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By Paradigm
#14902413
Jacques Derrida once wrote an essay called “Signature Event Context” about J.L. Austin’s theory of illocutionary acts. He critiques Austin’s stance on what he calls “parasitic” speech acts as contradicting a definition of communication he had given elsewhere. Austin’s theory of speech acts focused on intentionality – the idea that we use language to convey intent and convey intent and bring about certain results. Works of fiction, as well as sarcasm and other forms of “non-serious” speech, are parasitic on the logical meaning of these intentional speech acts. Derrida deconstructs this hierarchy by pointing out how text is never constrained by its context, nor by its author’s intent, and thus its meaning is always deferred (différance) and always contains the possibility of what Austin calls “parasitic” meaning. Iterability comes before intentionality.

John Searle responded to this in an essay called “Reply to Derrida: Reiterating the Differences.” He claimed that Derrida misinterpreted Austin, who never claimed to give a full account of language and was focused on a narrower form of inquiry. He accuses Derrida of misunderstanding Austin’s type-token distinction and missing his concept of failure in performativity. If this was the extent of his critique, it might have been a normal academic exchange. But Searle just couldn’t resist digging in to Derrida, accusing him of making pseudo-profound statements that were actually silly or trivial, blasting the whole continental tradition, and relaying a private conversation with Foucault in which the latter allegedly described Derrida’s prose as “terrorist obscurantism.”

Derrida’s response, in a book called Limited Inc., pulls no punches. He makes a rather interesting dig at Searle for copyrighting his essay. Searle has an acknowledgment section where he recognized his wife, D. Searle, and Hubert Dreyfus, a fellow UC Berkeley professor. As such, Derrida says, he cannot claim to be the essay’s sole author. He even suggests that we cannot be sure that Searle himself wrote it, claiming it could have been his family, his secretary, his lawyer, the managing editor of the journal, a joker, or a namesake. As such, we cannot be sure if the meaning of the reply is itself “parasitic” in Austin’s sense.

Instead of referring to Searle directly, he refers to “a more or less anonymous company or corporation” or “three + n” authors. He also points out that Searle, like himself, was indebted to a more or less anonymous tradition of code. Derrida remarks with amusement that Dreyfus is an old friend of his, with whom he himself had worked, discussed and exchanged ideas. So, if it was indeed through Dreyfus that Searle had read and understood him, then Derrida himself could be said to be one of the authors of Searle’s reply. These “three + n” authors, Derrida said, comprised a limited liability corporation, or in French, a “société à responsabilité limitée” (Sarl). So, from that point on in the essay, the author of Searle’s reply is referred to as “Sarl.”

“Sarl” sees Derrida’s portrayal of Austin as denying the possibility that performatives can be cited, whereas Derrida points out that it is not the possibility but the eventuality that in any supposedly normal case, we might be dealing with a citation or parasitic act (we can imagine, for example, someone quoting from a movie we haven’t seen, thus mistaking their “parasitic” act for a performative one). So whereas Searle refers to “Derrida’s Austin,” Derrida, pointing out Searle’s misinterpretation of his interpretation, refers to “Sarl’s ‘Derrida’s Austin.’”

One particularly devilish ploy Derrida uses is to repeatedly cite Searle’s copyright, in increasingly nested quotation marks, asking whether this repeated iteration might somehow take on the character of an illocutionary act, or perhaps cause the supposed original to be lost.

"""Copyright © by John R. Searle"""

Derrida’s essay in fact cites nearly the full text of Searle’s essay, violating fair use law, but Derrida addresses this in the essay, saying that if he was called to court over it, he could at least have a chance to publicly defend his position, pointing out the derivative nature of the language Searle uses, and undermining the very basis of copyright itself.

The countless playful jabs at “Sarl” throughout the essay illustrate his point that all language is “parasitic” in this sense, and therefore illocutionary acts cannot be said to have primacy over these iterations. Searle never responded back to Derrida, though he did spend the next couple decades trying to destroy his career.
#14925406
Haven't read the debate. But did Searle really blast the whole Continental tradition, or just Derrida? There is some truth about what Searle said about Derrida: Making pseudo-profound statements that are really just trite points made in esoteric speach.
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By Justin_S
#14930936
Feel free to point out if I'm missing or misunderstanding something, but Derrida seems entirely right in his reply to Austin. Austin is falling prey to the notion of a fictional work, or for that matter any sort of creative piece, as being "intentional"—as being something the author tries to convey to the reader or consumer through a "code" of some sort. This code, once made accessible to the reader, is used to reverse engineer meaning.

So according to Austin meaning transmitted through a creative or "non-serious" medium looks like this:

creator --> work --> receiver.

In reality, the process of art and to some extent language will often resemble this:

creator --> work <-- receiver,

where the receiver constructs and ascribes their own meaning on the basis of various cultural categories and past experiences (the content of this meaning—whether it be external or internal, personal or cultural—doesn't really matter here). So if I'm not mistaken, there is an entire class of language and expression that lies beyond the distinction between illocution and perlocution, and that furthermore is not really "parasitic," because it subsists in itself.

Overall I'd feel that attempts to reduce language to intentionality are precisely that: reductionistic. Roughly the same principle applies to music, where the inadequacy of such an explanation is even easier to see (since music is more connotative).
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By Verv
#14942825
This was a great story. I really appreciate what Derrida did here -- I think this is the spunkiness you think of when you think of the French; there is a certain crazy like a fox gesture here.

