chapter is way too short. It is several books' worth of research, all of which
is relevant to every chapter in this book, compressed into a few pages. It also
comes a little late: ideally we should be considering the body first, and incorporating
it into every single discussion in the book. I've saved the body for last, and
devoted too little space to it, in the interests of building a smooth heuristic
transition from constative to performative pragmatics: from the stuff that all
pragmaticians think important, speech acts, context, turn-taking, and implicature,
to a new focus on performance and the body.
chapter is structured around the three different aspects of the body that are
important for linguistic pragmatics: body language proper, the haptic body, and
somatic markers. Body language contextualizes verbal utterances, gives it a communicative
directional specificity that words alone cannot accomplish. The haptic body is
how we grasp our word with our bodies, how we use language to describe what our
bodies are doing and our bodies to enact what our words are describing. This section
comes largely from cognitive science: cognitive scientists say we map our worlds
kinesthetically and conceptually and linguistically, all at once. And somatic
markers are Antonio Damasio's concept for feelings (by which he means composite
mental images of a body state, typically of an emotion) that signal to the owner
of that body what experience suggests s/he do (in a specific decision-making situation).
Treating these three areas separately seems pedagogically useful, here, because they are separate areas of study arising out of different fields: body language out of social anthropology, the haptic body out of cognitive science, and somatic markers out of neurology. I'm also assuming that students will be familiar with body language, but will not have heard of the haptic body or somatic markersanother reason for keeping all three separate at this point.
In Chapter 12, though, I add some conceptual refinements to this tripartite structure. There the concept of "somatic markers" is expanded to encompass both inward feelings and the outward display of feelings that I here (conventionally) call body language: feelings mark experiential events inwardly for the person in the body feeling them and outwardly for the people outside that body, watching it for signs of inward attitude or inclination. Feelings don't always show up as body language, but that is the direction they are headed, and are only blocked from full body language display by extreme (and usually only partly unsuccessful) effort.
This is, obviously, the constative argument, and it certainly has its methodological
advantages. Fully embodied language is so much more complex than pure disembodied
structure that studying it seems virtually impossible. Peter Auer (1993) does
a preliminary Gumperzian analysis of a very brief piece of "trash" conversation,
nothing really happening, three people mostly hemming and hawing their way from
one topic to another, and it takes him twenty pages to get even the simplest analysis
worked out. There is so much going on in embodied language that constative linguists
feel it necessary to reduce complexity, to boil language down to only that aspect
which is easily analyzed, the logical structure. And because constative linguists
have dominated the field for so long, it does seem as if their reduction of complexity
is somehow "natural"as if Saussure were right, and logical structure
truly were la langue, "the language," and everything we do
with words were somehow "added on."
we begin to analyze language performatively, however, it becomes clear just how
artificial the constative reduction isjust how much of a methodological
convenience it is, rather than a true account of language. The meaning of
a word or phrase can be abstracted from context, from body language, from the
body saying "I" or "you" or "here" or "there,"
only with great violence, great arbitrariness. The constative linguist reducing
the complexity of embodied language to disembodied structure has to invent, out
of all the possible "core structures" or "true meanings" of
a piece of language, a single one, and then somehow convince readers that it is
the true underlying objective reality beneath the surface complexity of language
use. This makes the constative "science" of language something of an
ontological sham. In order to study language "scientifically," "objectively,"
constative linguists have to ignore the only marginally objective reality
there is to language, embodied people doing things with words, and hypostatize
their arbitrary and speculative structural reductions of that reality as
objective reality. As a reduction, as a provisional elimination of contextual
complexity in order to focus solely on underlying unconscious regularities, constative
linguistics is undeniably useful. But as an ontology of language, an explanation
of the "objective reality" of language, it is sheer mystification.
Writing, of course, is radically
decontextualized and thus apparently disembodied language, and as such an important
part of the constative ontology of language. As Jacques Derrida (1967/1974) has
shown, Saussure wants to have it both ways: he wants to make speech primary and
writing a secondary representation of speech, but he also wants to exclude speechla
parolefrom linguistic study and focus on la langue, a disembodied structure
that is logically parallel to and possibly philosophically derived from writing.
Derrida's strategy is more or less the exact opposite of mine: he wants to expose
the Western "logocentric" and "phonocentric" emphasis on the
presence of the body as a false ontology and to reduce language more fully and
complexly to the disembodied "play" of writing. In this sense Derrida's
first book is a brilliant defense of constative linguisticsa defense that
works out the crippling contradictions at the core of a constative linguistic
ontology and spins them into a philosophically sophisticated (anti)model.
