Wednesday, October 04, 2006


J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words:

“Suppose, for example, I see a vessel on the stocks, walk up and smash the bottle hung at the stem, proclaim ‘I name this ship the Mr. Stalin and for good measure kick away the chocks: but the trouble is, I was not the person chosen to name it (whether or not—an additional complication—Mr. Stalin was the destined name; perhaps in a way it is even more of a shame if it was). We can all agree (1) that the ship was not thereby named; (2) that it is an infernal shame. One could say that I ‘went through a form of’ naming the vessel but that my ‘action’ was ‘void’ or ‘without effect,’ because I was not a proper person, had not the ‘capacity’ to perform it; but one might also and alternatively say that, where there is not even a pretence of capacity or a colourable claim to it, then there is no accepted conventional procedure; it is a mockery, like a marriage with a monkey. Or again one could say that part of the procedure is getting oneself appointed.”


Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, that's the trick, isn't it?

2:37 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

By trick I mean that I think you are probably right - if the Stalinists are in fact not an impotent minority (as the example assumes!), but a "large population" then the boat's "nickname" might have more "permanent." Absolutely. There are many examples of this in history.

The fact that Austin uses such an oddly archaic ritual as ship-naming may suggest more than he realized when he picked it.

6:20 AM  

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