really existing satire / Rob Kiely

Satire is not dead, though pundits frequently say that it is. That “satire is dead” is a corollary of the idea that self-satire is rife in the political class: surely nothing that Boris Johnson accepts about himself can be used against him? Besides, the world is completely ridiculous now so satire can serve no function—it is always already outstripped. This belief is strange, given that even if life feels starkly precarious right now, bathed as it is in the aura of ecological disaster, pandemics, and the rise of the far right, such precarity is not new. Another extreme situation—famine in the colonial context of Ireland—gave rise to a quasi-paradigmatic specimen of this mode in A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick (1729). Its author did not throw up his hands and state that the situation was beyond satire.

In our current age suggestions that satire is dead seem to come most often from liberal voices, with a reifying nostalgia for the good old 1990s. Yet a misrecognition of satire is prevalent too among more radical commentators. In “The Strange Death of British Satire” (2015), Mark Fisher observes that much news has a tone of light mockery which speaks to widespread disengagement from the parliamentary politics of Westminster. His defeatist claim is that satire at his moment of writing is dominated by a narrow elite. For Fisher, satire is no longer a threat to authority, but a means for the establishment to protect itself. The TV show Have I Got News For You came across as counter-establishment but really provided a sop to the Tories they platformed. I find some of Fisher’s statements odd and the impetus for the whole piece confusing, but perhaps much of this comes from its publication in a rationalist periodical. For example, Fisher says that Jeremy Clarkson’s statements are part of a “pantomime with real blood”. He then says that they have echoes with Nazi rhetoric. That is, instead of actually making the link between Clarkson’s statements or attitudes and real blood—migrant deaths in the English Channel or the Mediterranean, the flesh which is daily crushed by the entire system of differentially valued labour and its translation into profit—Fisher links them to rhetoric. He goes on to talk about the “innate postmodernism” of the English ruling class, by which he means that they are allowed to be ironic, and that this in turn allows their listeners to dwell in antimonies. But where, while Fisher makes this point, is the real blood? It stays offstage. Indeed, it feels like everyday life is blocked off in the piece. Fisher concludes that:

The sophistication of working-class culture – which combines laughter, intelligence and seriousness in complex ways – has been replaced by a grey bourgeois common sense […] It’s long past time that we stopped sniggering along with the emotionally damaged bourgeoisie, and learned once again to laugh and care with the working class.

In this conclusion it seems that working-class culture is eclipsed, but what Fisher has in fact asserted is that it is no longer visible, if it ever was, on the panels of 9 Out Of 10 Cats and Have I Got News For You. It is difficult to escape the implication that all Fisher’s think piece demands is new entrants to the field of play as currently constituted, i.e. a more representative panel. Obviously this short publication was never intended to sketch a whole politics, but it is representative of a general tendency, a blind spot that I am sketching under the banner of “satire is dead”. Much is at stake in the battle to define satire, and the volume of assertions of its death might be gradually shifting our sense of satire’s associations to the point that we can no longer recognize it. In claiming that satire tout court has been commandeered by the elite, Fisher makes too large a concession, gives up the battleground. While Clarkson et al. are lambasted for not connecting their speech to really existing conditions, Fisher merely discusses a media bubble rather than paying attention to the really existing satire underneath and surrounding the encrustations of a perpetually devolving “mass” media.

Fisher cites Jonathan Coe on satire too. There is a tendency, Coe suggests, for laughter to replace protest. But for who, and under what social conditions, can laughter replace protest? This is not the place to flesh it out, but we might speculate that during the economic growth of the American century certain groups of people got in on the middle class in certain regions, and that allowed for an inoculation of a certain classed satire in certain areas of culture. More generally, we might speculate that certain kinds of satire might strengthen what they satirize under certain historical conditions. Every newspaper article attacking Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, every cartoon of their grotesque faces, seemed and still seems to push their hold on power further up a golden chain of putative inevitability. So it ever was, satire shrugs. Apparently. But this isn’t all satire, and maybe we shouldn’t call it satire if it shrugs so carelessly. Coe and Fisher are only talking about a specific kind of satire—bourgeois liberal-democratic satire, which is toothless.

