Literature and Irony
Examine ironic aspects of the following 5 literary works:
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Sophocles: Oedipus the King
Quote important passages, and incorporate in the commentary some of the theoretical concepts listed below.
Irony has been described as “[a] broad term referring to the recognition of a reality different from appearance” (William Harmon, A Handbook to Literature, 12th ed. [Boston: Longman-Pearson, 2012] 259).
In The Compass of Irony (1969; London: Methuen, 1980), D. C. Muecke discusses what he calls the “three essential elements” of irony (19-20), the third of which he describes as “an element of ‘innocence’; either a victim is confidently unaware of the very possibility of there being an upper level or point of view that invalidates his own, or an ironist pretends not to be aware of it” (20). The character victimized or misled by an ironic event or situation is often called an alazon. On the other hand, the self-aware ironist, frequently termed an eiron, merely feigns to be unaware of gaps between illusion and reality. After defining irony (e.g., as Harmon does), identify and analyze pivotal examples of Muecke’s “element of [ironic] ‘innocence’” (real and/or pretended) in the texts that you have chosen to discuss in this paper.
You may also find it useful to refer in your commentary to these thoughts of Claire Colebrook (Irony [New York: Routledge, 2004]): “Irony, even at its most obvious, is always diagnostic and political: to read the irony you do not just have to know the context; you also have to be committed to specific beliefs and positions within that context. Irony must be partial and selective. . . . In order for the irony to work there must be some possible speakers who would believe or intend what is being said” (12).
These ideas of Linda Hutcheon (Irony’s Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony [New York: Routledge, 1994]) may also prove helpful for this project: “. . . [I]rony happens because what could be called ‘discursive communities’ already exist and provide the context for both the deployment and attribution of irony. We all belong simul¬ta¬ne¬ously to many such communi¬ties of discourse . . .” (18). “. . . [I]t is the [discursive] com¬munity . . . that . . . enables the irony to happen” (89). Hutcheon defines the notion of “discur¬sive com¬mu¬¬¬nities” as “the complex configuration of shared knowledge, beliefs, values, and commu¬ni¬cative strate¬gies” (91).
In the conclusion briefly summarize what is consider to be, for a student of literature, the most significant ideas that will have discussed in the preceding pages.
Include a page reference for each passage cited, and provide complete bibliographical information for any print or online sources other than the assigned anthology, indicating clearly in each case where the borrowing occurs.
For one of the sources please use The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Gen. ed. Martin Puchner. 3rd ed. Vol. A, B, and C. New York: Norton, 2012. Print. ISBN 978-0-393-93365-9.
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