The Rhetoric of Subversion as an Element of Style
Roidis, Vizeynos, Skarimbas
It is well known that satire, while restricted by its nature to move into limited thematic fields, it is nevertheless able to use a wide range of techniques. The study of satirical rhetoric contributed to a deeper understanding of the phenomenon and it can also enrich the area of stylistics, since the way the authors serve satire depends mainly on their style.
The study of the rhetoric of subversion is a vital tool for the understanding of satire itself, as well as for many other aspects associated with style writing.
Merely going through the relevant bibliography suffices for one to ascertain that the significations that make up a Poetics of Subversion (satire, irony, parody, humour and so on) constitute ground for argument and contradiction and justifiably so. Nevertheless, since these as well as other, related terms concern a great part of literature and constitute valid tools of modern criticism it is essential to define their particular identity and to be conscious of the ways in which they converse, even if it is sometimes impossible to distinguish them precisely. The constantly expanding bibliography, especially over the last decade, deepens our understanding of the philosophical dimensions and the cultural connotations of the above terms, yet without facilitating the process of reading. Subsequently, the contribution of theory, in this particular case, may become a useful tool of criticism only when it occurs in parallel or rather ensues from the reading of literary texts. Otherwise, its usefulness is undermined, while it remains a contemplative thought which is sometimes alluring and at other times less so. On the contrary, an approach focused on texts proves fertile also for theoretical discourse, since it often controls it and consequently modifies it.
In particular, with regards to satire and irony, the cooperation of act and theory, to which I refer, inevitably undertakes an investigation of the rhetoric of literary texts and the detection of the techniques used by a writer. It is certain that the complexity of the phenomenon of satire and irony involves a degree of difficulty in the creation of an even merely indicative typology of its techniques. However, this typology may prove not only helpful, for exploring the phenomenon of satire itself, but also for revealing a writer’s style. Most theorists agree that one of the difficulties present in exploring satire and irony, the latter being especially used by 20th century satire, arises from the fact that the techniques used by satirical writers tend to number as many as the writers themselves. The above generalisation, one which is unexplored in practice, means that, eventually, satire and irony are directly dependent on the writer’s personality and therefore locating the techniques aids in the study of style, since each writer is inclined to use some techniques more, some less and some others not at all. Moreover, different writers fashion the same technique each in his own way. For example, Solomos and Roidis often use in their satirical works a Persona, but in a different way, depending on their writing style; Laskaratos uses Invective and Insult, Roidis, besides a Persona,uses Reductio ad absurdum, Misrepresentation and so on. Nevertheless, the satirical voice of each writer tends to be systemised in such a way that it is harmoniously included in his rhetoric and constitutes a distinctive feature of his style.
The purpose of my paper is to attempt to demonstrate the degree of consistency with which different writing idiosyncrasies are shaped, as regards satire in their rhetoric. Yet in doing so, I shall circumvent the enormous and thorny issue of the relationship between satire and irony. The way in which the same technique is incorporated into each disposition is not accidental, but it harmonises with the particularities of each literary style. The relationship between satirical rhetoric and literary style develops dialectically, as the techniques selected by each writer are determined by his personal style, yet at the same time they define it, highlighting its particular characteristics. In order for the above mentioned working hypothesis to be fully supported I believe that what is necessary is a dual approach: a microscopic and a macroscopic one. In the first case we shall explore how a particular sub-technique of satire is transformed in the work of different writing idiosyncrasies: the satirical or ironic persona, which belongs to the wider technique of Pretence (Feinberg 1967: 176-205).In the second case we shall examine the ways in which these writers apply a wider technique of satire, the technique of Incogruity (Feinberg 1967: 101-143). For the needs of this paper, I have drawn upon the contribution of three completely different writers: Emmanuel Roidis, Yeorgios Vizyenos and Yiannis Skarimbas. Both techniques and the way they are used by the above mentioned writers are shown in the following table:
1. The Technique of Pretence
a. Verbal Irony
c. Disguise and Deception
f. Satiric Allegory
Vizyenos → split ironic narrator
Persona Roidis → self-subverted fictitious character/narrator
Skarimbas → different “other” ironic narrator
2. The Technique of Incogruity
b. Reductio ad absurdum → Roidis
C. Contrast → Vizyenos
D. Disparaging Comparison → Roidis
a. Cliché Twisting → Skarimbas
b. Satirical Definition → Roidis
c. Cynical Wit
d. Paradox → Skarimbas
The Ironic Persona
The use of persona is an aspect of prime importance for literature and criticism, since it is interwoven with other major issues of the reading experience: the narrative technique, the integrity of the text, the interpretative process. The persona has preoccupied scholars in several ways, having given much ground for debate (Fabian 1975: 321-385). In this study, we are interested in the use of the persona with either an ironic or a satirical aim. According to the typology of satiric techniques that are presented by Leonard Feinberg, the persona belongs to the wider technique of Pretence together with Verbal Irony, Parody, Travesty and Satirical Allegory (Feinberg 1967: 143-175).
