Keynote lectures

Jorge Fazenda Lourenço (Catholic University of Portugal)

When the ironic is political

Is irony a way to cope with the world? As Auden wrote, “Can I learn to suffer / Without saying something ironic or funny / On suffering?” Can the (partial) responses to these questions be found in some of Jorge de Sena’s poems?

Michele Cometa (University of Palermo)

Incomprehensibility and Irony. The Romantic Roots of a Cultural Strategy

At the peak of the German Romantic philosophy and poetology, Friedrich Schlegel, the father of (post)modern irony, wrote an essay “On Incomprehensibility” (1800) defending the discoursive strategy of Athanaeum Fragments. Incomprehensibility and irony thus became the stigma of (post)modern thought. A re-vision of these categories is now necessary in order to understand the roots but also the future potential of cultural analysis.

Mario Perniola (University of Rome “Tor Vergata”)

Philosophy’s smile

Laughter, the comic and irony have been the subject of many studies and research. Very little, however, has been written on the smile from a philosophical point of view. What does a smile mean? And why does a tradition that goes back to the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus associate it with philosophical practice? Even Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes occasionally speak of a philosophical smile. In Italy, at the end of the 20th century, the focus was on irony, in Gianni Vattimo’s philosophy, or on the tragic, its opposite, in Luigi Pareyson’s. My philosophy, instead, could be defined as a philosophy of the smile and of the enigma, whose most important visual manifestations can be found in Archaic Greek sculpture and in Baroque painting. My talk makes use of a power point consisting of a few images from these two moments in the history of art. Philosophy’s smile originates from experiencing a world in continuous change and constitutes the strongest antidote to fanaticism.

Philip Auslander (Georgia Institute of Technology)

21st Century Girl: Lady Gaga, Performance Art, and Glam

Lady Gaga is one of the most important and visible performers within popular music today to perpetuate the glam legacy not only in music but also in her approach to representing herself in all contexts. Gaga retains and even amplifies many of glam’s aesthetic strategies but has reconfigured the glam sensibility for a hypermodern, post-ironic world. Her flirtation with performance art recapitulates the glam ambition to bridge art and popular culture but in the terms of an historical moment at which performance art is becoming the point at which the art world intersects with the culture of celebrity. Her version of gender bending goes glam ambivalence one better by evoking the drag king phenomenon that hit its stride in the 1990s. Gaga borrows the idea of continually changing personae from Bowie and those he influenced (Madonna in particular) but shifts it into hyper-drive by creating a seemingly infinite number of personae simultaneously rather than assuming different identities singly and sequentially. Whereas irony was a central trope of both glam and the postmodernism of which it is a variety, Gaga’s self-presentation is simultaneously wholly artificial and wholly sincere. In the absence of the large-scale social and political movements that formed the backdrop of glam as the 1960s became the 1970s, Gaga has created her own movement that celebrates absolute self-definition, always the deepest value of glam.

Rui Catalão (Performer and writer)

The exhaustion of trust

“It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust” Dr. Johnson told us long ago. Yet, we seem to consume much of our energy avoiding deception. In his book, “The selfish gene”, Richard Dawkins describes a community of “suckers” and “cheats” (opportunistic liars that take advantage of the generosity of others without ever returning favours). Because suckers are constantly being deceived by cheats a third category emerges: the “grudgers”. The grudgers loose their trust in others and avoid having a supportive and indeterminate behaviour. Cheats depend upon the existence of suckers but as the number of cheats increases, the number of suckers decreases. With fewer suckers to deceive, the existence of cheats is endangered. By causing the extinction of suckers, cheats are indirectly causing their own end. In a move of great intellectual perversity, Dawkins proposes the simulation of a population comprised of a majority of suckers and a minority of cheats and grudgers. The number of cheats grows exponentially until the survival of the suckers is at risk. Meanwhile, the small population of grudgers also dangerously decreases. As long as there are suckers to deceive the grudgers behaviour is in trouble. With the extinction of suckers, the grudgers population gradually increases. Once the balance is achieved between the grudgers and cheats, the growth of the grudgers accelerates till the near extinction of the cheats. Still, the cheats can survive for a long period. Since there are fewer of them, they are harder to catch! They become a secret and privileged minority. Parasites of the social contract, they infiltrate themselves into the surveillance systems, controlling the mechanisms built against them. Their decadence has, nevertheless, already started a long but irreversible agony. This amusing simulation of cheats causing the extinction of suckers, with the grudgers, in turn, being responsible for the fall of the cheats, was described by Dawkins in 1976, although from an evolutionist perspective. He did not suggest that this phenomenon could occur as a cultural paradigm. Yet, an explosion of instruments of communication took place. The traffic of information is nowadays widespread and it generates an intense activity of vindication and accusation, perpetrated by the growing number of spiteful people: the grudgers. What we witness, in the means of communication, social networks and ostentatious street demonstrations reproduced at a global scale, is a collective fever of the grudgers chasing cheats. Shielded by their privileges, by generations and generations that exploited the suckers, cheats take refuge in their last retreats. Sneaky manipulators, they secretly preserve everything they achieved. If they are spotted, there is nothing left for them to do except disguise themselves not necessarily as suckers (extinct) but beneath the arguments of the wronged grudgers. According to Dawkins simulation, cheats will disappear more slowly than suckers. The privilege they have accumulated in the meantime will allow them to have a secure retirement. But their golden age has passed. From now on they will witness the slow downfall of their domain and the progressive ruin of a world once full of opportunities. The paradise of cheats was the land of suckers. And what world will be ours, once the trust is lost?

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