Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Question of Irony in The Test Drive

Yep, that's right. We are back to the *trope* of irony in the blog. I just can't seem to stay away from it. What with all my De Man reading and now. . .and now--Ronell takes it up! And of course, we can't forget Rortry. But let us not be content with being a Rortyan liberal ironist. I agree with Ronell that Rorty wants to put this test drive in "reverse." But Ronell productively asks:
Can this vehicle or compulsion kick into reverse, disengage strong theoretical accelerators, or even come to a standstill? Assuming that the warning lights flashing in Rorty's work are worth heeding, how would one responsibly answer to irony's excessive positings in scientific spaces, political sites, and ethical gateways? (Ronell 236)
For Ronell, Rorty does not go far enough: "his argument splices and dissociates, redistributes and cancels what ironic thinking can do" (238). Rorty calls for a split between the public and private sphere--we need to stop linking  self-creation and politics. But can we do this? Are not the various feminism(s) right that the private is already political?

I want Ronell (or someone) to take up the question of an "ironic ethics" (239). Rorty positions himself as offering one, but irony only belongs in the private sphere. But the private and public, no matter how much Rorty wants to make a distinction, are tied up in one another. Perhaps this is that concept of the "commons" we will get at later in the course.

Anyway, as I already said in my post on De Man and Jameson, I think that modernist 'irony' is something we need to deal with. According to Ronell, "Irony, as allegory of tropes, acts as interruptive potentiality; it is the nature of irony to threaten persistant and systematic disruption" (225).

Related to Irony (which Ronell notes may not be a  "trope" in the strict sense) is related to two other tropes: anacoluthon, "where the syntax of a sentence that raises certain expectations is 'suddenly interrupted and, instead of getting what you would expect to get in terms of syntax that has been set up, you get something completely different, a break in the syntactical expectations of the pattern'" (Ronell 224, quoting de Man). And parabasis, or, a direct address to an audience (an interruption of the play's 'action').

We can read Ronell's book as using anacoluthon and parabasis for a certain effect--an effect of unreadability?   Strangely enough, it seems that the photographs represent a kind of 'parabasis'--they directly confront the reader and force us to ask "what?" This also is an anacoluthon because it disrupts the 'syntax' of the typical academic book.

Is Ronell's book 'ironic'? It certainly does seem to contain an infinite negativity (Kierkegaard) and interminable self-reflexivity. If we see Ronell's book as a "test" itself, as a testing out of ideas while also taking them apart, then, according to Ronell's reading of Benjamin, her book participates in this very movement: "both irony and testing are tempted [recall Versuch meaning both test and temptation] by the recovery of ground when they are instead committed, as in Benjamin's sterring of irony, to the inecessant work of building by taking apart [De-Construction?]" (Ronell 226).

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