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Irony as a strategy in the genre of dystopia


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Sumpor, Svjetlana. (2019). Irony as a strategy in the genre of dystopia. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Comparative Literature.
(PDS književnosti, izvedbenih umjetnosti, filma i kulture) [mentor Brlek, Tomislav].

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The doctoral thesis Irony as a Strategy in the Genre of Dystopia consists of four parts: "Introduction", "Theoretical introduction and discussion", "Analyses of the ironical structures in selected dystopian novels and films" and "Conclusion". "Introduction" emphasizes the aim of the doctoral thesis, which is to prove that irony, understood as (macro)structure, is one of the basic and constitutional elements of the genre of dystopia. The assumption, which lies at the core of this doctoral thesis, is based on the notion of a profound correspondence between the common definition of irony (as a statement which implicitly criticizes a state of affairs by apparent but fake approval of them) and the usual way in which stories unfold in dystopias (stressing the contrast between the declared ideal and the reality which denounces that ideal as an illusion). In order to prove the thesis, the research strives to examine irony as a narrative (macro)structure; to define the genre of dystopia and its typical and essential characteristics and strategies; and to reveal the means which enable the emergence of irony as a (macro)structure in literature and film. The doctoral thesis relies on the methods of critical reading, comparison and comment on the relevant theory with the purpose of establishing working definitions of irony and dystopia, to be employed in the analyses of the selected novels and films. The chapter "Theoretical introduction and discussion" consists of a number of subchapters, aiming to gradually clarify the relevant critical terms and definitions, as well as to emphasize the points where irony and dystopia connect. First of all, irony as a structure is discussed, by means of consulting theories of scholars who have written extensively about the subject. There is a discussion about irony as modus; the difference between stable and unstable ironies; the importance of context for the understanding of irony; irony's typical "critical edge"; theories which employ the concept of persona in an endeavour to explain the way irony works; proximity of irony to genres and modes like parody, satire and the grotesque; the metatextual function of irony and the irony which results from intertextuality, etc. It is stressed that, from the 19th century on, irony is not considered only a rhetorical figure any more, limited to the meaning of a single sentence. On the contrary, it gets to be applied to whole texts and writers' opera, to the point that in the 20th century some theorists consider it a "master trope". Special attention is given to the notion of the double, inherent in the concepts of irony, language and subjectivity, and also to pointing out the connections among them. The double, as a strategy of destabilizing and problematizing the meaning, can manifest itself in a text in various ways. For the purpose of this doctoral thesis, the double which manifests itself as a split subjectivity of a character or a narrator, and the one which manifests itself as a discourse composed of a manifest (or literal) and a latent (or hidden) layer of meaning, are of the particular importance. Some critics have stressed the interdependence of irony and genre (in general) or irony and the genre of dystopia (in particular), and their contribution to the thesis of this dissertation has also been noted. After irony has been discussed, the doctoral thesis endeavours to define dystopia. Dystopia has usually been studied in the context of science-fiction and utopian literature; therefore, special attention is given to the theories which emphasize the links among these genres. Dystopia is sometimes treated as a genre of its own, and sometimes as a subgenre of utopia, while utopia itself is often treated as a subgenre of the genre of science-fiction. For that reason, the doctoral thesis takes into account the history and strategies of science-fiction and utopia, genres that are interrelated with dystopia in many ways. Nevertheless, it asserts a view that dystopia should be treated as a genre of its own, backing this up with extensive argumentation. It opposes the view, often found even in scholarly papers, that dystopia is, in essence, "quite the same as utopia, only reversed", the view which leaves the identification of the genre up to the individual and provisional estimation of a reader. It stresses the fact that even in the historical sense, the terms utopia and dystopia do not coincide with each other; that is, utopian and dystopian texts came into existence in different periods and in different contexts. The doctoral thesis insists that utopia and dystopia as genres should be strictly distinguished from utopia and dystopia understood in sociological terms. Special care has been taken to explain the intertextual relations between dystopia and utopia, as well as to present arguments for the claim that utopia in relation to dystopia is an architext, albeit one which has been severely revised and transformed by dystopia. A view is asserted that dystopia as a genre is based on the interference of various older genres and texts, their conventions and intentions, but with the clear intention of establishing a distance from them, as well as a critical reevaluation. Considering the fact that the term dystopia is in use not only in relation to the literary works but also in relation to the films, a subchapter is dedicated to the discussion of the status and appropriateness of the term in the context of film, as well as to discussing the possibilities of achieving the effects of irony in film. In the chapter "Analyses of the ironical structures in selected dystopian novels and films", the thesis is being tested on the examples usually considered – by professional readers, i.e. critics, as well as by "ordinary" readers – as the typical representatives, or true paradigms, of the genre of dystopia, and which for their significance and influence in the literary or filmic fields could be claimed to be the classics of the genre. Analysis of Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel We focuses on the split subjectivity of the character D-503, a protagonist and a narrator, in whose diary the ironic conflict of two opposite views on the story comes to the fore: the pro-regime and the subversive one. His public persona identifies with the