Voyages in Irony

John Michael Greer is a writer with whom, ultimately, I agree on almost nothing. Yet he turns up here a lot, and rarely — if ever — as a target of disparagement. It is understandable if that confuses people. (It is not a phenomenon that is lucidly intelligible even to myself.)

The most obvious reason to return so incessantly to Greer is the sheer consistency of his deep cycle theorizing, which achieves a conceptual elegance rarely seen elsewhere. At some point, the UF series on his historical thinking (1, 2, 2a) will reach some articulate conclusions about this. Still, there’s more to the engagement than that.

A recent Archdruid Report post on the limits of science (and, as always, many other things) added further indications of profound error, from the perspective of this blog. It hinges its overt arguments upon an impregnable factvalue distinction, which is a peculiarly weak and local principle, especially for a mind so disposed to a panoramic cosmic vision. Yet the post is also provocative, and clarifying. Responding to one of his commenters, who suggested that without the prospect of continued scientific and technological advance life loses all meaning, Greer repeats the lines from Dante that have just been hurled against him, and encapsulates them — by explicitly activating their own irony:

“Consider your lineage;
You were not born to live as animals,
But to seek virtue and knowledge.”

It’s a very conventional sentiment. The remarkable thing about this passage, though, is that Dante was not proposing the sentiment as a model for others to follow. Rather, this least conventional of poets put those words in the mouth of Ulysses, who appears in this passage of the Inferno as a damned soul frying in the eighth circle of Hell. Dante has it that after the events of Homer’s poem, Ulysses was so deeply in love with endless voyaging that he put to sea again, and these are the words with which he urged his second crew to sail beyond all known seas — a voyage which took them straight to a miserable death, and sent Ulysses himself tumbling down to eternal damnation.

Within the immediate context of the post — which, naturally, I encourage everybody to read — somebody with paranoid inclinations might interpret this passage as a critique of NRx (at least among its subordinate functions), and perhaps even an atypically stinging one. This is not, however, what concerns us here.

The sole comment to be made about it right now, is that it demonstrates the architectonics of irony. To ironize, with such supple capability, is to explore a structure, differentiating an inside from an outside. This is no mere rhetorical device, but a fully philosophical — and metaphysical — operation. Crude antagonism is bypassed, through envelopment. Ironically, therefore, irony itself becomes a mark of seriousness. It is introduced at exactly the point that a cognitive process exceeds a constricting frame, in a doubling, which repeats and exceeds simultaneously. In the complete absence of vulgar polemic, it demonstrates an incontestable superiority. There is an accomplishment, a lesson, and an elevation of the game.

For Outside in, signed up with Ulysses by solemn contract, this example is especially piercing. It cannot dissuade us from putting to sea again, because nothing could. That does not — at all — mean nothing has been learnt.

November 29, 2014admin 9 Comments »
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9 Responses to this entry

  • Alex Says:

    … it demonstrates the architectonics of irony. To ironize, with such supple capability, is to explore a structure, differentiating an inside from an outside. This is no mere rhetorical device, but a fully philosophical — and metaphysical — operation. Crude antagonism is bypassed, through envelopment. Ironically, therefore, irony itself becomes a mark of seriousness. It is introduced at exactly the point that a cognitive process exceeds a constricting frame, in a doubling, which repeats and exceeds simultaneously. In the complete absence of vulgar polemic, it demonstrates an incontestable superiority. There is an accomplishment, a lesson, and an elevation of the game.

    Damn, that’s good.

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 29th, 2014 at 6:52 pm Reply | Quote
  • Voyages in Irony | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on November 29th, 2014 at 9:19 pm Reply | Quote
  • RorschachRomanov Says:

    The Reactionary rejoinder to the Ulysses contract is perhaps found in the following, from T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets:”

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

    Through the unknown, remembered gate
    When the last of earth left go discover
    Is that which was the beginning;
    At the source of the longest river
    The voice of the hidden waterfall

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Impressively apposite.

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 29th, 2014 at 11:45 pm Reply | Quote
  • orlandu84 Says:

    Why does Dante have Ulysses damned? For Greer Dante has done so in order to show that Ulysses has transgressed the respected limits of knowledge and power. Yet, the structure of the Inferno would argue otherwise. Namely, the eighth circle of hell punishes fraud and treachery. Most especially, Ulysses is burning in hell due to his campaigning for the Trojan Horse stratagem. Although Dante probably found Ulysses’s death fitting, his place for all eternity comes not from his love of wisdom but from his misuse of intellect to encourage wrongdoing.

    I bring this distinction up because NRx is dedicated to discovering the ways that lead to stable and abiding polities. Far from wanting anarchy and chaos, NRx seems well aware that the Cathedral has become the new Ulysses – it is an engine of change for change’s sake. In order to discover what will help us to found dynasties that will stand the test of time, we set out onto the sea. In this respect we are like Ulysses, or as I prefer Odysseus. For our forefathers have sacked and burnt Troy, and now we have to try to get back home however we can.

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    Posted on November 30th, 2014 at 12:11 am Reply | Quote
  • TheInternetIsGod Says:

    Jesus Christ on Our Ironic Culture:

    http://youtu.be/3Qlt-iBZEBk

    [Reply]

    Posted on December 1st, 2014 at 8:54 am Reply | Quote
  • First Bayes Says:

    I first came across Greer over here, and I am grateful to admin for that introduction. In my opinion, the worldviews of NRx and Greer complement each other quite well. NRx looks at Gnon from a proprioceptive POV, while Greer’s description of Gnon is purely exteroceptive. He believes the environment is the prime mover of human society, while according to NRx, it is human behaviour. Leaving aside the correctness of each hypothesis, one observes that both, human nature according to NRx, and the environment according to Greer, display very Gnonic(..?) attributes. I think this complementarity deserves further exploration.

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    Posted on December 2nd, 2014 at 8:16 pm Reply | Quote
  • Kgaard Says:

    Greer’s fundamental conceit — that the oil price will soar — is falling apart. Perhaps it’s not just a nervous tic of his … perhaps this is central to his entire mode of thought (i.e. collapse of complex systems) and perhaps oil’s decline basically proves his entire mode of attack to be useless. After all, the thesis of the Silicon Valley Cyber-Apocalypticism post was also precisely anti-Greerian: Prices can’t collapse without INCREASING complexity of systems (and efficiency) of systems.

    So I think Greer needs to go back to the drawing board. I like his conspiratorial turn of mind, but he needs to vector it a bit more constructively …

    [Reply]

    Lesser Bull Reply:

    You read Greer to clear your mind of the inbuilt progressive assumption that everything just has to get better. Not because his arguments are so good, but as a counter-contagion. You keep reading him for the same reason. But the mind having been cleared, it would be a mistake to fill it with most of Greer’s specifics.

    That said, as a counter to extreme downside risk, I am glad people like Greer’s acolytes are around, planning on how to preserve some workable ways of doing things after a collapse.

    [Reply]

    Posted on December 16th, 2014 at 11:12 pm Reply | Quote

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