The Portmanteau Phrase
Herbert W. Simons
hsimons at astro.temple.edu
Mon Nov 19 16:40:04 EST 2001
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
> 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.
> Leslie Bruder
Herbert W. Simons
Professor of Speech Communications
265-65 Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122
wk: 215-204-1880 fax: 215-204-8543
Coordinator Temple Issues Forum, http://www.temple.edu/tif
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