The Violence of the Name: Patronymy in Earthsea



Winter 2009, vol. 49, n°3, pp.385-409

Departments: Languages & Cultures

The Earthsea novels of Ursula K. Le Guin pit two visions of language and subjectivity against one another. On the one hand, the fantasy cycle is based upon the myth of a magical language, and the texts imitate this myth in the very rhetoric of the novels by way of carefully constructed names.1 Drawing upon the mimetic capacities of language to create a mirror-like reflection between the multiple associations of a name and the attributes of its designated character, the texts employ these 'mimological' names, to borrow Gerard Genette's terminology (5), in the reconstruction of the human subject as whole and unified. In other words, the names are motivated in such a way as to make the characters appear as fully integrated subjects'or, more precisely, re-integrated subjects, since Le Guin's novels typically begin with a fracture, such as self and shadow, male and female, dragon and human, that must then be mended. On the other hand, the novels demonstrate a sensitivity to the violence of the name, and acts of nomination in particular introduce fractures and contradictions into the utopian construction of both sign and subject. While this latter representation of names and naming is more consistent with the conditions of language and subjectivity as described by modern linguistics and psychoanalysis, the utopian vision should not be viewed as a simple manifestation of naiveté or ignorance. Rather, the construction of integrated characters and the creation of mimological names represents an artistic, emotional and intellectual response to the arbitrariness of the sign and the division of the subject.