Modernism, it is generally agreed, is/was an international phenomenon. The reasons for this aren’t difficult to fathom if we keep the history of imperialism in mind. However, I do believe that a phenomenon, despite identical relations, is never the same in different sites. Differential relation when attended to allows us to look at the singularity of a phenomenon.
It is also generally agreed that ironic structure, though not exclusively, is an important feature of modernist poetry. In fact some theorists, such as the American new critic Cleanth Brooks, would claim irony as the condition of being of poetry, and that modernist poetry foregrounds it. It is not difficult to agree that ironic mode can be found in poetry that belongs to the modernist school of poetry.
The question is if irony is a common poetic technique in modernist poetry, can we therefore say that it is a universal feature? That here is one thing that has no singularity of temporal and spatial specificity? My contention is that such may not be the case. Even in the deployment of irony in modernist poetry one might find certain cultural or such other particularity. As an example I wish to offer the use of irony in Indian English poetry.
Critics of Indian English Poetry don’t dispute the fact that irony is the predominant feature of Indian English Poetry, so much so that sometimes that is its only modernism. Vilas Sarang, himself a poet, says so in his introduction to an anthology he edited. I would argue that if we explore the nature of irony in much of the modernist Indian English poetry we begin to see that we cannot study it in the same way we would American, British, or French (any other) modernist poetry.
In modernist Indian English poetry, irony often springs from the location of the speaker. The speaker / author is haunted by the ambiguity that haunts his voice. This ambiguity is to do with the question of Indians writing in English. In India modernist poetry came to be written soon after
Independence, a time when English was still seen as the language of the colonizer. Even when this ceases to be the situation, even after English has been officially declared as one of the Indian languages, its social (economic, cultural etc) position still makes it an exclusive domain. Nowhere in
India people from all spectrum of life speak or understand English. An awareness of this exclusivity seems to trouble the Indian English poet. Often this ambiguity about the language of the poem, one which wants to articulate the common man’s life yet in a language that is not of the common man, seems to structure the irony that modernist Indian English poets deploy. This may also be the case in other modern Indian language poetry but it would be for a slightly different reason; such as the cultural schisms between the writing communities and those that write less (this was relevant during the period of modernism in
This is perhaps one of the ways to understand the use of irony in Indian modernist poetry.