Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Irony Through Oedipus


Yesterday’s missive pointed the crooked finger at poor Alanis Morissette for having butchered the meaning of irony eleven times in her hit song, Isn’t it Ironic. I’d like to soften that by applauding her power and pitch, as well as her having written a collection of songs that meant something to a generation of young girls who were inspired to develop a sense of self as a result of her talent, confidence and lyrics.

Besides which, irony is tough to get a handle on. Its simplest form is verbal irony, which amounts to sarcasm at its most base, and skilled one-upmanship at its most elevated. In order to qualify as verbal irony the standards are pretty pedestrian. Mere opposites will do, but still, in order to qualify as ironic, the words or ideas expressed must be directly related. When you call the bald guy Curly and the big guy Tiny, there’s your low-bar verbal irony. 

Dramatic irony originated with the traditions of Greek theater in which the protagonists would stand on the lip of the stage and speak to the audience, revealing their ignorance of the important events in their own lives. Oedipus fairly bleeds irony with his vow to avenge he who has brought a plague upon Thebes, when in fact it is he, the unwitting killer of Laius, who has incurred the wrath of the Gods. An even more complete example of dramatic irony is the fact that Oedipus can solve the riddle of the Sphinx, while the riddle of his own life is a mystery until the end.

We haven’t done irony justice despite having begun yesterday and despite approaching double the current preferred length for these blogs. And we haven’t even looked into situational irony, romantic irony, structural irony or the least interesting of all of the ironies, cosmic irony. Irony is a deep well indeed.