IRONY ZONE / Harry Youtt
I'm going to tell you about the irony zone, the place all of us should
go to step aside from ourselves and encounter each other as we really
are. It is the place we take off the masks we seem to always otherwise
have to wear. Lots of things happen in the irony zone, and to find it,
we need only be aware of its dimensions. We begin the search by
contemplating irony itself, which begins as a literary device and then
leads to the core of human relationships. In the space between the way
people should fit into appearances and the way people are in fact --
that is the home of irony. In the gap between formalism and the
perception of existence -- that is where irony lives.
Irony is where the Watcher,
the presence that is always there behind our image in the mirror to
remind us reality isn't where it's really at after all, thrives and
smiles and is most likely to get our attention.
Irony is not always humorous, but it always gets our attention.
Irony is where the imp of the perverse dwells, the imp who revels in
bursting balloons, all the balloons that float by him.
Irony confirms we are linked by common threads which cut through the
alien separation that formalism imposes. It is the sharing of a secret
between narrator and reader, speaker and listener: a secret that runs
contrary to appearances perceived by others (especially those harboring
false hopes and expectations).
Irony is an assumption that there are no stable values, and all formal
structures are laughable or destructible.
Irony is there to challenge any firmly posited truth and to debunk any
Irony projects a writer's awareness that everything is relative, that
perception is vulnerable, that all language is recorded awareness,
susceptible to skeptical analysis that destroys surface meaning and
forges a bond between reader and writer by respecting the reader's
being in on the ruse.
Irony is a dynamic that takes place up off the page in the space
between surface meaning and the testing of higher truth that only takes
place in minds and is shared by all minds but is never translatable,
not quite, into tangible words on a page.
Irony is shared intangibly nonetheless, up off the page, in a place
where reader and writer meet for a moment of unitary enlightenment.
The irony zone starts with an elbow in the side or a wink, which is
nothing more than an elbow in the side in the form of a non-connecting
gesture. It says: Look! Out there. That's the world. And this. This is
you and me. And the world is all puffed up on itself and full of ideas
that you and I know aren't true, couldn't be true in a million years.
Do you know what I mean? Sure you know what I mean. I can see it deep
in your eyes. Seeing it there is what led me to make contact this way.
I can tell you share it with me. This knowing, about the world, that
what it thinks it knows it doesn't know at all and that the things it
tries to make us all believe are important aren't important in the
least. Now don't you agree?
And when that connection is made, it takes both parties into the irony
zone, and it bonds two people closer than brothers or sisters in the
time that it's working.
The irony zone is where the most effective communi-cation takes place.
It takes the pressure off at having to always be trying to play at
Sometimes it takes the form of whispered secrets, wisdom about how
things really are that is too dangerous to shout from the rooftops, so
that the only thing to do is make it the subject of clandestine
contacts that are sometimes so positively scary they're erotic. And
vigorous noddings of agreement that are such a relief, just to know
that in spite of all the hype and spangle and propaganda, still,
against all apparent odds, there is some one who sees through in just
the way I see it.
And sometimes the narrating partner makes a deal, with another wink,
that says: Watch this now. For a little while I'm going to play one of
those dishonest roles we've just been talking about, as if I believed
in the world. Come with me. It'll be fun. I'll make you laugh. Or cry,
seeing how ridiculous it all seems. But watch closely, because just to
let you know it's me in here and I do understand and I know you too
will understand, and I know that too and, besides, that I love you,
I'll step out of my role, just for an instant, and I'll wink, and when
you see that it'll say we're sharing this spoof together, and It will
make us closer than ever. Because really, after all, it is just you and
I who know these secrets. Just you and I against everything that is out
there, And isn't it a miracle we've found each other and trusted enough
to share these secrets together!
You see, a lot of the irony zone's work comes out of humor. Humor seems
able to break the barriers the easiest. It is a form of ju jitsu.
Especially ironic humor. Because it seems to go with the strength of
convention, allows people to start to sway with the force they feel on
the surface, and all of a sudden, when everything seems to be going
just as it has been calculated to go, the irony zone trips things up so
that people are skidding and falling all over the place, making
general, laughable fools of themselves. Humor allows irony to sneak up
and take over before any of the traditional barriers can go up.
But it is not always humor that irony uses. Sometimes it's
embarrassment, or profound sadness.
And the saddest thing of all is that even when we can get swayed to
enter the irony zone we sometimes don't get the real lesson, that most
of what is really valuable is the feeling people get from sharing the
irony zone together, and most of the wisdom that is truly wisdom is
what comes from the experience and allows people to realize that most
of what is touted to be important, like religions, and national
boundaries, and skin colors, and education, and on and on and on, is
mostly just a krock and that the important things are what people feel
about being linked by their humanity in the irony zone. The sad thing
is, that powerful as the irony zone can be, the world has ways of
To be sure I've gotten my point across about the irony zone, let me
tell you three little stories: about golden retrievers, about driving
in cars, and about soldiers in-between-battles. Then when you squint
your eyes and think about all three of these stories, or maybe even
about just the one you like the best, you will remember what the irony
zone is and how important it is to go there often, not just for
"literary" experience, but for "really communicating" with people, and
you will be able to find your way.
If I try to teach my Golden Retriever how to heel, or sit or do
something silly like roll over, I get that look that comes right from
the irony zone. The dog will first make a kind of move that seems to
comply with the command, as if telling me she knows exactly what it is
I want her to do. Then I get the cocked head and the unmistakable
querying expression that says: 'Come on, big guy. You know better.
Wouldn't it be so much more fun if we just didn't get serious but spent
the afternoon rolling around the park, just smelling the grass and
enjoying each other without there having to be any nonsensical rules
that make me trot along beside your trouser leg like a wind up toy?' I
get that look, and I can't argue with it. Sometimes I disregard it, but
always I know that it is true and that my dog is wiser than I am.
We are out of the irony zone when we are driving in cars. Cars just add
this cloak of metal and the anonymity windshield glass gives and it
prevents us from really connecting with other people who are driving
along similarly cloaked. So that the worst of our alienating traits
come out. We cut people off, curse them outright with the foulest of
But just imagine driving along in tense traffic and full of rage at the
driver in the Honda ahead of you and cursing all the stupid things he's
doing, even shaking your fist at him or cutting him off when he tries
to change lanes.
Then imagine being required to pull off the highway, park your car
beside him, and then go into a nice quiet coffee shop and be seated
across a table for two and have to have a cup of coffee and spend a
half an hour getting to know each other. The relief of being out of the
car and face to face will probably be enough to shake you both into a
deeper form of humanity.
The irony zone is what enables soldiers of opposite sides in all wars
to be able to share common water holes after battle, even to smile at
one another and engage in acts of kindness.
The irony zone is a place of hope. Wars don’t start in the irony zone.
Homicide motives melt in the quiet, drenching light of the irony zone.
God, or if you don't like that word because of its historical
connotations outside the irony zone, the common force that links us all
and gives us a kind of heavenly certainty of what we're up to in the
irony zone against all the data and pressures of the surface world --
God is proven in the irony zone.
Why don't we become so completely swayed by the spangles and the
propaganda and the pressure to conform to the way the world assures us
is the truth? Why are there always people who know better? And how is
it they always seem to find each other? And why does it feel so good?
And why can the disproof of the world's mad "truths" be accomplished
with as little as a wink or a nod or a shrug into the irony zone? It is
because the real force that links us -- (and in passing, just note how
closely all of this resembles the simple maxim from all great
religions: "Love your neighbor as yourself") -- is so much more
powerful than the guns on the ridge.