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Revolution of the OrdinaryLiterary Studies after Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell$
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Toril Moi

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226464305

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226464589.001.0001

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Signs, Marks, and Archie Bunker

Signs, Marks, and Archie Bunker

Post-Saussurean Visions of Language

(p.129) 6 Signs, Marks, and Archie Bunker
Revolution of the Ordinary

Toril Moi

University of Chicago Press

This chapter shows how the “philosophizing” of Saussure’s legacy reproduces the Augustinian picture of meaning, and gives rise to empty, and formalist, theories of meaning and literature. While Knapp and Michaels detest the post-Saussurean arguments of thinkers like Derrida and de Man, they too adopt the post-Saussurean notion of the “mark,” or the empty signifier. Knapp and Michaels, however, don’t stop there, but insist that the author’s intentions always endow the mark with meaning. Words without an author, however, are mere material marks, meaningless squiggles. Their view is echoed by Fish. The chapter criticizes de Man’s reading of Austin, his idea that grammar and rhetoric are binary opposites, and his unconvincing analysis of an episode of All in the Family. Drawing on Cavell, and on Ted Cohen’s work on jokes, it shows how de Man’s commitment to a general theory of language, and literature, makes him incapable of noticing use. Thus he fails to understand how the specific situation, the specific plight, of specific speakers affect the meaning of their words.

Keywords:   Augustinian picture of language, author's intentions, Walter Benn Michaels, Steven Knapp, Stanley Fish, Paul de Man, Ted Cohen, Stanley Cavell, J. L. Austin, the mark

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