To diagnose the death of satire implies that there is only one satire that counts, thereby ignoring a whole raft of contemporary writers for whom it is an important mode. I don’t have the ability or the inclination to sketch a broad historical through-line, but I’d like to indicate in an impressionistic manner some nodes of satire in the world of contemporary writing. There is satire throughout Mairéad Byrne’s work, as well as the work of Tom Raworth, Tom Leonard, Nicky Melville, and Peter Manson. There’s Hamja Ahsan’s Shy Radicals (2017) and Lisa Jeschke’s The Anthology of Poems by Drunk Women (2018), a collection which contains a sarcastic poem written in the voice of a transphobe. Some of Sam Solomon’s recent poems explore the attitude of Universities to “care”, where “care” means nothing more than not getting sued by a student.[1] Danny Hayward’s “Advice Column” (2019) states in its “Argument” that “sarcastic disbelief” is “the only tone the narrator feels able to access in good faith” because we live “in a world where the fact that anyone can take a shit in a McDonalds represents the final redoubt of universal social provision”. This is a flipping of the “satire is dead” position. The liberal argument is that satire is actualized, it breathlessly proclaims that self-satirizing absurdity is what we encounter in every situation every day of our lived experience, whereas Hayward’s argument is that a sarcastic reappropriation of this disbelief is the only defensible attitude the poem has access to—a tone of world-weariness which allows us to avoid accepting things as they are.[2]

One of the far-right’s tactics nowadays is to invoke irony. D. C. Miller’s poems are being ironic, people might say: it is not clear from them what he actually thinks. Irony offers shelter in its performance of ambivalence. In 2019, Sean Bonney called on the Prague Microfestival (PMF) to remove Miller from their line-up. There was a series of arguments on social media about this. The organizers predictably circled around issues of free speech and cancel culture. We will not no-platform Miller just because he is transphobic and consistently dog-whistles, they said.[3] Bonney pointed out that platforming a fascist meant they were promoting fascism. In response to some of Bonney’s observations the PMF organizers pasted “DEATH OF SATIRE” across a photo of Bonney in an online magazine of theirs, a magazine featuring an interview with Miller.[4] To put this text across Bonney’s face seems to imply that he is, or represents, the death of satire. This is levelled at Bonney, at Bonney’s work, at his anti-fascism and at the call-out of the organizers of the PMF for platforming Miller. It is intended as a complaint. But of what kind? Perhaps it is aimed mainly at Bonney, with the undercurrent that Bonney is a satire of himself, that satire is dead because Bonney is a self-satire, thereby echoing similar remarks about, for example, George W. Bush. Or perhaps it means that one cannot “say” certain things any more due to cancel culture, and satire is now dead as one can no longer perform satire: snowflake skin is too thin. The image and text have a nebulous relationship, switching up between all these shifting ambiguities—ambiguities which advocates of free speech use, and within which the far right can continue to grow. I do not think it is merely incidental that satire came up in this debate. This is where the claim that satire is dead gets us. But we cannot let either the elite or fascists have satire or its death.

*

Definitions of satire typically have two components. Firstly, it is described as a genre in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule. Secondly, definitions usually note that satire has the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government, or society itself into improvement. These are both inadequate to any contemporary satire which seeks to retain something from the history of the feeling behind satire—indeed its usefulness—rather than the merely formal sense. If this is just a genre in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, it becomes too easy to categorize fucking hateful shit as self-satire, and the label loses all critical purchase.[5] We should probably wriggle the definition so that it is less easy to diagnose self-satire, or so that under a new definition politicians cannot self-satirize anymore. Frequently, individuals seeking to escape critique deploy a very obvious flaw, a big talking point which serves as a distraction from a real problem. Sleight-of-hand while the knife goes on going in. This should not be considered satire. The political class are building really big, prevailing weaknesses into how they present, to cultivate a particular kind of satire in response. Call it a thermal exhaust port, a peacock’s tail. Boris Johnson’s self-satire attempts to render him a bumbling posh boy rather than a murderous toff. Furthermore, satires often take their subjects as one-offs. Political cartoons say: look at this fool, look at what he does. They tend to ignore wider structural dynamics and in so doing make it more difficult to grasp what is actually happening.

