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LINGUIST List 25.2424

Tue Jun 03 2014

Review: Linguistics & Literature: Alexandre (2013)

Editor for this issue: Mateja Schuck <mschuckwisc.edu>

Date: 19-Jan-2014
From: Sabina Tabacaru <sabina.tabacarulaposte.net>
Subject: L'Ironie: formes et enjeux d'une écriture contemporaine
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-4087.html

EDITOR: Didier Alexandre
TITLE: L'Ironie: formes et enjeux d'une écriture contemporaine
PUBLISHER: Classiques Garnier
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Sabina Tabacaru, Université Lille - Nord de France

This volume is a collection of articles on irony in contemporary French
literature, discussing the forms and functions irony plays by analyzing it in
relation to modern writers and modern society.

The volume begins with Didier Alexandre and Pierre Schoentjes' analysis (“Le
point sur l'ironie contemporaine”), surveying major points about irony in
French contemporary literature (1980-2010). They present an overview of the
use of irony in the literature written after the Nouveau Roman, a phenomenon
which is not strictly French (as shown by articles here which often refer to
foreign novels). Regarding the role irony plays in contemporary literature,
they emphasize how starting with writers such as Philippe Hamon, irony has
been used to serve different aims. Moreover, it replaces the serious tone of
previous literary works. Finally, they come up with four categories of irony
found in the works of authors discussed in this collection: playful,
postmodern (with American elements), philosophical, and black.

René Audet's analysis titled “Une poétique illusionniste” treats irony in the
novels of Chevillard and Langelier. On the one hand, the author focuses on
Chevillard's strong verbal irony, the way the situations and the characters in
his novels are clearly ironic, as well as his use of multiple intertextual
references. On the other hand, he compares Chevillard's work to Langelier's,
whose irony is not verbal, but whose ironic style creates gaps in the
discourse in order to mock the psych-pop culture. The author thus notes the
rich implications and the dynamic of texts that adopt this ironic reflection.

Olivier Bansard-Banquy writes an overview of current French literature in
“Écrits vains. De la futilité des lettres aujourd'hui”, commenting that
“nothing is to be taken seriously anymore” (p. 33, my translation). He
compares contemporary literature to earlier work, and sees this new trend as a
kind of entertainment, that has not preserved anything from the values and
style of classical writers. In his view, this type of literature follows the
same template, combining irony and self-deprecatory humor. In modern society,
literature is only a product, and the purpose is to sell.

On a similar note, Bruno Blanckeman's article “L'ironie dans l'œuvre
romanesque de Michel Houellebecq” refers to the literary work of Houellebecq,
whose irony is mixed with satire. This satire is inspired by the classical
view, but it depicts modern society as well as modern characters and should
not be taken at face value. The purpose of irony in these novels is to
highlight ridicule of contemporary society. Blanckeman shows how Houellebecq
uses the influence of 19th century French literature in order to deride
everything that is happening to his characters.

Vicky Colin discusses femininist issues in the work of Darrieussecq (“L'ironie
dans les romans de Marie Darrieussecq”). Particularly, she analyzes three
novels written by Darrieussecq (“Truismes”, “La Naissance des fantômes” and
“Tom est mort”), which present lost and lonely women. Irony is dramatic
because it brings into focus the pain that these women endure. They isolate
themselves and this allows ironic distancing, because these women try to
understand what is happening to them. Colin concludes that “irony does not
underline anxiety ... It does not calm, but feeds the crisis” these women
encounter (p. 76, my translation).

Tara Collington examines types of irony in the work of Nothomb (“La «scène» de
l'ironie chez Amélie Nothomb”). According to her the author uses four types of
irony (verbal, situational, intertextual, and auto-referential), for which she
gives lengthy descriptions. Generally, this classification highlights the
incongruity that irony creates, for instance, between what is said and what is
meant. Irony is seen as a play because society itself is nothing but a
“theater” (cf. Hamon 1996).

Irina de Herdt chooses Quignard's novels (“Vœu de silence”, “Petits traités
“and “Dernier royaume”) to talk about humor and, particularly, verbal irony in
“Une gêne rhétorique à l'égard de l'ironie”. Similar to Collington's analysis,
she also mentions an incongruity between two incompatible meanings. But
generally, it is the idea of discomfort and awkwardness that best describes
Quignard's work. She follows Quignard's development as a writer through these
novels in order to show how irony openly allows an idea of rhetorical

In “Mauvaise foi narratologique dans deux romans de Jean-Philippe Toussaint”,
Laurent Demoulin evaluates two novels by Toussaint (“La Télévision” and “La
Vérité sur Marie”), focusing on the narrator's bad faith and the author's
irony that comes from watching the former lie to himself. Again, as noted
above, irony comes from a certain incongruity between different situations.
Demoulin also points out the differences between narrator and author, looking
at clear examples drawn from the two novels.

In “Les ironies post-exotiques : essai de topographie d'espaces instables”,
Joëlle Gleize addresses disaster humor with the work of different novelists
(Bassmann, Draeger and Volodine). The main question is how to explain the
“strange” side of post-exotic irony. This style refers to disasters and
resistance, where humor has the role of creating a distance between the
stories that are told and the narrator.

