28 March 2010

Snark by David Denby

How does one address an audience in a witty and humorous way while avoiding snark? This is an essential writing talent, very useful to those dealing with the loyal opposition or even hecklers. Denby's book seemed positioned to help resolve this - but doesn't. Unfortunately, as much as Denby attests to the ultimate ineffectiveness of snark - the writing feels snarky. The examples provided, ranging from Juvenal  to Pope to a discourse on modern internet discussions, are conveyed in a slightly offhand, smarter-than-thou manner which is off-putting rather than engaging. For example, from David Denby:
"when reading Juvenal - which is quite an experience, rather like getting drunk during an obscene night in a comedy club..."
And here's a quote from Juvenal to ponder:
The blind envy the one-eyed.
And here's an example you might hear getting drunk during an obscene night in a comedy club:

Juvenal = Carlin? Absolutely not. Denby's pushing some snark at us in the guise of explaining how snark is deteriorating civil discourse and reducing our ability to understand and relate to one another's ideas. I think the argument would have been furthered more readily by not using snark to make the case that snark was not as useful. And I'm not trying to be snarky in saying that.

I think the author has a good point to make. In describing the master snark-users and regaling readers with tales of the utility of snark for their situations, Denby provides a service. A thriving counter-culture and critiques of power are essential for the  healthy functioning of democratic societies, so understanding better the ways in which master political critics rise to their talents would be useful.

And, to end on a minor complaint - I would have appreciated a clear definition of what he considers snark. There's no proffered definition, no attempt at such - and thus, one man's snark is another man's measure.