Judith Butler. On Linguistic Variability.

Butler, J. (1997). Introduction. Excitable speech: A politics of the performative. New York: Routledge.

Judith Butler opens with the statement: “we ascribe an agency to language, a power to injure, and position ourselves as the objects of its injurious trajectory” (1). For Butler, speech is always in some way not in our control (entirely), which is why she uses “excitable speech” in the book, or speech acts made under duress (15). But if speech is not in our control, whose control is it under? She gives us Althusser’s concept of interpellation as an answer.

The idea of interpellation stems from a theory Louise Althusser proposed (inspired by Lacan’s “Mirror Stage”). In short, it says we require recognition to exist as subjects (24). Through the act of “hailing” we turn to answer an address and thus receive recognition, are interpellated and exist.

Power is necessarily covert, “it comes to appear as something other than itself, indeed, it comes to appear as a name. (36).” Our understanding of names regulates ‘normal’ and eccentric, positive and negative. Language has power, because language makes us feel in or out of control. To tell someone they are not capable of speaking for themselves, is to exercise power by and through language. To tell someone they are being something is to call their subjectivity into question. This is how words can wound, because to take away subjectivity is to take away being. We cease to exist.

3- Austin distinguishes “illocutionary” from “perlocutionary” speech acts: the former are speech acts that, in saying do what they say, and do it in the moment of that saying; the latter are speech acts that produce certain effects as their consequence; by saying some- thing, a certain effect follows.

To know force, you must know context, and not just context immediate, but societal historical.

4- The speech situation is thus not a simple sort of context, one that might be defined easily by spatial and temporal boundaries. To be injured by speech is to suffer a loss of context, that is, not to know where you are.

9-Although the threat is not quite the act that it portends, it is still an act, a speech act, one that not only announces the act to come, but registers a certain force in language, a force that both presages and inaugurates a subsequent force.

13- To argue, on the one hand, that the offensive effect of such words is fully contextual, and that a shift ofcontext can exacerbate or minimize that offensiveness, is still not to give an account ofthe power that such words are said to exercise. To claim, on the other hand, that some utterances are always offensive, regardless ofcontext, that they carry their contexts with them in ways that are too difficult to shed, is still not to offer a way to understand how context is invoked and restaged at the moment ofutterance.

16-17- A speech act can be an act without necessarily being an efficacious act. Ifl utter a failed performative, that is, I make a command and no one hears or obeys, I make a vow, and there is no one to whom or before whom the vow might be made, I still perform an act, but I per- form an act with no or little effect (or, at least, not with the effect that is figured by the act). A felicitous performative is one in which I not only perform the act, but some set ofeffects follows from the fact that I perform it. To act linguistically is not necessarily to produce effects, and in this sense, a speech act is not always an efficacious action. To say that there is an equivocation, then, between speech and action is not necessarily to say that speech acts efficaciously.

24-If hate speech acts in an illocutionary way, injuring in and through the moment of speech, and constituting the subject through that injury, then hate speech exercises an interpellative function.

27- the utterances ofhate speech are part ofthe continuous and unin- terrupted process to which we are subjected, an on-going subjection (assujetissement) that is the very operation ofinterpellation, that contin- ually repeated action ofdiscourse by which subjects are formed in sub-


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