Verbaalsest irooniast Heiti Talviku ja Betti Alveri luule näitel. Verbal irony in the poetry of Heiti Talvik and Betti Alver

Katrin Puik

Abstract


The article treats verbal irony in the poetry of two emblematic Estonian poets, Heiti Talvik and Betti Alver. The texts analysed are from the 1930s. Following the example of many scholars of irony, I have distinguished between two basic types of irony: verbal irony and situational irony. The first departs from the traditional definition of irony (saying one thing and meaning the contrary) and centres on the use of language, on certain verbal and stylistic devices that make the receiver of the text perceive it as ironic. Situational irony refers to the recognition of the coexistence of incompatible opposites, to the feeling of the most absurd unexpectedness. The aim of the article is to locate and explain the functioning mechanisms of this verbal device in the poetry of Heiti Talvik and Betti Alver. First, there are ironies based on antonyms and/or on the negation of predication, which can be categorized as instances of classic rhetorical irony. We find in Talvik’s and Alver’s poetry few metaphors that can be explained as simple ironic metaphors (L is said but metaphorically N is meant, which in turn must be changed to its opposite value to reach the final referent N ->M=~N). Metonymy has a great inherent potential for irony: if the whole is represented by one of its parts, this often produces a mocking effect, which is the basic characteristic of irony. One can identify a particular kind of ironic metonymy in Talvik’s and Alver’s poetry when proper names (such as Casanova or Jeanne d’Arc) are used to indicate certain traits (the art of living and courage), while actually meaning the opposite (triviality and cowardice). Similar to the first group of classic irony are those instances where ironic oppositions between what is said and what is meant are not based on antonyms but rather on the difference between the highest, the most valuable level, of the imaginable scale and the zero point; for example, what is said is noble, but what is meant is ridiculous. In Alver’s poetry, there are texts that imply antonymic ironic oppositions (pastpresent, local-foreign, sensibility-reflection) but it is not possible to decide for either pole, since ambivalence remains. Well known among scholars of irony, Dan Sperber’s and Deirdre Wilson’s theory of irony as a type of mention is superbly applicable to instances interpreted as ironic in Talvik’s and Alver’s poetry. As Sperber and Wilson have explained, “use of an expression involves reference to what the expression refers, mention of an expression involves reference to the expression itself” (Sperber, Wilson 1981: 303); in the case of irony, the speaker produces a phrase, hinting at the same time that it is improper, ridiculous or in some other way unsuitable to the situation. The theory of irony as a type of mention fits well with Oswald Ducrot’s theory of the polyphony of language, which distinguishes between the speaker (locuteur) and the enunciator (énonciateur). In ordinary discourse, these often coincide, but irony is one of the cases in which the speaker produces statements that he himself does not believe in. In Alver’s and Talvik’s poetry, there are many instances of irony which can best be explained as the mention of an opinion held by another which is unacceptable to the speaker himself. Quite similar to irony as a type of mention is ironic role play in which the speaker is clearly not identifiable with the implied author, since the role taken is opposed to the standpoint of the implied author. Talvik’s and Alver’s poetry does not contain pure role play but only elements of it.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7592/methis.v6i8.558

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