A common resultant of the above sub-techniques is, to a lesser or a greater extent, disguise (with a mask, clothes or speech), which is invented by the writer in order to introduce views which are not acceptable or to cast doubts on an issue. It is neither possible nor necessary here to discuss at length the theories pertaining to the satirical persona, yet we shall need to agree upon certain facts. Despite the occasional arguments arising from theorists, whether the persona is the writer or different from the writer, whether it is expressed in the first or the third person, whether it conceals or reveals, I believe we may accept that literary practice, where the persona is concerned, is of such class and such breadth that adopting a moderate and flexible concept becomes legitimate.
I therefore trust we can agree that: i) the satirical or ironic persona is an invention of the satirist that presupposes a distance; it is hence a product of mental and not emotional processing; ii) it expresses views selected by the writer, either to approve of or to condemn, or even to declare his ambivalent stand. The great advantage for the writer who uses a persona is that through this mask he can express himself- or one of his selves- without necessarily having full responsibility over what he says (Fabian 1975: 380-383); iii) its typology is exceptionally wide, since writers’ inventiveness is indeed great. Detecting the persona does not necessarily mean decoding the aim of the satire or the irony and interpreting the text. What is essential for the interpretation is the combined knowledge of two parameters: (a) the identity of the persona (innocent, naïve, cynical, intellectual and so on) and (b) the relationship between writer and persona (complete or partial identification, small or great contrast and so on); iv) the aesthetic effect depends on the writer’s skill, on his ability to create a convincing persona and through it direct the interpretative process (by projecting it, imposing it, withdrawing it and so on).
Vizyenos and the ironic split narrator
Modern Greek literature presents a particularly interesting phasm of satirical and ironic personas, from the cynical commentator to the naïve and from the intellectual to the deranged. Their study can shed light upon various aspects of narrative technique and individual writing practice. Immediately following, we shall detect their function, starting from the narrative persona used by Vizyenos in his story ‘To αμάρτημα της μητρός μου’ (1883). Let us recall that the adult, first-person narrator of the story retrospectively relates the events associated with his mother’s “sin” and its consequences. The sin is revealed to the narrator and the reader at the end of the narration. Yet the narrative persona is divided from the beginning, since through the constant retrospective rationalisations of the adult narrator surfaces the persona of the child. This persona has been suppressed to the depths of the subconscious and emerges to undermine the calm evaluations of the adult and reveal the trauma of motherly deprivation. This division of the narrative persona already becomes apparent at the start of the story:
We had no other sister, only Annió. She was the darling of our small family, and we all loved her. But our mother loved her most of all. She always sat beside her at table and gave her the best of whatever we had. And while she dressed us in our deceased father’s clothes, she usually bought new ones for Annió. She did not rush her into school, either. If she wanted, she went to school; if she didn’t, she stayed home. Something wed’ never have been allowed to do for any reason.
Naturally such special exceptions had to cause harmful jealousies among children, especially children as little as my two brothers and I were at the time these events took place. But we knew deep down inside that our mother’s affection continued impartial and equal towards all her children. We were sure that those exceptions were only external demonstrations of a certain natural favor towards our household’s only girl. And not only did we put up with these attentions without a complain, we even contributed to increasing them as best we could, because Annió, besides being our only sister, had unfortunately always been weak and sick.
Nonetheless Annió’s illness grew steadily worse, and our mother’s concerns centered more and more on her.
