doing things with voice


J.L Austin’s How to Do Things With Words is a series of lectures at Harvard that were given in 1955. Austin discusses how utterances of sentences can be part of doing an action (for example, saying “I do”) (5). When you say something like “I name” or “I do,” you aren’t reporting on a marriage “I am indulging in it” (6).  He thinks we should call these types of sentences/utterances “a performative sentence” or “performative” (6), as “it indicates that the issuing of the utterance is the performing of an action—it is not normally thought of as just saying something” (6-7). Circumstances are important in these contexts, as well as when the speaker or other must also perform certain actions (8). Austin argues that when something goes wrong after performative utterances (marriage betting), the statement isn’t false, but “unhappy” (14).  In his second lecture, he traces the six rules of performative utterance (14-15). There are also certain ways in which there are misapplications (34). (You can order someone to do something, but if you don’t have the authority, it doesn’t work, or you picking George and him saying he’s not playing (28-29)). I’m interested in the function of certain speech acts that are assertive, like lying (40), as well as the intentions behind the speech act. This is something that I’d like to explore further. Austin says, “In conclusion, we see that in order to explain what can go wrong with statements we cannot just concentrate on the proposition involved (whatever that is) as has been done traditionally. We must consider the total situation in which the utterance is issued—the total speech-act—if we are to see the parallel between statements and performative utterances, and how each can go wrong. So the total speech act in the total speech situation is emerging from logic piecemeal as important in special cases: and thus we are assimilating the supposed constative utterance to the performative” (52).  This is interesting to me because of the various influences that inform speech-acts, and how they have come to exist.  If we could talk further about illocutionary acts that would be helpful. I will keep mulling this all over!


Here are a few thoughts from Njoroge, Samson, and Rath’s “headsounds: the work of vinyl in the age of digital reproduction.”

I agree with Rath’s idea that there isn’t a hierarchy in which data and art can be assembled. The form of this piece was interesting (conversation style), and I really like the notion of pop-ups/(footnotes in the version I read) to show the dialogue that’s going on. Njoroge says it’s always the death of the vinyl. I wonder what happens when we set up this whole vinyl vs. digital argument—what kind of work does it do when we think about things this way? (And why do we have difficulty not thinking about things this way when it comes to different technologies and mediums?) Also, what about the types of people who engage in vinyl collection? What does this tell us? Njoroge says we can’t prove that new technologies will make it sound “better” and argues that experience gets lost via “the promise of endless replication and dissemination of ‘the sound’”. Ted brings up an important point about the notion of comparison—are these two things even comparable to begin with? It seems to me that vinyl, and the sound it makes when played, most frequently invokes nostalgia? I’m not sure that I agree with Njoroge’s argument that satisfaction is brought to the listener via the stylus/friction. The comparison idea still comes up in the analysis: “that sound cannot be matched”. While he brings up an interesting point about the experience as tactile, this is contained in a culturally respective sensory experience, not a universalized one. The idea of the “aura” here is interesting. In addition, when Ted says “The fan cooling a computer’s hard drive makes sound but it is not in the same way related to its production of musical sound,” I’m wondering why it can’t be musical? There are many musicians who would argue for various kinds of sounds. Rath argues that recordings are not capable if an “aura” (in Benjamin’s sense). I’m curious about the fidelity debate and its relevance in this conversation. What I like about the digital argument is its (potentially) accessible component that you bring up. It can shift who is involved with digital music and the different roles people can play. This conversation left me thinking about the role of digital, the role of different mediums for presenting music, and what the relationship is between different forms.

I’m still working through John Searle’s Speech Acts, but here are some preliminary thoughts. Searle focuses on “the philosophy of language” (as opposed to “linguistic philosophy” in his book (4). He examines characterizations and linguistic explanations, and questions the use of certain criterion (which presupposes that we have knowledge of and an understanding of the concept) (6-7). One important part of Searle’s argument is that “Speaking a language is engaging in a (highly complex) rule-governed form of behavior…My knowledge of how to speak the language involves a mastery of a system of rules which renders my use of the elements of that language regular and systematic” (12-13). I am interested in the different ways in which we participate in and perpetuate this kind of behavior through language. (It also makes me think about how new words—or words with different meanings—are introduced into this system.) Speech acts are utterances that have performative capacities and function in language. When we speak language, we are performing speech acts that adhere to the rule system Searle discusses (38). One important piece of Searle’s argument has to do with illocutionary acts that can be focused on intentions (which I’m still working on right now!) (62).


About jeanettethall

graduate student in American Studies View all posts by jeanettethall

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