The performative linguist, committed
to embodied performances of language, works the reduction in the other direction.
The performative analysis of writing begins with the question: how do we make
sense of written language? We are, let us say, on a sidewalk on a city street,
and a scrap of newsprint blows up against our leg. We reach down and pick it up
and read: "I am sitting here at my desk." Clearly, in the embodied context
where we read this piece of text, there is no desk and no one sitting at it, so
that the text should by all rights be meaningless: the only "I" present
isn't sitting at a desk, so "I am" and "sitting" and "here"
and "at my desk" have no referents. How do we make this text meaningful?
The performative linguist says we perform it (imaginatively, haptically)
as meaningful. We imagine ourselves sitting at a desk, writing this text, and
project that image onto the faceless absent author of the text. We imagine the
author addressing usflesh out an imaginative conversation between the author
and ourselves. We have, after all, sat at desks and written things ourselves.
Our bodies know what it feels like to sit at a desk and write. Since our haptic
bodies have made sense of sitting "here" at a specific desk and writing
before, many times, at many different desks, we have a whole haptic repertoire
of "I's" and "am sittings" and "heres" and "at
my desks" to draw on in imagining this author addressing us.
is, of course, an imaginary conversation in an imaginary context.
But the performative linguist insists that every conversation is imaginary in
just the same sense. Whether the author's or speaker's body is present or absent,
we still "flesh out" the context and meaning of language imaginatively,
haptically, by imposing a meaningful interpretation on sense-data and image schemas
and remembered experiences. The performative linguist, in other words, isn't interested
in the objectivity of a given use of language, but in the imaginative process
any human being undergoes in performing a given use of language as meaningfuland
insists that, because we are embodied creatures, that imaginative process is also
going to draw heavily on the resources of the body (remembered or observed or
felt body language, cognitive mapping of the world through the haptic body, somatized
markers of rightness and wrongness). This interpretive process is fundamentally
the same for speech and writingit just feels different. (Note that
this emphasis on interpretation rather than objectivity is akin to Derridean deconstruction:
this is the sense in which the performative strategy is only more or less the
opposite of Derrida's.)
other words: the constative linguist reduces both spoken and written language
to abstract structure, and finds the reduction easier to accomplish in writing,
because the structural organization of written text seems to lack body and context
and performance, and so seems more conducive to structural abstraction. The performative
linguist reduces both spoken and written language to embodied performance, and
finds the reduction easier to show in speech, because people conversing in the
same physical space so much more obviously perform their speech with their bodies,
and rely on the embodied performances of the people they're talking to in building
coherent interpretations of context and meaning.
this does not mean that what bodies do is the objective reality behind performative
language: a performative linguistics does not assume that the embodied context
and meaning of spoken conversation is "given" or "objective."
It is always interpreted, "performed" in the interpreter's haptic imagination,
imposed. As post-Kantian thinkers, performative linguists do not believe it is
possible to know the objective Thing-in-Itself of language. We can only perform
it, which is to say, impose a performative interpretation on it. And this performance,
this performative/interpretive imposition of context and meaning "onto"
language, is fundamentally the same for speech and writing.
There is also a complex argument to make about the somatic nature of the Derridean interpretation of language, especially in Derrida's (1988) deconstruction of Austin, where he develops the notion of iteration or iterability as the repeat performance of utterances that simultaneously structures language (stabilizes it as structure through repetition) and changes language (destabilizes it as innovation through misperformance). The theory of somatic markers is the only explanation for how this iterability could function: somatic markers are the only plausible place where repeated performances could be stored as structure, and undermined as innovation. But this is too complex for these notes; for further discussion, see Part II of D. Robinson (2003).
2. This is an extremely common response to the somatic theory: "I don't feel it, so it must not be true." The people who argue this are typically unaware of their bodiesmay even claim that they don't have any feelings, either. Unfortunately, there is no knockdown argument for the somatic theory that will work with these people. The best you can do is let students argue for and against the theory.
