In his excellent book, Against Happiness, Eric Wilson discusses (among other things) melancholy’s “wonderous paradox,” which is “the ability to be serious and playful at once.” “The mood fosters an ability to be utterly involved in the suffering world but also, at the same time, out of the game, above the fray, aloof, tranquil, as graceful as the indifferent dawn” (p. 129). However, this real melancholy “is absolutely not the shallow, selfish irony embodied by jaded twenty- and thirty-somethings.”
“Their irony rejects sincerity and richness and tragedy and fullness of any kind. It has seen and done everything (‘been there, done that’). It is infected with mockery (‘yeah, right’). Likewise, this isn’t the kind of irony you see on Saturday Night Live or South Park or Family Guy, parody merely for comedy. Nor is this the irony of the Tarantino sort, which measures hipness by the amount of pop culture you can cite and mimic. Finally, this is not the irony of the Seinfeld kind, a form that says you should take nothing seriously (‘no hugging, no learning’) but instead should make fun of everything.”
“Each of these kinds of irony – pervasive among Generation Xers and probably also among Generation Y types – assumes distance. No matter how potentially moving an experience is, I can stand outside it and mock it. I am untouched by anything approaching the real. I stand to the side and comment, but I don’t participate. There is an obvious perversity to this, a refusal to engage feeling.”
“This kind of postmodern irony – let’s call it instrumental irony, for it is only a tool wresting us from the present moment – borders on nihilism. How can I value anything at all if I’m constantly extricating myself from concrete situations so that I can snidely comment on the particulars? How can I get any adhesion to life at all if I’m chronically repelling the things that make up my environment? To practice instrumental irony is to choose, rather mindlessly, to become a kind of ghost, a tenuous presence floating around the exquisite pressures of life, all the while whispering apathetic asides on the silliness of it all, on the allegedly empty core of existence” (p. 133).
Mea culpa! From a Christian perspective, we have to fight this apathetic lack of commitment, since Christianity calls for serious, personal, and deliberate commitment to Christ and his church. Read those quotes again, and ponder how the church should reach out to those drowning in the pool of indifference and nihilism. Also ponder how we can fight the snide apathy in our own hearts!