(Vizyenos 1988: 4)
When the child’s perspective prevails, the memories are recorded without intervention. When the narration is in the hands of the narrator again, systemisation and rationalisation prevail. Through the effect of dividing the narrative persona, Vizyenos succeeds in creating a second level of meaning, whereby the title of the story acquires a new meaning. The mother’s sins prove to be more than one: to the unintended suffocation of the baby comes to be added the act of depriving her male children of motherly care and affection, causing a trauma that proves stronger than the rationalisation of the adult narrator. The mother’s indifference towards her male children, as this is established through the effect of dividing the narrative persona, also proves narratively effective, since it manipulates interpretation: in parallel with his mother, who will never be purged of the profanity of her venial sin, the narrator will never heal his soul from the trauma caused by his mother’s voluntary sin, namely her disregard of her male children.
Roidis and his selfsubverted fictitious character/narrator
Yet it is time for us to move on to the persona of the fictitious character, which is one of Roidis’ favoured personas. The fictitious character, who gradually reveals his roguishness through his words, is quite a popular effect of satire. In Roidis’ narrative that is ironically entitled ‘Mονόλογος ευαισθήτου’, the writer invents a character who introduces himself to the reader. The character speaks in the first person and presents proof of his sensitivity. The irony is intensified by the fact that the hero-narrator does not suspect that what he considers sensitivity is for the sensitivity of the average reader callousness, to say the least. Having a satirical aim, Roidis uses various effects of verbal irony and in this way, the monologue constantly compromises his bearer. Even more so, at times the writer risks reducing the character he has invented to a caricature, since the examples that “prove” the sensitivity in the hero’s nature exude the known exaggeration that characterises the writer’s subversive style.
From this work I shall quote an extract, even though in prose writing, knowledge of the macrostructure of the text is usually necessary for one to ascertain how the mask is created and how its creator handles it:
Great proof of my excessive sensitivity is the manner in which I married. When old age started approaching to weigh me down, amusements to tire me and rheumatism to ail me, I felt the need to have a home and a wife of my own to take care of me. Like everyone else, I too love beautiful women and wealthy as I am, it was easy to find an attractive girl, if I didn’t request a dowry. Someone else in my position would have done so, but I reflected on how much it would have distressed me, if I married a beautiful poor girl, the thought that she accepted me not for my noble feelings, but for my seven houses. Instead of this unbearable suspicion I chose to sacrifice myself and marry a rich ugly-faced woman. The nobleness of my soul is such so as her big nose and false teeth not to bother me, not only to treat her well, but to also love her, perhaps more than one ought. As proof of my love it suffices to mention that, when last year it happened that she fell ill, I never managed to cope with seeing her suffer. Her coughing and the gurgle of her gargle cut deep with my heart and ears, and the smell of her sickroom brought me dizziness.
Skarimbas and the different ‘other’ ironic narrator
As previously mentioned, the relationship between the writer and the persona he creates is determinative for the interpretive process. The persona of the different ‘other’ offers the writers the possibility of a heretical conception of reality, the surrounding world, established concepts, conventional behaviours and so on. It is easily understood that the more dogmatic and settled a state of things or behaviour is, the more vulnerable it is to the ironic view. In addition, the greater the divergence of a persona from the norm, in other words, the more the persona differs from the average person, common sense, expected behaviour and so on, the wider the gap between the two perspectives is.
The persona of the different ‘other’ presents a wide range of choices that are determinative for its function but also for the aesthetic effect, since a persona is not separate from its action and the speech through which it comes into literary existence. The work of Yiannis Skarimbas, whose penchant for masks, figures and roles is widely known, offers a wide variety of personas that perceive reality ‘obscurely’, meaning from a perspective that undermines the realistic frame and the prevailing ideology. The heroes who parade in Skarimbas’ works present some stable characteristics so as to gradually create a role model hero who makes his appearance even from his first collection of short stories, Καϋμοί στο Γριπονήσι (1930).
Heroes of two substances, supplementary or interdependent, so that they underline the fragmentation and the contradiction of human nature, half-real, half-imaginary as if they spring out of the narrator’s disturbed mind, the scarimbean heroes are of interest mainly due to the obscure look that is imposed upon them by some mental disturbance or incapacity. The theme of the incomplete other is shaped very early, as it constitutes a conscious choice by the writer. For example, the hero in the short story ‘Ούλοι μαζί κι ο έρωτας’ (1930) is a deaf-mute and, at the same time, he is the narrator through whose point of view the story unravels. This lack, the handicap that excludes him from the predefined plan of creation is enough so that the hero perceives the world and conventions through an obscure prism that explodes our view of the world. In the following extract, the deaf-mute hero describes a group of people who are playing music or dancing:
Strumming some hollow pieces of wood with chords, puffed faces blowing holes into funnels! Fingers playing, hands clapping. God what a sight! Gently swaging in their seats. Spasms and grimaces deformed their faces.