1. a. Ace's body language could be described as bright and cheerful, jaunty, possibly even insouciant: squared shoulders, rakish tilt to his head, big friendly smile, exaggeratedly cheerful tone of voice. He also holds the broken package out to the Gruff Man without a hint of apology or regret, which we would expect from a representative of the company that presumably broke the contents of the package. Note, too, how he asks the question "how are you this afternoon" and then rushes right into "allllllll-righty then" without a pause to let the Gruff Man answer: his body language (voice quality) there signals that he is just going through the formalities and doesn't really expect an answer. Ace of course should be contrite, apologetic, and seems instead moronically cheerful.
b. The Gruff Man's body language is bitter, angry at the world, as if just living caused him pain and frustration. His basic voice quality is deep and rough and loud; his tone of voice ranges from harsh and aggressive (when Ace first opens the door) to annoyed and puzzled (when inspecting the package). His posture exudes barely suppressed anger and pained resignation. His heavy face is flatly aggressive and threatening when Ace opens the door, and scrunches up with pain when Ace starts talking to the dog. The fact that he yells at the dog before Ace even opens the door, and says "I don't give a rat's ass" when Ace asks permission to pet the dog, suggests that he isn't exactly a dog lover, which in turn makes it a little hard to believe he stole the dogand he doesn't exactly seem like he's got a wife or girlfriend who might have stolen the dog either. He gives the impression of living alonethough we never really get any evidence one way or the other on that. His nasty, brutish body language seems to be a way for the movie-makers to make audiences feel okay about Ace stealing the dog from him: he doesn't love the dog, he isn't a nice person, he doesn't deserve to have a dog, so Ace is doing the dog a huge favor in returning it to its owner. (And throughout the movie Ace cares much more about animals than about people.) Unfortunately, that body language also makes it a little difficult to believe that the Gruff Man might have stolen the dog in the first place.
The dog wags its tail excitedly at Ace, stands on its hind legs and begs enthusiastically
at him with its front paws, and wriggles and squirms as if just barely controlling
the impulse to leap into his arms. No hostile barking, no teeth displayed, no
growling, no backing away, no raised hackles, no flattened tail: no signs of distrust
at all. Ace changes his posture to be close to the dog, crouches down to the dog's
level. (This is actually to enable him to stuff the dog in his shirt and replace
it with the toy dog he's carrying there when he comes, but we don't see him actually
make the switch, so posturally it seems like he's just really friendly with the
dog.) The sugary meaningless vocalizations that he uses with the dog are the same
ones that we use to convey love and tenderness to tiny babies. The Gruff Man's
body language is not only annoyed but pained: his scrunched-up face looks as if
he is physically suffering from listening to Ace talk to the dog.
And this body-language tension between Ace and the Gruff Man is the main channel of dramatic conflict in the scene. Ace is stealing this man's dogwhich the man probably originally picked up loose on the street and took home with him. The man is perpetually angry at the dog, and certainly never talks to it as Ace does; Ace's exaggerated baby/pet talk seems calculated to cause him maximum annoyance. It is in fact humorously exaggerated: louder than this sort of talk usually is, with more insipidly sugary intonation patterns, in order to pre-enact in the two men's bodies the deception Ace is practicing on the Gruff Man (shortly after Ace leaves, we will see the Gruff Man yelling at the dog to get away from the door, the dog not obeying, and the man getting up heavily from the couch to walk over and grab the dog by the belly, only to find it's a toy, with "YOU'VE BEEN HAD. ACE VENTURA, PET DETECTIVE" written on the bottom).
2. a. The whole family's body language seems frozen, stiff, unbending, self-contained. They hardly move; they keep their bodies compact; they don't make eye contact with each other; they keep their faces blank. Their body language suggests that they don't like each other, don't feel comfortable with each other, don't feel connected to each other.
c. Carolyn's body language is exaggeratedly perky, cheery, like a cheerleader's. She squares her shoulders, cocks her head back and forth like a chirpy bird, and puts a fake-happy-but-almost-angry tone in her voice. This body language suggests that her implicature operates at several different levels: (top) everything's fine, we don't hate each other, we're a happy family, and this is how the mother of a happy family answers her daughter who complains humorously about the old folks' music, (middle) you vicious ungrateful little bitch, what do you do around here that gives you the right to complain about the music I choose for our dinners, (bottom) oh god we are dead and in hell, if this isn't hell then hell can be no worse, we hate each other and I have to pretend to be happy because nobody else in this godforsaken family will even bother to try. The three-second pause can probably be read in any number of ways. I'd read it to mark off the time Jane and Lester take to process the levels of hatred and self-hatred in Carolyn's remarkprobably not to analyze it as I have, but to do something with it, defend against it, wrap it up in thick plastic and stick it somewhere so it won't resound quite so horribly.
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