Humorous and Dramatic Irony

The  interesting  thing about irony  for me is that real  irony is far more sincere  than earnestness. To accept the absurdity of a situation is to accept the humanness of it. Utter sincerity suggests a kind of belief that one knows all there is to know about a given circumstance. That is not to say that one should ever make light of serious and grave and  important issues, but that open and genuine intellectual curiosity should never be a casualty in any situation. Irony is not always funny. Humor is not always ironic. — “Coming Home from Irony: An Interview with Percival Everett, Author of So Much Blue

When looking at choosing an epigraph to base my blog post on, the question of sincerity and accepting the humanness of a situation is what caught my eye in this particular circumstance. The idea that Percival Everett puts forth—about whether or not it is more sincere to be ironic than earnest in a situation—deals majorly with the concept of humor, and deciding if something is appropriate in a given situation. Of course, deciding if something is appropriate depends on that specific situation, but Everett’s argument remains: “That is not to say that one should ever make light of serious and grave and important issues, but that open and genuine intellectual curiosity should never be a casualty in any situation.” Is that true, however? Should we embrace irony in any situation, because of its open and genuine intellectual curiosity?

In my own first few weeks of English 203, irony seems to have found a comfortable place in our own classroom discussions. It is a common part of conversation, something a lot of us revert to and pick up on as a way to diffuse tension, and create connections with our peers. As an aspect of humor, this is to be expected. And this irony is not unwelcomed. At no point, as far as my observations can tell, has anyone made light of a situation through irony that has seemed inappropriate or distasteful—and we have covered a handful of serious, grave, and important issues already. Going forward, I would like to pay more attention to the use of irony in our class, maybe as a sort of experiment—but I digress.

To return to my own question: should we embrace irony in any situation, and should it never be a casualty, as Everett says? Regardless of whether or not we should, I believe that it’s true that there will always be those who will send an angry glare in the direction of the one who makes the ironic joke during a grave situation. With that aside, before I answer this question, I’d first like to try and define what Everett means by “casualty.” Does he mean that the use of irony in a conversation causes the end of the conversation itself? Or does he mean that the irony itself is the casualty? For the purpose of this post, I am going to agree with the former.

The reason that Everett gives for why irony should be embraced, and what drew my attention to this epigraph in the first place, is that irony is more sincere than earnestness. That “to accept the absurdity of a situation is to accept the humanness of it.” Once again, this sort of belief is very situational. For one to be earnest in this way, there must be an absurdity to identify first. But that seems obvious. At this point, I’d like to look to one of the texts that we have been studying in class. In Frenzy, by Percival Everett, the god Dionysos seems to utilize irony frequently. In fact, throughout the novel his tone seems to be majorly based around the concept of irony. Either that, or some similar form of blasé humor. 

“Still, there is something missing. I think the true cell of a god is conceit,” says Dionysos on page eleven of Frenzy. There are a multitude of moments in the novel where Dionysos makes observations such as this—many times when he is examining his own existence. The true irony, an irony that doesn’t quite catch up with the humorous kind, I believe, is that while Dionysos is seen as the god of frenzy and experience, he is prevented by his own divinity from experiencing full sensation—a fact that this quote supports, as Dionysos goes on to use Vlepo to try and gain that full experience, seemingly to no avail.

At this point, I’d like to differentiate two different varieties of irony that I can observe. There is the humorous, intellectual kind of humor that Everett talks about in the epigraph above, and there is the dramatic irony, the kind of irony when one examines the existence of Dionysos in Frenzy. The kind of irony that is the product of a sequence of events and apparent misfortune that pertains more to one’s empathy than to a sense of humor. In the end, Everett engages in both—but it seems that it may be more acceptable to play upon that light, humorous irony than the dramatic in conversation.

In this blog post I’ve engaged an amalgamation of ideas—Everett’s idea that irony is perhaps more sincere that earnestness, whether or not it is appropriate to embrace irony in any situation because of its open and genuine intellectual curiosity, and the potential difference between humorous and dramatic irony. In the end, I believe it comes down to a matter of opinion , whether or not irony is appropriate in a situation. As for my opinion—I recognize the sincerity of it. So on that end, I agree with Percival Everett.

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