Hi everyone, today I'd like to write a short (lol) thread about a topic that comes up again and again in both leftist circles and discourse at large surrounding media. I don't have a definitive argument to put forward, but I hope to encourage discussion and to invite all of you to think critically and make steps towards a clearer understanding of what is often a rather hazy concept. I'll use CWs but be advised I'll be discussing upsetting things throughout.

So, without further ado: irony.

"Irony", when it's not used in the Alanis Morissette way, has two meanings. It is either

1) A local figure of speech, consisting of saying one thing to mean its opposite

2) A generalised attitude characterised by the playful espousal of gestures and ideas without ever fully committing to any of them

While I'll mostly be using "irony" to mean the first definition, the second definition is useful to keep in mind and will come into play over the course of the argument.

What I'm interested in here is irony when it is used in jokes. The first two views I would like to disagree with are the idea that it's always OK, and the idea that it's never OK.

The idea that irony is always OK is usually put forward with the idea that you can say anything as long as it's a joke. This is ridiculous. It implicitly lets the person making the statement decide if what they said is a joke, which implies that anyone can say anything as long as they follow it up with "just joking"

People should be held morally responsible for what they say, which means they can't be given a get-out-of-jail-free card by claiming it's a joke. When you make a joke about something, you're still saying something about that thing. Most of the time what you're saying is utterly inconsequential, but sometimes it isn't. In any case, nothing is ever "just a joke" because every joke is a also a statement.

Then there's the idea that irony is always bad, an idea that I have seen leftists occasionally throw around. This is also ridiculous. In Western culture, the first great ironist was Socrates, who over the course of the Socratic Dialogues, playfully espouses different ideas before dismissing them. Ironic thinking is essential to our continued becoming as people. You can renounce irony but you can't ever be rid of it (how ironic).

So, how can we tell when we're using irony right and when we're using it wrong? This is where it gets complicated, and in order to being to answer this question, we need to start looking into how irony actually functions.

If irony is saying something to mean something else, all ironic statements contain within themselves the possibility that someone might take them literally, miss out on the ironic tone and/or context.

Irony is always exclusionary, because it divides its audience into two groups: those that get it, and those that don't. Even if every human being in the world takes an ironic statement the same way, in order to realise that it's ironic they must first glean the statement's ironic meaning. Before you become the person who gets it, you are always first the person who doesn't get it. Irony always creates a grey area.

Horrible rape joke by horrible man 

Bad things happening to children; poverty (A Modest Proposal) 

Bad things happening to children; poverty (A Modest Proposal) 

Bad things happening to children; poverty (A Modest Proposal) 

Horrible rape joke by horrible man 

Horrible rape joke by horrible man 

However, I don't think that irony undoes morality permanently. Quite the opposite. When we read A Modest Proposal, we go on a journey. First we think through its literal meaning, then we consider its ironic meaning (the opposite of what it says), and finally we arrive at our own conclusion, which in this case, is to disagree with the literal meaning.

Irony is dialectical.

So when you're writing an ironic joke and trying to figure out whether it's going to work, try to think of meaning not as something fixed, but as a journey. Think of the different places, the different things you are inviting your reader to consider, think of where they are going to land, and of how obvious this landing point is.


The simplest way of thinking through this is to use Goethe's three questions:

- What are you trying to do? i. e. What is your intended meaning?

- How well are you doing it? i. e. Is this intended meaning sufficiently clear?

- Was it worth doing? i. e. Is the conclusion you want your reader to arrive at worth the journey you're taking them on?

And... that's gonna be my conclusion. Thank you so much for reading, and please share your thoughts and criticisms with me!

@garfiald you make fair points and i agree with the whole thing, but in a way this means that it boils down to: make the thing you are saying so obscenely bad and disagreeable that people will get it's not your actual opinion. this is, i think, dangerous because there's literally no upper limit to how ridiculous someone's opinions can be. i think what's missing here is that it's important to not dehumanize yourself and make sure irony happens in a space where people know you mean no harm

@garfiald on a related note. i think this whole thing we've been doing in all kinds of writing for a while now where The Author is this abstract, objective blob of a narrator..... is fucking boring. and if you can feel what kind of person is writing the thing you're reading, interpreting irony also becomes a lot easier

@neufv I can see what you're saying. Our sense of who the writer and/or narrator of a text is is extremely important to our understanding of it. However, I do think that the idea of the Author as a textual function rather than a person is useful because it gets rid of the idea of authorial intent, which I don't think is a very useful one. The best approach is probably a mix of both: don't assume that intent determines meaning, but don't assume that it doesn't matter who the author is either

@garfiald no i mean. it has a function. obviously. i just want to say i think it's refreshing when people make their own personality more visible in their writing and don't hide that they are an actual person

@garfiald ok Garf, you win, I give up. I **will** listen to the song 'Ironic' and not complain about the lyrics. You didn't need to make a whole thread just to get me to listen to the damn song....

@CornishRepublicanArmy confession: i havent heard a single alanis morissette song, including ironic. i had to look up the lyrics to make sure she does get the meaning of "irony" wrong

@garfiald what, it's like one of the most classic 90s pop songs of all time. how did you not know it?

@garfiald we're the same age.... I just mean like, growing up in the 2000s you must have heard it a bunch, even in Frog-land

@CornishRepublicanArmy not consciously. if i heard it again i wouldnt be like "oh thats alanis morissette" best you could hope for is id vaguely recognise it

I've always thought that they were ironic from the lens of a young person. What's unexpected is fundamentally linked to life experience and what you've learned from those experiences.

@garfiald one criticism: neurodivergent people are not always going to "get" the irony. they're not going to go on that "journey" and arrive at the same place.

another criticism: psychologically, repetition only *strengthens* belief in something, **even if you are actually refuting it!** clarity of communication is only one factor of being understood; you need to take into account / correct for humans' psychological biases. being sincere and bringing up unfamiliar information is most effective.

@trwnh All instances of meaning-making have the potential to fail according to a wide range of factors. No meaning is ever "fully accessible" for fairly obvious reasons, it is our responsibility to be mindful of the situations in which we intervene, which includes modifying our forms of expression to suit the needs of our interlocutors. In other words, no technique or attitude should be condemned solely on the basis that it is potentially exclusionary, all means of signification are.

@trwnh The point about repetition is perfectly valid, if one's objective is to argue a flatly truthful case, or to educate within a certain context. Irony is a figure of style which, most of the time, occurs when one is using language for more artistic or frivolous purposes, or as a rhetorical flourish to aid persuasion. I agree that, as a systematic means of educating people or spreading ideas, it is ill-suited.

@garfiald my point about repetition is more along the lines of how ironic statements are still statements. i'm saying that for irony to work, it has to be novel. it cannot simply use existing statements, for it risks being taken at face value, *consciously or not.*

corollary: "how propaganda works" -- the mere expression of the thought reifies it, no matter how artistic or frivolous it may be. "you are not immune to propaganda"

@garfiald to hearken back to your example of why A Modest Proposal can be seen as good satire: no one was making the assertion that poor children should be eaten. not only was it absurd, it was completely novel. there was no exisiting social analogue to compare it to, no party who might seriously espouse such a position. there was no repetition or reification of an existing line of thought.


*Reading this years later...*
I always thought you were just a very good shitposter, but turns out you're smart

@lastprincess oh thank you so much, that's so kind of you to say!

@garfiald this thread just federated to my instance from way back in the stone age of 2018
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