In conjunction with the release of the movie The Day Shall Come (2019), Chris Morris was interviewed on Channel 4. Jon Snow didn’t mention satire that much, nor did Chris Morris, but it hovered at the edges of their discussion of comedy, and it is included in the video’s title on YouTube. Jon Snow, who knows nothing, says to Morris: even you couldn’t come up with some of the things that are really happening, and implies that thereby Morris as satirist is outwitted, outdone by the world. For Snow, satire is a question of imagination, something Morris explicitly rejects in his reply. Morris says we need to keep an eye on what is actually happening, that Trump’s capacity for self-satire or tendency to be a target for mockery is part of a dodge. To repeat. Snow asks Morris if he feels “outflanked” because Trump is “doing things even you might not have dreamt an American president could do”, and Morris replies: 

But it’s not, it’s not about the failure of your imagination to get to a point. It’s what he’s doing, and I think that, for example, you look at Trump, suddenly the FBI were momentarily the good guys because they might bring him down. Now, they’re never the good guys, but his technique fooled everyone into this sort of a moment’s mistake. […] I mean it’s like with Nixon, the FBI instigated the Watergate inquiry, it didn’t make them the good guys then, they were up to their necks in COINTELPRO. So Trump’s move is to confuse people yes but you’ve got to stick to what’s actually happening. And I think that, yeah, you need to take notes pretty fast right now, but I don’t think he’s escaped ridicule, I mean he is self-ridiculing but you’re always gonna be able to ridicule someone like that. The problem is that I think we’ve got used to a kind of satire which essentially placates the court. You do a nice dissection of the way things are in the orthodox elite and lo and behold you get slapped on the back by the orthodox elites who say “Jolly good, can you do us another one?” That’s not what it’s about, so in a way these times should bring on something with a bit more clout.

This was in October 2019. Later that month, Momtaza Mehri tweeted: “contemporary satire is functionally useless when you have brilliance like this”, offering a link to a video of Rory Stewart bumping into and awkwardly chatting to some people on Brick Lane. She followed up: “the quiver in his voice as he approaches. the first random black men he stumbles across happening to be irish. the paragraphs they’re spelling out with their fingers. Chris Morris found unemployed in a ditch!”[6] Here, Morris is rendered structurally superfluous by the satirical capacities of the “black irish” who Rory Stewart encounters. Mehri was not thereby claiming that satire as a mode is functionally useless, but that satire is a daily social practice, a social antagonism expressed eloquently in the dismissiveness of the people Rory Stewart encountered.

The liberal conception of satire has a completely ahistorical mindset, and I realize some of my own thinking here does not manage to fully narrate its own historicity. Such a top-down synchronic overview of contemporary satire in all the ways it is practised, one of which just happened to be captured by Rory Stewart’s film crew and published on Twitter, is unnecessary to make my point. I have offered examples of writing as specimens of satire. Mehri’s example is an act. More than any of the textual examples I gave, satire is a daily practice, scrawled on bathroom walls and sunscreens on vans and sprinkled through conversation. We need to remember this even as I circle towards the work of a particular poet, Verity Spott, who knows and constantly deploys such everyday practices of satire.

*

Satire is that which calls for the dissolution of its object of ridicule. All else is mere irony. This is not all that unusual as a paraphrase of other definitions, because most descriptions or criteria of satire have placed emphasis on exactly this aspect of it, its status as attack. It must be added that satire not only calls for the abolition of its target but the conditions that make its target a possibility. This relates to Marina Vishmidt’s distinction between positive critique and negative critique, where the latter seeks the dissolution not only of its object but also the object’s conditions of possibility. We might, tenuously, say positive critique is Horatian satire and negative critique Juvenalian—tenuously because those names are so long dead they no longer seem adequate. But whatever terms are used, what matters is that from a historical perspective what was called Horatian satire, what we might liken to positive critique with its reforming sensibility, has become less and less tenable as actual satire.

