Irony: A Sketch of a General Theory

Wednesday, 02 February 2022, 16:00-18:00

Senate House, Room 243


We distinguish between different kinds of irony: verbal, situational and dramatic are major forms. How are they related? Perhaps in a simple way, being three species of a common genus, like the three kinds of elephant. No, it is not that simple. At the other end of the scale we might think of them as like riverbanks and high street banks, with no closer connection than a common spelling. No, their relation is more rational and systematic. I will suggest a not entirely simple but thoroughly systematic relation. I am especially concerned to provide something that gives us a useful structure for thinking about irony in the narrative arts, but I will not skew my account so far in that direction as to lose sight of day-to-day usage, with which the artistic role of irony is surely continuous. I end with some tentative conclusions about what is called “romantic irony”, on which I have a somewhat idiosyncratic take. I’ll illustrate the idea with a scene from Douglas Sirk’s 1956 melodrama There’s always Tomorrow.


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