"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, Media@McGill, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Flemish Minister of Culture.


Austin, J.L. 1975. How To Do Things With Words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198245537.001.0001

Austin, J.L. 1961. Philosophical Papers. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Austin, J.L. 1962. Sense and Sensibilia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Barthes, Roland. 1977. Image – Music –Text. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Berlin, Isaiah. 1973. "Austin and the Early Beginnings of Oxford Philosophy." In Essays on J.L. Austin, edited by Isaiah Berlin, 1–16. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies That Matter: On The Discursive Limits of Sex, New York: Routledge.

Cahiers de Royaumont. 1962. La Philosphie Analytique. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit.

Carlson, Marvin. 2003. The Haunted Stage: The Theater as Memory Machine. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Chion, Michel. 1999. The Voice in Cinema. New York: Columbia University Press

Derrida, Jacques. 2005. Paper Machine. Translated by Rachel Bowlby. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Specters of Marx. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. New York: Routledge.

Derrida, Jacques. 1988. Limited Inc. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1967. Of Grammatology. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

Dolar, Mladen. 2006. A Voice and Nothing More, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Felman, Shoshana. 2003. The Scandal of the Speaking Body: Don Juan with J.L. Austin or Seduction in Two Languages, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Freud, Sigmund. 2003. "The Uncanny." In The Uncanny. Translated by David McLintock. New York: Penguin Books.

Grewendorf, Gunther and Georg Meggle, eds. 2002. Speech Acts, Mind and Social Reality: Discussions with John Searle, Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy. Vol.79. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2015. "John Langshaw Austin (1911—1960)". Accessed March 1. http://www.iep.utm.edu/austin/

Jackson, Shannon, 2004. Professing Performance: Theatre in the Academy from Philology to Performativity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511554247

Kane, Brian. 2014. Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice. Oxford: University of Oxford Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199347841.001.0001

Miller, J. Hillis. 2001. Speech Acts in Literature, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. 1991. The Inoperative Community. Translated by Peter Collins, Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland, and Simon Sawhney. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Online Etymology Dictionary. 2015. "Author." Accessed March 1. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=author

Parker, Andrew and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, eds. 1995. Performativity and Performance, New York and London: Routledge.

Phelan, Peggy. 2014. "Performance Theory Intensive", seminar at McGill University, March-April, 2014.

Pitcher, George. 1973. "Austin: A personal memoir." In Essays on J.L. Austin, edited by Isaiah Berlin, 17–30. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Puchner, Martin. 2014. "The Drama of Ideas." Paper presented at Theater, Performance, Philosophy: Crossings in Contemporary Anglo-American Thought, La Sorbonne, Paris, France, June 26.

Schaeffer, Pierre. 2004. "Acousmatics". In Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, 76–81. New York: Continuum.

Schechner, Richard. 1985. Between Theater and Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. https://doi.org/10.9783/9780812200928

Searle, John. 2007. "J.L. Austin (1911–1960)." In A Companion to Analytic Philosophy, edited by Aloysuis P. Martinich and David Sosa, 218–230. Oxford: Blackwell.

Warnock, G.J. 1989. J.L Austin. New York: Routledge.

Warnock, G.J. "Saturday mornings." In Essays on J.L. Austin, edited by Isaiah Berlin, 31–45. Oxford: Clarendon Press.




How to Cite

Andersen, Tawny. 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.