I mentioned above that satire can be bourgeois and liberal. Definitions of satire usually note that it has the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government, or society itself into improvement. Its aim is therefore described as constructive social criticism, indicating that there is perhaps something inherently liberal about satire, that it relies on a free-speech based public sphere to correct certain vices and thereby facilitate moral progress.[7] Much discussion of satire centres on whether or not it is effective, or results in change. I can think of no other genre where there is such a knee-jerk impulse to ask but what does this change? We rarely ask if SF has changed anything even though it clearly has. It is as if people imagine that claiming something is satire implies that it must be judged a success or failure in terms of its reforming effects. The prevalence of liberal satire is predicated in some ways on this new understanding of progress and its relation to satire. Defining satire as a call for abolition gets at how Verity Spott’s work, and the work of others, differs from what is usually called satire. A fuller understanding of Spott’s body of work will get us closer to understanding how fully alive satire is.

Not only does satire call for the abolition of its target and the condition of that target’s possibility, it destroys itself and its friends. For example, Spott’s GIDEON is an attack on George Osborne (addressed as “dear legitimate target”), but its satire is inseparable from its Stalinist-style purge of friends: “Next purge (party sadness, end of madness): I shot bullets into almost every one of my comrades killing most of them, mortally wounding some, firing novelty ‘bang’ flags into a few”.[8] When I say that satire destroys its friends, I don’t mean this must axiomatically define any satire, but it seems to me that those texts which do this are less toothless and more acutely satirical. “I’m sorry I shot you Jonny” she says, addressing her friend and collaborator Jonny Liron.[9] Another way of getting at this sense I find in Spott’s work is that some desire for self-abolition might be the price of entry for certain kinds of satire. There is no sense of self-satisfied knowingness in Spott’s work, and its readers are not allowed this either. This has clear parallels with Swift: “Many of Swift’s contemporaries saw clearly, as William Wotton did, that Swift’s satire returns against itself and demolishes the very position from which the attack was launched.”[10]  

The OED definition notes that satire is “distinguished from lampoon in being directed at a fault rather than at a person who has that fault, though there is now considerable overlap between the two terms”. (n, I.1.a.) This point about ideas not people resonates with some of what Marx says in his 1867 Preface to Capital, Volume 1:

To prevent possible misunderstanding, a word. I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose [with rose-tinted glasses]. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class-interests. My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.[11]

The category of satire is important to Keston Sutherland’s work and his reading of Marx, and recurs throughout Stupefaction: A Radical Anatomy of Phantoms (2011). Satire is underdetermined in this text, but mainly it is used to describe the way in which certain works elicit disgust and presumably action. In our formulation, Sutherland’s claim that Marx is satirizing the bourgeoisie is merely a statement that Marx wants the abolition of the bourgeoisie. Spott’s work has registered the question of how satire is to be defined, and Sutherland has read Spott closely.

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“Satire” comes from the Latin satira, variant of satura—a literary composition consisting of a miscellany of prose and verse on various topics. The classical Latin satura is probably a medley, short for lanx satura (literally “full dish”), a dish containing various kinds of fruit, or food with disparate ingredients. It is brimming, full and overflowing, but also over-flavoured, there is a mixture of flavours, there are different tones being hit. It is implicit here that some of those tones and tastes might be discordant, might not work together conventionally. Satire is fundamentally ungainly, “mis”-shapen. It has everything to do with transgressing received formal norms. In this regard, its alleged etymology from satyr, the half-goat half-man, is instructive. Here is Horace’s Ars Poetica (c. 19):

If a painter should wish to unite a horse’s neck to a human head, and spread a variety of plumage over limbs [of different animals] taken from every part [of nature], so that what is a beautiful woman in the upper part terminates unsightly in an ugly fish below; could you, my friends, refrain from laughter, were you admitted to such a sight. Believe, ye Pisos, the book will be perfectly like such a picture, the ideas of which, like a sick man’s dreams, are all vain and fictitious: so that neither head nor foot can correspond to any one form. “Poets and painters [you will say] have ever had equal authority for attempting any thing.” We are conscious of this, and this privilege we demand and allow in turn but not to such a degree, that the tame should associate with the savage; nor that serpents should be coupled with birds, lambs with tigers.

