Sunday, February 21, 2016

Towards a (Subjective) Numerical Categorization of Examples of Irony

I am very interested in irony, despite their being confusing attempts to define and characterize it.

I am embarking on a quest to categorize examples of irony based on numerical values for certain "properties" of the example. Ideally, I would eventually create a database of these categorizations.

The latest examples are embedded below (you can even submit your own). The full site is here:

'irony is a “...semantically complex process of relating, differentiating, and combining said and unsaid meanings" ... this process of differentiation and relation involves a rapid oscillation between two different meanings.'

Wikipedia article on Linda Hutcheon's "Irony's Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony"

"Even though we have to look at irony through the lens of irony, searching for its meaning gives deep insight into the ways people see their own existence."

J. Keller, irony, in The University of Chicago Theories of Media Keywords Glossary

"... irony is probably less understood now than ever."

Jon Winokur, The Big Book of Irony (2013)

"Irony: the one form of humor that everyone thinks they understand, when actually no one really does.

It is the cleverest joke ever played on mankind."

Dante Shepherd, Surviving the World #618 - Irony (2013?)

"... the fact that if irony were indeed a concept it should be possible to give a definition of irony. If one looks into the historic aspects of that problem, it seems to be uncannily difficult to give a definition of irony."

Paul de Man, The Concept of Irony, in Aesthetic Ideology (1996)

"Irony. The opposite of wrinkly."

Seen on t-shirts

"It's impossible to write or read about irony without either becoming ironic, falling victim to irony, or both. Schlegel calls this effect 'Unverstandlichkeit,' the impossibility of understanding. Kierkegaard provides us with a metaphor. Irony, like the greedy witch from a Danish fairy tale, must eventually devour even its own stomach."

Jennifer Thompson, Irony: a Few Simple Definitions (2003?, learned of via Winokur).

Is the difficulty in remembering ironic examples a property of irony's elusiveness itself?

This Oatmeal cartoon suggests that one of the main uses of the term "irony" is to "inspire massive threads of raging idiots on the internet to debate whether something is ironic or not."

While difficult to wrap one's arms around it with a satisfying definition, I sympathize with those who simply say "I know it when I see it."

When looking at an image or situation, there's a weird "feeling"/twinge surfaced: a depth of some kind that points you vaguely at an undercurrent of something.

What is that twinge?

I came across an irony post on a Georgia Bulldogs blog:

The situation of the Georgia Bulldogs losing to the South Carolina Gamecocks is not ironic in and of itself, but when you consider that the scheduling mess actually ended up working in favor of the Gamecocks rather than against felt it, right? That twinge that hits when you recognize irony? Or maybe that was just your stomach clenching in remembrance of our last game. That's why irony is so difficult to pin down sometimes: sometimes, with irony--especially situational irony--you just have to feel it.

Reversal of Expectations: An Odd Post on Irony on by Cherokee's Grip, Oct 19, 2012.

I want to try to quantify the different properties that comprise this feeling, this "twinge".

Now, different examples of what I am looking for will have different degrees and dimensions of this vague feeling. The strength of this feeling will vary, they may or may not be humorous. In fact, both the initial strength of impression and "humor" are simply additional properties.

The examples have values for different properties, or features, associated with the example's effect. Not only are the values for the properties subjective, but the definition of the properties themselves are as well:

  • "twinge factor": the strength of that feeling associated with the "recognition" of irony
  • First through preattentive response (such as "ha!")
  • poignancy
  • incongruity
  • recursiveness, sharp contrast, that can result in a strange (and sometimes almost uncontrollable) mental fluttering and re-review of the scenario in the example
  • contradiction
  • reversal of expectations
  • unexpectedness - there is a knowledge/background assumed of the audience that is being subverted
  • strength of preattentive/immediate response
  • "It figures"/"Sc, a la Alanis Morisette\'s \'Ironic\'
  • humor
  • emotion (although this might be captured by poignancy)
  • sadness
  • deus ex machina: the Gods are messing with you
  • cosmic karma/just desserts - the universe saw that this should happen so as to even things somehow
  • hypocrisy (this added Mar 7, 2016, after noticing how many people associate hypocrisy with irony)
The properties may be modified or change as I continue to poke at this. Not all examples necessarily have values for all of these properties.

Of course, this may be a doomed quest, destined to the fate of Schlegel, as far as J.A. Dane is concerned:

"He is trapped in his (discussion of) irony... his irony has turned on him; his (catalog of) irony has grown wild and can no longer be controlled."

J.A. Dane, p. 115, The Critical Mythology of Irony, 1991 University of Georgia Press

The latest examples from are embedded below. All ratings are on a scale of 0 to 10, and are completely subjective.