Blog Post

The Postironic Art of Charlie Kaufman

I'd like to point my loyal readers to the amazing introduction Charlie Kaufman wrote for Synecdoche, New York: The Shooting Script, which is available over at The Rumpus. I would summarize the introduction and analyze it -- I am almost unable to resist the temptation -- but to do so would ruin the pleasure and surprise of the thing itself.

Suffice it to say, I consider Kaufman's ouvre to be a species of what I call postirony; indeed, Kaufman's body of work was instrumental for me -- along with the work of David Foster Wallace and Chris Ware -- in suggesting the need for such a term in the first place.  By postirony, I mean the use of metafictional or postmodernist (usually narrative) techniques in the pursuit of what amounts to the pursuit of humanistic or traditional themes:  the desire to "really connect" to other people, the project of cultivating sincerity, the wish to move beyond systems-level analysis of the world toward an analysis of character, the new centrality of "narrative" and "storytelling" in experimental works.  It doubly suffices to say that the details get pretty complicated pretty quickly, so I won't go into those details here.

Kaufman's introduction, here, takes us in a remarkably short space from a kind of metafiction that initially seems cynical and mercenary toward self-transcendence, human connection, and the mutuality of love.  It's awesome.

Lee Konstantinou's picture
Associate Professor of English, University of Maryland, College Park
Lee Konstantinou studies twentieth and twenty-first century American literature, and has current research interests in contemporary fiction, the legacy of postmodernism, comics, science fiction, popular culture, as well as cultural sociology. He wrote the novel Pop Apocalypse (Ecoo/HarperCollins, 2009) and the literary history Cool Characters: Irony and American Fiction (Harvard University Press, 2016). With Samuel Cohen, he co-edited The Legacy of David Foster Wallace (University of Iowa Press, 2012). He is working on various projects, including "The Cartoon Art: Comics in the Age of Mass High Culture," which argues that the elevation of comics since the 1980s is an important case study that can help us revisit -- and reconfigure -- the mass culture debate after the end of postmodernism. He is Senior Humanities editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books.