On a formal level satire always has an admixture which is offensive to some people’s taste. Northrop Frye dealt with this issue in the Anatomy of Criticism: “The romantic fixation which revolves around the beauty of perfect form, in art or elsewhere, is also a logical target for satire.”[12] For example, Boots Riley’s amazing film Sorry to Bother You (2018) takes a turn at a certain point—a turn some people don’t want to follow—when half-human half-horses become a part of the plot. This turn is also happening at a formal level, the science-fictional element suddenly comes in strong and some people baulk at that. But this mixing of genres is absolutely central to its status as a satirical film. Think of the formal mixture of prose and verse in much recent poetry which renders it a medley. I think also of the cover of Trans* Manifestos (2016), where half-human half-trees intermingle. It is a depiction of Daphne, who wanted help from her father, who turned her into a laurel tree so she would be safe from Apollo.

*

I heard Verity Spott read some of what was then called “Hopeless Vibrato” at a Queers Read This event at the ICA on Friday 16 November 2018, and at that event the poem was prefaced by tiny rhymed squibs which set the jokey tone up for this longer piece—some of those would later appear in Caterpillars (2019), such as:

“A Seethe” 

I sometimes wonder where MY taxes go?

Probably up some politicians nose.

WHAT do they do with all OUR money?

If you ask me it isn’t bloody funny. 

I pay my taxes and Roberts walk by

wilfully ignore a yobbo doing a crime.

My town’s full of baddies and bin juice and hicks.

Nobody respects her highness queen vic.

People scrawling banksy tags

greedy prime minister money bags.

I hate what they do with MY taxes, my cash.

The greatest guitarist in the world is Slash.[13]

The performance leant heavily and shamelessly into doggerel, reminding me of Peter Manson’s “The Baffle Stage”, as well as Swift and Pope. That night, the audience were primed by these ridiculous rhymes for the following passage, one filled with attacks on universities and liberals, all delivered in the pontificating tones of some spectral UKIP or further-right individual. It is a piece of what would later become Hopelessness (2020), but I quote here the version published in erotoplasty in 2019:

I am a Local Costello – Hater of Paedophiles. For the last few months my daughter’s been softly tugging on my arm asking about higher education. Obviously I’m a very busy man what with leafleting and the little plastic gloves they use cost a penny each but we could be waste them on or at maybe ten pounds a glove! etc. For a while I paid it little attention thinking this was a soft phase which would pass her by and maybe leave her feeling really stupid when it all turns out to be make believe. Unbeknownst to me, however, she’d sent off some applications. I was not hurt. She received three unconditional offers which I was bloody well expected to be proud about when the little rubber fingers not fit properly a disgrace at ten pounds each a glove while people are lying on beds. So I did my research. I’d heard all about these “Universities,” snowflake replicators. Parsons Extruded Remoaners. I checked the list of courses available and to my surprise there wasn’t a single one listed as a “Social Justice” course. Perhaps Sargon’s petition had worked. Next I checked to see if there were any Paedos there. Paedos, which I hate. There were two convicted staff members. Doddery old white professors. Not much of a grooming gang if you ask me. Reader I ignored them. For once I felt my conception softly inch itself towards the door like grandparent fingers unwrapping my not hurt exactly, but fingers, peeling them out of the little plastic gloves they have at ten p… My daughter. My deal. My taxes. I left myself at the door and flew back home with the leaflets. The sun let itself shiver through the curtain. My heart rate monitor. No daughter of mine’s goi… [14]

