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Friday, 3 October 2008

So which is it?

I was at a party last week, and was informed by someone there that Americans don't do irony. This is a commonplace comment, here in London, that seems to erase out of the record the irony-interested New Critics, and the ironic Mr. Eliot - among others. Now, today, comes some sort of ironic last-straw. A critic in The Guardian, complaining because the Coen Brothers have no heart in their films, just plenty of irony (called cynicism, but here meaning the same thing - see Hardy's little ironies). So - which is it then? Are Americans masters of irony, or not? I think what's at stake here is tone. I have discovered that, time and again, North Americans and Europeans in dialogue have trouble hearing each other's use (and variance) of tone, in written and spoken utterances (such as poems) - which can cause misreadings.

Irony, like ambiguity, comes in a number of shapes and sizes (see Booth's A Rhetoric of Irony). Meanwhile, I'd say most British film and TV product has too much irony, and not enough heart - and also agree that the Coens often deploy style before sentiment. However, surely this is a matter of genre? They are satirists, and post-modernist satirists at that. It is hard to imagine a Coen film that could ever display authenticity (and what would such a film be like?) - unless it was the sort of stylised form of emotionality, such as Nabokov and latterly Banville employ sometimes - melodrama.
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