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The Postironical

Table of contents





5What is irony?

8Recognizing irony

9Purpose of irony

10Irony in visual arts

11Basis of movement

13Postmodern thinking

16The Postironical

17Characteristics of the Postironical literature

19Revolt against the System

20Understanding the Postironical

23Theory conclusion


25Epidemic’s narrative structure

27Motivation and narration

28Ironic distance

29Rules and commitment

32Epidemic’s stylistic structure


33A Postmodern film

35The ending scene

37The ironic interpretation

38Conclusion of Epidemic

40Breaking the Waves

40Narrative structure

41A melodramatic story

43Stylistic structure and display of similarities

45A self-conscious double strategy

47The last scene

48Key findings


49Perspective of Andersen’s theory



We see it when we turn on the TV, when we look at advertising billboards, we use it in conversation and we experience it almost every day; I am talking about irony. The reason I have chosen this particular subject is due to the seemingly increased practice of irony that subsists within Western culture. It is something we use on a daily basis for more or less comedic effect. It is an interesting device we use when we communicate with each other because at its design, we are saying or doing something, which is the exact opposite of what we mean and as such this would seemingly hinder the message. In order to avoid this, irony has to be used as a community of language and mutual understanding. However, this aspect has made me speculate the significance of irony – and to what purpose it serves. Literature of the 1960s and 70s used irony as a critical tool against the establishment, but recent postmodern literature of the 90s shows how irony has become less than that. This is argued by the American author David Foster Wallace, who furthermore states that postmodern irony of the sixties functioned as a healthy reaction against the System and a way of unmasking the conservative establishment. However, during the eighties and nineties the System changed, which also affected irony as a counter-cultural language. This meant that mainstream culture took over irony and has now become a norm in itself – thus rendering irony without critical value. Within this, the focus on irony becomes apparent and therefore also an important subject of this thesis. Moreover, this reckoning with irony has also inspired a whole new movement within contemporary culture called The Postironical, which has been coined by Danish university professor Tore Rye Andersen, who sees that several tendencies in American literature point toward a common name. However, Andersen also argues that describing The Postironical as a genuine avant-garde would be premature and only time will tell the outcome. As such this thesis is not an attempt to establish Andersen’s theory a new movement, but rather an employment of its practice. On the basis of this, the most interesting aspect of the Postironical is Andersen’s statement concerning Danish film director Lars von Trier, who he notes to demonstrate characteristics of the theory discussed.


At its point of departure, this thesis seeks to examine the concept of irony as a preliminary tool in order to analyze Andersen’s notion of the Postironical. The main focus of the analysis will examine the Danish film director Lars von Trier, who Andersen claims to exhibit strong Postironical traits. In order to do so I will to look at two of Trier’s film Epidemic and Breaking the Waves, which both contain ironic aspects.


In order to examine to the theory of the Postironical, I will apply Danish University professor Tore Rye Andersen’s argument on this subject in his essay Down With The Rebels! – David Foster Wallace and Postironical Literature (2005), where he theorizes on irony within literature as well as in film. The first part of the thesis will examine the concept and definition of irony, which will function as a basis to analyze the subject at hand. As mentioned above this thesis concentrates on the Postironical and as such I find it relevant to examine the concept which dominates the argued movement namely irony. In order to do so, I will look at Paul De Man’s theory on irony in Aesthetic Ideology (1996), in which he attempts to give a definition hereof. Furthermore, I will incorporate the theory of Wayne Booth in A Rhetoric of Irony (1974) will be taken into account due to his practical criticism of the concept. the Canadian university professor Linda Hutcheon’s Irony’s Edge – The theory and politics of irony (1994), will also be considered, given that she theorizes on the practical use of irony in everyday language and in particular the reason as to why we use it. In the theory section I will also include an inspection of Modernism as well as Postmodernism, noted by university professor Michael Rasmussen, which are the movements leading up to the notion of the Postironical. As the theory of the Postironical is mainly based on literature, I also find it necessary to include Lars Elleström who in Divine Madness (2002) theorizes on irony in visual arts, as my analysis concentrates on film. The analysis will then focus on the two films mentioned above, which will be done through a comparative Neoformalistic analysis on the basis of Analyse af billedmedier (2006) by Gitte Rose and H.C. Christiansen. The analysis will also include Torben Grodal’s Filmoplevelse (2003) who is a professor in film science and theorizes on viewer-perception in film. Along with this, the characteristics of Andersen’s theory on the Postironical will be taking into account in order to establish or deny Lars von Trier as en Postironist. Lastly, I will draw a perspective of Andersen’s theory where his statements concerning the Postironical will be discussed with reference to Hutcheon and university professor Claire Colebrook who in Irony (2004) explores a critique of Postmodern irony.


What is irony?

Language device, either in spoken or written form in which the real meaning is concealed or contradicted by the literal meanings of the words (verbal irony) or in a situation in which there is an incongruity between what is expected and what occurs (dramatic irony).

However, according to Paul de Man irony is extremely difficult to define. De Man writes in Aesthetic Ideology that Søren Kierkegaard’s book The Concept of Irony (1841) is an ironic title because irony is not a concept, and as such it would be impossible to give a definition of irony. At his point of departure, De Man refers to German Romanticism in the early part of the nineteenth century, as the important period on the theorization of irony. Furthermore, De Man examines irony from a deconstructive point of view which can be seen by the following. By looking at the different theorists and philosophers of that period, De Man states that even they seem to disagree on the concept of irony. The German aesthetician Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand Solger, who writes perceptively about irony in Erwin, Vier Gespräche über das Schöne und die Kunst (1815), complains that the poet August Wilhelm Schlegel, although he writes about irony, he cannot define it. Later on, the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who also writes about irony in Lectures on Aesthetics (1835), complains that Solger does not seem to know what he is writing about. Finally, when Søren Kierkegaard writes about the “concept of irony”, he complains that Hegel does not seem to know what irony is. The problem, De Man faces, is that he sees irony to encompass all tropes, but at the same time very difficult to define as a trope. If one was to look at the meaning of the word ‘trope’ which means “to turn”, it would be possible to define irony as a trope according to literary theorist Northrop Frye who defines irony as “a pattern of words that turns away from direct statement or its own obvious meaning” . As such one can only agree with this definition, but while ‘meaning one thing and saying something else’ or ‘praise by blame’ might be considered traditional definitions of irony, De Man still feels that this turning away in irony involves a more radical negation than one would have in an ordinary trope, such as metaphor or metonymy.

The argument above is also supported by English professor Linda Hutcheon, who in Irony’s Edge (1994) on the communicative concept of irony, states that irony will mean different things to ‘players’. She notes that irony should be seen from the point of view of the interpreter, and therefore becomes an interpretive and intentional move,

it is the making or inferring of meaning in addition to and different what is stated, together with an attitude toward both the said and the unsaid. The move is usually triggered (and then directed) by conflictual textual or contextual evidence or by markers which are socially agreed upon.

As such irony involves more than simple contradiction and a general consensus among the many theorists of irony only seems to be the notion of irony involving something unsaid. An example of this is stated by Hutcheon who sees how difficult all the parts of a more complex ironic utterance can by logically contradictory. In this aspect Hutcheon argues how a seemingly straightforward utterance such as “I love people who signal” made by a driver in city traffic who has just been cut off