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20/9/2021  
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(Non-)Fictional Discourse as a Speech Act


A critique of J. L. Austin´s inadequate account of speech acts in literary and fictional discourse in ´How to Do Things with Words´, and an alternative proposal.
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A critique of J. L. Austin´s inadequate account of speech acts in literary and fictional discourse in ´How to Do Things with Words´, and an alternative proposal—stemming from a question at Academia.edu:

 

Austin's lectures in How to do Things with Words claims that Speech-Act is not applicable to literature/poesy due to a lack of sincerity in the words' usages. What do you think when these fictional realms have sincere motivations behind them, such as satire (which, in many cases, uses its own didacticism as a form of punishment to alter the reader's behavior)? Does that have more 'right' to becoming applicable than novels? What about historical novels? Or non-fiction?

 

Asked by Kelly Centrelli


And my answer:
 

Hi Kelly. Well, to my mind Austin is dealing here only with a very small part of the question of speech acts in literature, and his discussion is muddled by the fact that he loses sight of two facts: a) that speech acts in fiction, while void in the sense he points out, are perfectly valid and effective in the fictional world represented, in the one in which they are uttered. And,

b) that the literary work, play, poem, fiction itself, is in its own right a peculiar kind of speech act (non-void, non-blank, non-nothing) in the world outside the fiction.

It follows therefore that speech acts can be studied in all kinds of fictions, and that all kinds of fictions can be studied as speech acts. Now, are there kinds of fictions which establish a special short-circuited relationship to the reality outside the fiction? Yes there are... and I think further investigation into the question you ask might be oriented that way. As to non-fiction... well, although it may be narrative, and even literary, it falls squarely outside Austin's strictures on fiction, so questions of sincerity, truth, etc. apply to it quite directly.  To my mind at least!


I deal at length with the speech act status of literary discourse, fictional discourse and narrative discourse in the third section of Acción, Relato, Discurso. And there's also these papers I wrote on literary pragmatics, speech acts and fictionality:

_____. "Stanley E. Fish's Speech Acts." Atlantis 12.2 (1991): 121-39. Online edition (2004):
https://www.atlantisjournal.org/index.php/atlantis/issue/archive?issue=12-2
 

_____. "Speech Act Theory and the Concept of Intention in Literary Criticism." Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses 24 (1992): 89-104. https://www.academia.edu/238954/


_____. "Actos indirectos y en general poco serios: La tradición literaria como pragmática intertextual." Paper presented at the VIII Seminario Susanne Hübner: Pragmatic Approaches to (Inter-)Textuality. Universidad de Zaragoza, 29 Nov.-1 Dec. 1995. Online edition (2004): http://personal.unizar.es/garciala/publicaciones/actos.html

 
_____. "Speech Acts, Literary Tradition, and Intertextual Pragmatics." In The Intertextual Dimension of Discourse: Pragmalinguistic-Cognitive-Hermeneutic Approaches. Ed. Beatriz Penas. Zaragoza: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Zaragoza, 1996. 29-50.
https://www.academia.edu/224266

_____. "Actos de habla en la literatura: Reseña de Speech Acts in Literature de J. Hillis Miller." Online PDF at ResearchGate 2 Feb. 2011.  http://www.researchgate.net/publication/33419862

 

 

J. Hillis Miller, Speech Acts in Literature

 

 

—oOo—


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Theses and dissertations
1 Baring the Device of Reality
2 (Non-)Fictional Discourse as a Speech Act
3 To Thine Own Self Be True
4 Tragedy and the Oedipal Subject: Shakespeare (and Freud)
5 Tragedy and the Oedipal Subject: Sophocles and Freud
6 Anatomy of Melancholy
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