Tuesday, September 11

s'amuser comme Charlot / se suicider

It’s a too often repeated and propagated myth among French students (and teachers!) that se suicider is one of those idiosyncrasies that any language has, in this case the French. For often they ask, isn’t se redundant, for how can someone else do the suicide for you? But, can one not? It’s a myth that exists even on Wikipedia as of now: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verbe_pronominal

Strangely, I never checked (se) suicider on the CNRTL website, my first point of reference otherwise: in a way it’s good that I never did so, for CNRTL would have busted the myth immediately and I wouldn’t have chanced upon my own path of enlightenment (since later on I found the CNRTL verifying all those conditions of suicider existing as transitive verb that I discovered through my reasoning). As is often the case with me when I am learning something new, the route I took was a bit osé and triggered by a certain memory.

S’amuser comme Charlot isn’t a highly-used expression, and I have no idea why this Charlot should be capitalized, since to me it is rather the usual, old charlot, the executioner, and not the modern clown, who gets a huge, even erotic kick out of his business of torture, or at least he is supposed to, as I am not all that familiar with the once-daily European business of tortures and inquisitions. But perhaps, the expression refers to Chaplin? That would be interesting, to say the least. However, whether it be ill or well used, and wherever it comes from, it’s a reflexive expression, for another highly reflexive thing: se masturber. Or is it really all that solely reflexive?

J’aimerais bien te masturber. That’s a phrase you would imagine quite common among the young: more than … me masturber! So if one can masturbate someone else, an activity that till some years back I only associated with the practice of giving pleasure to “self,” then why cannot one suicide someone else? That may sound illogical to people hung on to the (Latin) roots of a word: while the former doesn’t have any element of “self” in it, suicider does contain sui, self, so the word in itself means “to kill self.” So, then, the myth gets reinforced through something that seems a redundancy: se se tuer?

Why not? Because se tuer in French only means to get yourself killed, maybe in an accident: of course, hardly anyone “gets” oneself killed in something that would still be qualified as an accident, but that is the joy of French: one gets oneself robbed, murdered, fooled, etc. To say in an ironic voice: one is robbed, murdered, fooled, etc. But why not se fait tuer then, why se tuer? The difference for me lies in that while se faire tuer points always to an agency, seen or unseen, said or unsaid, human or inhuman, se tuer simply points to the fact without bringing up the element of pathos or destiny or omniscience or even some merciless irony, all of which is the purpose of se faire tuer. And since se tuer could also mean to get killed by an agency that is not necessarily oneself, it’s quite logical to have a se se tuer!

As for how is it possible to have a je te suicide, think of it in terms of je te masturbe! In cases of assisted suicide, mercy killing (or euthanasia, call what you will) or provoked suicide, it is in fact the other person doing the job for you: he is doing the killing act and the will to die is yours – a collaborative effort. Just as someone else does the caressing and the pleasure is yours!



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