This essay examines the veering force of speeches in Pierre, which is structured by a tension between the teleological nature of narrative plots and the unexpected effects of verbal performances. In Pierre, linguistic forces, once unleashed, become other—proceeding from obscure, internal impulses with no clear origin but creating in return momentous external constraints that utterers do not control and that make the narration veer. Speech acts create webs of forces, palpable forms of the impalpable, which lead Isabel and Pierre to realize that the "solid land of veritable reality" is also constituted by the gossamer threads of language. Pierre's narrator is careful to dramatize the mechanisms of magical thinking that underlie the characters' practice of magical speech. Examining them through the lens of pragmatic linguistics and anthropology illuminates what happens to language, and through language, in Pierre: magic. Against the teleology of intentions or clear causes, Pierre stages a dramaturgy of multidirectional, random effects that eventually constitute a fate, retrospectively. This foregrounds the role of chance in what Melville calls the "infinite entanglements of all social things" and "complex web of life," and offers striking affinities with Darwin's later images of webs and entanglements in The Origin of Species.


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pp. 34-52
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