Then—God what an affliction—a certain madness, like a mania made them rise. They all joined hands and moved around the place. Frenzied they became and manic. Opening and shutting their mouths—as if breathing their last breath—and eyes heavy with sleep. They jumbed as if treading barefoot on coals, and hit their heels with their hands. How sad! How sad!
(Skarimbas 1994a: 85)
In a similar way, Skarimbas undermines the realistic frame, communication, human speech, literary conventions. The lack appears as a subversion of nature, which is counterbalanced by other abilities that may lead to a more objective perception of the world. The subversion of what is supposedly self-evident and the cancellation of conventional logic create a plexus of self-sarcasm that functions as a deviation from the norm and is rendered possible by virtue of the persona of the different ‘other’. In the following extract where speech, the par excellence carrier of human communication, is undermined; according to scarimbean perception, speech is by nature distortive and insufficient.
What every so often they opened and shut their mouths?
Their hands, their hands, those precious hands, the fingers with which he could depict all things, the smallest to the largest, the smallest to the tenderest, from the skin of a plum to a frog’s numbness, flowers and the sea, the stars and the moon, they, oh, they let them hang like lifeless pieces of wood.
Like wood eh the fingers, while on the other hand they lent over backwards to agree amongst themselves, to enter the meaning of things, to communicate their opinions to the others.
They were so lacking, that they just a little more and they would be together with nothingness. They wouldn’t be—they wouldn’t exist.
Their lips worked away—hours on end—as if were possible to depict with these a ring, a fish, an aroma, to give the impression of right or wrong, of good or bad, of passion or love, the very texture of faces, of items, the shape or caricature of the President.
It seems that their poor mind must have had some fault and they couldn’t sense what was possible and fitting, how to find salvation, how to enter the simple meaning of life.
They really were laughable.
(Skarimbas 1994a: 84-85)
The importance of the satirical or the ironic persona is enormous, as its study may lead to interesting conclusions regarding the stylistic particularities of the writers. Its systematic study in modern Greek literature constitutes one of the many desiderata of modern Greek philology.
Variations on Incogruity
The theory of Incogruity, on which its techniques rely, is, according to Feinberg, the most popular of all the explanations of the comic and is based on the sudden perception that there is discordance between a concept and a true person, thing or event, which the concept supposedly represents. The basic techniques that belong to the Theory of Incogruity are Exaggeration, Understatement, Contrast, Disparaging Comparison and Epigram. Exaggeration can be expressed as Invective, Reductio ad absurdum (elevation to the absurd) or Caricature. Contrast is variably transformed since it can adapt to different aspects of a work (subject matter, form, structure, language and so on). Finally, Epigram comes into being through Cliché Twisting, Satirical Definition, Cynical Wit and Paradox (Feinberg 1967:101-142).
The researcher can reasonably detect in Roidis’ work a wide range of satire techniques. It seems that the familiar from research “ironic idiosyncrasy” of Roidis, who transformed laughter into writing, leads him to specific techniques that are usually included in two out of the four wider categories of techniques of satire. These are Incogruity and Pretence. The basic mechanisms of Incogruity, on which we shall focus for the needs of this lecture, are distortion and incompatibility. From the wide range of techniques of Incogruity, the most important Greek satirist of the 19th century seems to be more in favour of the technique of Exaggeration in the form of Reductio ad absurdum, Disparaging Comparison and Epigram, especially in the form of Satirical Definition. Vizyenos is of a dramatic and not at all satirical nature, yet he is sufficiently ironic and at times playful. He mostly uses Contrast, which, as already mentioned, falls under the heading of Incogruity and proves an approved principle of his writing practice. Skarimbas, apparently being the most subversive prose writer of his era, seems to prefer the techniques of Cliché Twisting and Paradox, which, as we have seen, are sub-techniques of Epigram.
