Recently, with the publication of an essay by writers/artists Matt Ashby and Brandon Carroll, Wallace's work and criticism of irony in American culture has touched off a discussion about the value of that irony. Is it saving us, or will it be our demise? Ashby and Carroll assert that the irony used by Pynchon and others to criticize war is no longer as effective when it simply become entertainment. When the satirized laugh so naively at themselves that they fail to see the change an artist is hoping to effect, then irony has lost its value. In fact, it becomes an instrument of self destruction.
In Ashby and Wallace's view, Americans no longer have the ability to learn from irony when culture is saturated in it. However, it may not be as fatalistic as all that. In Peter Finocchiaro's response to Ashby, Carroll, and, in effect, Foster Wallace, irony is defended as not useless and ineffective, but more relevant and necessary than ever. With an interview with UChicago philosophy professor, Jonathan Lear, irony is given a defense that incorporates the brilliance of Wallace and the American irony he wrote about.
Of course, speaking for a man of Wallace's brilliance is tough, especially when he left us too soon. And that can lead to complications. For example, the Wallace estate is challenging a recent attempt at a film adaptation of his magnum opus, Infinite Jest. And disagreements like that can complicate the matter in a way that would probably frustrate Wallace … and baffle Polonius [sic]. But as Charlie Alderman reminds us in a piece for the HuffPost.com, we can all learn a lot from Wallace and his portrayals of an ironic culture.