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The title of this lecture is “The Concept of Irony,” which is a title taken from Kirkegaard, who wrote the best book on irony that’s available, called The Concept of Irony. It’s an ironic title, because irony is not a concept – and that’s partly the thesis which I’m going to develop. I should preface this with a  passage from Friedrich Schlegel, who will be the main author I’ll have to talk about, who says the following, talking about irony: “Wer sie night hat, dem bleibt sie auch nach dem offensten Geständnis ein Rätsel.” “The one who doesn’t have it (irony), to him it remains, even after the most open disquisition, an enigma.” You will never understand – so we can stop right here, and all go home.

Paul de Man, “The Concept of Irony”


I was just sent this:

“I think Tony Blair is one of the most un-Dostoevskian characters in Britain.”

The words are the archbishop of Canterbury’s, and I have to say, bloody brilliant.

If you read the whole Guardian article, you realise that the Dostoevsky reference was not taken completely out of the blue, but prompted by a question on Tony Blair’s performance at the Chilcot Enquiry, asked at a lecture given on Dostoevsky.  Nonetheless, rather amusing, especially coming from the clergy, don’t you think (Why do I imagine priests being dreadfully boring?)?

Oh, but wait, it gets better;

“I did once rather unkindly say that Tony Blair did do God but he didn’t do irony. Irony is when you recognise that your own sense of dramatic power is always something that is going to be absurd in the light of truth. The readiness to cope with that absurdity is something that you have to learn in order to grow up.”


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mimi harcourt