Roidis and his daedalean agility of wit
As research has shown and Roidis himself notes, the aim of his satire is ‘the punishment of the idiocy through ridicule’ (Roidis 2001:312). It is also known that he draws from Swift the method of ‘striking one into awakening as a stimulant against apathy of Greek readers’ (Roidis 2001:71). As for the pretexts for his satire, he finds them in everything potentially hilarius (Roidis 2001:73). It is known that exaggeration, which seems to be Roidis’ favour technique, facilitates the work of satire because it exerts its criticism by augmenting the negative elements and diminishing the positive ones. Reductio ad absurdum is an extreme form of exaggeration. It usually maximises a negative element of a character or of a situation, excluding all others, and creates a stereotype. Roidis applies this technique most skilfully. To illustrate, in the following extract from Πάπισσα Ιωάννα (1866) the climax of the exaggeration leads to a result that is absurd and at the same time ridiculous:
So it is that we hear of Hercules strangling dragons in his infancy and Criezoti the bear: while bees are supposed to have settled on the lips of Pindar, and Pascal to have invented geometry at the age of ten. Now just as the hero of Byron while attending mass in the arms of a nurse turned his eyes away from the dried-up saints to fix them with the greater emotion upon the Magdalene, so our heroine, who was to carve a career in the ecclesiastical world, showed her tendency immediately by refusing the teat if it were offered to her on Wednesday or a Friday: and if ever it should be offered her during the East she averted her eyes in horror.
(Royidis 1960: 22-23)
The technique of Reductio ad absurdum presents great diversity. A common form of this is to be found in Roidis’ work, but also more generally, it arises when the satirist pretends to accept the opinion or the world view of the opponent and following this, it leads him to unacceptable or ridiculous reasoning, as in the examples that follow:
So it was that Judith fell from the couch of her master to the breast of a monk; as in England today the top-hat has fallen from the head of the diplomat to that of the beggar. For in that admirably governed country, while a fain number die from want, and while others outrage modesty for want of a shirt, yet all, parliamentarians and grave-diggers, earls and beggars, alike, wear the top-hat as a symbol of their constitutional equality.
(Royidis 1960: 16)
These good hermits had all but become savages and their appearance was somewhat unkempt after so long in the wilds. Among them was Father Matthew from whose lips live worms dropped, due to excessive fasting; there was Athanasius who never washed his face or his feet and never ate a cοoked meal because the temporal fires of the cookhouse reminded him so irresistibly of the inextinguishable flames of Hell. Then there was Meletius whose whole body was covered in suppurating ulcers like Job’s; yet Job scratched himself with a potsherd to get some relief, whereas whenever a maggot fell from the wounds of Meletius the old man put it back again in order to miss none of the pains of the flesh and thus quality for the rewards of heaven.
(Royidis 1960: 98)
A common version of Reductio ad absurdum in the work of the same writer is the presentation of a subject with criteria found beyond the commonly accepted boundaries, so that what arises is a conclusion opposing some fixed ideology. For instance, in the extract to follow Roidis reaches conclusions that oppose Christian faith, by choosing to present the basis of a Christian reasoning in a biased way:
The All Highest, according to the holy Augustine and Lactantius, does not look askance at the choice of the more liberal paths provided they lead us towards Him, so what point is there in hunting for Paradise through thorns and thistles and boiled vegetables: in listening to nasal songs and kissing ugly images?
(Royidis 1960: 47)
Reductio ad absurdum relies on the bias of perspective. In this case, also, the result is usually the expression of a viewpoint that is found beyond the boundaries of common acceptance, like in the following extract:
Have you ever considered, my dear reader, how delightful and reassuring it must be to have one’s beloved dressed in a man’s clothes so that you and you alone can unveil her beauties? One would know neither jealousy nor the countless thorns of affliction which, according to St. Basil, make women such laboratories of torture.
(Royidis 1960: 66)
Disparaging comparison is also one of the techniques that are very often encountered in Roidis’ work. In the extract that follows the writer uses demeaning comparison very effectively, not only by virtue of the incompatibility of the terms he groups together but also because this technique is interwoven with the technique of implication:
Yet these foetid and worm-eaten anatomies to whom words like pleasure and debauchery, Hell and cleanliness, were practically synonymous; these monks, I repeat, anchorites, hermits and ascetics whose memory today arouses such pity or terror in one’s breast, had a tremendous vogue during the reign of the Pious Theodora; as great, indeed, as coachmen did during the time of Michael III and monkeys in the time of Pope Julius.
