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Linda Hutcheon's study Irony's Edge: The Theory and
Politics of Irony (New York: Routledge, 1994) notes that the
traditional assumption about the "intentionality" of irony places
agency entirely in the author's hands, such that the responsible
reader should make it her business to discover what the author's
intentions were and to read accordingly. As the conservative
traditionalist E.D. Hirsch, Jr. asserts, an author's original
intention is "an historical event" which can-- and, ethically,
should be reconstructed by the reader or scholar. When
the position is stated in this way, however, I find myself flooded
with a host of doubts; as a writer, and as someone who talks
often to other writers about their work, I know full well that
the construct "intentions" is treacherously slippery. More often
than not, "intentions" do not operate on the most conscious level
of the creating mind at the very moment of composition; awareness
of them slips in later-- sometimes much later, even well
after the publication of the work.

Hutcheon describes a process considerably more complicated than
Hirsch's reliance on the conscious, explicit intentionality of
the author:

The major players in the ironic game are indeed the interpreter
and the ironist. The interpreter may-- or may not-- be the intended
addressee of the ironist's utterance, but s/he (by definition)
is the one who attributes irony and then interprets it: in other
words, the one who decides whether the utterance is ironic (or
not), and then what particular ironic meaning it might
have. This process occurs regardless of the intentions of the
ironist (and makes me wonder who really should be designated as
the "ironists"). This is why irony is "risky business": there
is no guarantee that the interpreter will "get" the irony in the
same way as it was intended. In fact, "get" may be an inaccurate
and even inappropriate verb: "make" would be much more precise.(11)

Hutcheon sees irony as coming into being "in the relations between
meanings, but also between people and utterances and sometimes,
between intentions and interpretations." (12) She describes
it as "transideological"-- that is, as politically slippery and
tricky. In view of my reading that reading A Civil Campaign
ironically allows Bujold to have her cake and eat it too, I am
struck by Hutcheon's quotation from Julian Barnes' novel, Flaubert's
Parrot, in which the narrator talks of Flaubert's "booby-trapped"

That is the attraction, and also the danger, of irony: the way
it permits a writer to be seemingly absent from his work, yet
in fact hintingly present. You can have your cake and
eat it; the only trouble is, you get fat.

In this case, if it is I who am the principal ironist (and
not Bujold), then it is I, who am reading the novel ironically,
who runs the risk of getting fat. I think I prefer the more generous
image of Steve Swartz, a friend of mine. Irony, he says, is a
gift the reader brings to the work. If that is so, the lavish
scale of my attempt to infuse my reading with irony puts me among
the ranks of the wealthiest, most magnificent philanthropists.

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