on earnestness

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on earnestness

Post by titkitten »

alternative (cliche) title: the importance of being earnest

thesis: too much these days (and especialy on the hyper self-aware post-clothing care-tags) is ironic, with affectation;; even pre-Internet Humour, there is a premium on "succeeding without trying" (vividly remember my best frenemy in high school: "i got a 99% and i didnt even study!"); the languishing Cool Guy in a scuffed up moto jacket; the Cool Girl who eats pizzas and stays thin; the naturally gifted.

i myself am hyperaware of seeming Try Hard, of exerting Noticeable Effort in front of people; god forbid i Visibly Fail while exerting said Noticeable Effort.

but: what is so bad about trying hard? what is so bad about effort? what is so bad about "not getting it"? must we live our lives at arms length, never admitting we wanted something that we might not grasp? can we face ourselves honestly?
so what if you post a thread that no one replies to? don't be a coward, post it anyway, ignore the thread ideas thread.
what are you actively working on? are you succeeding or failing or neither? how does it make you feel?

these days, im trying to interact genuinely with people, trying not to front, letting people decide themselves if they like me or not. i'm trying to be present, offer what i can, and accept if they don't like it or if i am not what they need. i am reminded of this image from tumblr dot com (yes, i am still on tumblr, rjb why cant i embed tumblr posts)
it makes me feel vulnerable, like im sharing a secret that i am not ready to tell.
Last edited by titkitten on Wed Mar 31, 2021 3:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: on earnestness

Post by rjbman »

have you tried the new [media] tag
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Re: on earnestness

Post by thewisdomoftime »

some fragments

I went to a college that has only engineers, artists, and architects and so for the first few weeks I was goldilocksing cliques for the right position between (the engineers') milquetoast earnestness and (the artists') reflexive ironic skepticism. An emblematic example of this struggle was that sometimes artists would sometimes joke about my wilco poster, because white male fronted 00's indie rock was pretty gauche in 2016, whereas "guy who likes wilco" was still a suave, preening, or overdetermined sign for the engineers. One type of person dismisses the thing through condescension, but another type of person so humbles themselves - before something as understandable as a major label recording artist - that they have no remark to make.

The architects - who I share the most with in desires and, I think, in affirmation -, even after years of taking different classes, would sometimes surprise me with how free we could be in discourse, how little ground we have to pick up before reaching one another when explaining things, how little envy we would have for the things we had without the other. There are people that I will love forever - Ruby, Avery, Maren - for striking the right balance, with me, between laughter and explanation, between flippant insults and bear hugs.

But, at any rate, I think just because of a few envious people who had retreated up into irony, 18 year old me was deeply interested in these two categories: earnest and ironic. One inspires anger, the other bored me to tears. Since then I've found the categories less and less helpful.

These categories are much, much, more slippery than they're treated as being.

What qualities are neighbors of "earnest"? the ones Oxford gives are already problematizing, and though my selection closes off a lot, here's a categorization:
  • (1.) the series that evinces a respect for production-logic:
    {steady, committed, dedicated, diligent, industrious, hard-working ...}
  • (2.) the series that evinces consideration or wisdom:
    {studious, thoughtful, profound, bookish}
  • (3.) the series evincing a specific welcoming of suffering:
    {solemn, grave, sober, humorless, ...}
  • (4.) the series evincing a specific welcoming of joy:
    {heartfelt, wholehearted, impassioned, from the heart, full-hearted, burning, passional, perfervid}
and I'd like to close the categorization there, these are some the basic strands wrapped up in the earnest.

I think all of the qualities in (1. - production-logic) and (2. - consideration/wisdom) are wrapped up in the American "good," the qualities in (3. - welcoming-suffering) and (4. - welcoming-joy) are more morally contested.

