayed it yet.
04/8/2004 Dylan Danko: I hate David Denby!
05/15/2004 TheBuyer: Off thread, but on short...
I'll give you another Harper's nod here but different than the last; excellent work AND I like it. Your work on this site is somehow important. Near as I can tell this discussion is played out, but I'll jump into it anyhow, pushing the boundaries and adding to the attribute list of "A Short" is about the coolest thing that could happen. Makes me want to submit a photoshopped highway shrine as a graphical short.
05/15/2004 Phony Millions: The Buyer is keeping all of us relevant!
07/19/2004 scoop (5): I'm the first one to vote on this short, bitches! Unfortunately, aware of my vote and that I would write these words shortly after casting it, the act of voting was deprived in some important way. My first vote just became a caluculated pose, an atttempt to be funny that would ultimately fail because I didn't have the courage just to commune with my own conciosuness. Instead I had to dissect it like a dead frog, or poetry.
08/13/2008 qualcomm (5): seriously, though, how many fingers?