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Asterix and Cleopatra

November 27, 2015


“My dear old Getafix, I hope I find you well”

“An Alexandrine!”

I am morally certain that I did not get this joke when I first read it as a child.

I am slowly purchasing Asterix books for the boy, rereading them at the same time, just to be a good parent and make sure they’re suitable.

The mid 1960s were a great time for Cleopatra narratives – what with the Liz Taylor movie that cost more than the Crimean War to realise – followed by the Carry On team creeping in to use their sets after Hollywood had finished with them – to create their own camp classic – and then Goscinny and Udurzo playing with their own version of “epic”.

Goscinny and Udurzo puffed their own sublime sense of vision by proudly declaring Asterix and Cleopatra to be “The greatest story ever drawn. 14 litres of india ink, 30 brushes, 62 soft pencils, 1 hard pencil, 27 rubbers [erasers], 1984 sheets of paper, 16 typewriter ribbons, 2 typewriters, 366 pints of beer went into its creation!”

The beer sort of counts as magic potion.

The best jokes in Asterix and Cleopatra involve language.  The challenge of representing sounds visually sponsors a deal of intelligent comedy throughout the series.  Everybody likes swearwords rendered as hieroglyphs.  Now when following Asterix, Obelix, Getafix and Dogmatix in Egypt, there is the pleasure of showing how a pictogrammatic language can be converted into imagined sound, and be described in terms of its auditory impact – and then render this auditory impact visually.

Indeed, the repeated joke about shouting in hieroglyphs makes an elegant philosophical point that destabilises phonocentric assumptions about language.  Is writing the mere rendering of a pre-existing sound?  Or are spoken words the mere extrapolation of a pre-inscription?

As far as I know, Derrida never wrote about Asterix and Cleopatra, a deferred project perhaps.

Oh, and we get to see what happens when Obelix actually gets to enjoy a few more drops of additional potion – a superinflated signifier.


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  1. Astérix is sheer genius!!

  2. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    Reblogging this because the boy had to go to school as Obelix the Gaul today. Apparently. #WorldBookDay

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