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Irony on Occasion:From Schlegel and Kierkegaard to Derrida and de Man

From Schlegel and Kierkegaard to Derrida and de Man

Kevin Newmark

Publication Year: 2012

What is it about irony--as an object of serious philosophical reflection and a literary technique of considerable elasticity--that makes it an occasion for endless critical debate? This book responds to this question by focusing on several key moments in German Romanticism and its afterlife in twentieth-century French thought and writing. It includes chapters on Friedrich Schlegel, Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, Jean Paulhan, Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida, and Paul de Man. A coda traces the way unresolved tensions inherited from Romanticism resurface in a novelist like J. M. Coetzee. But this book is neither a historical nor a thematic study of irony. To the degree that irony initiates a deflection of meaning, it also entails a divergence from historical and thematic models of understanding. The book therefore aims to respect irony's digressive force by allowing it to emerge from questions that sometimes have little or nothing to do with the ostensible topic of irony. For if irony is the possibility that whatever is being said does not coincide fully with whatever is being meant, then there is no guarantee that the most legitimate approach to the problem would proceed directly to those places where "irony" is named, described, or presumed to reside. Rather than providing a history of irony, then, this book examines particular occasions of ironic disruption. It thus offers an alternative model for conceiving of historical occurrences and their potential for acquiring meaning.

Published by: Fordham University Press

title page, copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Many of the people I never met, it goes without saying, played a crucial role in the elaboration of this book. A number of colleagues and students with whom I have worked or crossed paths at lectures, conferences, and in classrooms have contributed in ways that would be difficult to circumscribe with precision. ...

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Introduction: Irony on Occasion

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pp. 1-12

If it is true that a book can always be traced back to an occasion from which it must have started out, then the initial occasion for writing this book was not exactly irony. The chapter that was written earliest and which therefore stands more or less at its source is entitled “Fear and Trembling”—an essay that in the first instance ought to be about faith. ...

Part 1: Romantic Irony

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pp. 13-14

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1. Friedrich Schlegel and the Myth of Irony

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pp. 15-40

The peculiar status of irony within the literary and philosophical tradition is perhaps best illustrated by the vexing questions that always hover over its founder and chief exemplar, Socrates. Was Socrates a model pedagogue or a seducer and corrupter of innocent youth? Was his method of rigorous ignorance a path leading to negative knowledge ...

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2. Taking Kierkegaard Apart: The Concept of Irony

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pp. 41-65

The basic crux of a reading of Kierkegaard remains the same today as it was when he was first being widely read and discussed in Europe during the early twentieth century: how to understand his theory and technique of indirect communication. It is only by neglecting the centrifugal force exerted by this question on his entire oeuvre that it is possible to underestimate ...

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3. Modernity Interrupted: Kierkegaard’s Antigone

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pp. 66-95

Every so often, and driven by a slightly different critical impulse in each case, a new collection of scholarly essays dedicated to the writings of Søren Kierkegaard appears.1 One can hardly doubt the enduring importance of Kierkegaard for literary, philosophical, and religious study, yet identifying this significance with any genuine precision, ...

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4. Reading Kierkegaard: To Keep Intact the Secret

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pp. 96-120

Taking another look at the way someone like Sylviane Agacinski reads Kierkegaard would be of considerable interest for a number of reasons. First of all, it helps to disclose the way that major philosophical writers such as Kierkegaard seem to engender in their wake at least two very different, perhaps incompatible, types of intellectual reception. ...

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5. Fear and Trembling: “Who Is Able to Understand Abraham?”

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pp. 121-146

Just how serious was Socrates when he claimed to know nothing? “When Socrates said that he was without knowledge [uvidende],” Kierkegaard writes, summing up his treatment of Socratic irony near the end of his thesis, “he nevertheless did know something, for he knew about his ignorance [Uvidenhed]; ...

Part 2: Postromantic Irony

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pp. 147-148

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6. Signs of the Times: Nietzsche, Deconstruction, and the Truth of History

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pp. 149-176

When it comes to the state of the university, the current situation seems fraught with uncertainties for the future. Today, perhaps more than ever, there is a sense of crisis in and around the academy, especially concerning the humanities. Most recently, of course, the crisis has been cast in predominantly financial terms, ...

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7. Death in Venice: Irony, Detachment, and the Aesthetic Stat

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pp. 177-202

It would certainly be ironic, as they say, if it turned out that one of the most celebrated theorists and practitioners of irony in the twentieth century had actually misconstrued what makes irony into such an unruly and troublesome factor within the discourses of literature and philosophy alike. Such may indeed be the case for Thomas Mann, ...

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8. Terrible Flowers: Jean Paulhan and the Irony of Rhetoric

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pp. 203-221

How is literature possible? The question is actually the title of an essay written by Maurice Blanchot, which is itself a response to a most enigmatic book by the French editor, critic, writer, and literary theoretician Jean Paulhan, called Les Fleurs de Tarbes, ou, La Terreur dans les lettres (The Flowers of Tarbes, or, The Terror in Literature).1 ...

Part 3: The Irony of Tomorrow

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pp. 221-222

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9. On Parole: Legacies of Saussure, Blanchot, and Paulhan

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pp. 223-241

Nothing could be simpler, or so it might seem, than to know what it means to take someone at their word. But when that someone is a writer, and that writer is named Maurice Blanchot, then the question of his giving us his word, or of our taking him at his word, can become a source of genuine anguish, if not outright despair. ...

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10. “What Is Happening Today in Deconstruction”

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pp. 242-260

In all likelihood, bibliographies will one day reveal that none of the proper names, movements, currents, or themes comprising the many strands of French thought in the twentieth century solicited more or more varied attempts at description and definition than deconstruction. No doubt, it also produced the most frustration, ...

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11. Bewildering: Paul de Man, Poetry, Politics

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pp. 261-281

It is no easy task to determine the proper place of the “political” within the writings of Paul de Man. The difficulties inherent in the question stem not so much from the absence of references to history and politics in his writing—on the contrary; it is a rare text by de Man that does not mention law, politics, economics, social unrest, war, or revolution. ...

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Coda: Dark Freedom in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace

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pp. 282-296

What is the relationship between freedom and knowledge? Is it possible to be free without knowing it? Alternatively, is there something about knowledge and its conditions of possibility that imposes exacting limits upon the concept and experience of freedom? These are among the questions that emerge from reading J. M. Coetzee’s strangely disturbing novel Disgrace.1 ...


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pp. 297-350


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pp. 351-370

E-ISBN-13: 9780823249398
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823240128
Print-ISBN-10: 0823240126

Page Count: 380
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Rulfo, Juan -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Irony.
  • Literature -- Philosophy.
  • Philosophy in literature.
  • Romanticism.
  • Deconstruction.
  • Criticism.
  • Literature, Modern -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.
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