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Review of  On the Discourse of Satire

Reviewer: Simo K. Määttä
Book Title: On the Discourse of Satire
Book Author: Paul Simpson
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Ling & Literature
Issue Number: 15.1343

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Date: Wed, 28 Apr 2004 11:59:16 -0700
From: Simo Kalervo Maatta
Subject: On the Discourse of Satire

AUTHOR: Simpson, Paul
TITLE: On the Discourse of Satire
SUBTITLE: Towards a stylistic model of satirical humour
SERIES: Linguistic Approaches to Literature 2
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

ON THE DISCOURSE OF SATIRE provides a model for the analysis of
satirical discourse useful for scholars of discourse analysis,
humorology, forensic linguistics, and the linguistic analysis of
literature. The author's theoretical framework attempts to depart from
considerations of satire as a (literary) genre; rather, satire is
viewed as a practice pertaining to everyday language use. While the
texts analyzed within the proposed model come mainly from the British
satirical magazine THE PRIVATE EYE, with a number of other examples
from the English-speaking world, Simpson's model is destined to more
general applications as well.

The first chapter of ON THE DISCOURSE OF SATIRE summarizes Simpson's
theoretical model of satirical discourse. In Chapter Two of the book,
Simpson revisits earlier linguistic approaches to humor, and concludes
that satire has typically been avoided in these studies and that there
is no linguistic model for the analysis of satirical discourse. One of
the reasons for this lack, Simpson argues, is that satire has
traditionally been analyzed by literary critics. Subsequently, the
author provides a critical survey of literary-critical approaches of
satire in Chapter Three and concludes by arguing that a model of
satirical discourse should apply to any form of satire and not only to
texts canonized by literary criticism, and suggests that the notion of
irony, which has received a particularly shallow treatment among
literary critics, should be an essential part of such a model.

Chapter Four focuses on the notion of satire as a discursive practice,
rather than a genre of discourse. While the notion of discourse is
borrowed from Foucault, the model of language behind Simpson's theory
is derived from Hallidayan systemic-functional grammar (although
satire, seen as a discursive practice, operates on a level higher than
the notions of genre and register of systemic-functional grammar).
Simpson's theoretical model is based on the assumption that satire is a
discursive practice, i.e., a higher-order discourse, in which three
different discursive subject positions (the SATIRIST, the SATIREE, and
the SATIRIZED) form a triad. He argues that satire consists of three
principal ironic phases: two of these phases, prime and dialectic (in a
Popperian sense), are related to the distinction between 'echoic' and
'standard' irony. The echoich mode of irony constitutes the prime
element of satire, whereas the dialectic element is derived from
irony's oppositional mode.

Chapter Five provides a more detailed analysis of the ways in which
satire is done. Thus, it establishes a distinction between satire and
parody and examines the differences between the metaphoric and
metonymic methods of the production of satire, as well as other
techniques, such as over-lexicalization and negation. The author
concludes that satire is "markedly under-informative" because it
typically proceeds from rheme to theme and because its final message is
not necessarily distanced from the preceding messages.

Chapter Six marks a move towards the perlocutionary aspect of satire
and satirical uptake in particular. The pragmatic framework proposed
for the interpretation and response to satire is based on Habermas's
universal validity claims: satire requires that the satiree ratifies
the irony ('irony of conferral'), which can be embedded in a text
without the presence of the two ironic phases ('B-movie footing'). This
is the third ironic phase of satire.

Chapter Seven continues the exploration of the perlocutionary effect of
satire by focusing on the non-felicitous perlocution, i.e., cases in
which satire misfires. This is perhaps the most interesting part of the
book, as the actual effects of speech acts, humorous or other, are
beyond the explanatory capabilities of speech act theory: analyses such
as the one proposed by Simpson are welcomed in order to increase the
body of literature on the topic. According to the author, for instance,
the fact that satire can misfire is related to satire's status as a
discursive practice rather than a genre. Indeed, while recognition is
one of the criteria for the membership of a text in a genre, the fact
that this criterion is so frequently not fulfilled proves that satire
is not a genre. While Simpson rightly explores several theoretical
traditions, which allows him to maintain openness towards various
valuable interpretations, the notion of polyphony, mentioned in passim
in ON THE DISCOURSE OF SATIRE, could possibly provide further answers
to the problem of recognition and felicitous and non-felicitous
perlocution in general. One may, for instance, wish to inquire whether,
in order to recognize a text as satire, the addressee has to recognize
the discursive practice of the text as an inherently polyphonic one in
terms of the sources of its illocutions -- a practice in which the
utterer, while being the speaking subject behind the text, does not
assume the responsibility of the speech acts that he or she is
producing (see Ducrot 1984).


Ducrot, Oswald 1984. Le dire et le dit. Paris: Minuit.

Simo Kalervo Maatta is currently a graduate student at the University
of California, Berkeley. He will receive his Ph.D. in French
linguistics in May 2004. His research interests include discourse
analysis, translation theory, sociolinguistics, and the linguistic
study of literature.