(Royidis 1960: 99)
Very often disparaging comparison in this work functions through incompatibility: the more semantically remote and the more incompatible the two terms of comparison are, the more subversive the effect is, as in the following examples:
But it is useless I think to listen to the whole of the liturgy, for it was at Byzantine then as it is today; and so, according to the Catholics, it is destined to remain throughout the ages, as a punishment for the schism, impervious to civilization and bound to the Gregorian model as tightly as an oyster to a rock.
(Royidis 1960: 97)
She succeeded at last in winning the love of her audiences by her clever tongue, as Orpheus moved the stones with his lyre.
(Royidis 1960: 126)
At that time, you see, the processes of the human brain had not been listed ad arranged for minor talents to absorb. They had not been classified like reptiles in the bottles of a museum.
(Royidis 1960: 127)
Yet another favourite technique of Roidis is, as already mentioned, the satirical expression of a faith that is rarely expressed, although it is a common one. This technique usually relies on the balancing of two elements combined in such a way as to create asymphony:
But at that time the Western priesthood was concentrated to the exclusion of everything else, on debauchery and extortion; they had yet to be seized with that later mania for misinterpreting people and sending them to the stake. And if, in the midst of the general ignorance and corruption, there arose one who was consumed by the unusual desire to live virtuously or speak rationally, the priests quickly divided his portion among themselves, and jeering at what they thought was his stupidity, conferred on him the title of Saint—a term as liberally used in those days and as easily conferred as the title of doctor is today upon the most casual practitioner.
(Royidis 1960: 82)
In the ninth century, however, all deceases of the soul and body were attributed to the presence of devils, against whom there was no remedy save exorcism and the touching of sacred relics of the martyrs. Theology and medicine, from which we expect to attain salvation of soul and body, are the only sciences—if they may be so called—which change their fashions as often as women’s clothes.
(Royidis 1960: 87)
The extracts below constitute representative examples of this technique. Yet the writer uses this device in his own way, so that this technique is often structured with the terms of paradox and so it is not easy for the scholar to classify –even to pinpoint— the device. Moreover, the two techniques often cooperate:
But according to the wise Archigenes temperance is itself the most violent aphrodisiac. How wise, how very wise, were the Francs, then, to outlaw such methods in the monasteries.
(Royidis 1960: 60)
All submitted to the blessing on the Sabbath, but since it is not known for certain on which day God rested after the creation of the world, and they being fearful of falling into error, they remained idle the whole week long.
(Royidis 1960: 65)
The above techniques, a sign of maturity in his style, allow the writer to make use of his daedalean agility of wit and his sharp anti-conformist spirit.
Vizyenos and the technique of Contrast
On the contrary, the unique sense of the tragic and the dramatic nature of Vizyenos seem to lead him to a composite outlook on life and at the same time to the usage of antithesis, the most approved as well as composite of the categories of Incogruity. When used as a technique of irony and satire, contrast presents great diversity: contrast between style and subject, introduction of irrelevant material amidst serious expression, intervention of comic episodes in tragedy, mixture of formal language and slang, and so on. The mixture of different linguistic levels is apparently the most popular.
Vizyenos ‘raises his narrative work as a solid structure against time’ (Vizyenos 1994: rb) using antithesis in a systematic way on different levels (linguistic, narrative, ideological) and composing the partial antithetic elements. An excellent sample of his technique is found in the short story ‘My mother’s sin’. There, as we saw while examining the persona, the narration goes back and forth between the perspective of the adult narrator and his childhood view –that is triggered by memory. The rationalisation of the adult opposes the traumatic memory of his childhood years, and the result is the creation of an ironic chasm that heightens the dramatic tension of the story and the ironic dimension, a merging point of the antitheses.
