- Lennon's Larfter:Treating "Araminta Ditch"
"Araminta Ditch" is one of numerous instances of short story writing in the multidimensional career of its author, John Lennon. It was originally published in A Spaniard in the Works, the second volume of Lennon's poems, short stories, drawings, and other unassorted miscellanea. Araminta Ditch is cast amid a collection of funny-named freaks and grotesque outcasts in the Lennon oeuvre that includes Jesus El Pifco, Benjamin Distasteful, The Moldy Man, and Eric Hearable (a spastic dance teacher fired for the fat growth on his head). In each of these crippled character studies, one encounters a literary sensibility obsessed with black humor and a writing style fueled by word play. A Spaniard in the Works also includes tales that rewrite and bastardize classics such as "Snore Wife and Several Dwarfs" or the Shamrock Womlbs mystery, "The Singularge Experience of Miss Anne Duffield." All of these stories might be considered a continuation of the British nonsense tradition (for example, Carroll, Lear, and partly Joyce) passed through Liverpudlian Lennon's pop idiom.
"Araminta Ditch" tells the story of a woman who cannot stop laughing, a fat lady with a "larfing" sickness (135). Incidentally, the "Ditch" plot—if one [End Page 529] could speak of such amid all the laughter—relates how this sickness troubles the well-being of the social authorities (as represented by her boyfriend, the neighbors, and the local vicar). It tells of their unsuccessful attempts to quell her mirth and of her larfing refusal to be subject to such treatments. But "Araminta Ditch" is much more concerned with staging this larfing sickness in the linguistic fabric of the text itself through the use of punning and portmanteau words.
This essay takes up the story of Araminta Ditch in order to speculate about the nature of laughter and word play in general. The treatment demonstrates how the text of "Araminta Ditch" can be interpreted as a staging ground for both a theory and an enactment of these dynamics. It treats the contagious punning and the larfing sickness of Araminta Ditch as the disease or malady of language that doctors proper meaning. The treatment introduces a number of terms drawn from the story that might be viewed as doctor concepts or as quasi-symptoms of this malady of language. They focus on fractured figures of larfter that are at the limits of experience and that put the authority and identity of linguistic meaning into question—bodily expenditures which repeat, the problematics of insanity and doubling, and in the end, the question of laughing, unto death.
"Araminta Ditch" refers repeatedly to her outbursts as "larfter" (136). This misspelling, replacing consonants for vowels, graphically illustrates Araminta's bodily excesses and the unhealthy and excessive nature of word play. With an f larfter has become fatter. This is equivalent to a big belly laugh or to a bursting with larfter. With an r, larfter has become fatter as lard is fat and fatter. These exclamations and expulsions of larfter point to that which cannot be contained or crammed within the confines of analysis or of explanation.1 Thus, whereas this case history exposes the expectation of a knowable reason for Araminta's laughing ailment, it fails to disclose the cause of her larfter, of that which poses the limit of experience and knowledge.
Instead, it takes the form of a private joke that is better left ignored or unsaid. As Araminta says to herself, "'They would dearly love to know why I am always larfing like this to myselve privately to myself. I bet some peoble would really like to know.' She was right, off course, lots of peotle would" (135). In these larfing matters, the reader (substituted for "peoble" or "peotle") will be left (or larft) off course. Rather than discerning the reason, the treatment of "Araminta Ditch" invites these readers to turn into larfers and doctorers themselves. This treating and doctoring seeks its cure in the furthering of the ailment, spreading it far and wide across the populace in epidemic proportions, and exposing its reading public to its written risk. Opening their mouths, they are liable to be treated...