cover of book

A Rhetoric of Irony
by Wayne C. Booth
University of Chicago Press, 1975
Cloth: 978-0-226-06552-6 | Paper: 978-0-226-06553-3

Perhaps no other critical label has been made to cover more ground than "irony," and in our time irony has come to have so many meanings that by itself it means almost nothing. In this work, Wayne C. Booth cuts through the resulting confusions by analyzing how we manage to share quite specific ironies—and why we often fail when we try to do so. How does a reader or listener recognize the kind of statement which requires him to reject its "clear" and "obvious" meaning? And how does any reader know where to stop, once he has embarked on the hazardous and exhilarating path of rejecting "what the words say" and reconstructing "what the author means"?

In the first and longer part of his work, Booth deals with the workings of what he calls "stable irony," irony with a clear rhetorical intent. He then turns to intended instabilities—ironies that resist interpretation and finally lead to the "infinite absolute negativities" that have obsessed criticism since the Romantic period.

Professor Booth is always ironically aware that no one can fathom the unfathomable. But by looking closely at unstable ironists like Samuel Becket, he shows that at least some of our commonplaces about meaninglessness require revision. Finally, he explores—with the help of Plato—the wry paradoxes that threaten any uncompromising assertion that all assertion can be undermined by the spirit of irony.
Wayne C. Booth (1921–2005) was the George Pullman Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. His many books include The Rhetoric of Fiction, A Rhetoric of Irony, The Power and Limits of Pluralism, The Vocation of a Teacher, and For the Love of It, all published by the University of Chicago Press.
  • Contents 
    • Part I. 
    • Stable Irony
      • The Ways of Stable Irony
        • The Marks of Stable Irony
        • Stable Irony Compared with “All Literature”
          • The Four Steps of Reconstruction
        • Ironic Reading as Knowledge
        • Meaning and Significance
        • Stable Irony and Other Figures of Speech
          • Metaphor
          • Allegory and Fable
          • Puns
        • Stable Irony and Satire
      • Reconstructions and Judgments
        • Rival Metaphors
        • Advantages of “Reconstruction”
        • Required Judgments
        • Some Pleasures and Pitfalls of Irony
      • Is It Ironic?
        • Clues to Irony
          • 1. 
          • Straightforward Warnings in the Author's Own Voice
          • 2. 
          • Known Error Proclaimed
          • 3. 
          • Conflicts of Facts within the Work
          • 4. 
          • Clashes of Style
          • 5. 
          • Conflicts of Belief
        • Toward Genre: Clues in Context
    • Part II. 
    • Learning Where to Stop
      • Essays, Satire, Parody
        • Contexts and the Grooves of Genre
        • Complexity Illustrated
        • “A Modest Proposal” and the Ironic Sublime
        • Intentions Once Again
        • Intentions in Parody
      • 5. 
      • Ironic Portraits
        • Dramatic Monologue
        • Fiction and Drama
        • “Ready-Made” Values
        • Custom-Built Worlds
      • The Ironist's Voice
        • Other Timbres: Metaphor Once Again
        • Fielding
        • E. M. Forster as Essayist
      • Is There a Standard of Taste in Irony?
        • Four Levels of Evaluation
          • A. 
          • Judging Parts According to Function
          • B. 
          • Qualities as Critical Constants
          • C. 
          • Success of Particular Works
          • D. 
          • Comparison of Kinds
        • The Rhetorical Meeting as Source of Norms
        • Five Crippling Handicaps
          • Ignorance
          • Inability to Pay Attention
          • Prejudice
          • Lack of Practice
          • Emotional Inadequacy
        • Conclusion: Neither Rules nor Relativism
    • Part III. 
    • Instabilities
      • Reconstructing the Unreconstructable: Local Instabilities
        • The Classification of Intended Ironics
          • Stable-Covert-Local
          • Stable-Overt
        • Unstable Irony
          • Unstable-Overt-Local
          • Unstable-Covert-Local
      • Infinite Instabilities
        • Unstable-Overt-Infinite
        • Unstable-Covert-Infinite
        • Stable-Covert-Infinite
        • A Final Note on Evaluation
    • INDEX

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