Where does the ironic cleave itself from the earnest?
(1. - production-logic): the ironic disdains production-logic, or accepts the vulgar reality that a certain amount of incomplete participation in production is necessary to avoid destruction.
(2. - consideration-wisdom): the ironic is certainly amenable to consideration, to wisdom. in fact, the gesture of condescension, one of the most obvious ironic gestures, is an ambiguous assumption of the position of the wise; it is the loud provocation that, whether a sage or a loon takes the position of the wise, the actual presence of wisdom is not necessary to the stance. does the ironic defile wisdom? by no means. the ironic defiles hierarchies of nominal wisdom, does not agree to arrangements of free-flowing information, or suggests that there is myopia in the belief that wisdom can be shared.
(3. welcoming-suffering): the ironic is not welcoming of suffering. the spartan pedigree in this category of earnestness, by no means necessary and by no means universally held as good, simply does not motivate the ironic character. the earnest character's "humorlessness" marks an obvious retreat from the game of surfaces, ridiculousness, perversion, madness-- the whole idealism that motivates the ironic to play in words instead of build - with the earnest - walls and bridges, spouts and hammers, monuments to order and extensivity.
(4. welcoming-joy): this category marks the small common-ground of the earnest and the ironic, for although the ironic can have a repetition-compulsive bent, both the earnest and the ironic have their joys. what is more welcoming of joy than the destructive impulses of the ironic? the ironic part of me has gone to an interview and laughed at the interviewer's question, knowing full well how I've contradicted myself and destroyed what I professedly seek. but this very undermining of desire for the screaming sensation of momentary, situational catalysis is the extreme joy that the ironic can't ween themselves off from. the ironic hates their neighbors, every neighbor, they are unreasonable; but this is their very rationing.

A certain return?
------- in the Earnest: the protestant-capitalist, the spartan, the informant.
----------- in the Ironic: the skeptic, the stoic, the sinister.
these admixtures are not eternal categories, they're moral bastard children. they're as specific as can be.

An obvious heteronomy:
the ironic character is never played with a lack in intentionality, with a lack of meaning, without a goal.

Language in bodies and language in shallow images can share intentions. Neither lacks joy, both are obviously wholly motivated by their specific joys. Neither is specifically interested in the suffering of others, neither escapes solipsism.

Though I can't find the passage of Alphonso Lingis' Trust that I thought taught me this point -----
goodwill has two senses:
  • (a.) whereas good means giving, literally good-will; a very christian idea, and one which nietzsche's geneology successfully draws to analysis, this has been the vulgar sense of goodwill in my life.
  • (b.) whereas good means high-quality, literally good-willing; goodwill as harmony and accord between one's conscious desiring and one's activities; not contradicting oneself
I would like anyone who sees earnestness as a useful tool to have goodwill (b.) as a concept, so as to escape from fearing ironic characters (who are not bad!) and escape from seeing earnest characters (who are only good as long as one favors productivity to other joys!) as uncomplicated heroes.

One of many neologisms:
in the Logic of Sense there was a term interpenetration which denotes, vaguely, the absence/incompletion/graying/relativity of borders between sensorial objects. The ironic does not give up on the world, on goals, on projects, on forever-having; all of us enjoy partial states with a view of both limits. We all have it both ways. The person who tightens their grip the hardest around their being-earnest will find themselves, regularly, wondering where their earnesty went, staring off into the distance with a throbbing, reddened hand.

We enjoy having a relationship that is always, less or more, collapsing. We enjoy long periods of loneliness, betrayed in a minute by a message from the right someone. We contradict ourselves, we watch - as from outside of ourselves, as theatregoers - every derivative of our position change instant by instant, as we glacially trace an arc into the abyss.
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Re: on earnestness

Post by seesaw »

What if your 'real' self is ironic and sarcastic and so by being earnest you are paradoxically being dishonest and/or ironic?? https://www.gutenberg.org/files/844/844-h/844-h.htm

From my own literature-nerd, out of touch with popular culture point of view, we have lost our sense of irony. This thread reminds me of the conversations happening in literary criticism/theory about the death of postmodern irony and birth of "metamodern" affectivity and participation. A commonly embraced perspective in my field is that we should "go forth and connect" and "fluidly participate in things" and see where that gets us. I find myself hanging around faculty members still clinging to negative critique and writing essays about Kathy Acker. I am distrustful of people who seem overly earnest or genuine.

