Friday, 26 February 2010

Request for help: John Webster on irony

Not much posting over the past few days: we've been moving house this week, and (to be honest) I've also felt a little dismal after my recent post on libraries. I liked that post very much, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to write a better post – and that gives me the blues.

Anyway, today I need to appeal to my learned readers for some help. In my article on blogging (which is about to be printed in Cultural Encounters), I quote John Webster's remark that irony is "a sickness of the spirit". I was away from my books when I wrote the paper, so I just quoted this from memory, and I also provided a reference from memory (I felt sure it was from his "Theological Theology" essay in Confessing God). So I was checking the proofs yesterday, and I realised that this reference was incorrect. Now I'm starting to doubt whether Webster ever said such a thing. Did I dream it? Was it perhaps something I heard in a conference paper by Webster? Does anyone know of a place where he describes irony as a "sickness of the spirit"? If so, please help me out!

For your interest, here's the paragraph in which this (mis)quotation occurs – I'm discussing the playfulness of online theology:

One catches a glimpse here of what Karl Barth called the jollity of theology. When we speak truth, it should make a “joyful and pleasant sound”; “the theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all.” Of course, there is also a troubling side to such playfulness: one see this wherever a serious question or critique is brushed off with a friendly witticism, instead of being seriously engaged; or where our talk about God becomes marked by an ironic distance. John Webster is rather too severe when he describes irony as “a sickness of the spirit”, but he is surely right to see that ironic detachment is by no means identical with joy, and that an ironic stance may be hard to reconcile with the intense subjective involvement which theology demands.

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