How Words Make Things Happen
How Words Make Things Happen

How Words Make Things Happen

by David Bromwich


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Sooner or later, our words take on meanings other than we intended. How Words Make Things Happen suggests that the conventional idea of persuasive rhetoric (which assumes a speaker's control of calculated effects) and the modern idea of literary autonomy (which assumes that 'poetry makes nothing happen') together have produced a misleading account of the relations between words and human action. Words do make things happen. But they cannot be counted on to produce the result they intend.

This volume studies examples from a range of speakers and writers and offers close readings of their words. Chapter 1 considers the theory of speech-acts propounded by J.L. Austin. 'Speakers Who Convince Themselves' is the subject of chapter 2, which interprets two soliloquies by Shakespeare's characters and two by Milton's Satan. The oratory of Burke and Lincoln come in for extended treatment in chapter 3, while chapter 4 looks at the rival tendencies of moral suasion and aestheticism in the poetry of Yeats and Auden. The final chapter, a cause of controversy when first published in the London Review of Books, supports a policy of unrestricted free speech against contemporary proposals of censorship. Since we cannot know what our own words are going to do, we have no standing to justify the banishment of one set of words in favour of another.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199672790
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 06/04/2019
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 1,177,849
Product dimensions: 7.80(w) x 5.20(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

David Bromwich, Sterling Professor of English, Yale University

David Bromwich is a scholar of British and American romanticism. He is Sterling Professor of English at Yale University, where he has taught since 1988. Among his books are Hazlitt: The Mind of a Critic, Disowned by Memory: Wordsworth's Poetry of the 1790s, and The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke.

Table of Contents

1. Does Persuasion Occur? (Austin, Aristotle, Cicero)
2. Speakers Who Convince Themselves (Shakespeare, Milton, James)
3. Pledging Emotion for Conviction (Burke, Lincoln, Bagehot)
4. Persuasion and Responsibility (Yeats, Auden, Orwell)
5. What Should We Be Allowed to Say? (Rushdie, Mill, Savio)

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