The antithesis between the image of the sacred family, which the mature narrator tries to impose, and the deprivation of motherly love, which emerges from the child’s words, assisted by the intelligent device of dividing of the narrative persona, constitutes the structural axis of the story and runs through all of its levels:
i) Thematic/ideological: the antithesis is expressed through the individual and the collective, the male and the female children, the dead and the living, faith and sin, the people’s intentions and their acts, science and religion and so on. It is not possible at this point to introduce and analyse all the components of the thematic level. Nor do all antitheses have an ironic function. One example of an intensely ironic inversion suffices: the absent dead (father, young sister) determine the development of the plot through their very intense presence, and not the inert, as it were, presence of the living (the children).
ii) Narrative/figural: the second in the story’s time event (the mother’s unholy prayer in church, where she asks to sacrifice the boys in order to save the girl) is ahead in narrative time. Conversely, the first in the story’s time event (the accidental suffocation of the girl) comes later in narrative time. In this way, the reader experiences the fallacy concerning the mother’s sin, while the story’s title acquires an ironic weight, as it signifies more than one sin. Also in direct contrast is expressed the boy’s rescue by his mother in the stream: the mother’s love for the son comes to contradict her prayer where she asks to sacrifice him in order to save the girl. The constant antitheses raise the dramatic tension of the story while the reader follows, as far as the relationships among the characters is concerned, the fluctuations in intensity that the narrative technique defines.
iii) Linguistic: the intertwining of two linguistic forms, demotic and purest, the idiolects of the ordinary mother and the scholarly son-narrator creates an ironic chasm, as it implies the different perception of the world and state of affairs in contrast to their common ending that will be an impasse.
The way in which Vizyenos uses antithesis as a technique is especially resourceful, since it is combined with other techniques of irony (Ambiguity, Transposition of the literal and the figurative, Pretended agreement with the victim and so on), the study of which would make us digress from our aim here. However, we can say with certainty that Contrast, a fundamental element of the writer’s narrative technique and his rhetoric in general confirms via a different route his romantic origins. The narrative ‘Το αμάρτημα της μητρός μου’ is a good example of how the above effects, opposite in their signification or their structure, can effectively collaborate with the slit narrative persona, the retrogression, of the narrator between the passion of childhood experience and the balanced detachment of the adult.
Skarimbas and the distortion of stereotypes
As we have already stated, the technique of Incogruity acquires a different form in the work of Skarimbas. It is well known, that Skarimbas aims, among other things, at the dismantlement and the recomposing of his very own writing tool, language. As for the technique of Incogruity, it seems that the writer applies it starting from the surface structures of the text. Epigram, which he seems to favour, is regarded as a mechanical form of satire and under this falls the Cliché Twisting so as to produce asymphony. A good example of the above technique is found in the short story ‘Ο κύριος του Τζακ’ (1948), where the classical proverb ‘everything in moderation’ [‘Παν μέτρον άριστον’] is distorted: ‘All mediocrity is excellent’ [‘Παν μέτριον άριστον!’]. (Skarimbas 1996: 34)
It is understood that the stereotype distorted may be verbal, as in the above example, but not necessarily. For example, in the following extract from the novel ΤοΒατερλώδυογελοίων (1959) a stereotype of female beauty, Venus de Milo, is subverted, as the correspondence with the ideal moves on to negative elements, reversing the usual reference. The dialogue below bears no relation to the plot of the work, at first glance. The systematic interjection of comical elements or incompatible dialogues is part of the writer’s subversive poetics. The writer broadens the shooting range undermining not only language but also the realistic frame, the perception of abstract philosophical concepts, the concept of art and its relationship with life and so on.
Two people [one of which stutters] were walking—taking a detour—talking and were noticing someone standing across the way. One of the two then answered: And his… an… an… his wife? (and stretched his neck to utter): ‘… she is identical to Aaaaphrodite of Mel Melos!’
(Skarimbas 1994b: 114)
There is nothing unusual about the comparison here, but another, similarly irrelevant to the plot dialogue that follows comes to reveal the subversion:
--His wife, I say, is she here? Please, could you point here out?
--No, she doesn’ t usually accompany him.
--What a shame! I say. I heard she is exceptionally beautiful. Identical to Aphrodite of Melos.
--Of Melos? she said. And she fixed her eyes on me; her beauty sparked. Then with a guffaw she flashed her set of teeth. Yes, she said. Only that she too is one-handed. Her right hand is missing from her arm. On top of that she is ugly as well.
