'We solemnly proscribe this poem': Performative Utterances in the Romantic Periodicals

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Abstract

This essay argues that many of the characteristic procedures of periodical writing in the Romantic period, such as accusing, ridiculing, insulting, libelling, condemning, judging, applauding, indicting, recommending, advising, or censuring, are best understood as performative utterances. Performative utterances can only be “felicitous” (in J. L. Austin's terms) if they are spoken by an authorized person in a recognized context; that authority must pre-exist the utterance. Romantic periodical writers faced the double challenge of establishing themselves as authorities on their culture, and establishing periodical writing as the appropriate context in which to exercise this authority. Their authority could only be located in their writing itself: as a result they created a self-authorizing style. That style was iterable: it gained its power through periodical reiteration. It was also citational: it relied first on citing existing forms of authority and then on citing its own earlier iterations. It could be used to define public figures, including other periodical writers. But, as a result, it could also be turned against the periodical writers who deployed it. Creatures of writing, made out of language, they could be unmade in language too.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-362
JournalEuropean Romantic Review
Volume24
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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