Published online by Cambridge University Press: 19 January 2022
Rather than understanding irony as the simple opposite of earnestness, sincerity, or genuineness, I want to suggest that it represents a mode of playful engagement with the hidden connective tissue that links the various commitments – serious or flippant, affirmative or destructive, quiescent or contentious – of a work, object, or discourse. Irony activates the latent trace of the one in the other, demonstrating how each of these serve ulterior motives beyond their stated purpose. Earnestness in turn can intensify its credibility and seriousness of purpose by confronting and working through the contradictions and tensions that ironic scrutiny exposes. A discourse or ideology is defined not only by what it values but also by what it attacks and rejects, by what it finds beautiful as well as by what it finds amusing, silly, or ridiculous. Irony activates, interrogates, and reorganizes the different possible combinations and permutations of commitments that organize any value system.