by carl wilson

The Irony Board

I was scanning Toronto-area blogs for news of whether the smoking-in-bars ban goes into effect actually, literally, at midnight tonight (it seems it does - I will be ringing in the New Prohibition with friends at Pimblett's on Gerrard St. just west of Parliament, after 9 pm tonight, by the way). And in the process, I stumbled on a little gem of a discussion about one of the great bugaboos of our time, Alanis Morissette's Ironic and whether anything listed in the song actually constitutes irony, properly speaking. (See lyrics.)

Thanks to our name, any and all issues of classical rhetorical form in pop music demand to be addressed on Zoilus. Besides, since the shower of foolishness on the subject after 9/11, defending the vitality and relevance of irony has become mandatory, and the Morissette mewl was, sadly enough, the most prominent recent showcase of the term.

The consensus? There's nothing ironic about rain on your wedding day (unless, say, you held your wedding in the Kalahari desert deliberately to avoid the possibility of rain) but there might be a mild form of situational irony signified by a black fly in your Chardonnay.

One poster, by the puppy-dog adorable handle of Rilkefan, cites Fowler's Modern English Usage: " 'Irony is a form of utterance that postulates a double audience, consisting of one party that hearing shall hear and shall not understand, and another party that, when more is meant than meets the ear, is aware, both of that “more” and of the outsider’s incomprehension.'

"He goes on to list three main categories of irony: Socratic irony (Socrates pretends ignorance to manipulate the dogmatists and to amuse his followers), dramatic irony (the point being that Sophocles’s audience knew the story already), and irony of fate (the idea being that most people ignorantly expect an orderly or a cooperative natural world but we the clued in don’t). He says it’s important not to apply 'irony of fate' to every 'trivial oddity' - which rules out the wedding day example in my book."

But be warned, a later poster, less adorably, goes on: "Since any action situation involves a framework of meaning, I don’t see why the notion of irony should be confined to the discursive level. However, I don’t know that there can exactly be criteria for irony, since irony is itself a subversion of criterial meaning. Clearly it involves an unthematized meta-level commentary on an 'object-level' meaning or intention, in such a way as to bring out the surplus in signifying possibilities. It is related to but differs from straight negation, involving something like a simultaneous negation and reinscription of an affirmation. "

Read on if you dare, here and here.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Monday, May 31 at 01:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson