I will now care to argue that both Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) deliberately place the reader within the predicament of trying to decipher what irony is and how it is tolerated and concealed. The two texts I will be exploring and deconstructing are ‘A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or Country, and for making them beneficial to the publick’1 (1729) and ‘The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters: or Proposals for the Establishment of the Church’ 2(1702). Moreover, both of these texts are extremely conscious in employing this literary device as well as inclining a particular proximity with the reader. Fish is a relativist, and you cannot apply a relativist’s view to the state of irony due to its unstable nature. So therefore, the author has to rely on the skill and the identification to manipulate his audience because each reader brings his or her own experiences through personal meaning and interpretation to the text. I believe that the absolution of a text is contrasted with indignation and paralipsis; irony isn’t personal, it is made personal. The personality and ability of irony has been created through repetition and also has become a fashion which subconsciously the reader has understood through association of ironic signification.
The definition of irony itself raises many issues regarding its stability and how it is created. Does the very thought of irony commit us to some linguistic stability and meaning, or does irony problematise and disrupt meaning? According to The Oxford Dictionary, the definition of irony goes as follows, ‘the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect’. This is the barrier that separates the author’s intention with the reader’s interpretation. Jacques Derrida said that ‘ to experience something as something it must be determined, located or identified’3, So in a sense, irony can be stable but it is the surface of the text that defines its role within the realm of ironist styles . If the reader ‘produces the object of its attention’ then by dissecting each word on the page the text will completely lose its meaning , irony should not be poked and synopsised, it should live and exist within the linguistic structure. Therefore, you don’t have to be an academic to be hit with a sudden realisation that both these highly skilled authors have wrapped their work in allusions and distortions. Claire Colebrook states that ‘irony lies within the tension of language’4, so it is within these tensions both Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe create a controlled interpretation for the reader.
Both pamphlets were published anonymously due to the state of the commonwealth and religious order, so in relation to the pertinence of Defoe and Swift’s time we can apply Roland Barthe’s ‘The death of the author’ concept. However, for it to be applied to the contemporary world, the reader is already knowledgeable of the author’s idiosyncrasies and attitudes, so irony is seen more as a dogma, thus, making it more dangerous in terms of its stability. Hayden White argues ‘the very notion of modern history is essentially ironic: for the historian must read the past as if there were some meaning of the past not apparent to the past itself. The past always means more than what it explicitly “says”’.5