J.L Austin

Tamarin Norwood Doing Things with Words

‘Austin writes that the performative utterance must constitute the action that it describes or states:

‘to utter the [performative] sentence…is not to describe my doing in what I should be said in so uttering to be doing or to state that I am doing it: it is to do it‘ i,e I now pronounce you man and wife. Thus […] the uniqueness of the performative utterance lies not in its efficacy but in the fact that it is dependent on the self-referentiality of the utterance, its explicit reference to itself.’ pp12

Austin and Benveniste agree that in order for an utterance to be effectively performative it must occur under the appropriate circumstances. For Austin [1975] the circumstances are appropriate if those involved [speaker, listener, witnesses] view them as conforming  to the traditions and conventions of society. Benveniste [1966] merely writes that a performative statement, in order to be authentic, must be uttered under contextual conditions that are themselves perceived as valid.’pp19

In ‘What is a Speech Act? [1971, 46-53], John Searle articulates a number of conditions in decribing ‘how to promise’ and suggests how they might be generalized to apply to other explicitly perofrmative speech acts. The most important among them are related to the authority of the speaker to make the statement under the circumstances in which it is made; the speaker’s sincerity and the listener’s belief in the plausibility of the predicated proposition. Once can effectively promise only what one intends to do and is capable of doing.’ pp19

For further reading with regard to the illocutionary, the perlocutionary, the constative, the performative etc see J L Austin How to do things with words

Text reproduced from  Performance in the Texts of Mallarme, Shaw, Mary Lewis 1993:pp12

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