New History of Puns Rehabilitates Key Avant-Garde Device
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 04-14-11
are all puns terrible?
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Can't get enough of puns? Do your friends start to cringe and gag when you bust out your idea of a quality joke in their presence? Maybe next occasion, gift them a copy of "The Pun Also Rises," forthcoming from champion punner and communications expert John Pollack. The book seems bent on rehabilitating that most maligned of humor categories; its subtitle is "How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History and Made Wordplay More than Some Antics." (What I want to know is, who will speak up on behalf of Antics?)

But no, I support Pollack's project: James Joyce punned big in Ulysses (a wild, gorgeous book cheaply and unconvincingly lambasted in Slate recently)...and he punned, and portmanteaued even bigger in the near-unreadable Finnegan's Wake. Marcel Duchamp too was a die-hard pun enthusiast; two of his most famous are probably the Fresh Widow and L.H.O.O.Q (She Has A Hot Ass), the title of the Mona Lisa with a moustache drawn on. R. Rose Selavy (pronounced like C'est La Vie), probably counts too.

The machinery of punning brings about the conflation of word and image, signifier and signified: the daily bread of both the 20th Century Avant-Gardes and later poststructuralist theorists. And yet the pun still suffers (often deservedly) a pretty darn poor reputation.

The solution I recommend to the dilemma is: please avoid the truly horrible puns (you know who you are) in order to preserve this noble and fertile practice in good standing for the benefit of future generations.

Just to play the devil's advocate, however, I present you with a pretty cogent argument that punning is evil in any form, under any circumstances...

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