1-6 of 6 Results

  • Keywords: irony x
Clear all



Claire Colebrook

Irony is both a figure of speech and a mode of existence or attitude toward life. Deriving from the ancient Greek term eironeia, which originally referred to lying, irony became a complex philosophical and rhetorical term in Plato’s dialogues. Plato (428/427 or 424/423–348/347 bce) depicts Socrates deploying the method of elenchus, where, rather than proposing a theory, Socrates encounters others in conversation, drawing out the contradictions and opacities of their arguments. Often these dialogues would take a secure concept and then push the questioning to a final moment of non-knowledge or aporia, exposing a gap in a discourse that his interlocutors thought was secure. Here, Socratic irony can be thought of as a particular philosophical method and as the way in which Socrates chose to pursue his life, always questioning the truth of key ethical concepts. In the Roman rhetorical tradition irony was theorized as a rhetorical device by Cicero (106–43 bce) and Quintilian (c.35–c.96 ce), and it was this sense of irony that was dominant until the 18th century. At that time, and in response to the elevation of reason in the Enlightenment, a resurgence of satire emerged: here the rigorous logic of reason was often repeated and in a parodic manner. At this time, modern irony emerged, which was subtly different from satire in that it did not simply lampoon its target, but suggested a less clear position of refined and superior distance. The German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831) was highly critical of what came to be known as Romantic irony, which differed from satire in that it suggested a subtle distance from everyday discourse, with no clear position of its own. This tendency for irony to be the negation of truth claims, without having any clear position of its own, became ever more intense in the 20th century with postmodern irony, where irony was no longer a rhetorical device but became a manner of existing with no clear commitment to any values or beliefs. Alongside this tradition of irony as a distanced relation to one’s speech acts, there was also a tradition of dramatic, cosmic, tragic, or fateful irony, where events might seem to act against human intentions, or where human ambition would seem to be thwarted by a universe that almost seems to be judging human existence from on high.


Leonard Diepeveen

Parody is the name given to a range of representational practices that involve citation of an earlier work, but an inexact citation—citation with polemical difference, always purposive, and often to comic effect. Arguments over parody as a category inevitably establish a position on how specific an activity it is and how far it reaches into culture, even into the nature of language itself. Parody’s range is at times understood to be quite general; at others, it is presented as a very specific artistic process. Thus, some argue that parody is at the heart of language itself, that all language is parodic, while others limit parody to the affectionate discrepant citation of another text or work of art. Pastiche, as a subcategory of parody, generally is considered to be less polemical about its sources, less satirical, more flat, and less focused. All parody (including pastiche) is interpretive of its source, and in interpreting that source it makes an argument about that source—its features and the value of those features. In making that argument, parody establishes or reacts to a norm, a norm at times in line with a cultural dominant and at other times opposed to it. While that relationship to a norm often raises the question whether parody is inherently dispersive and liberatory or whether it exists to affirm a status quo, historical practice reveals that there is no inherence here; parody can move in either direction. Parody is always in some relation to a norm, a relationship that points to the heart of its activities: to the consequences of citation, the place of personal expression, and polemics.


Angus Nicholls

The term daemonic—often substantivized in German as the daemonic (das Dämonische) since its use by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the early 19th century—is a literary topos associated with divine inspiration and the idea of genius, with the nexus between character and fate and, in more orthodox Christian manifestations, with moral transgression and evil. Although strictly modern literary uses of the term have become prominent only since Goethe, its origins lie in the classical idea of the δαíμων, transliterated into English as daimon or daemon, as an intermediary between the earthly and the divine. This notion can be found in pre-Socratic thinkers such as Empedocles and Heraclitus, in Plato, and in various Stoic and Neo-Platonic sources. One influential aspect of Plato’s presentation of the daemonic is found in Socrates’s daimonion: a divine sign, voice, or hint that dissuades Socrates from taking certain actions at crucial moments in his life. Another is the notion that every soul contains an element of divinity—known as its daimon—that leads it toward heavenly truth. Already in Roman thought, this idea of an external voice or sign begins to be associated with an internal genius that belongs to the individual. In Christian thinking of the European romantic period, the daemonic in general and the Socratic daimonion in particular are associated with notions such as non-rational divine inspiration (for example, in Johann Georg Hamann and Johann Gottfried Herder) and with divine providence (for example, in Joseph Priestley). At the same time, the daemonic is also often interpreted as evil or Satanic—that is: as demonic—by European authors writing in a Christian context. In Russia in particular, during a period spanning from the mid-19th century until the early 20th century, there is a rich vein of novels, including works by Gogol and Dostoevsky, that deal with this more strictly Christian sense of the demonic, especially the notion that the author/narrator may be a heretical figure who supplants the primacy of God’s creation. But the main focus of this article is the more richly ambivalent notion of the daemonic, which explicitly combines both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritages of the term. This topos is most prominently mobilized by two literary exponents during the 19th century: Goethe, especially in his autobiography Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his Notebooks and in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Both Goethe’s and Coleridge’s treatments of the term, alongside its classical and Judeo-Christian heritages, exerted an influence upon literary theory of the 20th century, leading important theorists such as Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Hans Blumenberg, Angus Fletcher, and Harold Bloom to associate the daemonic with questions concerning the novel, myth, irony, allegory, and literary influence.


