The Last Laugh

In Ironies of Faith: The Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature, Anthony Esolen argues that Christianity introduced into European literature a new understanding of irony, an understanding found neither in the classical literature of the pre-Christian West nor in the various strains of post-Christian literary theory that infect the academy today.  Rejecting self-contradicting and self-devouring notions of irony that lead to relativism or even nihilism, Esolen posits three forms of Christian irony—of time, power, and love.

As Esolen states in the Preface, these ironies depend on

the Christian mysteries of incarnation and transcendence, free will and design, sin and redemption, blindness and vision, freedom and submission, and, most of all, the subtle strand that links human love to the love that moves the sun and the other stars.

Such ironies, as the reference to the closing lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy indicates, are dependent on a “disjunction between planes of knowledge”—the difference between what God knows and what we know, a disjunction evident in the placement in Dante’s Hell, Purgatory, or Heaven of persons whose earthly status often differed greatly from their place in eternity, and also in the story of the ram that God unexpectedly provides Abraham to sacrifice in place of Isaac.  Postmodern irony rests on the statement...

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