This is accomplished and effective satire. There’s something about satire which means that it oozes outwards quicker than other modes, it forces the reader to draw the text into relation with the social totality quicker, it is ecological insofar as it is always profoundly embedded in a wide contextual web and twangs those threads repeatedly. If you can’t hear the twanging, you won’t quite get it. A lot is happening in the above, too much to really track—things costing too much these days, “Remoaners”, the passing mention of Sargon of Akkad’s petition to remove social justice from Universities. The full book, Hopelessness, also mentions concerns with fisheries—a major component of Brexit negotiations—a lot. Fintan O’Toole has argued convincingly that Brexit is all about the reverse-colonization of pain, the right of the old colonial oppressor to claim to be hurt and oppressed.[15] In this context the repeated “I was not hurt” of the above passage seems to index just how hurt the speaker feels by their daughter’s decision to apply to university. While getting to index that hurt, the speaker puts on a strong façade, refusing to moan like the remainers. The satire peaks with the speaker’s lack of concern about white paedophiles. The room exploded into peals of laughter. The unspoken assumption is that the real threat is “Asian grooming gangs”, thereby highlighting the hypocrisy of its speaker, ostensibly concerned about paedophiles but actually concerned about the presence of non-white men in the United Kingdom. In 2018 there was a marked increase in far-right marches feeding off moral panics around about “Asian grooming gangs” and sexual violence.

In erotoplasty, the above section is also followed by:

In the above in pink you can see a 黾, the simplified and variant form of Radical 205 黽, “a kind of frog; to endeavour; to strive; etc.” It is a simplified Chinese character, one of the People’s Republic of China’s official character simplifications introduced in 1956 and 1964. This use of Chinese characters also has a ghostly formal rhyme with Ezra Pound’s Cantos, and thereby spectrally with Pound’s fascism. The character is in pink, a colour typically associated with femininity or queerness. Alex Jones is famous for his rants about the chemical Atrazine turning frogs “gay”.[16] Jones frequently courts self-satire, deliberately sending up his own persona all the better to bolster that persona. It is invoked in a ghostly way in the erotoplasty appearance of “Hopeless Vibrato”. The Chinese character, and thereby Alex Jones, is expunged from Hopelessness itself.[17] When the satirical elements of “Hopeless Vibrato” get locked into the overall architecture of Hopelessness, they get significantly dampened.

The nail that stands out gets hammered down. That lesson is not necessarily always about homogenization, it is more fundamentally about levelling out, humility. Part of that practice of humility is satire. No-one getting too big for any boots, a call for the end of differentially sized boots. Think of the practice of teasing. Perhaps you return home from university and use a complicated word, and that is highlighted in a teasing fashion. It isn’t really about you, but it is about the set of relations that are manifesting, and latent in the teasing is a call for the dissolution of the university as it is currently constituted, specifically because of how it upholds class or manifests in social relations. Satire, mockery, hurt. This is also present in the Local Costello’s monologue, though perverted in irreparably fucked up ways. His voice returns throughout Hopelessness: “daughter, little sofffft plastic lives”.[18] As I read Hopelessness last year, I thought about satire and that reading at Queers Read This, and this dampening, this softening—the word “soft” appears so frequently in the book. So too do tubes, and it sometimes seemed to me that I was reading an account of dementia, madness in old age, being kept alive by tubes, a sheer panicked desperation. If, as I suspect, satire is not a privileged mode of expression in Spott’s Hopelessness, it nonetheless knows that satire is alive. No reader of this text could for a moment entertain the proclaimed death of satire. Perhaps Hopelessness keeps satire alive all the better by gradually expunging it from its pages, deleting the reference to Jones, dissolving the Local Costello’s monologue in over 70 gruelling pages of genuine feeling and raw depression. No mere shock-tactic or momentary deviation from how things really are, the Local Costello’s speech becomes integrated with the poem’s other voices, even the poet’s. Spott’s text is part of the collective labour that aims to unhitch satire from liberal notions of progress, hence the title’s emphasis on abandoning hope. Frye too just about glimpsed the importance of severing hope from satire: “on the other side of this blasted world of repulsiveness and idiocy, a world without pity and without hope, satire begins again.”[19]    

