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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2006

E 387M • Performative Rhetorics

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
33950 T
5:00 PM-8:00 PM
CAL 22

Course Description

In the beginning was the deed. -Goethe Faust

Speech is in fact a gift of language, and language is not immaterial. It is a subtle body, but body it is. -Jacques Lacan, "The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis"

Valerie Solanas, who took no prisoners, took pleasure in the injurious effects of language and, with Lacanian precision, understood that words are bodies that can be hurled at the other, they can land in the psyche or explode in the soma. A hurtful utterance can give you hives, make you want to throw up, put a dent in your appetite, or summon up any number of somatic responses and physical collapses. -Avital Ronell, "Deviant Payback: The Aims of Valerie Solanas"

In his 1955 Harvard lectures, published posthumously in 1962 as How to do Things With Words, J. L. Austin outlined the basic tenets of speech-act theory in its contemporary form, offering a tentative but perhaps necessary distinction between the "constative" and "performative" functions of language. While the constative utterance offers a statement that describes or articulates "what is," the performative utterance produces, transforms, institutes. Austin for the most part located performative language within the realm of intentional consciousness and limited his analyses to instances of "relative purity," excluding citations of performative speech (e.g., those by "an actor in a play")- a position Derrida famously deconstructs. Nonetheless, Austin's lectures demonstrated that performative utterances collapse the distinction between saying and doing, severely problematizing the conception of language as a transcendental structure of meaning (what Saussure calls langue). Again. What currently goes by the name speech-act theory, in other words, can be understood as the latest articulation in a centuries old debate between philosophy and rhetoric. What's in question, to paraphrase Nietzsche, is whether there is any (transcendental) being behind concrete acts of saying (what Saussure calls parole). Whereas John Searle attempts in Speech Acts to systematize Austin's subversive insights within a logical framework, arguing that "an adequate study of speech acts is a study of langue," many of the most influential contemporary thinkers have resisted this effort, situating Austin's lectures on the side of (sophistic) rhetoric, as a re-affirmation of the awesome and undeniable positing power of language (as parole).

In this course, we will zero in on rhetoric's substantializing effects, on its capacity for concrete manifestation via, for example, hate speech, (psycho)analytic speech, poetic speech, and political speech. We won't attempt any sort of comprehensive approach but will instead begin with Gorgias and Plato, leap ahead to Austin and his contemporary interlocutors, and then spread out into linguistic avenues not so explicitly associated with speech-act theory. Freud, for example, had his own theory of performative linguistics, as did Althusser.


Potential Readings:

Gorgias. Encomium of Helen

Plato. Phaedrus

J. L. Austin. How to do things with Words.

John Searle. Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language.

Jacques Derrida. Limited Inc.

Lloyd Bitzer. "The Rhetorical Situation"

Richard E. Vatz. "The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation"

Barbara Biesecker. "Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation"

Michelle Ballif. "Seducing Composition."

Victor Vitanza. "Concerning a Postclassical Ethos."

Louis Althusser. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses"

Judith Butler. Excitable Speech

Avital Ronell. "Deviant Payback," "On the Unrelenting Creepiness of Childhood: Lyotard Kid-Tested," and "The Sujet Suppositaire"

Foucault. Fearless Speech

J. Hillis Miller. Selections from Speech Acts in Literature

Paul de Man. "Autobiography as Defacement"

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. "Postulates of Linguistics" from A Thousand Plateaus.

Sigmund Freud. Selections from Three Case Histories and Studies in Hysteria

Jacques Lacan. "The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis."

Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen. "Analytic Speech: From a Restricted to a General Rhetoric."

Ruth Leys. "Freud and Trauma."

Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters. Selections from Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria.


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