THE 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 didact.

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 appearances.

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 combating it.

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 epithets.

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.