Thursday, May 13, 2004

Irony vs. Coincidence

I would first like to take this moment to exegete the terms "ironic" and "coincidence" as they apply to my discussions. Simply because people have often used the one I wouldn't have, and I'm often making use of the one that drives others crazy. I'm not trying to convince anyone to adopt my definitions, only to understand them so they know what I mean when I use the "wrong word" according to their vocabulary in future conversations.

The real problem is that I don't believe in "coincidences." I think when we say "what a coincidence" we are recognizing a pattern that we haven't identified yet, and are dismissing it as a happenstance gathering of variables that slightly impede our sense of acceptable probability. And we're removing any sense of purpose from the events.

"Irony" in its original form is the will of the fates or gods played out through the lives of mortals. And most often seen through an incongruity between intention and purpose. Now it's true that when you start placing an author (say Shakespeare) in the place of the fates and gods and slip his or her characters (say Hamlet) in to the roles of mortals, the definition tightens up, because the author makes sure the audience is present for all the necessary components that make irony (and tragedy, but that's another discussion) detectable.

Life is not so neat. I believe that God has a wonderfully sophisticated sense of irony in my life and in the lives of those around me. Often when I experience what some people call "coincidences" (clusters of related events whose proximity stretch my expectations of probability), I slow down and look for patterns. And sometimes I find them.

Example. I never watch Oprah. Can't stand her, her guests or her content. But recently, I became involved in the third discrete discussion I've had about a single particular show. Which I didn't even see. Also, the previous Monday, in the midst of migraine-induced intensity, I became involved in the longest and deepest discussion about psychological connections between couples and social implication of getting married that I've had in several years. Finally, my former roommate IMed me the previous day to talk about rooming together, which forced me to articulate precisely why I think that's a bad idea, forcing me to consider my own boundaries in terms of space and relationship.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But I prefer to think of clusters like this as "ironic," as though God were giving me the materials I was going to need to be able to really discuss this in a pinch.

I think this when a professor thrusts a book in my hands and tells me I need to read it and two weeks later some controversy in church is caused by a breakdown in communication that was illustrated in the book. I think that's not coincidence.

So when I say "irony" in this context, I probably mean in more as "providence." But "providence" has virtually dropped out of our vocabulary.

I NEVER mean it in the way Alanis Morrisette uses it, because she never makes connections that mean anything. And the meaning is what makes something ironic. I think she's really after "tragedy," but even that's a stretch in her music.


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