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Isn't it ironic?

 
 
coberst
 
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 04:24 am
Isn't it ironic?

I have launched an effort to gain some understanding of literature. One thing I have discovered (I have in fact discovered a great number of interesting bits of understanding) is the importance of the concept of irony in literature. Irony provides the structure and style of many literary accomplishments. I suspect you are like me in that when I first encountered the use of this word I was confused. I thought I had some general understanding of the word and had no idea of its broad application or possible meaning.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica had this as the introduction to its explanation of the meaning of the word "irony".
" language device, either in spoken or written form (verbal irony), in which the real meaning is concealed or contradicted by the literal meanings of the words, or in a theatrical situation ( dramatic irony), in which there is an incongruity between what is expected and what occurs. Verbal irony arises from a sophisticated or resigned awareness of contrast between what is and what ought to be and expresses a controlled pathos without sentimentality. It is a form of indirection that avoids overt praise or censure, as in the casual irony of the statement "That was a smart thing to do!" (Meaning "very foolish")."

I have found that there is a mountain of books that elaborate on the use of this concept. The book and movie "Catch 22" is totally constructed on this concept. We discover in the movie that the phrase "catch 22" refers to section 22 in the manuals psychiatrists were commanded to use when evaluating airmen who reported in sick complaining that they had become crazy because of the stress of flying the dangerous bombing missions. This section 22 states that an airman can be exempted from flying more missions only if judged to be crazy. The airman could be judged crazy only if he admitted himself to the psychiatrist as being crazy but section 22 also said that anyone sane enough to judge himself as being insane under these conditions was obviously a sane person.

David Brooks, an often seen TV commentator and prominent conservative writer for the NY Times, recently published an essay in the NY Times speaking to the irony of many middle class voters "voting rich" by supporting the elimination of the estate tax. Brooks made a reasonable argument for this bit of irony.

If one understands the concept of irony one can begin to see all the opportunities available to use this concept in literature or for any mode of discourse. One need only read the headlines in today's papers to recognize just how useful irony might be to illuminate our distorted rationalization.
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 04:43 am
coberst, that was a very well written piece, but I'm not quite certain where you are headed with it. I like your idea of the middle class "voting rich", however, and that may be true. If so, that is political irony in its most perplexing form.
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 06:38 am
As an Englishman it is ironic to me that coberst analyses "irony"...a trait which Americans are said to have problems understanding. It reminds me of the apocryphal "German" who "having no sense of humour" asks for a joke to be "explained".

For some subtle tratment of irony I recommend the British comedian Eddie Izzard who indulges in free association involving Biblical stories. For example, he describes how Joseph and Mary arrive at the inn to be told there was no vacancy other than "the Nativity Room". The three wise men arrive bringing "Christmas presents" to Jesus who then asks "but where's my birthday presents ?".
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Steve 41oo
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 06:48 am
fresco wrote:
As an Englishman it is ironic to me that coberst analyses "irony"...a trait which Americans are said to have problems understanding. It reminds me of the apocryphal "German" who "having no sense of humour" asks for a joke to be "explained".

For some subtle tratment of irony I recommend the British comedian Eddie Izzard who indulges in free association involving Biblical stories. For example, he describes how Joseph and Mary arrive at the inn to be told there was no vacancy other than "the Nativity Room". The three wise men arrive bringing "Christmas presents" to Jesus who then asks "but where's my birthday presents ?".
It does seem to me at least that a much larger proportion of Americans than Brits have undergone irony bypass surgery.

Brit Its ironic..

American Dunno about that...I just dont trust those Ironians.
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 06:49 am
Hey, Fresco. O Henry is the prince of irony, and this American has a keen sense of exactly what it means. Aren't you generalizing a bit, Brit? <smile> I see your example of Mr. Izzard as more along the lines of humor that we refer to as a sense of the ridiculous.
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dadpad
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 06:50 am
ring a ring a rosie
a pocket full of posies
atissue atissue
we all fall down.

that lil rhyme conjures up scenes of small children at joyfull play whilst its original context was the plague.
Isnt that ironic.

Want irony ask an Aussie.
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 06:55 am
Well, Steve missed my bit of irony on the "empathy" thread. I wasn't ill at all. Razz

To me, the movie "Thank You for Smoking" was really ironic in that the lobbyist for the tobacco company who was kidnapped and covered with nicotine patches, then tucked away in a smoke filled room, survived it all because he was a smoker.
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coberst
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 07:15 am
Because I have been studying about the concept of irony I have been struck recently about the ironic nature of many things in present day events. One might see the irony in certain daily events.

