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Cover Art
Author West, Michael, 1937-

Title Transcendental wordplay : America's romantic punsters and the search for the language of nature / Michael West.

Published Athens : Ohio University Press, 2000.


Location Call No. Status
 UniM Bail  808.0420973 WEST    AVAILABLE
Physical description pages cm
Bibliography Includes bibliographical references (page) and index.
Contents Preface: Punsters, Philosophers, Philologues, Pedagogues, and Other Grammatis Personae xi -- 1. Spellers, Punsters, and Spread-Eagle Linguistics 1 -- From Every Mountainside Let Fredish Ring 1 -- Webster's Speller Casts a Spell--and Breeds Rebellion 3 -- Lexicographers, Journalists, and the Roots of Our Jocular Slang 10 -- Gentlemen Punsters Off on a Spree 14 -- Professional Jesters and the Wordplay of "Jest Plain Folks" 19 -- Further Etiology of America's Punning Epidemic 23 -- 2. Enlightened Europeans, Romantic Americans: Origins of Our Transcendental Quest for the Language of Nature 27 -- Dreaming Philosophical Dreams about a Language of Nature 27 -- How Enlightened French Savants Enlighten Thoreau's Wordplay 32 -- Volatile Words: The Ironic Materialism of Tooke's Diverting Etymologies 42 -- Scottish Commonsense Philosophy of Language Charms American Colleges 46 -- Birth of Comedy from the Spirit of Philology--Romantic Irony Germinates in Germany 50 -- Moonshine in Vermont: Coleridge as America's First Punning Transcendental Sage 57 -- 3. Parsing the Language of Nature 68 -- Murray's Grammar and the Mania for Etymological Parsing 68 -- Lurking Transcendentalism of William Cardell's "Philosophic Parsing" 72 -- Sherman's Attack on Cardell: Grammar Enters Politics--and Vice Versa 79 -- Unequivocal Eminence Achieved!!! The Language of Nature Mechanized!!! 91 -- Brown's English Syntax Institution and the Peripatetic Tradition, 1836-1856 102 -- 4. Antebellum America Goes Gaga over Grammar 110 -- Heirs of Cardell, Legal and Illegal 110 -- Beautiful Dreamers: Philosophical Grammarians and Their Homespun Hermeneutics 120 -- Thoreau and the Educational Establishment 125 -- Verbal Fever Rages on the Ohio--and Elsewhere 130 -- 5. Copyrighting Etymological Ecstasy 141 -- Pop Philology: The Vogue of American Etymological Manuals 141 -- Native Roots--Walt Whitman and America's Anglo-Saxon Zealots 147 -- Scholar's Companion (1836) Becomes the Businessman's Friend 155 -- Treasuries of Words: From Roget to John Williams of Lancaster, Ohio 159 -- Picking Flowers from Florilegia--Thoreau and the Etymological Entertainers 163 -- Three Ramblers among Words--Whitman, Thoreau, and William Swinton 171 -- 6. Thoreau and the Life of Words 183 -- Sporting with Etymological Metaphysics on a Sandbank 183 -- Walden's Dirty Language and Walter Whiter's Geocentric Etymology 189 -- Thoreau's Hydraulic Psychology of Humor 196 -- Elizabethans, Indians, and Animated Nature-Writing 200 -- Making Prose Spring from the Earth 206 -- Getting the Point of Thoreau's Puns 211 -- 7. Ironic Drift in Antebellum Language Philosophy 219 -- Alexander Bryan Johnson: Utica's Philosophical Emperor of Empiricism 219 -- Ironing Out Utica's Antinomies with Irony 227 -- Rational Theology and Its Discontents 238 -- From Paradigm to Paradox: Horace Bushnell Shakes Up American Protestantism 242 -- 8. Go Slow--Man Thinking 251 -- Emerson Whips Words Until the Silence Reverberates 251 -- Exploding the Correspondence Theory of Nature (1836) 259 -- Playthings in the Playhouse of the Children 268 -- Inarticulacy of Old Man Eloquent 276 -- Man Thinking about American Scholars 283 -- 9. Wordplay, Romantic Irony, and the Forms of Antebellum Fiction 291 -- Irving's Bawdy Double Entendres 291 -- Leatherstocking and the Languages of Nature 296 -- Gothic Grotesquerie of Poe's Grinning Skull 303 -- Spell of a Scarlet Letter 315 -- Whale's Tale and Other Literary Flukes 323 -- 10. Savoring the Wiles of Words 334 -- Dickinson's Love Affair with Dictionaries 334 -- A Punning Humorist Grows Up in Amherst 344 -- Paradoxical Power of Webster's Primal Words 354 -- Little Emily's Romantic Ironies 362 -- 11. Whitman's Experiments with Language 370 -- Allure of Native American Names 370 -- Body Language and the Adamic Mystique of Voice 376 -- Mock Epic of the Elastic Self 385 -- Ebbing Afflatus--and Unspeakable Ironies 393 -- 12. Thoreau and the Sounds of Silence 402 -- Harvard Harkens to the Music of a Sphere 402 -- A Mediocre Lecturer Flirts with Acoustic Mysticism 406 -- Floating from Concord to the Heart of Silence 411 -- Unraveling the Rhetoric of Walden's "Reading" 417 -- Social Reverberations of Walden's "Sounds" 421 -- 13. Walden's Antic Dialectic between Self and Society 427 -- Fusing Polarities with Coleridgean Imagination 427 -- Duplicity of Solitude 430 -- Clowning for Visitors 433 -- Bean-Field or Battlefield? 437 -- A World Reintegrated in Transcendental Sport 440 -- 14. Scatology and Eschatology: The Heroic Dimensions of Thoreau's Wordplay 445 -- Thoreau's Excremental Cosmology 445 -- Men, Women, and the Pollution of Sympathy 454 -- Ascetic Heroism against Dirt, Disease, and Death 460 -- Heroic Language Games: Romantic Irony, Art, and the Play of Life 466 -- Concluding Unscientific Postscript 478.
Summary Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century America was captivated by a muddled notion of "etymology." New England Transcendentalism was only one outcropping of a nationwide movement in which schoolmasters across small-town America taught students the roots of words in ways that dramatized religious issues and sparked wordplay.
Shaped by this ferment, our major romantic authors shared the sensibility that Friedrich Schlegel linked to punning and christened "romantic irony." Notable punsters or etymologists all, they gleefully set up as sages, creating jocular masterpieces from their zest for oracular wordplay. Their search for a primal language lurking beneath all natural languages provided them with something like a secret language that encodes their meanings. To fathom their essentially comic masterpieces we must decipher it.
Interpreting Thoreau as an ironic moralist, satirist, and social critic rather than as a nature-loving mystic, Transcendental Wordplay suggests that the major American Romantics shared a surprising conservatism. In this award-winning study Professor West rescues the pun from critical contempt and allows readers to enjoy it as a serious form of American humor.
Subject Thoreau, Henry David, 1817-1862 -- Knowledge -- Language and languages.
American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
Puns and punning in literature.
American wit and humor -- History and criticism.
English language -- United States -- Rhetoric.
English language -- 19th century -- Rhetoric.
Transcendentalism (New England)
Romanticism -- United States.
Nature in literature.
Plays on words.
ISBN 0821413244 (cloth : acid-free paper)