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L ’Esprit C réateur Vaheed K. Ramazani. T he F ree I ndirect M od e: F laubert and the P oetics of Irony. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1988. Pp. xiii + 159. Professor Ramazani has taken on an extremely thorny topic that has preoccupied many previous critics: the relationship between free indirect discourse and irony in Flaubert. His aim is to pinpoint the precise nature of that relationship by drawing on contemporary theories of narratology and of irony and applying them to Madame Bovary. Occasional reference is also made to parallel techniques in L ’Education sentimentaleand in Bouvardet Pécuchet, but it is Madame Bovary that is the central paradigmatic object of Ramazani’s scrutiny. He opens with a chapter entitled “Towards a Definition of Verbal Irony” (1-34) in which he rehearses current views on irony, beginning with the well-known ideas of Douglas C. Muecke and Wayne C. Booth. Considerable attention is devoted to the complex, linguis­ tically based propositions of Catherine Kerbrat-Orrecchioni. While the chapter offers a competent survey of ironology, it seems curious that its primary focus is verbal irony when Ramazani will later deal extensively with romantic irony, which is not discussed in this lay­ ing of the theoretical bases. This proves to be one of the main weaknesses of this otherwise subtle study. Ramazani is a good reader, more interesting in his immediate confrontation of textual passages than in his exposition of theory, which he tends to accept rather than to assess. Particularly in the long core chapter, “The Language of Illusion and the Illusion of Language” (51-110), he shows shrewd insight into the interface between the free indirect mode and irony. He analyzes in relation to specific examples how free indirect speech comes to denote irony, and suggests that the irony arises from the false authority that the grammatical features of free indirect discourse impart to the figurai discourse. Mismatched images are meticulously aligned as if their logical incoherence might be compensated by exaggerated formal coherence. The free indirect mode is identified as the site where seman­ tic ambiguity and the foregrounded signifier converge as “the consummate code of artifice, for it combines overt narrational artisanry, mimetic indeterminacy, and the grammatical semantic markers of distance and substantiality” (110). The last chapter, “Of Mind and Matter” (111-28), is the most controversial as Rama­ zani contextualizes his findings in critical theory, notably Barthes, and explores their implications for the reading of Madame Bovary. He rightly emphasizes the innate ambiva­ lence of Flaubert’s practices and their resistance to categorization into distinctive types of irony so that it becomes impossible to answer the question: “qui parle?” Ramazani is here repeating in contemporary terminology observations already made by other critics, includ­ ing Benjamin Bart and John Porter Houston, whose work he does not cite, perhaps because his horizon is limited to post-structuralist criticism. His uncertain understanding of roman­ tic irony, especially of its philosophical bases, leads him to some sloppy usages of the term. More important, by discounting the possibility of transcendence, central to the concept of romantic irony, Ramazani locks the reader into a deconstructively pessimistic position. Yet, as this book shows once again, Flaubert’sirony presents the reader with the excitement of a constantly renewed challenge. L ilian R. F ürst University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill 112 Fa ll 1989 ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
p. 112
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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