The Meaning of Irony

A Psychoanalytic Investigation

By Frank Stringfellow Jr.

Subjects: Comparative Literature
Series: SUNY series, The Margins of Literature
Paperback : 9780791419786, 177 pages, July 1994
Hardcover : 9780791419779, 177 pages, July 1994

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Table of contents


1. Irony and Psychoanalytic Theory

2. Fantasy and Irony in Gulliver's Travels

3. Kafka's Trial and the Retreat from Irony

4. Swift, Kafka, and the Origins of Irony




Genuinely interdisciplinary in approach, The Meaning of Irony brings together literary analysis and, from psychoanalysis, both theory and case studies. Its investigation ranges from everyday examples of verbal irony—conscious and unconscious—to the complex irony of literature.

This book provides the first full account of verbal irony from a psychoanalytic point of view. Stringfellow shows how the rhetorical tradition, by viewing the literal level of irony as something the speaker doesn't really mean, flattens out the rich ambiguities of irony and misses the unconscious meanings that are hidden behind ironic statement. He argues that only psychoanalysis can recover these unconscious meanings and reveal the origins of irony.

Frank Stringfellow, Jr. is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Miami, Coral Gables.


"This is a very lucidly written engagement with the problem of irony and a compelling argument that irony cannot be understood just as a rhetorical figure but must also be understood psychoanalytically, as a complex psychological structure." — Jonathan Culler, Cornell University