The US threatens to rain down on Iraq, during the first 48 hours of war, thousands of smart bombs and rockets to punish Iraq for Iraq's WMD (weapons of mass destruction).

The US threatens to ignore the wishes of the UN in order to punish Iraq for ignoring the wishes of the UN.

Some might find irony in many of Bush's favorite expressions; "compassionate conservative", "uniter not a divider", "leave no child behind".

One is reminded of the statement during the Vietnam War made by US forces that it was necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 07:27 am
Exactly, coberst, and isn't it ironic that folks burned the homes and villages of those infected with bubonic plague, when all they did was to cause the rats to disperse, carrying with them the "fleas" of destruction.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 08:14 am
Re: Isn't it ironic?
coberst wrote:
"That was a smart thing to do!" (Meaning "very foolish").

That's not irony, that's sarcasm.

coberst wrote:
The book and movie "Catch 22" is totally constructed on this concept. We discover in the movie that the phrase "catch 22" refers to section 22 in the manuals psychiatrists were commanded to use when evaluating airmen who reported in sick complaining that they had become crazy because of the stress of flying the dangerous bombing missions.

Neither the book nor the movie say any such thing. There is no "section 22" referred to in the book or the movie. Heller chose "22" just because he thought it sounded good: in fact, he originally wanted to call his book "Catch-18."
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coberst
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 08:23 am
Re: Isn't it ironic?
joefromchicago wrote:
coberst wrote:
"That was a smart thing to do!" (Meaning "very foolish").

That's not irony, that's sarcasm.

coberst wrote:
The book and movie "Catch 22" is totally constructed on this concept. We discover in the movie that the phrase "catch 22" refers to section 22 in the manuals psychiatrists were commanded to use when evaluating airmen who reported in sick complaining that they had become crazy because of the stress of flying the dangerous bombing missions.

Neither the book nor the movie say any such thing. There is no "section 22" referred to in the book or the movie. Heller chose "22" just because he thought it sounded good: in fact, he originally wanted to call his book "Catch-18."


I can visualize the shrink explaning this section 22 to our protagonist. I do not think this is a dream I conjured up.
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Endymion
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 08:57 am
Quote:
With supreme irony, the war to "make the world safe for democracy" ended by leaving democracy more unsafe in the world than at any time since the collapse of the revolutions of 1848

James Harvey Robinson quotes (American historian, 1863-1936)



Is using the phrase "War on Terror" ironic - or something else?
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 10:25 am
Re: Isn't it ironic?
coberst wrote:
I can visualize the shrink explaning this section 22 to our protagonist. I do not think this is a dream I conjured up.

Doc Daneeka explains Catch-22 to Yossarian, but there is no "section 22."
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coberst
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Oct, 2006 10:44 am
ENDYMION wrote:
Quote:
With supreme irony, the war to "make the world safe for democracy" ended by leaving democracy more unsafe in the world than at any time since the collapse of the revolutions of 1848

James Harvey Robinson quotes (American historian, 1863-1936)



Is using the phrase "War on Terror" ironic - or something else?


I think it is just an inappropriate metaphor.
0 Replies
 
Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Mon 9 Oct, 2006 02:00 am
Dave Eggers has an amusing shtick on "irony" in the appendix to his book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius:

Quote:
You can't know how much it pains me to even have that word, the one beginning with i and ending in y, in this book. It's not a word I like to see, anywhere, much less type onto my own pages. It is beyond a doubt the most over-used and under-understood word we currently have.... Let's define irony as the dictionary does: the use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning. (There are lesser definitions, but they all serve this main one.) ... When someone kids around, it does not necessarily mean he or she is being ironic. That is, when one tells a joke, in any context, it can mean, simply, that a joke is being told. Jokes, thus, do not have to be ironic in order to be jokes. Further, satire is not inherently ironic. Nor is parody. Or any kind of comedy. Irony is a very specific and not all that interesting thing, and to use the word/concept to blanket half of all contemporary cultural production--which some ag├ęd arbiters seem to be doing (particularly with regard to work made by those under a certain age)--is akin to the too-common citing of "the Midwest" as the regional impediment to all national social progress (when we all know the "Midwest" is ten miles outside of any city). In other words, irony should be considered a very particular and recognizable thing, as defined above, and thus, to refer to everything odd, coincidental, eerie, absurd or strangely funny as ironic is, frankly, an abomination upon the Lord. [Re that last clause: not irony, but simple, wholesome, American-born exaggeration]. To illustrate the many more things that are not ironic but are often referred to as such, let's look at some sample sentences, starring a wee wayward pup know as Benji, and see if we can illuminate some distinctions.

SAMPLE: Benji was run over by a bus. Isn't that ironic?
NO: That is not ironic. That is unfortunate, but it is not ironic.

