by Lonely Christopher
Irony! There is a catalog of ironies, popular and defunct, but, being specific, a pair (for parameter’s purposes) will here wrestle around some: dramatic and literary ironies (situational irony not included, though, let’s posit, notably that’s the hallmark irony of hipster culture; elaboration unforthcoming). The function of dramatic irony is easily differentiated (as an enemy, even) from how a contemporary ironic modality operates. The former, ancient, belonging to, I guess, the Greeks, is a rhetorical device; the later, ironie nouveau maybe, is a literary trope --- the difference: rhetorical purposes are pathetic, re the invocation and valuation of emotional response; today irony is a common pattern of contractual/consensual implication (the formal conceit being that writer and reader both recognize how this instrument frames meaning within a creative idiom). Irony is a lazily broad rubric, but certainly irony comes from εἰρωνεία, meaning hypocrisy, deception, or feigned ignorance (according to Wikipedia). The irony available in that statement is new irony because the extratextual signification requires an equality of collaboration between the two agents involved in the generation of meaning and the interface between them. In the dramatic model, contrastively, the subject is not in on the game (thus the writer delivers the reader special information, designed to manipulate, and the definition is in this imbalance); in the non-pathetic model, the one recognizable above, the special information connotes across the agents and the subject all the same. This means, maybe, that the fact that Wikipedia, a non-academic reference, is cited in the manner of established institutions of reliable/acceptable etymological details (like the OED), presupposes the conflict between the canonized procedures of academia, re research practices, and the open-source (comparatively egalitarian, anti-academic) wiki reference made available only recently through new technology; this happens in such a way that the withholding of extratextual qualities isn’t foundational to ironic function (is eschewed, characteristically), the operations of ironic signification are complicatedly engaged with a broad cultural grammar (so much so that subtle meaning, undetectable semantically, is instantly obvious through the perspective of the disclosure’s mode of reference), the functionality does not resemble an incorrect math equation (rather is balanced), and what is generated through this process is not a dramatic narrative designed to inflict pathos upon the receptive agent alone --- it’s a mutually connoted signification wherein the hermetic structure (the formal platform for the extratextual meaning) undergoes a subversion of signification legible through each available perspective (writer/subject/reader). The text is encoded, but it’s not the butt of the joke; it’s a condition and accomplice in tracing a new and clever meaning over the page’s semantics. This is enrichment. Contrastively, dramatic irony is about as enriching as pouring blood all over the telekinetic prom queen. This is not, “Don’t go up the stairs, the killer is waiting for you!” where the dumb bitch slinking to her horror-show death can’t hear the impassioned cries of the enraptured audience as the filmmaker grins smugly somewhere at such profitable deceit. Here, where we live in our house of today’s irony, everybody must grin smugly, even the text --- the way the text signifies must somehow be grinning (it’s a joyless grin), and there’s absolutely no emphasis placed on tricking the receptive agent into feeling anything because of a dramatic parlor trick. This is not the cheap horror-show scenario, not, “Don’t cite that user-authored open-source database, the misinformation and amateur scholarship isn’t very regulated compared to an academically recognized reference tool edited by professionals and intelligent computers!” This is a tectonics of meaning (tectonic, from the Greek for builder), or, anyway, this means layers of signification that shift and interact with causation (dramatic irony presents an improbable and inequitable situation, for difference). Semantically, there is the statement, which signifies a primary meaning supported by its mechanics --- this source states “irony” is from the Ancient Greek “εἰρωνεία,” meaning hypocrisy, deception, or feigned ignorance --- then there are layers of extratextual meaning that interact with and mutate the central semantic statement, extending the sentence’s reach outside itself --- mainly, cockily incongruous in a telling way, that a non-academic website is used in an attempt to establish the intellectual authority implied by the elevated tone of this writing (read: the author is a lazy bullshitter who uses big words defensively). Irony is no longer purposed toward dramatic achievement through the simple manipulation of slighting an equation; our ironic idiom is an ubiquitous and fundamentally recognizable process we use to posit that meaning doesn’t fit in its own container and, thus, is subject to constant and unfolding play (all play, though, becomes serious, then very dull, and so irony is not a joy, but closer to ennui). Rhetorical irony attempts to dupe the reader into artificial reactions; contemporary irony is transparent and non-hysterical --- it’s a sort of malaise everybody and everything (writer, subject, text, context, reader, you name it) learns implicitly and reads/articulates effortlessly. Maybe because today’s irony is anti-formalist in its egalitarian properties, it is considered guilty and base. Rhetoric functions within the same grammar of valuation as morality, let’s just go ahead and claim, and that’s coincidentally the grammar we use to understand distinctions between high and low art. Dramatic irony presents a fiction wherein ideals like innocence, beauty, and love can exist --- the trick becomes honorable when the scam is withheld and the artifice misjudged by the receptive agent as mimetically superlative. There are a bunch of problems with this, some: singular representation is reductive not epiphanic, totalized paragons in the shape of love, or whatever, are dangerous fictions when the manipulation processes are withheld, and, basically, the quality of such an operation is on par with getting on a ride at Disneyland and ignoring the gross pageantry, rather embracing the malevolent spectacle as incorruptible experience, duh. Anyway, stupid as that is, maybe that’s what’s behind declarations of “the death of irony,” especially subsequent to disruptive human tragedy. When something violently outside of the established limits of general comprehension senselessly occurs, maybe that startles awake the self-destructive desire to wish for a cultural logic wherein signification wasn’t capable of such plurality as is implied by contemporary irony. A retreat is desired back into the reductive regime of silly tricks, where one can be a child again and blanketed withal by comforting social fictions of truth and justice. It doesn’t even have to be as severe as massive tragedy, but possibly a particular annoyance re the dismissal of sincerity in the generation of meaning, which is characteristic (a side effect?) of a general postmodern grammar. The way we constitute at all, the way we just do that verb, is mutating slowly --- one day we woke up and the mythopoetics of modernity was gone without so much as a note --- the centrality of totalization as the process of constitution grew outmoded (maybe the model even inverted and is now centrifugal). “The critical function of the subject has given way to the ironic function of the object.” That’s also from Wikipedia --- no, I admit I read it in a book. The irony dichotomy is, as aforesaid, rhetorical device versus literary trope. The ancient irony requires convincing somebody that the imbalanced equation of a dramatic fiction resembles experience enough to persuade pathos out in reaction to a clever argument (artifice); the mutated irony, ours, discloses itself as a technical conceit, always is transparently a literary trope applied to various systems of signification --- that is, it works as patterns of renegotiation within the generation of meaning according to a popular/legible cultural logic. Meaning used to mean singularly, now we don’t know what it means, exactly, but that it can generate a lot more than we previously suspected it could support. The authorities on the matter are afraid this contemporariness is intractable and will presently metastasize: “There is no point in taking refuge in the defense of values, even critical ones […] The same acts, the same thoughts, and the same hopes which brought us nearer to that finality we so longed for now take us away from it, since it is behind us” (ibid). A text can semantically develop a straightforward position and simultaneously mean exactly the opposite connotatively, plus other incongruous things; this happens all the time. It’s scary. It means I get to use the word “problematize” even though I know it’s unattractively ostentatious (in an immature way) when bandied so. I love you. It’s like rain on your wedding day.