Elizabeth Bruenig has written an excellent piece in the Washington Post entitled “Why is millennial humor so weird?” While Bruenig is not the first person to diagnose the millennial condition through humor, her piece is the most clearheaded and insightful I’ve seen on the topic.
Bruenig focuses in particular on the aesthetics of absurdity in millennial cultural production, which, in contrast to absurdist aesthetics of the past, is not accented with outright pessimism:
Surrealism and its anarchic cousin dadaism are nothing new; neither is absurdism or weirdness in art. ‘The absurd,’ Albert Camus wrote in 1942, ‘is born of this confrontation between the human need [for happiness and reason] and the unreasonable silence of the world.’ Absurdity is the compulsion to go looking for meaning that simply isn’t there. Today’s surrealism draws aspects of all of these threads together with humor, creating an aesthetic world where (in common internet parlance) ‘lol, nothing matters,’ but things may turn out all right anyway.
I would add that millennial absurdism can further be defined against the cynicism and irony of postmodern cultural products (those belonging to baby boomers and gen x’ers). In postmodern culture, the central trope was self-referentiality–the practice of acknowledging production from within the production (think of the “S.O.B.s” episode of Arrested Development when the show found out it was going to be canceled). Here, we can go back to McLuhan’s distinction between hot and cold media. The postmodern aesthetic of self-referentiality was a bit like hot media in that its consumption was profoundly passive. It was so passive that its producers (writers, onscreen talent, etc.) positioned themselves as members of the audience, watching the production right along side us. In other words, even the producers removed themselves from the production. There was no need to go looking for meaning in context because, as the audience, we were the context. There was no meaning to be found outside of ourselves. Millennial absurdism by contrast takes the attitude that context is always yet to come; the audience must actively create the context by distorting the product.
I just finished a very nice little book by Douglas Edwards about the philosophy of properties, appropriately titled Properties. The arguments Edwards covers are entirely from the analytical side of the fence, most of which are from the past forty years or so. I was familiar with some of the arguments and unfamiliar with others. But even if you are well versed in this area, I’d still recommend the book because of the masterful way Edwards put the various approaches into conversation with one another. Properties is designed primarily as an introductory text, so it’s plenty accessible to the uninitiated too, and Edwards provides excellent definitions and examples for key concepts before discussing them in the context of existing arguments.
That’s as far as I want to go by way of a review. I really want to record some thoughts I had about properties and predicates as I was making my way through the book.
I just got into my mom’s place a couple of days ago. We stayed up until two in the morning last night, talking, sipping on Jameson’s, and talking. Mom has always had the gift of gab, but since Dad passed away two years ago, she’s got more to say than ever. This is probably because my father was usefully employed as a ‘round the clock sounding board for forty years. Mom has since had to find new places to put her words. As Dad got older, he said less and less. He could speak and speak well when he needed to, but he was far more comfortable as a listener. That’s the way Dad’s people are. The older you are, the less verbal flexing you need to do.
But Mom is Irish. They’re drunk on words and there’s no sobering up with age.
There’s a part in The Being of Analogy where I claim I don’t really know what “scientism” is supposed to mean. That was a bit of disingenuous rhetorical flourish used to distance myself from the term, and I probably shouldn’t have said it. I know perfectly well what it means and why it exists, but I’m still uncomfortable with it. I’ve been uncomfortable with “scientism” ever since I made the transition in graduate school from physical anthropology to English studies, which is when I first encountered the term. I identified then as a lone scientist besieged by an army of deconstructionists, and, as such, “scientism” smacked of glib, kneejerk anti-intellectualism. It still feels pretty kneejerk to me, but I no longer see it as glib or anti-intellectual. My beef with it now is that it’s too ambiguous and it’s often a gateway to either hypocrisy or disengagement with science.