SAMPLE: It was a bright and sunny day when Benji was run over by a bus. Ironic, no?
AGAIN, NO: That is not irony. It is an instance of dissonance between weather and tragedy.

SAMPLE: It is ironic that Benji was on his way to the vet when he was run over by a bus.
STILL: That is not irony. That is a coincidence that might be called eerie.

SAMPLE: It is ironic that Benji was run over on the same day he misused the word ironic.
BUT SEE: This is, again, a coincidence. It is wonderfully appropriate that he was run over on this day, deserving as he was of punishment, but it is not ironic.

SAMPLE: Is it not ironic that on the side of the bus that ran over Benji was an advertisement for "The Late Show with David Letterman," a show which many consider often ironic?
OH, OH: No. No.
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aidan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Oct, 2006 01:54 am
That was a funny (though sad in some ways) book - and I'd almost have to say - the appendix is as entertaining as the text- anyone who skips it, misses out. I'm glad you posted that - I'd forgotten about that book. He's a master at deadpan, gallows humor - and I'd say irony as well - although now I feel like I have to reread it to make sure I'm not confusing irony with something else.

Coberst - How is "leave no child behind" ironic? I'm not in agreement with the policy as Bush would have it enacted - but I see the phrase as accurately describing the intent at least of the policy.
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coberst
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Oct, 2006 02:23 am
aidan wrote:


Coberst - How is "leave no child behind" ironic? I'm not in agreement with the policy as Bush would have it enacted - but I see the phrase as accurately describing the intent at least of the policy.


I do not know a great deal about how well this program is going and so I may have been hasty in making this comment. However, what I have heard leaves me to believe that, like most things Bush says, this program is primarily a political ploy with little thought to accomplshing its goal.

My information is that the program is unfunded and that it is ill conceived. Like you I think that many of the stated goals are very worth while. I will say that I am not completely convinced that it is a standard Bush boondoggle designed for votes but it appears so.
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aidan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Oct, 2006 02:42 am
I was just thinking - the real irony is not so much in the words themselves, but in the fact that it's Bush who's saying them. I guess he really means that no "American" child will be left behind - forget about all the Iraqi children who've absolutely no chance anymore of graduating from highschool...or any school for that matter...because they've fallen by the wayside as collateral damage. Now that's ironic - isn't it?

No child left behind is a great idea - but is impossible to implement as policy. Basically what he's saying is that he wants all children to achieve the same goal in the same amount of time and that no child should be allowed to fall behind or be forgotten. Which is great in theory, but the policy does not allow for the fact that different children learn at different rates or by different methods -and it ends up punishing those children who do not achieve set goals as measured by standardized testing - which these same children are notoriously bad at, instead of educating them. So the very children who are not supposed to fall behind - end up getting kicked out - because they run out of time in which to achieve Bush's set goals.
The intent was good - but the means of achieving it weren't logically thought out.
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coberst
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Oct, 2006 04:25 am
Aidan

Whoo! Aidan you have really hit upon the irony of this program "So the very children who are not supposed to fall behind - end up getting kicked out - because they run out of time in which to achieve Bush's set goals."

I was watching a recent program that pointed out this particular fact that in order to qualify for funds many schools throw overboard the children that they think cannot make the grade so that they can focus all attention upon those who are marginal but possible success.

If on examines the Bush years one can find devistating ironies. I suspect a teacher might ask the class to focus on the Bush years as a means to comprehend the meaning of irony. Perhaps the teacher of logic might do likewise when teaching logical fallacies.
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aidan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Oct, 2006 05:01 am
Quote:
I was watching a recent program that pointed out this particular fact that in order to qualify for funds many schools throw overboard the children that they think cannot make the grade so that they can focus all attention upon those who are marginal but possible success.

It's all a numbers game. I can't remember the exact percentages, but each school was allowed a certain percentage of failure in each category of student, so they redistributed kids to dilute the effect of failure and spread it out over all the groups.
In other words, since one child who was identified with special needs constituted a larger percentage in that smaller subset than he or she would in the general school population of non-identified children, the powers that be might suddenly decide that child no longer qualified for or had special needs, so that he or she was put back into the bigger population - where they knew he or she would still fail, but it wouldn't have as big as an impact, percentage wise.
So a lot of kids- mostly those who were detrimental to a school's numbers or chance of success, ie those who struggled- ended up having services and a chance for an education stripped from them- instead of having it enhanced in any way by this program.

Whether or not Bush or his advisors realized this would happen - I don't know. I prefer to think of them as not very bright and/or forward -thinking rather than just plain evil. Maybe that's not very logical of me, after all the evidence to the contrary.
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