Issue 115, Summer 1990
I am a student of low-affect living edged with self-deprecating irony.
I am a character of lower-affect living a bit on edge with Mr. Irony, a self-deprecating therapist.
A therapist of self-deprecation, teaching the presumptuous among us to edge ourselves with irony until we can be said to be low-affect burghers of the modern world, appropriate denizens of the modern world, Mr. Irony sits on the edge of the sofa smoking with his leg crossed over his knee after the fashion of a lady crossing her leg over her knee, not after the fashion of a man crossing his etc., a manly configuration suggesting, from above at least, more the figure 4 than Mr. Irony’s position does. Mr. Irony’s position —smoking and bouncing his shoe in front of him, in the air in front of him, his shoe edged with the black trim applied by the black man at the barber shop with a toothbrush—suggests a pair of scissors more than a figure4. His legs cut in slight snips the airy fabric of irony in the apartment around us.
Mr. Irony cuts a pattern of ironic air into certain pieces; they assemble on the carpet in no real order, to be sewn later into a garment, a coat of irony perhaps, a just-reminiscent-of-Nehru shirt-jac not for sale in any but the most hip low-affect haberdasheries in the world. This coat Mr. Irony will edge with a piping of flamingo pink he has begun to remove absently from the sofa upon which he scissors.
I will be expected to wear the ironic shirt-jac edged with flamingo piping as part of my low-affect therapyunless I do something. Doing something is precisely against the grain of Mr. Irony’s teaching, and yet if I were not resistant to becoming a low-affect self-deprecating character I would not need Mr. Irony to instruct me, and he is of course fully aware that pulling the piping for the jacket for me to wear in consummate humiliation —no. He is not aware, not aware that I am nervous about wearing the ironic coat. I must get Mr. Irony some wine, white wine, to occupy his hand that absently pulls the piping for the jacket. I shall tape the piping back into place. A ridiculous restoration that will crackle and fail, crackle and make Mr. Irony notice it with a particular, subtle smile. Then he will be aware.
He will be amused, tolerant of my device to not yet have to wear a late-Nehru jacket with flamingo edging in the irony-edged world. In my device to forestall the dismantling of the sofa he will see the natural Young Republican resistance to self-deprecating irony-edged low-affect living, and it will confirm his presence as my roommate and tutor, and he will scissor some more air, touch lightly the tape i’ve transparently tried to stop him with, sip his wine, think well of me. He has a good student who ever questions the development he seeks, a resistant student all the more worthy, for that resistance, of his efforts, and valuable to him, as are heathen to their converters for their very backwardness; a student who will come round, come round, come round in a swoon of faithful self-deprecation into the low-affect irony-feathered dance of life, the limbo of bending backward so far that no disappointment can get beneath you, no rug of unexpected loss, jerked, can ever surprise. “Things do not turn out well,” Mr. Irony says.
“May I get you more wine?”
“More wine, sir?”
“May we look out the window at joggers, sir?”
Mr. Irony and I go out, for a lesson, to look at alligators. The alligators, located easily, display themselves, as if for our benefit, by walking about high-legged, out of the water, like dogs. “The crocodilian,” Mr. Irony says, “the crocodilian is not a creature of irony.” When Mr. Irony says irony, which he seldom does, he undergoes a phenomenon of nature, or of super-nature: his edges recede and expand, almost at once, as if heitalicizes. “The shark, by contrast, is a creature of irony.” Again he shimmers, he thins, is momentarily less and more than he was as he spoke the words “The shark, by contrast, is a creature of.” “In the gut of the shark you will find the license plate of the auto, the leg of the mannequin. Not so the gut of alligator mississippiens. In there,” he goes on, “at best the golf ball, the turtle.” The field trip is concluded.