"Any Search for an Origin is Hysterical": Summoning the Ghost of J.L. Austin


  • Tawny Andersen McGill University




Performativity, Austin, philosophy of language.


As the father of the concept of the “performative utterance”, British philosopher of language J.L. Austin is regularly cast as the point of origin in a genealogy tracing the influence of linguistic theory on performance theory. Based on extensive research into Austin’s writing praxis, this paper demonstrates that the philosopher produced and disseminated his research orally, dialogically, and pedagogically through contexts that privileged the inter-subjective exchange. It frames Austin’s self-described practice of “linguistic phenomenology” as a pragmatic one in which philosophy is context. I demonstrate that this mode of “doing” or “performing” philosophy is also at play within the dramaturgy of Austin’s texts, which restage his thought processes and invite his readers to become spectators to the dramatization of his ideas. My analysis offers up a portrait of a J.L. Austin who enacted his philosophy about the performative utterance in a performative manner. In so doing, it exposes the inaugural texts about performativity as hybrid objects that trouble the concepts of “authorship” and “origin”. It also shows that these texts are infected, at their inception, by parasites, by literature, by the Other, and by the ghosts that Austin tried so hard to exorcise, yet that—on some level of consciousness—he simultaneously allowed to haunt his philosophical voice. 

Author Biography

Tawny Andersen, McGill University

Tawny Andersen is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. Her dissertation research provides a rigorous theorization and historicization of the concept of “performativity” in order to examine how a group of contemporary female philosophers perform their thought. Tawny holds an MA degree in Performance Studies from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Her academic research is nourished by her extensive performing career as a contemporary dancer with many of Europe’s foremost directors. Tawny’s research is funded SSHRC Canada, the McGill AHCS Department, [email protected], the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Flemish Minister of Culture.


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How to Cite

Andersen, T. (2017). "Any Search for an Origin is Hysterical": Summoning the Ghost of J.L. Austin. Performance Philosophy, 2(2), 189–205. https://doi.org/10.21476/PP.2017.22102