Anyway, I'm back to the usual much work and travail. But I decided to get back into the posting mode by talking about "irony". That's because I was reading a book about the big economic crisis we mostly avoided, and about the bankers involved, and there's a line about how pre-crisis-- I'll paraphrase here, because I don't recall the details-- "(name of bank) CEO (name of CEO) bought a $25 million apartment on the Upper East Side, ironically, the same apartment once owned by (another bank) CEO (name of CEO)."
Well, of course, I have to grouse about this. Coincidence does not an irony make. Just because two rich guys in the same line of work at some point own the same apartment in the same banker-friendly area of Manhattan doesn't make it even that much of a coincidence-- I mean, who but bank-bonus-babies can afford $25M apartments? It's sort of like saying that by a huge coincidence, both I and my neighbor happen to go out to dinner at a nearby restaurant Friday night. Well, no, it's not that big a coincidence, since it's Friday night and the restaurant is nearby.
Anyway, this got me thinking about what REALLY makes for irony. What would make Banker A and Banker B both owning the same apartment (at different times) ironic, do you think?
Well, let's define dramatic irony. I was taught it's a disparity between what the audience understands and the character understands, but I don't like that, because it seems to me that it's not just perception that makes an event ironic. (That is, wouldn't an ironic event be ironic even if no one notices?) Most of the dictionary definitions hit this distinction between the audience and character, but... but that supposes 1) the audience makes the irony by noticing it, thereby requiring an audience, and 2) the character doesn't notice the irony and certainly doesn't create it deliberately.
Oedipus understands the irony of his situation, I think, that in trying to figure out who the murderer is, he outs himself.
Iago certainly MEANS to be ironic when he praises Othello (trying to make Othello trust him). (But it's more than just a ploy... Iago wants to trick Othello, in order to prove himself superior... hmm... the audience realizes that. Does Iago?)
Stephen Colbert means to be ironic when he pretends to want to be the Bush White House press secretary and tells reporters, ""But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!"
So while a disconnect between the character and the audience can be ironic (it was certainly ironic that the White House correspondents refused to get the joke :), I wouldn't say it's necessary. (Maybe the "character" is Othello? The WH correspondents?)
What's necessary? Well, juxtaposition, I think. That is, two events or people or somethings have to be juxtaposed, whether it's Colbert's view of White House reporters and their own self-images ("the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage....") or Iago's desire to destroy Othello and Othello's belief in his loyalty.
But "juxtaposition" is more than opposition and more than coincidence, right? To juxtapose means that something is overlaid on something else (that is, they're connected, as both are about, say, Iago's feelings for Othello), but slanted or cock-eyed somehow. They aren't identical or parallel (as, ahem, when two rich bankers in the same wealth class and professional circle buy the same apartment), but related and distinct.
Also I think the irony has to mean something, has to show us something in a different light. Coincidence doesn't do that. ("Gee! I never knew that rich people bought expensive apartments!" Uh, no.) With Oedipus, there are several messages that come out of the juxtaposition, the "be careful what you wish for" one, for example, and "truth might set you free, but it's lies that make you happy". "That which makes you great (curiosity, a desire for truth) will bring you down" is quite ironic, I think.
Colbert's irony has the meaning that it's really hard to be tough on the president when you have dinner with him and depend on him for news.
Iago's ironic situation has the meaning that the ones we trust the most have the greatest power to betray us.
(Hmm. What's ironic? The event or the lines? That is, is what Colbert said ironic? Or just the event that what most people found wickedly funny left the reporters in stony silence? Or both? Is it just Iago's observations which are ironic, or the position he puts Othello in?) (Is it the juxtaposition that is ironic, or the result?)
So... anyway. Let's go back to the bankers and the expensive apartment. What would make that event of buying the same apartment truly ironic?
The dh suggests that the first banker was being bugged by the FBI, and the second banker gets caught in the net and arrested. I was thinking that would be -really- ironic if Banker 1 was Banker 2's idol, and that 2 bought the apartment because he so admired 1 and wanted to be like him. THEN he finds out the FBI had bugs all over the apartment? Would it be more or less ironic if what he really admired about 1 was his "honesty and ethics"?
What if 2 got the apartment at a huge discount because he'd ruined 1 in some deal, and 1 had to sell to avoid foreclosure, and so 2 feels like he triumphed over 1 and the symbol of this is the apartment... and it's the apartment that eventually leads to his downfall (because the FBI had it bugged)?
What's the diff between ironical speech and sarcasm? Was Iago just being sarcastic?
How much of this requires an involved and savvy audience? Can the banker's downfall be ironic even if there's no audience to it? (But don't we at least like to imagine #1's glee at reading of #2's arrest?)
Irony is important in fiction and drama, and juxtaposition is REALLY important. Okay, so is juxtaposition always ironic? Is irony always funny?
Here's an example of something I think gets meaning from juxtaposition but maybe isn't ironic (though it requires a savvy audience), Rhonda in Big Love singing "Happiest Girl." If you know the show (which kind of grows on me, though I think it's annoying
So here she is, singing this "happy song" and she looks (and is) miserable. (She's also a lying manipulator, and that tests our sympathy... but she is a victim.) Also she's singing a song about the love between equals ("You make my lunch and I'll make yours"), and monogamy, and she's the powerless child bride of an aging but still very powerful polygamist.
Is that irony? Or just juxtaposition? Does the juxtaposition create irony or subtext? Is irony subtext, or is subtext irony, or???
And more important than the audience almost is the author-- there's a writer who is forcing these two things into juxtaposition. (I mean, selection is all in irony, isn't it? It wouldn't be ironic if she were singing, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.") So does there have to be a consciousness of the irony before it's even presented to the audience?
Does anyone use irony much? What are your thoughts about this? I think I use "meaningful juxtaposition," but I don't know if it's ironic.
I am wrestling with a character who is deliberately and self-consciously ironic, and I'm finding it hard to make any dramatic irony... I think because he's his own audience, noticing the irony. (Oscar Wilde's characters were like that, come to think of it.)
Alicia (who thinks what befell the bankers wasn't ironic enough :)