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CHRISTOPHER RICKS Austin's Swink The author of How to do things with Words! knew how to do things with such wording as constitutes allusion - as is clear from J.L. Austin's having given the world Sense and Sensibilia. The famous joke, which is not without pride and prejudice, is more than a quip because the displaced word sensibility so much enters, not into the equation, but into the opposite of equation. For a start, the register of 'sensibilia' is deliciously registered as cold-shouldering the warm thought of 'sensibility.' sensibile. Philos. Usu, in pI. sensibilia. A term popularized by Bertrand Russell to denote the kind of thing which, if sensed, is a sense-datum. The Oxford English Dictionary's final citation (1962) is the witticism to which Austin was onomastically entitled; its first is knotty Hinton in 1856 on 'the "properties" or "sensibilia." , The gap between the obdurately professional term 'sensibilia' and the flexibly personal word 'sensibility' (cognate, to boot) is wide enough to challenge any spark. But Austin's leap is sure-footed just because his own sensibility is such an important part of his being, both personal and professional. Of the twentieth-century English philosophers he is the one who is most to be relished for his sensibility and for what he makes of it in his word-work. And his witticism is not cheaply at the expense of Jane Austen, being itself a tribute to the wit that she was and that she mustered. Sensibilia emends Sensibility as little, and yet as much, as Austin emends Austen. Yet there is something askew here. For Austin's condescension towards literature has been persuasively specified and cogently indicted by Geoffrey Hill in his profound essay 'Our Word Is Our Bond' (1983). Not that Hill lacks pleasure in Austin's world: The system within which Austin exercises his discriminations is not quite a comedy of manners and not quite a line of wit. When a man named Austin entitles his lectures 'Sense and Sensibilia' he is simultaneously being precise and asserting something: he is accepting the gift, the aptness of the thing given, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 61, NUMBER 3, SPRING 1992 / 297 298 CHRISTOPHER RICKS and he is displaying his own 'gift,' his aptitude for making the most of the donnee, in a pleasing way, to himself and to us, though the pleasure is of a minor kind.2 Not as minor as all that, one might mildly remonstrate, while finding Hill's pages on Austin a uniquely formidable encounter of a poet's exactions with a philosopher's slighting of the poet's enterprise. Granted, Austin was right to distinguish art-speech from direct utterance ; was right to judge that a 'performative utterance' ('1 name this ship ...') cannot be thought exactly to perform itself when it figures within the different kind of occasion which is a poem. But Austin was wrong - and Hill's stringency is the more telling because there can be no doubt of his brooding respect for so much in Austin - to speak as if the difference in question came down to a matter of the serious or (Austin's prophylactic quotation marks) of the 'serious.' Hill's epigraph for his great inquiry (it is nothing less than a Defence of Poetry for our age) is Austin's unruffled lapse: And I might mention that, quite differently again, we could be issuing any of these utterances, as we can issue an utterance of any kind whatsoever, in the course, for example, of acting a play or making a joke or writing a poem - in which case of course it would not be seriously meant and we shall not be able to say that we seriously performed the act concerned.3 There is a true gist here, and we should not suppose that Austin, of all people, is being merely dismissive of 'making a joke' and consequently of 'writing a poem.' But seriously is an evasion of the work which needed to be done. What Austin did was resort to the word. He used it not twice but thrice in the paragraph just quoted, which continued: 'If the poet says "Go and catch...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 297-315
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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