social values, but his poetic nature and his unconscious desires are in opposition to them. The intimate split of his subject, which makes him incapable of choosing a side, is also in the ironic conflict with his public role of the one who stands for integrity, as the engineer or the builder of the Integral, a weapon of the State's imperialistic politics, which strives to conquer all Others, and make them One with itself. The character I-330 is a latent double of D-503, the incarnation of the denied part of his self. Their meeting symbolizes the Faustian conflict of the protagonist. Rebelliousness and the values that I-330 stands for function as the ironical counter-narrative in contrast to the official, utopian narrative of the State. It is also ironical what becomes of the initial intentions with which D-503 started to write his diary: instead of a tractate about the glory of the State, his writings become a novel telling a story about a development of individuality, and indirectly denounce brutal methods of the repressive State. Analysis of Zamyatin's novel also points out its intertextual links and the irony which results from that; namely, comparisons with the biblical story of Adam and Eve and John Milton's Paradise Lost, as well as with the story about "The Grand Inquisitor" from the novel Brothers Karamazov by F. M. Dostoevsky. Analysis of Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World demonstrates that strategies of irony have been used to satirize the capitalist system. It stresses the importance of the motif of the control of language, present in the State's censorship of the arts and literature, as well as in its falsification of historical facts and in its propensity for hypnopedia and trivial slogans. The utopian narrative of the State endeavours to establish a dominant meaning and interpretation, while history and the arts have the role of the alternative counter-narrative, denied by the State. Huxley's novel is abundant with examples of dramatic irony, that is, instances when readers have access to more information than the characters in the novel. Also, the readers are, in contrast to the characters, aware of how much, and exactly in what way, the historical facts have been altered by the State. Utopian discourse of happiness, plenty, stability and unlimited access to hedonistic pleasures, proclaimed by the regime, is denounced by pointing out in detail the existence of the unprivileged ones, who do not enjoy the same opportunities and social benefits as the privileged ones. The three "rebel" characters (Bernard, Helmholz and John) are evidence that the State has failed to satisfy all the needs of its citizens, and two of them (Bernard and Helmholz) are rendered as split subjects – which is a typical dystopian strategy of irony. Two "guided tours" in the novel (one undertaken for students by the Director of the Hatchery and Conditioning Centre; another one organized for John Savage by Bernard) serve as an intertextual subverting of a typical narrative strategy of the genre of utopia (guided tours for visitors to Utopia). The analysis also emphasizes the intertextual links of Huxley's text with the works of W. Shakespeare, H. G. Wells and F. M. Dostoevsky, and the metatextual irony which results from it. George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is typically considered a satire of totalitarianism in general, or a satire of Stalinism in particular. The analysis emphasizes its intertextual relations with the biblical story of Adam and Eve, as well as with John Milton's Paradise Lost – that is, the possibility of interpreting it as an ironical inversion of the story of Adam and Eve. It also points out other possible intertextual links: to Plato; Thomas More; W. Shakespeare; F. M. Dostoevsky; H. G. Wells; Jack London and Y. Zamyatin; as well as the influence it has exuded on the dystopian texts that were written later (namely, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess). The narrative of the regime in Nineteen Eighty-Four is opposed by the counter-narrative of the characters Winston and Julia, but even more so by the "Appendix" with which the novel ends, which functions as a sort of an ironic epilogue. The character of Winston is devised as a split subject, whose intimate self is alienated from his public persona. A typical ironical strategy of the turning of something (or of someone) into its own opposite is also employed in several instances in the novel. The experiential facts of Winston's life contradict the utopian narrative of happiness, progress and plenty, broadcasted by the regime on telescreens, and therefore represent the counter-narrative which ironically subverts the narrative. Winston's counter-narrative has a special relevance for a reader because Winston, as an employee of the Ministry of Truth, is a witness and a participant in the procedure of falsification of historical documents, which takes place there. Another particularly dystopian and ironical motif of Orwell's novel is Newspeak, a project of new language devised by the regime which endeavours, by gradually destroying words and reducing language, to destroy every possibility of unorthodox thinking. In Michael Radford's film Nineteen Eighty-Four, an adaptation of Orwell's novel, the ironical conflict of the official narrative and the subversive counter-narrative is presented by means of confronting the words and images of the propaganda material of the regime (broadcast on telescreens) with the images of the (filmic) reality which are evidence of the falsity of the official narrative. Winston's split subjectivity is stressed by a different style of directing for the scenes that represent his inner world, from those that represent the outer world. Irony is also present in the acting style of some of the actors. Analysis of Terry Gilliam's film Brazil points out that, although Gilliam's film is not an adaptation of Orwell's novel, it has many similarities to it, in regard to the theme, certain key situations and relationships. The greatest difference is perhaps the presence of a specific, Monty Python-style kind of humour, based on absurdity, parody and irony, often with surrealistic elements. The film is abundant with scenes showing an ironic incongruity between the verbal and the visual, that is, the incongruities between what the characters are saying and what the images show at the same moment. A very special role is given to the strategy of ironical letting down of the spectators' expectations. By numerous scenes showing acts of terrorism, commercialism and State terror, the myth of Christmas (the events take place at Christmas time) is denounced as a utopian concept. The protagonist, Sam Lowry, is a subject