*

My thanks to the many friends who have discussed some of these thoughts with me, including David Grundy, Verity Spott, Laurel Uziell, Tom Betteridge, Holly Pester, Will Rowe, Dan Eltringham, Edmund Hardy, and, as ever, Nisha Ramayya. There are many others. My thanks too to attendees of a workshop on satire in 2019 at University of Surrey, where some of these ideas were discussed. Thanks also to Rosie Šnajdr and especially Jocelyn Betts for their editorial input and help in getting this to print.

Robert Kiely is the author of simmering of a declarative void (2020) and Incomparable Poetry: An Essay on the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 and Irish Literature (2020).


[1] This was on 13 February 2019 in London at an 87press event.

[2] I have moved here between satire and sarcasm rather quickly. Equally, at times I may elide distinctions between mockery, ridicule, and satire. One might also ask whether self-mockery, self-deprecation, etc. are the same as self-satire. I am not sure. As I mentioned before, some of the thinking here is designed to push against the idea that “satire is dead” and that self-satire is possible.

[3] See also the harassment of Luke Turner and others documented here.

[4] Bonney wrote “Antimatter” in response to this around June–July 2019.

[5] Some might say that Trump doesn’t self-satirize, but that liberals failed to take him seriously. This is fundamentally in line with the impulse in this passage to re-jig the definition of satire to make self-satire nonsensical—my use of self-satire is indebted to subterranean implications of the position that satire is dead.

[6] This was tweeted by Mehri on 25 October 2019.

[7] Hence, I think, the frequent presence of this word in early satires: see, for example, John Dryden’s Discourse Concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1693) or Hogarth’s “The Progress of the Rake” (1732–4) or Swift’s “Phyllis, or, The Progress of Love” and “The Progress of Beauty”. Progress actually meant something different for Swift—he thought of modernity as arrogant, progress as a degeneration. See Pat Rogers, “Swift the Poet”, in The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Swift, ed. by Christopher Fox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 177–201 (p. 183).

[8] Verity Spott, GIDEON (Brighton: Barque, 2014), p. 16.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Warren Montag, The Unthinkable Swift: The Spontaneous Philosophy of a Church of England Man (London: Verso, 1994), p. 92. This seems related to the mix of sincere utmost hatred and the seemingly jokey interest in conspiracy theories in GIDEON: “I carrion croak for the deaths of two dear children of diminishing innocence”; “criminaliseflouride.” Spott, GIDEON, pp. 6, 10.

[11] Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990), p. 92.

[12] Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, 2nd edn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020), p. 233.

[13] Verity Spott, Caterpillars (Brighton: TL:DR press, 2019), unpaginated.

[14] Verity Spott, “Hopeless Vibrato”, erotoplasty, 3 (2019), 97–113 (p. 106). See pp. 23–4 of Hopelessness (London: the87press, 2020) where it appears without any italics. As it looked like prose in both publications, the above has not been lineated.

[15] Fintan O’Toole, Heroic Failure: Brexit & the Politics of Pain (London: Head of Zeus, 2018).

[16] In 2015 Alex Jones went viral for claiming tap water was turning frogs gay. Jones has claimed he is playing a character. On an Infowars broadcast on 3 November 2018, Jones dressed as a frog with a pink tutu, and hopped and danced around the studio singing “Look at me I’m a gay frog!” Jones wanted nothing if not to give rise to countless headlines in the mainstream media claiming this was “beyond satire”, both as the moment of his original utterance and his own self-mockery. If you’re interested in what provoked Jones to make the original statement, you could check out this.

[17] Verity Spott, Hopelessness, (London: the87press, 2020), p. 24.

[18] Ibid., p. 103.

[19] Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, p. 239.