Friday, 4 July 2008

Your questions heard

As a small boy I was sent to an English boarding school (not my idea). For calibration, take Dotheboys Hall, subtract the physical cruelty and divide by three. That is, nobody there cared a damn about you, and you couldn't get away. I enjoyed the lessons, though, including Latin and Greek. Here the model verbs were the usual ones: amo, I love, in Latin and luo, I set free, in Greek. (Sorry, we haven't yet figured out the typesetting of Greek here at Precision Handling.) An ordinary illustration of irony, one might say.

Irony, however, is a complicated concept, as its Wikipedia page indicates, partly because over the centuries people have attached divergent meanings to the word. This is situational irony, not dramatic, but is it intended or unintended? Well, it depends on your point of view. For the teachers, I'm sure it was unintended; they simply used the standard books (Kennedy, and Abbot and Mansfield) and got on with the job. But what about the authors? Is it plausible that from the thousands of verbs available in each of these languages they chose these particular examples at random? Occam's Razor tells you that this was deliberate and that what we have is a fine example of situational irony that is both intended and unintended.

Or just a joke. After all these years I still can't tell.

10 comments:

problemchildbride said...

One thing's for sure, whatever Alannis Morrisette was singing about wasn't irony. Rain on your wedding day isn't ironic, it's just a bummer.

Dr Maroon said...

It could be viewed as ironic PCB. Shouldn't you be roasting redcoats by an open fire anyway?

Surely the Greeks themselves were the ironic ones, whereas the authors were familiar with the English educational system and may have been trying to warn you with messages hidden in the declensions.
On second thoughts, best not go down that road.

inkspot said...

Hmm. Can the Greeks' part be construed as ironic? Unless the word can connote a certain unknowingness. They couldn't have foreseen the position of British schoolchildren two millennia later.

Dr. M.'s point about the authors seems to suggest that any irony might in fact be dramatic. And the irony is only enhanced by the fact that any warnings were too late.

Dr. M.'s first point is less convincing. Surely PCB is right, unless irony is taken in a sense so broad that it loses its meaning?

As you can tell, I'm out of my depth. Tell you what, I'll take it up with my superiors. Our Foreign Sales Director, Dr. Bruni, is remarkably well educated and can discuss most things intelligently. And, God knows, she has other talents.

Dr Maroon said...

I hope to Christ you're being ironic.

problemchildbride said...

Ironically ironic, maybe, Docs.

Dr Maroon said...

em, good start inkspot, what about the follow through?
see Mrs pouncer's thrown in the towel. Shame.

problemchildbride said...

Harrooooo?

Don't listen to Maroon. He's a fine one to talk about sporadic blogging. I've just gotten all "Oooh, Docs is back!" and then he's bloody orf again.

Mrs Pouncer said...

All the great Catholic writers have a galloping obsession with irony. I would expand here, but I have just noticed that Dr Maroon has tarred me with the coward's brush: "thrown in the towel", indeed.
(I will now go off in a huff, only to be persuaded back by outrageous flattery).

Kevin Musgrove said...

I suspect that it isn't irony so much as wanton cruelty: a bit like dangling a kipper in front of a starving cat.

inkspot said...

A bit direct, eh, Kevin? I mean, it's taken me decades of psychotherapy to begin to come to terms with your point, and my acknowledgement of the irony of the situation, or at least its possibility, was a step on the road. All that delicate Freudian work now undone, brutally. Anyway, I think it was Freudian; what do you call it when the therapist says nothing of the slightest use?