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Are Puns Mere? Christine Brooke-Rose's Amalgamemnon

Are Puns Mere? Christine Brooke-Rose's Amalgamemnon This article will explore the relationship between linguistic puns and knowledge, in particular puns in Christine Brooke-Rose's work, and what they tell us about knowledge: secret knowledge; encoded knowledge; latent knowledge that remains latent; and the refusal of knowledge. My title is an allusion to Frank Kermode's 1967 essay ‘Objects, Jokes, and Art’, where he puzzles away at his own difficulty with distinguishing avant garde writing and art, especially what he calls the ‘neo-avant garde’ of the 60s, from jokes. ‘I myself believe’, he writes anxiously, ‘that there is a difference between art and a joke’, admitting that ‘it has sometimes been difficult to tell.’ Brooke-Rose, whose work Kermode admired, is a perfect example of this. Her texts revolve around the pun, the surprise juxtaposition between semantic poles, the unexpected yoking together of disparate elements. Puns, for Brooke-Rose, sit at the juncture between the accidental and the overdetermined. So what is funny about the pun? Not much, I propose, or rather, it provokes a particular sort of ambivalent laughter which becomes folded into the distinctive character and affective potency of late modernism itself: its deadpan silliness; its proclivity to collision and violence; its excitability and its melancholy. Brooke-Rose's humour is thus of the difficult sort, that is, humour that reveals itself at the moment of its operation to be not all that funny. The unsettling laughter, I propose, that exposes literature's own incommensurability with itself. For Jacques Rancière, the novel must illuminate somehow the ‘punctuation of the encounter with the inconceivable’, in the face of which all is reduced to passivity. The pun, in particular, forces the readers’ passivity, and exposes us to limits of what can be known. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Modernist Cultures Edinburgh University Press

Are Puns Mere? Christine Brooke-Rose's Amalgamemnon

Modernist Cultures , Volume 16 (4): 17 – Nov 1, 2021

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Publisher
Edinburgh University Press
Copyright
Copyright © Edinburgh University Press
ISSN
2041-1022
eISSN
1753-8629
DOI
10.3366/mod.2021.0351
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

This article will explore the relationship between linguistic puns and knowledge, in particular puns in Christine Brooke-Rose's work, and what they tell us about knowledge: secret knowledge; encoded knowledge; latent knowledge that remains latent; and the refusal of knowledge. My title is an allusion to Frank Kermode's 1967 essay ‘Objects, Jokes, and Art’, where he puzzles away at his own difficulty with distinguishing avant garde writing and art, especially what he calls the ‘neo-avant garde’ of the 60s, from jokes. ‘I myself believe’, he writes anxiously, ‘that there is a difference between art and a joke’, admitting that ‘it has sometimes been difficult to tell.’ Brooke-Rose, whose work Kermode admired, is a perfect example of this. Her texts revolve around the pun, the surprise juxtaposition between semantic poles, the unexpected yoking together of disparate elements. Puns, for Brooke-Rose, sit at the juncture between the accidental and the overdetermined. So what is funny about the pun? Not much, I propose, or rather, it provokes a particular sort of ambivalent laughter which becomes folded into the distinctive character and affective potency of late modernism itself: its deadpan silliness; its proclivity to collision and violence; its excitability and its melancholy. Brooke-Rose's humour is thus of the difficult sort, that is, humour that reveals itself at the moment of its operation to be not all that funny. The unsettling laughter, I propose, that exposes literature's own incommensurability with itself. For Jacques Rancière, the novel must illuminate somehow the ‘punctuation of the encounter with the inconceivable’, in the face of which all is reduced to passivity. The pun, in particular, forces the readers’ passivity, and exposes us to limits of what can be known.

Journal

Modernist CulturesEdinburgh University Press

Published: Nov 1, 2021

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