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Weaponized irony

9 July, 2009

There’s a fabulous little piece in the July issue of Harper’s from Graham Burnett and Jeff Dolven, a couple of professors at Princeton who put together a $650K, 3-year grant proposal for Lockheed Martin to identify irony and weaponize it.  An excerpt:

“Ideally suited to mobilization on the shifting terrain of asymmetrical conflict, inherently covert, insidiously plastic, politically potent, irony offers rogue elements a volatile if often overlooked means by which to demoralize opponents and destabilize regimes…

“If we don’t know how irony works and we don’t know how it is used by the enemy, we cannot identify it…. Without the ability to detect and localize irony consistently, intelligence agents and agencies are likely to lose valuable time and resources pursuing chimerical leads and to overlook actionable instances of insolence.  The first step towards addressing this situation is a multilingual, collaborative, and collative initiative that will generate an encyclopedic global inventory of ironic modalities and strategies.  More than a handbook or field guide, the work product of this effort will take the shape of a vast, searchable, networked database of all known ironies.”

Human Terrain indeed.

Harper’s notes that “Princeton declined to forward [the proposal] to Lockheed.”  It puts me in mind of David Vine’s vow to write a proposal for Minerva funding from the Pentagon to study “how overseas military bases affect relations with other nations, ‘how they’ve damaged our international reputation and how they’ve damaged the lives of people around the world.’”  Anyone know of other examples of this wonderful genre of grant proposal as parodic critique of the funding source?

–L.L. Wynn

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 July, 2009 5:41 pm

    Hey Lisa,

    Classic piece that.

    I wasn’t able to think of any examples of ironically weaponised grant proposals, but reading your post I was reminded of the following article aimed at the study of bureaucratic “redisorganisation”. Might be considered a related genre.

    Andrew D Oxman et al., “A surrealistic mega-analysis of redisorganization theories,” J R Soc Med 98, no. 12 (December 1, 2005): 563-568.


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