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How to See What Has Been Done with Words

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Organizer: Nan Da

Co-Organizer: Matt Hunter

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"How to See What Has Been Done with Words" tackles anew the empiricism of speech acts—not how they’re represented, with Ann Banfield’s unspeakable sentences as a limit case, but how the effects and constructed spaces of speech acts are seen.

Thanks to the evolution of communication, there have emerged many more opportunities for literary criticism to track the ways speech acts get delivered, enabled, and registered. So while the legacy of J.L. Austin’s speech-act theory has largely been one of redefinition, with literary theorists (Derrida, Sedgwick, Butler, Felman), philosophers (Searle, Cavell), and anthropologists (Silverstein, Lee, Kockelman) variously seeking to reimagine the classic performative utterance as Austin conceived of it, this seminar extends such thought by asking how new modes of communication, recording, and uptake have refreshed the observability (in space and time) of all that people can do with words. How are Austin's insights clarified with the digital recording and mass formatting of public speech? How do these new conditions calibrate the relationship between literary criticism and ordinary language philosophy? What types of speech acts and speech conditions require new definition? What methods of verdiction allow us to evaluate our uptake of various speech acts, to determine if our determinations of what words have done is accurate? 

We welcome papers that think through these questions as they are raised by a wide variety of literary genres, media, historical traditions, and theoretical approaches. 


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