Jen Hirt

Ring Lardner was a sharp-witted American humorist who had an amazing ear for malapropisms, idioms, and the lively vernacular of early 20th-century Chicago and later the East Coast. Originally a sports writer for baseball, Lardner branched out to short stories in 1914, when he wrote serial fiction for the Saturday Evening Post. This job lead to him honing the authorial control that lead to him creating three original and beloved fictional characters. They were the baseball player Jack Keefe (who appeared in the Saturday Evening Post stories); later, an unnamed but sarcastic husband; and years later, Fred Gross, an inept detective. His unique, first-person stories held an air of authenticity and daring. Readers loved his work for the style and subjects that transcended the stodgy halls of refined literature, and yet intellectuals mined them for the brilliant irony and cultural criticism. Lardner developed a reputation as a complex writer whose column, nonetheless, was read weekly by the mainstream, not just the experts. Additionally, critics saw immediate value in how Lardner let himself be fascinated by the social microcosm of baseball (with minor leaguers maneuvering to rise in the ranks); he saw in it a parallel to class struggles in America. When he later became an actual Long Island neighbor of American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, he sought to capture in literature the decadence of the American lifestyle. His later work was fiercely critical of shallow attitudes, social climbing, and the tendency for business interests to undermine culture. By 1929, Lardner's rough lifestyle and utter disenchantment with America—as well as a tuberculosis diagnosis—took a toll on his creative output. He had been a binge drinker since his days as Fitzgerald's socialite neighbor. His drinking was fueled by his deep vein of disgust for his own society. His wildly comedic and witty writing belied his own weaknesses, including succumbing to the stress of being financially responsible for his family. Monetary success eventually came in 1930, when he coauthored a musical, “June Moon.” It was fleeting, however; the next years saw him produce a weekly radio column and rehash the Jack Keefe adventures in a 1933 redux of fictional baseball letters, titled Lose with a Smile. He died that year, of a heart attack, on September 25. He was forty-eight years old.


Ken Hirschkop

The concept of “heteroglossia” was coined by Mikhail Bakhtin in an essay from the 1930s. Heteroglossia was the name he gave for the “inner stratification of a single national language into social dialects, group mannerisms, professional jargons, generic languages, the languages of generations and age-groups,” and so on, but it was not simply another term for the linguistic variation studied in sociolinguistics and dialectology. It differed in three respects. First, in heteroglossia differences of linguistic form coincided with differences in social significance and ideology: heteroglossia was stratification into “socio-ideological languages,” which were “specific points of view on the world, forms for its verbal interpretation.” Second, heteroglossia embodied the force of what Bakhtin called “historical becoming.” In embodying a point of view or “social horizon,” language acquired an orientation to the future, an unsettled historical intentionality, it otherwise lacked. Third, heteroglossia was a subaltern practice, concentrated in a number of cultural forms, all of which took a parodic, ironizing stance in relation to the official literary language that dominated them. Throughout his discussion, however, Bakhtin wavers between claiming this heteroglossia exists as such in the social world, from which the novel picks it up, and arguing that heteroglossia is something created and institutionalized by novels, which take the raw material of variation and rework it into “images of a language.” Interestingly, from roughly 2000 on work in sociolinguistics has suggested that ordinary speakers do the kind of stylizing and imaging work Bakhtin assigned to the novel alone. One could argue, however, that heteroglossia only acquires its full significance and force when it is freed from any social function and allowed to flourish in novels. According to Bakhtin, that means that heteroglossia is only possible in modernity, because it is in modernity that society becomes truly historical, and languages only acquire their orientation to the future in those circumstances.


Daniel P. Gunn

In free indirect discourse (FID), the narrative discourse of a text incorporates the language and subjectivity of a character, including emotional coloring, deictics, judgments, and style, without an introductory attributing frame like “she thought that” and without shifts in the pronouns or the tense sequence to accord with the character’s perspective. By combining the immediacy of direct quotation and the flexibility of indirect discourse, FID allows for the seamless integration of a character’s thought or speech, with all of its distinctive markers, into the narratorial discourse. Because FID occurs in the context of narratorial discourse and allows for a fluid movement back and forth between narratorial and figural subjectivities, it characteristically entails a mixture or interplay of two voices—the narrator’s and the character’s—in the same utterance, as in parody or mimicry. The evocation of a character’s thought or speech through FID and its relation to narratorial commentary and report can be subtle and nuanced, and identifying and making sense of FID sentences requires significant interpretive activity on the part of the reader. FID has been a crucially important technique for the representation of consciousness in the English novel, particularly in the tradition which runs from Jane Austen through George Eliot to Henry James, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce, which concerns itself increasingly with the imagined thought-lives of characters. Depending on the context, FID passages can be presented sympathetically, inviting the reader to immerse herself or himself unreservedly in the character’s thought or speech, or ironically, with the language of the character creating a dissonant effect against the background of the narrator’s discourse and the novel’s design. FID is also sometimes referred to as style indirect libre, free indirect style, represented speech and thought, or narrated monologue.