how to do things with words


This is the first post concerning the book HOW TO DO THINGS WITH WORDS.  The book contains twelve lectures, delivered at Harvard University by JL Austin on the nature of language.  The importance of these lectures is, to me, the uncovering of language as a particular kind of instrument between people, and how literal meaning is not the only use of language.


Craft Notes / 36 Comments
December 22nd, 2009 / 10:47 pm


this is john austin

this is john austin

one of the most important books to me is HOW TO DO THINGS WITH WORDS by j.l. austin.  it is a book about language and how certain utterances transcend the simple description of things or the world.  after reading this book, it is easier to understand other people and the import of certain conversations.  the book is based on lectures austin gave at, i think, harvard university.  i am going to read it for a third time and try to provide a summary and critique of each lecture in the upcoming weeks.  if you a familiar with language philosophy, performative utterances or how derrida has used these theories to augment his own, feel free to help me.  the main thrust of the book is that in addition to describing things (constative language, or “my shirt is red.”), language can also produce realities.  for instance, when saying “i do” at a wedding, if applied to the right person, in the right situation, with no obstacles denaturing the situation, an effect is produced by the utterance.  forgiveness is another example.  i think many of the ideas in the book could be applied to comment threads here.  for instance, if i call someone a “dipshit” in a comment thread, on account of not knowing the correct placement of a comma, and then i apologize, i have used a “behabitive” utterance.  a behabitive characterizes behavioral responses.  in the moment i apologize, i place myself and the other person in a situation which can either be, according to austin, not true or false, but “felicitous” or “infelicitous” based on the correct execution.  my apology must be worded in such a way as to signify true regret, i must not be sarcastic, i must not whisper it quietly or not type it, and the other person must accept it, etc.  i can’t remember if i wrote a post on this before, but i will try to do it more in depth here.  i think this kind of book is really helpful for dealing with other people, as it uncovers the unstated context for many “language games.”  thanks for reading this.

Craft Notes / 20 Comments
December 18th, 2009 / 5:46 pm