Bending ‘Rules of Use’: Reading Pragmatics on Unstable Grounds
- Tristram Wolff (University of California, Berkeley), Tom McEnaney (Cornell University)
Can the accounts of dynamism, context, and interactivity laid out by pragmatics help us develop a more agile vocabulary to theorize shifting disciplinary, political, and social territories in literary study?
This seminar aims to address this question by asking panelists to consider what pragmatic reading practices — through forerunners like Voloshinov, Goffman, Burke, and Austin, or the contemporary work of Michael Silverstein, Elizabeth Povinelli, Michael Warner, Stanley Cavell and others — add to debates in poetics, post-colonial critique, world literature, queer theory, and media and technology studies. How might the socio-linguist’s urge to delve into “the secret life of texts” conversely reveal how reading fictional or poetic genres recasts debates in linguistics? Can we modify typical concepts from the pragmatic reservoir, such as “context” and “use,” so that they will help us “press” on literary language? And how does the pragmatician’s attentiveness not only to “rules of use” but to their renegotiation, to the incommensurability, tenuousness, and embarrassment of linguistic activity — and linguistic passion — help us see, from various literary frames, how specific linguistic moments turn on this instability, and how certain practices take language’s vulnerability as an “invitation to improvisation”?
We encourage papers that emphasize or adapt pragmatic modes of reading to address a variety of fields and topics, without any necessary recourse to the thinkers mentioned above. We are particularly interested in those papers that allow mutual influence between pragmatics and other current methodologies, putting the fields in dialogue and in broader cultural contexts.