CFP: Isn’t It Ironic?: Receivership and Responsibility in Popular Culture

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An invitation to contribute to a collection edited by Ian Kinane and Elizabeth Parker (Submission deadline: 31st October 2019)

The American writer David Foster Wallace once declared that irony would be the death of culture. In the so-called ‘post-truth’ era, marked by the obscene populist palaver of Brexit-day Britain and the ‘truthiness’ of Trump’s White House tenure, it is little wonder that he has been proven correct: saying something other than that which one means has become the rhetorical choice de jour of contemporary political society. It matters more, it seems, if something feels true than if it is factually accurate. One of the multitude of troubles that accompanies this ‘post-truth’ climate is our relationship to irony. For irony, of course, requires a foundation of a shared sense of what is ‘real’ and ‘true’ in the first place in order for this foundation to be effectively disrupted, subverted, and satirised.

As literary technique, irony is a dissimulative rhetorical act in which the tenor and vehicle of one’s language are often in deliberately playful conflict with one another for the purposes of emphasising paradox, incongruity, and humour. Examples abound in literary culture, from Shakespeare’s use of comical and tragical ironic techniques and Jonathan Swift’s most audacious example of verbal irony, A Modest Proposal, to the darkly parodic fictions of those such as Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, and Zadie Smith. The common conception is that irony is hard to define, but that ‘we know it when we see it’. Of course, this is not always the case, as irony has so often been misunderstood. It is indeed ironic that the very irony of Alanis Morissette’s famous song ‘Ironic’ is that none of the lyrics are, in fact, ironic at all – a point compounded by the song’s popularity as a ‘dictionary definition’ of irony.

In order to access and properly decode many popular culture texts, consumers themselves are often required to possess an assumed knowledge base and intertextual awareness that is most commonly afforded by the shared digital communities of online culture. Memes and other digital content represent post-authentic hyperspaces that are rife with sarcasm and trollish insincerity. For contemporary consumers of popular culture, for whom satire seems to have been exploded and for whom sincerity and disingenuity have become indistinguishable in the era of ‘fake news’ technologies, many texts of popular culture have now come to navigate a progressively perilous vale of linguistics: it falls to consumers themselves to adequately assess and discern between sincere and satirical language in a cultural climate that is (also progressively) unable to do so. It is no wonder that it has become increasingly difficult to separate what people mean from what they say; not saying precisely what one means, or dissimulating meaning through (ostensible) humour, has become a matter of fare in modern popular culture, in which cynicism is de rigueur.

This collection addresses the relationship between irony and popular culture and the role of the consumer (reader, viewer, listener) in determining and disseminating meaning. We contend that, in a cultural climate largely characterised by fractious communications and perilous linguistic exchanges, the very role of irony in popular culture – and the increased strain linguistic slippages place upon the consumer’s capacity to determine meaning – needs to come under greater scrutiny. Nowadays, the proclamation of irony is frequently used as a defence for material and often behaviour deemed controversial – and, as such, Isn’t It Ironic? is especially interested in questions of subjective intention and interpretation. How do we interpret ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’ comments which are intended as satire but which read as offensive? How do we accurately decode television shows like Scream Queens and films such as The Neon Demon and The Wolf of Wall Street that sell themselves as bitingly ironic commentaries on current society, but which are also masturbatory celebrations of hedonistic capitalism? What happens when texts intended and received in one manner are themselves ironically recontextualised? How do we – and should we – police ‘banter culture’? And in what ways is ‘truthiness’ reflected in popular culture?

We welcome submissions for chapters (approx. 6,000-8,000 words in length) on any aspect of irony and/in popular culture, literature, and media. We are especially interested in close readings of irony in pop culture ‘giants’ such as the Marvel Universe, Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, Black Mirror, Twin Peaks, etc. Topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • Irony and/in popular culture (and/or literature and media)
  • The relationship between irony and the consumer of/in popular culture
  • The relationship between irony and subjectivity
  • The relationship between irony and satire in popular culture
  • Irony, metafiction, and metatextuality in popular culture
  • Misuses, abuses, and misunderstandings of irony in popular culture
  • Irony and/versus satire and/versus sarcasm in popular culture
  • Irony and popular digital cultures
  • Irony and genre (e.g. YA fiction, horror and the Gothic, chick lit, pornography, crime fiction, documentaries, etc.)
  • Irony and populism and/or political discourse
  • Irony and queer cultures
  • ‘Banter’ culture
  • Classical and/versus modern definitions/theories of irony
  • Different types of irony (comic, romantic, cosmic, verbal, situational, dramatic Socratic) and/in popular culture
  • The translation of irony: humour across borders
  • Theorisations of irony and popular culture.

Please send a 350-word abstract outlining in detail your key ideas and arguments, a brief bio, and a writing sample (preferably published) to by 31st October 2019

Please note: A major UK academic publisher has expressed an interest in this collection and final confirmation of contributors is subject to that publisher’s peer review process.


Image credit: Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash

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