Kyle's Reviews > Irony in the Work of Philosophy

Irony in the Work of Philosophy by Claire Colebrook
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's review
Nov 15, 2010

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bookshelves: philosophy, art, nonfiction
Read from January 08 to February 01, 2011

A very enlightening, well-written excavation of irony and philosophy, in all senses. It's a book that challenges as much as clarifies, and, at least to my mind, it's an intellectual godsend.

Still, a bit frustrating. For instance, in the beginning, Colebrook repeatedly references another philosopher named Rorty, to whom the reader hasn't been introduced (expect perhaps in the reams of back-matter, into which a philistine/philosophy-civilian like me wouldn't be welcome). The dialogue she begins/departs from/returns to with this Rorty is an intriguing one -- puzzling out "irony" as purely literary, literary and philosophical, or some combination thereof, and how; questioning assumptions about irony's metaphysical, metatextual, and existential identity; etc.--but, after that enormously dense little splash, she then steers into an attempt to define the very literal essence of irony.

Certainly not a piece of cake, that question, but not very hard either, comparatively. It threw me off because it's so much simpler and easier than the preceding exegesis: not that this easier, more literal material is inherently bad, just that it maybe would have made more sense coming first. And Colebrook continues to dip in and out of other aestheticians' works, with material that can be complex and mind-bending one moment and simplistic the next. There are sections on the history of irony in philosophy (Socratic, Kantian, modern); the notion of irony vis-a-vis ethics, linguistics, etc.; and the repeated idea of irony's paradoxical representation/destruction/re-creation of the outside world.

All in all, this monograph seems like a compelling, substantial investment in meta-intellectual life. It defends irony's legitimate place in the world, which has always struck me as a commonly (and profoundly) misunderstood textual/rhetorical/mental idea. It isn't some sick, insincere, misbegotten booby trap, some bullshit contraption whipped out inside language to justify assholitude; it's actually a real, vital engagement with words, ideas, and the world that must be embraced and defended.

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