split between belonging to and feeling alienated from the dominant system. His split personality is especially accentuated in his dreams/fantasies, in which he combats his own self. The world is represented as an absurd hell of advanced automatization, where the technology often breaks down and becomes dysfunctional, and the monstrous bureaucracy prevents every possibility of efficiency. Therefore, that whose function initially was to help in everyday life ironically becomes what actively complicates life, and every effort for efficiency and justice is declared subversive. The film achieves especially ironical effects by means of emotional contrast between terrible events at the end of the film and the cheerful music which accompanies them, as well as by means of blurring the distinction between reality and fantasy. Analysis of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's novel and François Truffaut's film adaptation of it, emphasizes the fact that a typical example of a situational irony – an image of the firemen starting fires – lies at the heart of both. There is a double alienation from the common public persona: the "firemen" in the world of Fahrenheit 451 do quite the opposite of what they are supposed to do in the world inhabited by the readers/spectators of Fahrenheit 451 (they burn books), and then again, one of them, Montag, does quite the opposite of what is expected from him (he hides and reads forbidden books). Montag as a character is devised as a typical dystopian split subject, that is, a member of the dominant regime, who gradually alienates from his public persona and transforms into the very opposition of his former self. Even his boss, Beatty, the very incarnation of the repressive regime, is ironically split at his core: although he hates and persecutes books, his talk about the meaninglessness of books reveals that he himself had read a lot. The analysis also stresses the importance of the motif of the control of language by the dominant regime, as well as the opposition of the narrative of the regime and the counter-narrative symbolised by the books and humanistic sciences persecuted by the regime. In addition, Truffaut's film incorporates a sort of self-reflexive meditation about the nature of its own medium, which makes it even more ironic than Bradbury's novel. Analysis of A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess's novel and Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of it, singles out the strategy of the inversion of roles, or turning into one's own opposite, as the main ironical strategy of both. A distinctively ironic narrator is also present in both. The accent is on the retrospective narration of Alex, a protagonist and a narrator, and his narcissistic split as the subject and at the same time the object of narration, which results with his manipulation of his own image. Untypically for a dystopia, the protagonist does not gradually alienate himself from his institutional, social role, but willingly adopts two different identities, the "night" one of a criminal and the "day" one of an innocent child; the "day" one obviously serving as a deceit. Both Burgess's novel and Kubrick's film abound with examples of dramatic irony. In both there is also self-reflexive or metafictional questioning of its own medium, which once again confirms the thesis about controlling language as one of the key dystopian topoi. Kubrick's film employs the strategy of using a musical soundtrack as an ironic comment on events, i.e., the ironical strategy based on the emotional counterpoint between the sound and the picture. By revealing the true motives of the Minister – a self-proclaimed "fighter" against crime and the initiator of the Ludovico technique of curing criminals of their criminal impulses – in his act of co-opting criminal for the purpose of staying in power, A Clockwork Orange denounces utopian projects in general. Analysis of Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and of a film adaptation of it, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, emphasizes that both are thematically concerned with the crises of knowledge and existence. The narrative could be described as "a quest, which brings the hero in the end to his own self as the possible object of the quest"; therefore, its structure is ironical par excellence. The protagonist, Rick Deckard, is a typical dystopian ironically split subject, alienated from his public, institutional persona. The ironical split of his subject is additionally complicated by the possibility that he himself is exactly that which it is his duty to exterminate: an android, or a replicant. A schizoid split is also present in the concept of the androids/replicants, who are expected at the same time to be similar to humans and different from them, as the similarity does not ensure them to be treated in the same way as humans. The analysis takes special care in stressing the ironical use of the motif of empathy. Empathy for animals is declared a typical human characteristic, which distinguishes humans from androids, while at the same time the world presented is devoid of animals, who have been exterminated (obviously, by humans). Therefore, emphasizing empathy in such a context is an ironical strategy of indirect condemnation of human cruelty. The "Conclusion" points out that the doctoral thesis has found sufficient support both in critical theory and in the analyses of the selected novels and films. A conviction is expressed that dystopia indeed can be described as a genre dependent upon conflict between the narrative (of the oppressive dominant regime) and the counter-narrative (of the alienated rebels); that it is in a polemical intertextual relation to its archigenre, utopia, whose conventions it evokes and criticizes; that it satirizes the empirical reality of its author, the elements of which are extrapolated and denounced; and that all three mentioned strategies are essentially ironical.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: irony, dystopia, split subjectivity, intertextuality, satire, Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Michael Radford, Terry Gilliam, Brazil, Ray Bradbury, François Truffaut, Fahrenheit 451, Anthony Burgess, Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange, Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ridley Scott, Blade Runner
Subjects: Comparative literature
Departments: Department of Comparative Literature
Supervisor: Brlek, Tomislav
Additional Information: PDS književnosti, izvedbenih umjetnosti, filma i kulture
Date Deposited: 27 Aug 2019 08:21
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2019 08:21

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