February 10, 2015 STAFF

Humanities Forum | Performatively Speaking

On February 23, at 2:00 p.m. in the CAS Conference Room, our featured guest will be Debby Rosenthal from the English Department. She will be speaking about her new book. Performatively Speaking draws on speech act theory to open up the current critical conversation about antebellum American fiction and culture and to explore what happens when writers use words not just to represent action but to constitute action itself. Examining moments of discursive action in a range of canonical and noncanonical works—T. S. Arthur’s temperance tales, Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick—I show how words act when writers no longer hold to a difference between writing and doing.I investigate, for example, the voluntary self-binding nature of a promise, the formulaic but transformative temperance pledge, the power of Ruth Hall’s signature or name on legal documents, the punitive hate speech of Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter A, the prohibitory vodun hex of Simon Legree’s slave Cassy, and Captain Ahab’s injurious insults to second mate Stubb. Through my comparative methodology and historicist and feminist readings, I ask readers to rethink the ways that speech and action intersect.