(Skarimbas 1994b: 172)
Finally, paradox, which is Skaribas’ most favoured technique, is defined as a means of expression which is contradictory or irrational, but one that is easily explained as it concerns the truth it expresses (Abrams 1981: 179, Dupriez 1991: 314, Preminger 1993: 876). Let it be reminded that the paradox is in its prime in the romantic era and once again holds an important place within the framework of New Criticism and especially in the movement of surrealism. This is the time when Skarimbas’ conscience as a writer is formed and his art is shaped. With paradox, the expected and its opposite are automatically transformed into a unity, affecting the emotional world of the reader. The two elements are co-dependent: the speaker of paradox selects two contradictory elements and presents them as being directly connected. The reader has to deconstruct given relationships and create new ones. This very vitiation of what is familiar causes shock (Pagliato 1964: 42-50).
In the example below the paradox is created from the co-existence of two contradictory concepts:
It was the train inspector who started checking tickets. Along with—checking—he started a conversation with the passengers. They spoke of wagon derailing. Say what you will—he concluded. We ourselves provoke rail accidents. While they know that the last wagon is the most dangerous they do not mean to dispense with it.
(Skarimbas, 1994b: 35)
It is self-evident that any other technique could be studied in the place of the technique of Incogruity, as long as it is often encountered in the work of the writers from whom examples are drawn. The systematic study of the techniques in the work of the above or other writers would reveal their stylistic preferences, which are understandably related to their writing idiosyncrasy and their era.
The techniques of Satire and the Selective relevance of style
Creating a typology of techniques for every satirical writer equates with the exploration of his poetics and may, at the same time, prove to be a method of approaching other philological issues, verifying or weakening working hypotheses that have been expressed from time to time. For example, research possibly attributes the arousal of Roidis’ imagination in the short story ‘Ιστορία πιθήκου’ to the novel ΟπίθηκοςΞουθήταήθηουαιώνος (1848), by Iakovos Pitsipios (Pitsipios 1995:23-24). It is interesting for one to observe that Pitsipios exhibits a preference for the same techniques that are more often encountered in Roidis’ work as well, a fact that substantiates the above hypothesis.
Let me quote a small sample of the usage of two techniques by Pitsipios —Reductio ad absurdum and Disparaging comparison, both of which were detected in Roidis’ work— not seeking to create impressions, but to show via a different course the phenomenon of selective relevance or the osmoses that rule the game of communication in which literature is included.
In the extract below from Ο πίθηκος Ξουθ the use of Ρeductio ad absurdum with a self-undermining aim, in a monologue by Bartholdy, is reminiscent of the roidean exaggeration:
Βehind the elderly Koraes sat at a small table an around twenty five-year youth, whose proud and serious countenance, gigantic body, large head and veined arms convinced me that he certainly was a decendant of the mythic Hercules; on first noticing him by chance, I saw him furiously lifting and lowering his bushy eyebrows and throwing—frenzied—fiery glances at me, which virtually stopped my blood circulation and filled me with so much terror that my knees started shaking; as I recalled a Frenchman who had taken part in the revolution recounting that the Greek army did not obtain fodder, because the Greeks ate Turks, whom they swallowed alive, as once Kronos has done with his own children.
(Pitsipios 1995: 67-68)
In the extracts that follow the narrator satirises the hero and the heroine of the novel through the technique of Disparaging comparison. I do feel that the way in which this technique is transformed makes reference to Roidis:
Βut having said so much about ape Xooth, it would be wrong not to make some mention of the descent of such a genteel master, particularly since the genealogical tree of Kallistratos Eugenidis is neither higher, nor more many-branched than that of ape Xooth.
(Pitsipios 1995: 43)
--And why did you not wake me earlier as I asked last evening?
--Because I entered your room three times, but you were snoring like an angel.
(Pitsipios 1995: 124)
The issue of the techniques that satire invents may give rise to a plethora of questions regarding literary practice and theory. From all the issues that I have discussed above I hope it has become apparent that identifying the techniques and their combinations used by writers is exceptionally useful, if not indispensable. Although the process sometimes resembles a labyrinth, it may prove to be a method that contributes to the purpose of critique, this being the total reading (Vizyenos 1994: kb). An important benefit in this labyrinth of categories and sub-categories is that the typology of the forms and the techniques contributes to the elucidation of the terms satire and irony on a theoretical level. Moreover, it mainly deepens our knowledge of the poetics and personality of the writers, as well as of the means to which the literature of each era gives priority.
University of Patras
First published in Revue des Études Néohelléniques, Ν.S. 6, 2010, 79-105.
|ΧΡΟΝΟΣ 11 (03.2014)|