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Meaningful Absence Across Arts and Media

The Significance of Missing Signifiers

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Edited by Werner Wolf, Nassim Balestrini and Walter Bernhart

This volume focusses on a rarely discussed method of meaning production, namely via the absence, rather than presence, of signifiers. It does so from an interdisciplinary, transmedial perspective, which covers systematic, media-comparative and historical aspects, and reveals various forms and functions of missing signifiers across arts and media. The meaningful silences, blanks, lacunae, pauses, etc., treated by the ten contributors are taken from language and literature, film, comics, opera and instrumental music, architecture, and the visual arts. Contributors are: Nassim Balestrini, Walter Bernhart, Olga Fischer, Saskia Jaszoltowski, Henry Keazor, Peter Revers, Klaus Rieser, Daniel Stein, Anselm Wagner, Werner Wolf
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Edited by Maciej Witek and Iwona Witczak-Plisiecka

Normativity and Variety of Speech Actions embraces papers focused on the performative dimension of language. While all texts in the volume recognize speech primarily as a type of action, the collection is indicative of the multifaceted nature of J.L. Austin’s original reflection, which invited many varied research programmes. The problems addressed in the volume are discussed with reference to data culled from natural conversation, mediated political discourse, law, and literary language, and include normativity, e.g. types of norms operative in speech acts, speaker’s intentions and commitments, speaker-addressee coordination, but also speech actions in discursive practice, in literal and non-literal language, performance of irony, presupposition, and meaningful significant silence.

Contributors are: Brian Ball, Cristina Corredor, Anita Fetzer, Milada Hirschová, Dennis Kurzon, Marcin Matczak, Marina Sbisà, Iwona Witczak-Plisiecka, Maciej Witek, and Mateusz Włodarczyk.
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The Idea of Beauty in Italian Literature and Language

"Il buono amore è di bellezza disio"

Edited by Claudio Di Felice, Harald Hendrix and Philiep Bossier

Beauty is a central concept in the Italian cultural imagination throughout its history and in virtually all its manifestations. It particularly permeates the domains that have governed the construction of Italian identity: literature and language. The Idea of Beauty in Italian Literature and Language assesses this long tradition in a series of essays covering a wide chronological and thematic range, while crossing from historical linguistics to literary and cultural studies. It offers elements for reflection on cross-disciplinary approaches in the humanities, and demonstrates the power of beauty as a fundamental category beyond aesthetics.
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Marina Sbisà

This paper explores the field of speech act norms, shedding some light upon their variety, in particular as regards the different roles they play in the dynamics of illocution. A threefold distinction is proposed: constitutive rules, upon which the performance of illocutionary acts depends; maxims, based on rational motivations, encoding regulative advice for optimal speech act performance in the perspective of the participants; and objective requirements for the overall correctness of the accomplished speech act with regard to the situation in the world to which it relates. These three kinds of norms engender three different sorts of penalty when not complied with. Some examples applying the proposed distinction to speech act types provide a very limited test of its potential as a descriptive framework. Of the three kinds of norms, only constitutive rules can be said to be conventional, since they establish procedures that are repeatable and recognizable from one occasion to another and whose function (bringing about changes in the deontic roles of the participants) is only exercised against a background of social agreement: therefore, one may conceive of all speech acts as conventional for certain aspects and non-conventional for others.

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Marcin Matczak

Legal philosophers distinguish between a static and a dynamic interpretation of law. The former assumes that the meaning of the words used in a legal text is set at the moment of its enactment and does not change with time. The latter allows the interpreters to update the meaning and apply a contemporary understanding to the text. The philosophy of language seems to provide greater support to the static approach to legal interpretation. Within this approach, represented by the theory of legal interpretation called ‘originalism’, interpretation is a quest for the speaker/lawmaker’s intention or the public meaning that prevailed at the time of enactment. Neither the intention nor the public meaning are considered to have changed over time. In this paper I argue that the philosophy of language provides the dynamic approach with an equally robust support as it does the static one. This support comes from an externalist perspective in semantics, rooted in philosophical pragmatism and supported by Ruth Millikan’s concept of meaning as proper function and a Peircean idea of semeiosis. Grounding the dynamic approach in a well-founded linguistic philosophy rises to the challenge presented by the originalists’ declaration that ‘it takes a theory to beat a theory’.

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Anita Fetzer

This paper analyses speech acts in discourse, differentiating between the nature of the connectedness between speech act and discourse on the one hand, and discourse and context on the other. It suggests that the explicit accommodation of the strategic use of language provides a bridging point between the two, with utterances being constitutive parts of speech acts, and of discourse. Another bridging point lies in the conceptualization of speech act from a parts-whole perspective as the relational construct of discursive contribution with fuzzy boundaries based on the pragma-discursive premises of (1) cooperation and shared intentionality, (2) process and product, and (3) adjacency and sequentiality.

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Silence as Speech Action, Silence as Non-speech Action

A Study of Some Silences in Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande

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Dennis Kurzon

This paper takes a look at the phenomenon of silence, both as speech action and as non-speech action, in Maurice Maeterlinck’s symbolist drama, Pelléas et Mélisande (1892). Of the four types of silence set out by the author in his typology (Kurzon 2007), two are focussed upon here in relation to the drama. Firstly, “situational silence” in which the women servants of the castle, where the action of the play takes place, silently enter the chamber in which Mélisande, the heroine, is dying. This silence seems to follow conventions well known among the women. The second type of silence is “thematic silence.” This is not silence in the strict sense that no one is speaking, but “silence about,” where the speaker does not mention a particular topic while talking. In Maeterlinck’s play, Mélisande avoids answering questions that delve into her past. There is also a connection between silence and telling or not telling the truth. Mélisande not only violates the maxim of quality by not answering questions; she violates the cooperative principle by telling different versions of the same event, and by keeping silent. If a person maintains silence, suggests a servant in the final act of the play, this means one does not tell the truth.

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Milada Hirschová

The paper focuses on the phenomenon of aggression in speech actions performed in public communication events. The relation among the notions of speech act and speech action, as well as among un/im/politeness, rudeness, verbal aggression (the last two mostly described as intentional use of vulgarities), and aggressive communication are all discussed in speech act-theoretic perspective. Analyses of relevant dialogues, being extracts from TV shows and a recording of an interview, demonstrate that aggressive, openly offensive communication can be seen not just as a borderline case in the periphery of impoliteness, but, more accurately, as a parallel phenomenon, a communicative strategy in which vulgarities can be present or not. It is evident that within this strategy, speech actions such as accusations (statements concerning the past or current oponents’ activities), defamations and rhetorical questions are among the most frequent types of such verbal actions.