"As far as I can tell, for my generation and maybe the kids younger than us, there are different things that we’re afraid of. We’re afraid of being trite, we’re afraid of being sentimental, we’re afraid of being mawkish, we’re afraid of being stale and formulaic — unless we’re stale and formulaic in a way that pokes fun at its stale, formulaic quality. I mean, we have been taught, so much, both by the lessons of television and the saturation of television, what are the things to be afraid of. And one of the big reasons why irony — and it’s been kind of the mode of discourse in the culture — has really ceased to be palliative or helpful, is that irony is this marvelous carapace, that I can use to shield myself from seeming to you to be naive, or sentimental, or to buy the lush banalities that television gives. If I show you that I believe that we’re both bastards, and that there’s no point to anything and that I was last naive at about age 6, then I protect myself from your judgment of the worst possible flaw in me: sentimentality and naivete, the way a proper appearance of decorum would shield me from your judgment of me as deviant or offensive 30 or 40 years ago."
David Foster Wallace, replayed in BBC Radio 3’s 2011 documentary “Endnotes,” originally from a 1995 BBC Radio 3 interview. (Unavailable at bbc.co.uk, but here’s a working bootleg.)
Geoff Ward, professor & cultural historian of American literature, introduces this section:
In Wallace’s fiction, irony is the enemy, a once-useful tool that is now ubiquitous and empty, co-opted by TV and crass entertainment. Authenticity and sincerity have receded from our sight, but must be recovered somehow.