Sunday, October 13, 2019

Austins Ditch: The Political Necessity and Impossibility of :: Austin Politics Essays

Austin's Ditch: The Political Necessity and Impossibility of "Non-Serious" Speech ABSTRACT: This essay seeks to show that there are political implications in Jacques Derrida’s critique of J.L. Austin’s notion of performative speech. If, as Derrida claims and Austin denies, performative utterances are necessarily "contaminated" by that which Austin refuses to consider (the speech of the poet and the actor in which literal force is never intended), then what are the implications for the speech acts of the state? Austin considers the speech acts of the poet and the actor to be "parasites" or "ordinary language," "non-serious," and would relegate such speech to a region beyond his consideration, to a "ditch" outside the border of meaning for the performative. Derrida argues that the "contamination" Austin fears for language is necessary for its very performativity. If Derrida is correct, then the performative utterances of the state (e.g. the decree of the judge, "I sentence you...") from the biases of racial or sexual identity is also based upon an impo ssible desire, a desire that goes against the manner in which language functions. I argue that this desire for a just state cannot be satisfied unless racial and sexual identity is viewed not as "parasitic" and "poetic," but as necessary to the performativity of the state’s liberal power. "One will not be able to exclude, as Austin wishes, the 'non-serious', the oratio obliqua from 'ordinary language'." Jacques Derrida (1) In his lectures included in How to Do Things With Words J.L. Austin seeks to exclude from his analysis of performative speech all utterances that do not fall under his notion of "ordinary speech".(2) Ordinary speech that is performative, according to Austin, effects a circumstance by means of the speaking, e.g. a sailor names a ship or a judge says, "I sentence you to six months' probation." Often, the desired effect is not produced because of what Austin calls "extenuating circumstances". But Austin's main concern is for what he refers to as instances of "relative purity" in which there is less a chance of failure or "infelicity" (his term) to spoil the intentions of the speech. Also to be excluded from his considerations are instances of citations of performative speech, as in a play: ...a performative will be in a peculiar way hollow or void if said by an actor on the stage, or if introduced in a poem, or spoken in a soliloquy....Language in such circumstances is in special ways—intelligibly—used not seriously, but in ways parasitic upon its normal use—ways which fall under the doctrine of the etiolations of language.

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