Saturday, July 17, 2010

Oh, the Irony

Are we irony deficient?
by Ann Diamond

What is dramatic irony and why is the world so flat without it? Why is it opposed to authorial omniscience? Because an omniscient narrator does not make mistakes, but a narrator possessed by irony is a walking disaster, a ticking time-bomb of irreconcilable opposites, propelled forward by delusory beliefs and blatant self-deception.

Few writers would dare to appear naked in public the way Madame Bovary does. When an author is in control, the reader is a spectator, reduced to complicit admiration, mere aesthetic appreciation. but when dramatic irony is present, our emotions are engaged -- horror, pity, outrage, cynicism, shock, disbelief.

Dramatic irony is the difference between a picturesque stroll and a roller-coaster to hell. Where third-person omniscience creates distance and complacency, irony stimulates emotion, revulsion and a desire to overthrow the human condition.

Why do many writers of autobiography abhor irony? Irony interferes with our urge to self-perfection. It disrupts our presumed values and exposes dark motives under the surface of pious pretence.

Dramatic irony is what leaps on stage through the ripped curtain of our badly-acted, hastily scripted lives. And when it’s allowed to work its magic, it steals the show.

Strangely, though, only beginning writers really seem comfortable the power of nudity, or the hilarious fallout that can result from an excess of honesty, poured directly onto the page.

One thing we all hate to be is unconsciously funny, or pathetically unaware of the sad truth of our lives. So authors strive to be authorial, and first novels are rewritten to eliminate dramatic irony, because it threatens to escape our control.

Some examples of ironic plot-lines we have refused to explore:

(1) the quest for "love" that devolves into jealousy, hatred, utter defeat

(2) any quest for personal greatness

(3) the truth of our own victim-hood

When we push ourselves to our limits and beyond, we become ridiculous. The last thing we really want is the shock of true recognition, the kind that unleashes complex emotions in our audience. So as authors struggle for omniscience, they rewrite some of their best scenes, strip away emotional values and replace them with socially acceptable ones.

Without irony, stories slip into staid formulae.
Truth is a powerful form of therapy that many people simply refuse to have anything to do with. And truth, these days, is often plastered with irony.

In the 20th century, anxiety took over our lives and popular fiction. In the 21st, we entered the realm of the universal lie. The mind-numbing violence on TV and in Hollywood films is really a turning away from irony – and from our inborn ability to see past surfaces. Violence is the most imprisoning plot there is. It's the triumph of fear and self-loathing, and our religions are soaked in violence.
In a world of flying shrapnel, , there’s no place for triumphant language that states only one side of the case. Words like “love” for example, have longer horns than a Papal Bull.

Blame New Agers and their positive affirmations for the omnipresence of kitsch, irony’s retarded twin. Blame the 'Christians’ who twist reality to give Armageddon a nice little Hollywood dénouement.

Irony happens in the realm of sudden, massive reversal -- of climaxes that overturn everything we thought we cherished and believed.
Starved for irony? Try this simple mantra: “I am an irony magnet.”
In no time, you’ll be covered in a sturdy chainmail coat. Which – believe me -- we’ll all be needing in the days to come.