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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

In the beginning was the pun


“I was visiting Kyoto's Fushimi Inari shrine with a friend, who told me that the Japanese word for pun is oyajigyagu, or "old guy gag". Puns are the jokes older men tell. Wordplay does not float free from culture.

This is a quotation from Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft article on puns in the TLS, which manages to avoid both Joyce and Lewis Carroll, but does stroll a bit with Lacan and Hegel. Wurgaft  begins with the audacious hint that the logos itself might have been a pun: in the beginning was the pun. And the theological paradox, here, is that a pun is inconceivable without a language, as well as the world. If the world begins as a pun, then it begins, as Nietzsche claimed, as a point in the eternal return of the same. Its beginning is as fictitious as its ending, and its puns are literal – the literal being  a pun that hasn’t found out about itself yet.  Perhaps we are living in a Finnegans Wake world, as Joyce-ians have long suspected, and causality is just the universe punning.

Myself, I am not, like Wurgaft, one for the old guy gag. I like jokes that aren’t quite funny, but that, in the telling, move towards funny – that is, that build up ridiculously towards a punch line, Aristocrats-style. The whole point of the Aristocrats joke is to make a joke of creating a verbal edifice that results in a punchline. It is an avalanche event – determinate chaos, the sorites paradox that determines the events in the story – rather like the end of Portnoy’s Complaint.

A high five to Wurgaft for this short essay in the joke asphilosophy. 

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