That said, a core part of irony is self-reflexiveness. Irony can be a useful means of self expression. Many of the "ironic" people I've met (as well as the ironic authors I read) are remarkably honest and forthright.

I agree with titkitten's comments about the figure of the "try-hard". Everyday I spend hours pouring over difficult theoretical texts and it bothers me when people dismiss that as some kind of frivolous pursuit. As I grow older I find myself immediately bored by people who don't seem to have any kind of in depth knowledge about...anything. Trying hard is a good thing.

I am currently trying to acquire better funding for my dissertation so that I don't have to teach each semester (not that I don't like teaching, but even teaching one class each semester makes it really difficult to write my dissertation) and failing miserably.
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Re: on earnestness

Post by bels »

Why is irony always posited against earnestness. Clearly they're both needed. A healthy balance.
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Re: on earnestness

Post by titkitten »

i think i might not have chosen the right word to focus on in my opening post -- perhaps i meant more Honest Effort or Visible Effort? embracing being a Try Hard? though love the discussion that has ensued regardless.

i think there's a distinction to be made between internal-facing and external-facing earnestness; admitting to yourself what you want and who you are vs admitting to others what you want and who you are. i must take responsibility for mixing the two in the initial post too. i guess i just have been thinking recently about allowing myself to try things and to fail; to aim for things and miss; to want things i cannot achieve.
thewisdomoftime wrote: Wed Mar 31, 2021 2:44 am{heartfelt, wholehearted, impassioned, from the heart, full-hearted, burning, passional, perfervid}
my usual pattern is to tell myself i didn't want something anyway when i fail to achieve it, or protecting myself from disappointment by not seriously trying for things in the first place. i have some strange expectation to effortlessly succeed on my first try for everything; anything short is shameful and to be hidden. last year marked the first time i really set a goal, spent months working toward it, then didn't get it. in short, wearing my heart on my sleeve internally! in the moment when i received the news, my previous patterns of self-protection felt justified. i think this type of self-protection likely shields you from the emotional ups and downs of life, but keeps your average emotional state at a lower one than if you were to just engage with your emotions and aspirations. i do often feel like i am separated from life by a film. i am safer, but at what cost?
perfectionism can get in the way of living our lives to the fullest. we believe we should achieve our goals effortlessly and never make mistakes, have flaws, or be disagreeable. not only does every single aspect of the life have to be curated and perfected, it also has to happen with no sensation of effort! sometimes i would achieve something that seemed “perfect” from the outside but i would still be dissatisfied if i had to struggle for it, because it “revealed” a “fundamental weakness” to myself.
as others in the thread have said, irony/sarcasm can both be useful in expressing yourself but also as a crutch, and though of course all things are more complicated than simple dichotomy, i think the internal/external orientation is a key one. someone can try to communicate a genuine feeling through sarcasm -- or they can use to cover up their true emotions in front of themselves or others.
seesaw wrote: Wed Mar 31, 2021 3:48 am What if your 'real' self is ironic and sarcastic and so by being earnest you are paradoxically being dishonest and/or ironic??
thewisdomoftime wrote: Wed Mar 31, 2021 2:44 am The ironic does not give up on the world, on goals, on projects, on forever-having; all of us enjoy partial states with a view of both limits. We all have it both ways. The person who tightens their grip the hardest around their being-earnest will find themselves, regularly, wondering where their earnesty went, staring off into the distance with a throbbing, reddened hand.
coming from a sincere place, both earnestness and irony can simply be communication styles. i agree then that it nonsensical to make life-level statements on people based on how they communicate! but for me personally, i am confronting the way i understand myself, the story i am telling myself about myself, and understanding that i hold myself gingerly at arms length. and in that sense, i want to practice holding myself closer to my eyes, seeing what i want, what i can do, what i am.

so maybe just for selfish reasons, i wanted to make a thread celebrating unflinching effort!
bonus: the picture that catalysed this post --

a perfect description of how i usually feel. people often describe The Cool as "oh yeah they're chill" but i am simply not chill. i am an overthinker, anxious, a try-hard, and i am trying to be ok with trying.
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