This essay discusses the portmanteau as a privileged rhetorical figure in Finnegans Wake. It illustrates the manner in which Joyce's use of the portmanteau enables him to establish a nonmathematical and nondialectical relation between the work's minimal structural element and the structure as a whole. The essay draws on Gilles Deleuze's concept of “the virtual” and on Jacques Derrida's notion of “invention” in order to theorize this relation. After reviewing previous discussions of Joyce's technique of word combination, it proceeds to consider the Wakean portmanteau as a textual event, an utterly new object that irrupts within the fabric of language to suspend conventional protocols of interpretation. Within this theoretical framework, the text's minimal structural element is charged with a radically inventive potential. The claim of this essay is that such potential pertains to a movement of thought that unfolds in excess of received hermeneutic paradigms.

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