Books for the News

An Ironic Airborne Event

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Ideally suited to mobilization on the shifting terrain of asymmetrical conflict, inherently covert, insidiously plastic, politically potent, irony offers rogue elements a volatile if often overlooked means by which to demoralize opponents and destabilize regimes.

In the “Readings” section of the July issue of Harper’s, University of Chicago Press authors Jeff Dolven (Scenes of Instruction in Renaissance Romance) and D. Graham Burnett (Masters of All They Surveyed: Exploration, Geography, and a British El Dorado) produce a parodic—dare we say ironic?—proposal. In response to aerospace manufacturer and defense contractor Lockheed Martin‘s request for research initiatives from Princeton University faculty, Dolven and Burnett submitted a plan to remedy the dearth of “sustained, empirical, [and] applied investigation into irony.” Their proposal, entitled “The Ironic Cloud” (subscription required), calls for “a sustained three-year, three-pronged, interdisciplinary investigation, drawing on social scientists, engineers, and microbiologists” that will strengthen our defense against “ironizing threat postures” on battlefields across the globe.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Princeton declined to forward Dolven and Burnett’s proposal to Lockheed Martin. However, should other defense contractors wish to become leaders in this “crucial new field of strategic and commericial growth,” we publish here, for the first time in print anywhere, Dolven and Burnnett’s proposed budget for their ironic project.

Burnett and Dolven — Lockheed Proposal
Preliminary Budget
Personnel: $250,000
Outfitting research facilities, by irony type:
Auxesis: $75 Billion
Epitrope: your call
Litotes: .75¢
Mycterismus: $*&#$^
Paralipsis: (never mind)
Sarcasmus: yeah right
Countermeasures and containment:
Botchulism toxin (for immobilizing arched eyebrows etc.): $25,000
Straitjackets (for gesture control): $10,000
Cold showers: $10,000
Total: $750,000
The analysis of irony into its component tropes for the purposes of research has the advantage of refining the vectors and targeting of potential weaponry. We are also mindful of the possibility of siting facilities around the United States to secure broad and ongoing Congressional support: auxesis research in Texas, for example, and litotes in Maine.
Among the principal considerations in irony research is the potential virulence of the subtler strains when released into the general American population. Some epidemiologists recommend that research be conducted in sparsely populated, rural areas, where wide open spaces and a natural resistance to doublespeak can act together to contain outbreaks. Our view—and the basis of our proposal, natch—is that such populations are much more vulnerable than has hitherto been suspected, and we incline therefore to urban sites, where the greater likelihood among cosmopolites of prior exposure in sub-lethal doses makes disabling perplexity less likely. In any case, we recommend that outside of combat situations, irony be handled only by professionals and with “quotation marks.”