More Annotations and Commentary on Andrew Hussie’s HomestuckPosted: December 8, 2012
I’ve added to It’s Hard and Nobody Understands, my full-length annotations on Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck. The annotations now go to the end of Act 4 – note even halfway through the comic, mind, but we’re making progress.
Below the break, a short essay I’ve added into the document about irony as defined by David Foster Wallace and Kirkegaard, and how it relates to the comic:
…Irony is a very tricky beast, as far as rhetoric is concerned, and it’s use throughout Homestuck is complex and pervasive. Dramatic irony (in which the reader is aware of events the characters are heedless of) is employed throughout; you might make a case for Bro’s hostile relationship with his kid brother as a kind of Socratic irony (aided by the fact that, in another time and place, Bro uses a pseudonym inspired by one of Plato’s dialogues.) But I’m hardly an expert on the subject – so instead, I’d like to draw attention to two particular definitions of irony, and how they might relate to Homestuck:
The first is Soren Kierkegaard’s early exploration of irony. I’ve barely dabbled in Kierkegaard’s work, and I haven’t reviewed this part of his work in depth, but I am interested in the definition of irony he gives here:
…irony [is] the infinite absolute negativity. It is negativity, because it only negates; it is infinite, because it does not negate this or that phenomenon; it is absolute, because that by virtue of which it negates is a higher something that still is not.
There’s something there, I think that resonates with Homestuck, and particularly its exploration of negativity/perversity through internet trolling. Not something I’m qualified to speak about at length, but at least something to bat around as we continue reading: that irony, like trolling, offers criticism without any kind of constructive argument.
The other writer I’d like to touch on is David Foster Wallace, and his essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction”. In this piece, Foster Wallace identifies the snarky, self-mocking tone prevalent in many sitcoms and especially in successful advertisements, and argues that these shades of irony flatter the viewer into submitting to the content; the best way to get someone reasonably intelligent to watch something awful, it seems, is to admit up front how lousy it is and frame the whole thing as a shared joke (as a fan of NBC’s meta-sitcom Community, this hits a bit close to home). But, touching on Kierkegaard, Foster Wallace adds that such ironic material has little positive value of its own. Foster Wallace quotes critic Lewis Hyde: “Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage.”
Obviously this particularly contemporary flavor of irony resonates with the Strider siblings. SBaHJ is hilarious, sure, but why does Dave devote so much of himself to something so inconsequential? You might argue that his embrace of irony is a little bit self-destructive; a flawed tool to help him wrestle the loneliness and disappointment that Homestuck locates at the emotional center of modern adolescence.