In “«Ça va v'nir pis ça va v'nir». Autorité narrative et prophéties
postmodernes dans Tarmac de Nicolas Dickner et La Logeuse d'Éric Dupont”
Stéphane Larrivée and Andrée Mercier analyze French Canadian literature,
focusing on two novelists: Dickner (“Tarmac”) and Dupont (“La logeuse”). These
two writers build their contribution around the idea of apocalypse and
predictions, where irony is used in order to put things into perspective.
Moreover, Larrivée and Mercier examine the different voices and roles of
narrators in the two novels.

Katrien Liévois reviews irony in African literature in the works of Tansi,
Kourouma, and Mabanckou (“D'une ironie francophone à une ironie-monde ? Formes
et enjeux de l'ironie chez Labou Tansi, Kourouma et Mabanckou”). Although
these three authors opt for different types of irony (dark in Tansi's work,
philosophical in Kourouma's, and, finally, postmodern in Mabanckou's novels),
they all bring into line parts of African history, by mixing different verbal
styles, intertextual references and satire.

In “Ironie pour endurer la saison froide”, Anne Roche considers irony in
Senges' “Fragments de Lichtenberg”. Generally, the novel comprises numerous
satirical and distorted elements as well as rich meta-textual references. Even
if irony is a way of putting things into perspective and creating a gap before
historical catastrophes, Roche also provides a precise analysis of the rich
implications in this novel.

Toussaint's work is again analyzed by Gianfranco Rubino who points out his
situational and verbal irony in “Parcours de l'ironie chez Jean-Philippe
Toussaint”. These techniques are humorous and comical, but also mirror a
touching side to Toussaint's novels. Notably, Rubino follows Toussaint's
development as a writer throughout his novels, and discusses the change in his
literary strategy.

In “L'ironie contemporaine de la fugue à la fantaisie. Chevillard au risque de
l'ironie” Pierre Schoentjes discusses the work of Chevillard (“Le Vaillant
petit tailleur”) by comparing it to Tournier's. It is shown that irony in
these novels is based on allusions and references that readers have to
recognize and that build an affinity between the author and the readers.
Moreover, he considers some of these references, concluding that they are
accessible enough for readers to be able to 'play the game'.

Jia Zhao analyzes the work of Echenoz in “L'ironie du sort dans Le Méridien de
Greenwich d'Échenoz”, by discussing the theme of irony of fate. Through a
comparison to Greek tragedy, Zhao manages to nicely show how modern
individuals have replaced Greek heroes. Hence, in Echenoz's work, the modern
society that he so openly mocks (with its absurd situations and its
bureaucracy) has replaced classical tragedy.

Finally, in her article “L'ironie tragique des vies ordinaires. Dans la foule
de Laurent Mauvignier”, Sarah Sindaco focuses on Mauvignier's novel “Dans la
foule”. She discusses situational, but also verbal irony, as well as mockery
of national stereotypes. It is the incongruity between surprising situations
that is at work, and Sindaco quotes Muecke (1969: 102) in order to define this
as irony of events: “the ironic incongruity ... between the expectation and
the event”. What is more, she examines the diverse ironic techniques used by
the different narrators in the novel.

The book also contains an author index, as well as abstracts of the articles
in this volume and presentations of the authors.

This volume raises important issues concerning contemporary irony. Notably, as
pointed out by Alexandre and Schoentjes from the beginning (p. 13), the
purpose of this volume is not to define irony, but to go beyond a simple
definition of the term. Addressing irony allows pointing out its rich meanings
and purposes. These articles do not only show an overview of irony in
different novels, but also see the profound links and connections this writing
technique implies.

Furthermore, given the growing interest in this topic (in linguistics,
psychology, and so on), this volume provides a much-needed study of irony in
modern French literature. It presents an in-depth analysis, addressing the
issue of forms and aims, and using rich references to contemporary literature
worldwide. Besides, it often goes back and forth with references to classical
novels that help compare the development of the writing technique. By focusing
on novels written in French (i.e., not just from France, but Africa and Canada
as well), it shows the link between all these recent literary works, irony.
The lengthy analyses of irony throughout the volume allow seeing the
phenomenon more explicitly and acknowledge its importance nowadays.

All in all, this volume is highly recommended to anyone interested in irony
and literature. As Schoentjes (p. 223) remarks, it is inconceivable today to
discuss contemporary literature without also finding a place for irony.
Several chapters focus on the same authors from different perspectives, which
adds to the book's substance. The book is accessible, with examples from the
contemporary works under discussion, as well as clear outlines of the main
characters and the plot. The analyses of the ironic situations are well
presented and provide invaluable insight into the phenomenon.

Hamon, P. 1996. L'Ironie littéraire. Essais sur les formes de l'écriture
oblique. Paris: Hachette.

Muecke, D.C. 1969. The Compass of Irony. London: Methuen.

Sabina Tabacaru is a PhD student in Linguistics at the University of Lille 3
(France) and K.U. Leuven (Belgium). She is currently preparing a dissertation
on a cognitive and multi-modal approach to humor and sarcasm. Apart from humor
theories and Cognitive Linguistics, her research interests include discourse
analysis, pragmatics, semantics, and psycholinguistics.
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