steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Broken Reads

Readers of this LJ will know that I'm addicted to puns. They let us look under the bonnet of thought and language, they give a peek down the vertiginous crevasses of etymology, and what not?

That said, I don't find them all equally interesting. Take this passage about Jacques Lacan, from the introduction to an article by a writer whom (let me hasten to say) I know and like:

He prompts us to think of language as endlessly inventive, crossing borders, squiggling out of our control. [So far, so good.] For example, French, as far as I know, does not contain the word "can," but if it did I suspect the word would be masculine, not feminine as in la/can. Nicely, we might say "Lacan" contains its opposite, its other; the male has its female self and vice versa.... On the other hand, French does contain the feminine word "canne," which among other things means a cane, a reed, or a walking-stick. Jacques Lacan as a cane, something to lean on while we interpret a work or works of literature, this is my subject.

It's not that I disagree with the conclusions (that the male has its female side, or that we might try to use Lacan to help us understand literature): indeed they seem pretty banal. What I find puzzling is the extent to which we are being asked to accept that they follow from the puns mentioned. Do these ideas become truer, or more proven, because of the wordplay? Or is the wordplay just a kind of extra? If the former, I'd love to know how that works, and what's to stop me proving whatever I want by coming up with an appropriate pun. If the latter, I personally could do without it - at least until the puns get wittier, and less wittery.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to have had such thoughts. So, somebody please, learn me to love Lacan! Or tell me it's okay not to!

ETA: Of course, these puns are not Lacan's own, but they seem quite typical of Lacanian criticism, or at least that which I've read. So I guess I really mean, "Learn me to love Lacanian criticism! Or this aspect of it!" I have a few other issues with JL, but this will do for now.
Tags: language
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