Irony's Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony

Irony's Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony

Irony's Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony

Irony's Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony

Synopsis

The edge of irony, says Linda Hutcheon, is always a social and political edge. Irony depends upon interpretation; it happens in the tricky, unpredictable space between expression and understanding. Irony's Edge is a fascinating, compulsively readable study of the myriad forms and the effects of irony. It sets out, for the first time, a sustained, clear analysis of the theory and the political contexts of irony, using a wide range of references from contemporary culture. Examples extend from Madonna to Wagner, from a clever quip in conversation to a contentious exhibition in a museum. Irony's Edge outlines and then challenges all the major existing theories of irony, providing the most comprehensive and critically challenging account of irony to date, from one of today's most brilliant and persuasive critics.

Excerpt

With 1445 entries listed under “irony” in the MLA Bibliography for only a single decade, why might the world need yet another book about irony? And that listing tells just part of the story-the literary part: this topic has been tackled by scholars in fields as diverse as linguistics and political science, sociology and history, aesthetics and religion, philosophy and rhetoric, psychology and anthropology. Irony has been located and explicated in literature, the visual arts, music, dance, theater, museum displays, conversation, philosophical argumentation, and the list could go on and on. Even granted that most of those 1445 entries are for articles about “irony in…” some text or artist's oeuvre, the sheer amount of energy expended in trying to figure out how and why people choose to express themselves in this bizarre way remains astonishing to me. There seems to be a fascination with irony-one that I obviously share-whether it be regarded as a rhetorical trope or as a way of seeing the world.

My own particular interest was triggered by the fact that irony appears to have become a problematic mode of expression at the end of the twentieth century. It has never been without its problems, of course, but lately the various media seem to be reporting an increasing number of cases of the more or less disastrous misfiring of ironies. Magazine articles appear, exploring the prevalence of irony (Spy's March 1989 issue's cover featured Chevy Chase as “That Ironic Guy” and the heading, “Isn't it ironic?”). Or else they lament its rumored outmodedness (Esquire's September 1991 front page told us to “Forget Irony-Have a Nice Decade!”). And, certainly, if the newspaper and television coverage can be believed, today the public consequences of misunderstanding seem more serious, or at least more visible. Therefore, it is this-its perceived politics-that has determined my particular “take” on irony and has provided the focus for my attempt to theorize irony's social as well as formal dimensions. My aim has been to build upon that vast corpus of work done by others (or rather, upon what part of it I could manage to read in the last decade), using a collaborative rather than oppositional model of scholarship. The result is that you will not find here any detailed refutation of any other theory (or theorist):

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