"Any Search for an Origin is Hysterical": Summoning the Ghost of J.L. Austin
Keywords:Performativity, Austin, philosophy of language.
As the father of the concept of the “performative utterance”, British philosopher of language J.L. Austin is regularly cast as the point of origin in a genealogy tracing the influence of linguistic theory on performance theory. Based on extensive research into Austin’s writing praxis, this paper demonstrates that the philosopher produced and disseminated his research orally, dialogically, and pedagogically through contexts that privileged the inter-subjective exchange. It frames Austin’s self-described practice of “linguistic phenomenology” as a pragmatic one in which philosophy is context. I demonstrate that this mode of “doing” or “performing” philosophy is also at play within the dramaturgy of Austin’s texts, which restage his thought processes and invite his readers to become spectators to the dramatization of his ideas. My analysis offers up a portrait of a J.L. Austin who enacted his philosophy about the performative utterance in a performative manner. In so doing, it exposes the inaugural texts about performativity as hybrid objects that trouble the concepts of “authorship” and “origin”. It also shows that these texts are infected, at their inception, by parasites, by literature, by the Other, and by the ghosts that Austin tried so hard to exorcise, yet that—on some level of consciousness—he simultaneously allowed to haunt his philosophical voice.
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