Paranoiac Knowledge in Legally Blonde

I was thinking about the above scene in Legally Blonde in the context of Lacan’s term “paranoiac knowledge.”  I thought about the mirror stage transitioning into “paranoiac alienation” in which the reflective or specular becomes the social I For Lacan, paranoiac alienation has to do with misidentification and what I thought of as misplacement, in which due to misidentification, the child misplaces his own ego in the other person or as Lacan puts it, the “ego is actually alienated from itself in the other person.” This “paranoiac alienation” leads to “paranoiac knowledge,” in which the child or subject has a distorted relation to reality and to others, because with its misplaced ego, there is a perversion in the subject’s cognition of the external. 

I specifically thought of the scene above, because of desire; I think this scene is a perfect exploration of desire and its role in “paranoiac knowledge.” The character titled “Dorky David Kidney”–his name says it all, perfectly embodying how we and the rest of the world are supposed to “see” him, is striking out with a woman on campus. He asks her out, to which she adamantly and pleasurably, responds, “No, you’re a dork.” This is how she sees him, as a dork, because in the context of the film, this is how he is supposed to be seen.  He attempts to define himself to her, arguing that he goes to law school, trying to construct a way in which she views him favorably, but he fails, and she responds that “girls like me don’t go out with losers like you.” Her language expresses how she sees him in relation to herself, as a loser, a dork, as socially beneath her. The words “loser” and “dork” show the way the social plays into her view of him–she is not interested or attracted to him, because of these abstract things, not explicitly because of who he is, but because of these ideas about who he is.  Here, Elle enters.  Elle, who we understand through the context of the film as attractive, blonde, and sexually desirable.  Elle slaps David, and accuses him of breaking her heart and giving her the greatest pleasure ever known and then taking it away. All of the sudden, David changes. He is the same David he was seconds before who was being rejected by a fellow co-ed, but now he is also more, because of the way Elle has interacted with him and labeled him as an object of desire. Dorky David is now a “womanizer,” a Don Juan, a Casanova…and these things make him desirable.

In this instance, I saw what Lacan was talking about–from the transition to the social  to how “paranoiac knowledge” has to do with desire. Because our own egos are identified with the other, our desire is not our own but the others’: “the object of man’s desire . . . is essentially an object desire by someone else.” What matters about the objects we experience and perceive is their desirability, a desirability that is not unique or innate, but is a product of the desire of someone else.  Needless to say, the woman who first rejected David, suddenly has a change of heart, asking, “so when did you want to go out?”

Please let me know if you read this scene similarly, if you understand “paranoiac knowledge” or any of the terms mentioned differently than I do and/or if you can think of other examples of “paranoiac knowledge” in Legally Blonde or other texts. Thanks!

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One thought on “Paranoiac Knowledge in Legally Blonde

  1. Hey hb! Great post.

    I like how you focused on the power of the words “dork” and “loser.” They reminded me of when we discussed the idea of excess in class. I understand excess as all the emotional baggage attached to a single word.

    So when David is labeled a “dork,” he has a whole stack of pre-made impressions imposed onto him. What those impressions are depend on who you are. For that girl he was asking out, she equated dork with lower/embarrassing/bad. Some other girl might equate dork with sensitive/endearing/good. Interestingly, someone labeled “dork” represents all of these impressions simultaneously–we just see whichever ones work for us within a particular moment.

    I guess I bring this up because I felt that your article reminded me of how words seem to automatically reinforce ideologies with or without the speaker’s permission. They are powerful cultural symbols that we can control to our advantage (the way we critically choose the words to a slogan), but more frequently control us as we thoughtlessly use them.

    Thanks for the post!

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