The Making of Meaning in Wordsworth's Home at Grasmere: (Speech Acts, Microanalysis and "Freudian Slips")

By Bushell, Sally | Studies in Romanticism, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

The Making of Meaning in Wordsworth's Home at Grasmere: (Speech Acts, Microanalysis and "Freudian Slips")


Bushell, Sally, Studies in Romanticism


THE PURPOSE OF THIS ESSAY (AND OF A SECOND WHICH WILL COME AFTER it) is to revisit speech acts and their relation to literature, but to do so specifically in relation to the text in a state of process in order to develop distinctive modes of interpretation for such material. I want to argue that responding to marks upon the page for draft materials in the light of speech act theory may be crucial to our understanding of that material and our ability to respond to it fully. The first section of the paper is therefore concerned with defining the nature of the speech act in broad theoretical terms for the literary work and for the text in a state of process. The rest of the paper is concerned with different kinds of analysis and exploration of the making of meaning through "micro-analysis" of acts on the page and the interpretation of unintended meaning, "meaningful conjunction" and "Freudian slips" within draft materials. The second paper will revisit speech acts within textual process in spatial terms, responding to the manuscript text in terms of "textual place" and "textual space."

Whilst the primary aim of these papers is to enlarge our ways of responding to manuscript materials in a general sense, I have chosen to explore those ideas through a single author and work. However, the choice of Wordsworth's Home at Grasmere is not arbitrary) The fact that this poem survives in a corpus of four main manuscripts and never achieves a lifetime published state allows the paper to illustrate two core concerns--firstly the value of working with, and across, an entire manuscript body for an unpublished text and, secondly, the emergence of different forms of interpretation for the three dimensions of the manuscript object (discussed below) and their necessary interaction. Home at Grasmere is also a poem self-consciously concerned with the act of writing about a particular place in complex, and at times contradictory, ways. As such, it allows for the exploration of an integrated interpretative model in which analysis of draft materials can be directly related to analysis of the meaningful content of the work.

Speech Act Theory, the Literary Work and the Text in Process

It is necessary to begin with a brief account of speech act theory and its subsequent development within deconstructive criticism before considering its relevance to interpretation of draft materials. J. L. Austin's hugely influential 1955 lecture series, published as How to Do Things With Words (1962), first made explicit the extent to which language use is also a kind of action, by distinguishing between words as utterance and the way in which such utterances also perform acts. (2) Austin stated: "the issuing of the utterance is the performing of an action--it is not normally thought of as just saying something" (6-7). In Lectures 1-7, Austin initially made a distinction between a "constative" utterance as a true or false statement concerned with saying and a "performative utterance" as a statement explicitly concerned with doing. However, in his own performative turn within the lecture series, Austin used the later lectures to deny that any absolute distinction existed: "Once we realize that what we have to study is not the sentence but the issuing of an utterance in a speech situation, there can hardly be any longer a possibility of not seeing that stating is performing an act" (138). A second, important distinction (which led Austin to this realization) was that between a "locutionary" and an "illocutionary" act. The locutionary act can be defined as "the act of 'saying something'" (94), (the production of speech and its meaning), the illocutionary act as the "performance of an act in saying something" (99), (the utterance in context). Whilst some acts are more clearly constative/locutionary, and others explicitly performative/illocutionary (e.g. "'I salute you'" [85]), Austin concluded that "in general the locutionary act as much as the illocutionary is an abstraction only: every genuine speech act is both" (147).

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