What’s “Awkward” Anyway?

Elif Batuman expands on her definition of awkwardness as “the consciousness of a false position”:

Here is the top-rated definition of awkward in Urban Dictionary: “Passing a homeless person on your way to a Coin Star machine.” In other words, denying that you have any spare change while carrying a whole jar of change, a transparent column of money, right in front of the person. In fairness, although there is a sense in which you can spare the change, there is also a sense in which you can’t. Who are you, after all—the one per cent? The one per cent doesn’t use the Coin Star machine.

“Awkward” implies both solidarity and implication. Nobody is exempt. Awkwardness comes from the realization that, when you look around the world, it’s difficult to identify anyone who isn’t either the victim or the beneficiary of injustice. Awkward moments remind us that we are never isolated individuals, and that we are seldom correct when we say, “Not in my name.” Awkward moments are, by definition, relatable. Hence the tagline for “Curb Your Enthusiasm”: “Deep inside you know you’re him.” This is a key distinction between Larry David’s comedy of awkwardness and its closest predecessor, Woody Allen’s comedy of anxiety. Anxiety is pathological, neurotic (a word you don’t see so much anymore); awkwardness is existential, universal.