The Scandal of the Speaking Body: Don Juan with J.L. Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages

The Scandal of the Speaking Body: Don Juan with J.L. Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages

The Scandal of the Speaking Body: Don Juan with J.L. Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages

The Scandal of the Speaking Body: Don Juan with J.L. Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages

Synopsis

What is a promise? What are the consequences of the act of promising? In this bold yet subtle meditation, the author contemplates the seductive promise of speech and the seductive promise of love. Imagining an encounter between Moliere's Don Juan and J. L. Austin, between a mythical figure of the French classical theater and a twentieth-century philosopher, she explores the relation between speech and the erotic, using a literary text as the ground for a telling encounter between philosophy, linguistics, and Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. In the years since the publication of this book (which the author today calls "the boldest, the most provocative, but also the most playful" she has written), speech act theory has continued to play a central and defining role in the theories of sexuality, gender, performance studies, post-colonial studies, and cultural studies. This book remains topical as readers increasingly discover how multiply relevant the speaking body is. Moving beyond the domain of formal linguistic analysis to address these questions, the author has written a daring and seductive book.

Excerpt

It is eerie to reencounter one's younger self and rediscover one's own writing twenty-one years later. the reissue of this book now gives a new vitality and a new currency to what appears to me, in retrospect, to be the boldest, the most provocative, but also the most playful text that I have ever written. Speaking bodies (be they of professors, of philosophers, of psychoanalysts, of writers, or of readers) commit literary speech acts that exceed all philosophical intentions and all didactic purposes (mine included). This is the performative power of language that this book attempts dramatically at once to read and to enact, to demonstrate precisely in the act.

J. L. Austin's theory of the performative will thus serve as a key for reading the theatrical performance, the seduction, and the speech acts of Molière's Don Juan and Mozart's Don Giovanni. But more importantly and in return, Molière's Don Juan will reinterpret and shed an unexpected light on Austin's groundbreaking notion of “doing things with words.” Psychoanalysis in turn comes to this theatrical appointment between philosophy and literature (between modernity and classicism) by showing how speech always brings the body—the unconscious—into play. the odd exchange between Don Juan and Austin shows, then, how apparently conceptual theories in turn strive for pleasure, play themselves out between knowing and not knowing, and let their words be strung between possibility and impossibility.

Since Judith Butler and the rise of performativity in general . . .

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