chapter  1
19 Pages

Saying versus Doing

This introduction chapter presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. This book examines the implications for literary study of J. L. Austin's philosophy of language, speech-act theory. Speech-act theory addresses language's productive force, and examines the power of language in communities. Language's communal power is the effect of its 'performative' capacity, a concept Austin systematically explained in the book entitled How to Do Things with Words. The major purpose of the 1955 Harvard lectures that became How to Do Things with Words was to show that words are not only something people use to say things. They also use them to do things, and the difference between saying and doing is of such magnitude that people must understand the two functions in distinct ways. 'Performative' was Austin's term for language with the primary function of doing something, 'constative' his term for language used primarily for saying something.