The Portmanteau Phrase

Herbert W. Simons hsimons at astro.temple.edu
Mon Nov 19 16:40:04 EST 2001


HWS wrote:

Leslie:

I think he does more wordplay in his poetry than in his prose. Apart from the
poetry you'll find wordplay to be a part of his writings in G of M on
dialectics-in-general. My favorite apposition/opposition from G of M is
contained in the previous sentence.

Leslie Bruder wrote:

> Hello Burkophiles.  I have a question, but I don't know that it will net
> anything.
>
> I've been staring at the text of 'Attitudes Towards History' for quite some
> time and I swear the words and even the letters are beginning to swirl
> about, some standing out, others receding.  If I am not mistaken there is
> quite a bit of language-play going on here that is not made very explicit.
> Burke doesn't make much use of the portmanteau "word," that variant of
> punning for which James Joyce was punished for using to excess: I can think
> of Joyce's 'meandertale' and Burke's own 'Kenneth Bark' or a couple others
> that stand out, 'Kennel Bark,' 'Ich kenne Bard.'  You get the message.   I'm
> assuming Burke didn't 'go all the way down that rabbit hole' because of a
> certain 'discomfiture,' as he calls it.  He seems to be hinting at a stigma
> he would try to avoid, clothes that he would not feel comfortable wearing.
> However he does make the claim that he is in possession of a deep
> understanding of Joyce's method.  He calls Joyce 'our greatest heretic.'
>
> Besides acknowledging that he playfully sees his own name in the word
> bureaucracy there is not a lot of hard evidence that he had actually
> instituted Joyce's method of signification.  I sense that he felt he was
> facing a recalcitrant reader base and was wary of losing his audience
> altogether...so his language gaming went underground.  I believe it did so
> also because he was in possession of a dangerous content that couldn't just
> be let out into the general atmosphere.  As he states in the anecdote about
> the Comic Book of Genesis, a great idea will only be usurped by the devil
> and bureacratized and in effect quelled.  In Shakespearean fashion Burke
> builds up his metaphor.  Not believing in an actual devil he yet makes it
> almost a premise of the book that it deals with the problem of evil, which
> is really no laughing matter...unless one with laughter shouts down the
> bugger from his post or 'crow's nest.'  Besides 'saturating' Hobbe's
> Littlebig fish Leviathan with the grotesque vocabulary of the financial
> pages, embalming it as it were, there is a phrase he uses in the
> introduction which miffed me for awhile.
>
> He says that the 'miso-philanthropic' assumption of the book, that "getting
> along with people is one devil of a difficult task, but that, in the last
> analysis, we should all want to get along with people (and do want to)."
> (ATH, Third Edition, Introduction, no page number).
>
> I'm not so concerned with his conjunction 'miso-philanthropic.'  He
> describes in detail a method of getting around phonetic script to produce
> words more like ideograms, and thinks that a word ought to contain its
> opposites.  A couple of examples that I can think of 'right off the bat'
> would be 'toil' and 'loiter' or again 'tell' and 'letter' or 'tell' and
> 'let.'   So I don't think an alphabetic script is entirely incapable of
> performing in the way Burke thinks language ought to perform.  In this
> instance, however, I am more interested in determining if Burke was trying
> to conceal some other message in the above quote, that he, in fact,
> developed a technique for the 'portmanteau phrase.'  Look at the statement,
> 'one devil of a difficult task.'
>
> If he was craving to carve his initials KB on the tree of knowledge this
> would be the way to go about it.  The word 'devil' and 'difficult' appear to
> me to be 'the same word.'  Incautiously we might recombine the letters in
> this way:
>
> 'getting along with people is one level of a devil-cult task.'
>
> I don't think I'm that far off, however there is one connotation that no one
> would accuse Burke of.  But it is obvious that he is operating on many
> different registers and levels.  I'm trying to develop the idea that Burke
> relied more on metaphor, language games and an esoteric art of language
> manipulation for which I can find no better name than Hermetic as 'opposed'
> to Hermeneutic,  in his semiosis than he did on conventional propositional
> logic and argumentation.  Not very original, I know.  I would be interested
> in reading any work that has already been done in this area and would
> appreciate a reference if someone knows any.
>
> Enjoy,
>
> Leslie Bruder

--
Herbert W. Simons
Professor of Speech Communications
265-65 Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122
wk: 215-204-1880  fax: 215-204-8543
hm: 215-844-5969
Coordinator Temple Issues Forum, http://www.temple.edu/tif
Homepage, http://astro.temple.edu/~hsimons




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