The case against irony

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Taken to be the essential feature of all literature, irony is actually quite problematic. Inseparable from the invention of the West by way of the Oriental society of Greece (above all, in Plato), irony enters the modern literary scene at the confluence of forms of labour, vestigial notions of medieval craft, an ethics of dissimulation, and an attack on dialectical thought. Indeed, there is a largely neglected tradition of hostility towards irony within dialectical thought, which leads to an aesthetic outlook on the world that, for a variety of historical reasons, has been most prominent in the global periphery. Irony is understood here as much more than a literary figure - As being, rather, a "standpoint" or position. It is impossible to decouple our largely uncritical reception of irony from the triumph of literary modernism, and so any attempt (as in this article) to question forms of "peripheral modernism" requires a critical revision of our welcome to irony itself, which is not essential to literature, and has in fact colonized it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-394
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Commonwealth Literature
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2014


  • Dialectics
  • Dissimulation
  • Irony
  • Modernism
  • Periphery


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