A ‘snarky’ critique of modern humor? What would Saul Alinsky have thought? Or Lewis Carroll?

imageSeveral kinds of snarks exist in Lewis Carroll‘s poem The Hunting of The Snark (free online).

Certain of these creatures bite; others scratch. David Denby, author of Snark: Polemic in Seven Fits, may been thinking of the teeth and claws when he titled his book.

I look forward to catching up with Snark even if I have a few concerns ahead of time, based on Walter Kirn’s writeup in the New York Times Sunday Book Review (book excerpt here). Isn’t there a Catch-22? The risk of being snarky in attacking "snark"?

image"Snark," Denby writes, "is a teasing, rug-pulling form of insult that attempts to steal someone’s mojo, erase her cool, annihilate her effectiveness, and it appeals to a knowing audience that shares the contempt of the snarker and therefore understands whatever references he makes. It’s all jeer and josh, a form of bullying that, except at its highest levels, beggars the soul of humor."

But, in Kirn’s words, do we really want to try to align humor with "civic virtues and literary standards," so we won’t "laugh for no just cause, at jokes that aren’t witty enough to laugh at and that may even be plain stupid and malicious"? Where to draw the line? Just how effective would Herblock have been against Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon if the legendary cartoonist had worried constantly about avoiding snark? And in the community organizing area, what about Saul Alinsky‘s observation in Rules for Radicals that "Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon" and "A good tactic is one your people enjoy"?

image Scandals’ own Carroll connections—and snark ones, too: Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti (photo), handling publicity for The Solomon Scandals, is a Carroll expert, as well as a Dylan one, by the way. And that’s not the only angle here.

Wendy Blevin, the Vassar-educated gossip columnist In Scandals, is a literacy-related volunteer for the D.C. public library system, and off-hours, she reads "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and other classics to students bused in from the slums." Wendy actually did study community organizing under Alinsky, some years earlier; and she isn’t the least hesitant to apply both rules mentioned. I’d hope she’d do so with better judgment than, say, Ann Coulter.

But, as noted earlier, one person’s snark can be another’s Shaw-brilliant wit. For that matter, I suspect that vast stretches of The Solomon Scandals, a mix of suspense and satire, would give Denby fits. So be it. I just wonder what Lewis Carroll would have thought of the Denby book.

Denby’s possible kindred spirit: Christopher Lehmann, enemy of "reflexive irony" in D.C. novels. And speaking of critiques of Washington fiction, I’ve just perped a quick little critique of critiques.

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David Rothman

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