The Performative Limits of Poetry

British Journal of Aesthetics 53 (1):55-70 (2013)
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J. L. Austin showed that performative speech acts can fail in various ways, and that the ways in which they fail can often be revealing, but he was not concerned with understanding performative failures that occur in the context of poetry. Geoffrey Hill suggests, in both his poetry and his prose writings, that these failures are more interesting than Austin realized. This article corrects Maximilian de Gaynesford’s misunderstanding of Hill’s treatment of this point. It then explains the way in which Hill’s understanding of the performative restrictions on poetry relate to his conception of poetry’s role, analogous to that of the Saturnalian misruler, in establishing the authority of ordinary language.

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Christopher Mole
University of British Columbia


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