As to the actual content of the debate... I am not sure where I would fall. I am not interested in taking upon me the ideas of either person. It's a very interesting discussion but I'd have to read more.

Justin_S wrote:So according to Austin meaning transmitted through a creative or "non-serious" medium looks like this:

creator --> work --> receiver.

In reality, the process of art and to some extent language will often resemble this:

creator --> work <-- receiver,

where the receiver constructs and ascribes their own meaning on the basis of various cultural categories and past experiences (the content of this meaning—whether it be external or internal, personal or cultural—doesn't really matter here). So if I'm not mistaken, there is an entire class of language and expression that lies beyond the distinction between illocution and perlocution, and that furthermore is not really "parasitic," because it subsists in itself.

Overall I'd feel that attempts to reduce language to intentionality are precisely that: reductionistic. Roughly the same principle applies to music, where the inadequacy of such an explanation is even easier to see (since music is more connotative).


While the idea that the creator and the reader both are involved in the "work" itself, I am slow to endorse this kind of thinking. It over-emphasizes the subjective and makes it sound like you are truly some meaningful, integral part of the work. These ideas of "including the audience/viewer/receiver" etc. in the work of art is really overdone. I feel like I spent ages 12 to 25 hearing different teachers & authority figures talk to me about something for 20 minutes to then "wow!" me with "you're actually PART of this art..."

Thanks, but no thanks.

The dumb girl who reads too far into it and thinks that the whole of Crime & Punishment is just a love story is not creating a piece of art; she is missing the point.

... And whether or not she or I gets the point is besides the point. The novel is a meaningful novel, and while there are alternative interpretations that perhaps even Dostoyevsky would sign off on and say "that is fun that you thought that," it is not infinitely consequential to the rest of us that a guy in California actually had a really interesting meta on who the old pawner's dim witted younger sister represented.

I get worked up about this because the effort to teach everyone that the world is about this subjective reality that you experience is out of control.
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By Justin_S
#14943476
Verv wrote:While the idea that the creator and the reader both are involved in the "work" itself, I am slow to endorse this kind of thinking. It over-emphasizes the subjective and makes it sound like you are truly some meaningful, integral part of the work. These ideas of "including the audience/viewer/receiver" etc. in the work of art is really overdone. I feel like I spent ages 12 to 25 hearing different teachers & authority figures talk to me about something for 20 minutes to then "wow!" me with "you're actually PART of this art..."

Thanks, but no thanks.

The dumb girl who reads too far into it and thinks that the whole of Crime & Punishment is just a love story is not creating a piece of art; she is missing the point.

... And whether or not she or I gets the point is besides the point. The novel is a meaningful novel, and while there are alternative interpretations that perhaps even Dostoyevsky would sign off on and say "that is fun that you thought that," it is not infinitely consequential to the rest of us that a guy in California actually had a really interesting meta on who the old pawner's dim witted younger sister represented.

I get worked up about this because the effort to teach everyone that the world is about this subjective reality that you experience is out of control.

I think considering the reader's role in interpretation doesn't really let the subjective spiral out of control; it really just comes down to recognizing that the author does not always have some sort of entirely specified message to convey, and that this message can be (partly) constructed by the reader on the basis of personal relevance and associations.

This isn't really to say that dumb girls can't miss the point, either, because some interpretations generally hold more water than others, based on consensus and on the actual, material text.

My point is to acknowledge that 1) interpretation happens and 2) the point of art isn't necessarily to "get the point"—what the author conveys is not always specific. This is especially clear in the case of music, which operates almost entirely by connotation rather than denotation. Fiction is similar.

Different cultures throughout history have generally held different views on the matter of whether the author, the text, or the reader plays the most important part in establishing or creating meaning. I think all three are important, and an analysis can be approached from one or more of these directions and hold credence.
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By Verv
#14944758
I just thought of something kind of interesting... One could say that Mystery novels, Horror films, etc., all depend very much on the reactions of the viewer, and often times, on the viewer overlooking something that is more or less essential to the story only to remind them of these facts again in the climax.

It's also funny because there are entire genres of peopel that, by knowing they are watching a horror film or reading a mystery, let their brain slip into a whole different way of functioning and attempt to figure everything out, while others more intentionally turn their brains off with the goal of just giving themselves over to the feelings and to the excitement that they expect.... I would assume that there are even some writers, filmmakers, etc., who design aspects of their films for one or the other audience.

In a real sense... the participation of the audience is very essential.

I do not know why I dragged my feet so hard. :lol:
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By Justin_S
#14945421
Yeah, I think audience interpretation is very important for that reason.

Sometimes it's important for there to be some sort of intersubjectivity in art, i.e. people agreeing on roughly the same interpretation, because it mobilizes social capital and gives the audience an impetus to act or learn. But I'd definitely argue that personal meanings are neither incorrect nor useless. A lot of the music I listen to, for example, I attach incredibly powerful yet unique meanings to. Where I listened becomes as important as what I listened to, etc.

I like to think of art as a sort of double-sided archaeology. You're given a text, which does have an objective existence, but from it you're trying to reconstruct both the author and yourself: it's as much a tool for personal exploration as it is for exploring the author's intention. I don't think we'd enjoy art to nearly the extent we do if we couldn't be "wrong" about it, if that makes sense.

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