Irony and Deconstruction

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Irony had an ironic origin. The Greek word eironeia was found to be first used in the corpus of Artic text where it stood for negative qualities that are referred to as cunning, falsity and deceit. We can even find Plato advocating death for the ironist. Ironists were viewed as those who engaged in sophistry that used language to hide the truth. But we can trace a positive dimension of irony in Plato. It centres around the method of Socrates that asks questions so that his pupil could think straight while thinking in circles. The statement, ‘thinking straight while thinking in circles’ is a good example of irony. Socratic irony is a pedagogy. Hence it was thought to be the inversion of meaning that was not malicious or intended to deceive. By the first century, AD irony had come to embrace positive meaning and was thought to be a clever mode of exposition. During the medieval ages, irony came to mean art that denies what it says. It was used to bring an effect of praise to blame. To a large extent, irony is transgressive, ex-centric and marginal. It is thought of as a space between. It is the excessive moment that can take the reading of the text in unforeseen directions. This is why Irony and deconstruction are cousins

Irony produces a sense of disjunction. It brings us to an impasse. We arrive at a gap between what is said/ written and what is meant. It is a crack between what was expected and what has occurred. It lives between the expressed and the excess. It is viewed as a figurative/ tropological flourish beyond the literal and authorial meaning and intention. This is why irony manifests us the semantic richness of a text. While such a richness and flourish is the crafty work of the authorial prowess, language itself is said to be embedded with structures of irony. If we see irony only as of the product of authorial dexterity, we reduce irony to merely an aesthetic practice. Language has its own counter-movements that stay outside the control of the author. This is the beyond that is within the language. It is the beyond of grammar that is also within the grammar. It is the excess that is generated by the divisions and connections of the textual web that the non-propositional and nonthetic translogic does not attempt to suppress. It is because of the structure of irony that stays beyond and within the language that deconstruction of the text is possible. There is a profound relation between irony and deconstruction. Irony names the unsytematizable excess and deconstruction recognizes it. Deconstruction in other words recognizes the happening of irony. Deconstructive reading is therefore a reading that does not suppress or diffuse the workings of irony. Thus, deconstruction makes it possible for us to explode the text beyond its author, form and language.

The irony is the hyphenation of the extremes. It is a movement of conjunction and disjunction between signs and as such cannot be thought of as a single pole or a point. This means irony is a double attitude/ movement itself. The countermovements of irony names the unmasterable excess that the play of signs/words produces. This means irony is a product of engagement with language. It is not one that marks aesthetic distance. It is not antithetic. It is non-thetic. It does not close the play of the two poles/ signs/ words by putting them into dialectical pulsations but one that is opening them to a hyphenation that enables us to think the two poles together. Thus, it becomes open to the coming of the other meaning. It draws this other meaning through circumlocution. It means irony speaks indirectly. It tries to identify places where the texture of the texts undo themselves by inadvertently saying precisely that which they are constructed not to say. This means the texts say what they are not to say. They unsay what they are inscribed to say. They become rebellious and betray themselves. This is deconstruction at work in our reading of these texts. This shows that the texts are unstable, undecidable and explosively give way to meanings that they are forbidden to give. In other words, the text can speak in multiple voices. They transgress and speak ‘in tongues’. Hence, there cannot be a last word on the meanings shooting out of the texts. We have to be open to this elasticity, fecundity and uncertainty of the texts. We have to wait for the unforeseen deconstructive readings to come.

Irony in this sense is deeply ethical. It is a responsible engagement that recognises the irony that is involved in such engagements. The responsible step is always an ironic step. This means our responsible step of hospitality to one becomes simultaneously an irresponsible step of hostility to the other. This does not mean that we do not have to have to reach out to each other. We cannot promote inaction/statis. It only alerts us that each step taken should never be glorified as the only step. We cannot reach the last step. There are always more steps to come. Thus the play of irony and deconstruction performs a relentless critique of the structures of totalitarianism in all its forms. By letting the repressed speak, irony and deconstruction perform their ethical call. They resist tendencies to totalise otherness through incorporation or exclusion of difference. We can notice the imperative of the other at work in performatives of irony and deconstruction. This is some way manifests that irony resists all shades of totalization. It can indeed open us to the path of revolutions that have no known models. This means irony does not stand in the horizon of closure that closes us. It remains in the open horizon and enables us to welcome the other who is always in the coming.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao