- Irony, Deception and Humour: Seeking the Truth about Overt and Covert Untruthfulness by Marta Dynel, and: Irony in Language Use and Communication ed. by Angeliki Athanasiadou and Herbert L. Colston
De Gruyter Mouton, 2018. Pp. 487. $114.99.
John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2017. Pp. 282. $143.00.
Irony is a much debated figure of speech—a thing most speakers and listeners can sense intuitively yet a thing that evades definition. Despite intense scholarly scrutiny, it remains an enigma. "If metaphor is rhetoric's most studied figure," observes Willison, "irony is its most notorious" (Irony 71). Metaphor is something much more identifiable and psychologically neutral than its "evil twin," irony. Irony has the power to make one squirm, cop a sardonic grin, feel pity for its victim, and feel especially attacked if they, themselves, are that victim. Irony traditionally nurtures the tension of opposites making comfort impossible—that's irony's power: to destabilize and unmoor the audience, [End Page 246] requiring attention and interpretation. With irony's mandate for close attention, ironically irony has been glossed as a critical lens through which to inspect rhetoric, especially when the rhetor is prescriptively denied freedom of expression. Perhaps this is because of irony's nuanced qualities. The authors of these two texts work to explicate irony as a powerful rhetorical tool and critical lens.
In the narrowest sense, irony has three forms: verbal, dramatic, and situational. However, these three forms of irony fail to encompass all ironic communications according to linguists and rhetorical scholars. Herbert L. Colston, in Irony in Language Use and Communication (Irony), reminds us that irony includes performative and tragic irony, "irony of fate, cosmic irony, comic irony, historical irony, romantic irony, Socratic irony" and the list continues (19).
Irony is a collection of essays by twenty scholars representing "some of the cutting edge empirical research and theoretical developments on the issues" regarding the "diverse and complex phenomenon of irony" (2). It examines irony in its various forms from different points of view using empirical methods of assessment, like eye-tracking, during reading. The scholars often illustrate their findings with graphic explanations such as John A. Barnden's figures, representing his theoretical and contrived case studies.
The book's treatment of irony is divided into four parts: interdisciplinary perspectives on irony; irony, thought and (media) communication; approaches to verbal irony; and approaches to studying irony. Each section provides three treatments of the topic by researchers on the vanguard of irony study for a total of twelve chapters.
At first glance, it is clear that these researchers approach their subject from various angles, providing a diverse representative analysis of irony when divided among the twelve authors. This diversity contributes to the book's strength. However, because of this implied diversity, the book would be enhanced with brief author biographies, as is often included in edited collections.
For example, in chapter 5, Hanna J. Batoreo examines authentic oral data regarding puns (paronomasia) in both European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese (109-125). While the analysis of Portuguese puns in an English text might be considered liberal, it also feels somewhat awkward amidst the other homogeneously American-English studies. The alien vibe surrounding this unique contribution might be ameliorated had the publishers included author biographies which may have contextualized each study within the researcher's interests, expertise, and methods thereby possibly explaining authorial choice while building author ethos.
Furthermore, without any information explaining the impetus for the collaborative effort or the authors' research interests, this reader wonders how irony study spans culture and language. Apparently, the cultural aspect [End Page 247] of ironic "world views" is something relegated to future study (14) and is perhaps what the editors have in mind when they ask, "Where do we Go from Here?" while proposing an "increase [in] the degree of cross-talk among the disciplines interested in explaining different aspects of ironic language" (13).
Irony offers both a name and subject index to help readers locate specific topics of concern. With so...