"How not to be a chucklehead"—felicitously doing things with words in the interstitial places of our culture

Reading J. L. Austin this morning in bed
Perhaps like many of you I have increasingly been finding the words of our politicians (in the form of their promises and statements) to be, at best confusing and, at worst, clearly duplicitous.

In this cynicism inducing situation I'm finding that a return to the work of J. L. Austin is both very helpful and strangely calming.

I can see that what he talks about can help me better to try and tease out which of the promises our politicians are making are not at all what we might call HAPPY/FELICITOUS but are, instead MISFIRES or ABUSES.

Teasing out these distinctions helps me see that some sort of real sense can still be made of what our politicians are saying but it is only to be had once we are absolutely clear that they are (nearly) all as willing to make statements and promises that they know are MISFIRES and ABUSES (even as they present them as being HAPPY/FELICITOUS) as they are to use statements and promises that they know are actually HAPPY/FELICITOUS.

J. L. Austin (on the right with the pipe)
It's not that I think that this kind of thing never went on before in politics or even at times in life in general — that would be a ridiculously naïve view to hold — but I do think that the willingness knowingly to use MISFIRES and ABUSES (as if they were HAPPY/FELICITOUS) is now so widespread in our culture that we're all beginning to distrust everything we say to each other. We expect statements and promises to be MISFIRES and ABUSES at least as much as we expect them to be HAPPY/FELICITOUS.

This is clearly not a good place to be in as a culture.

However, although they are hard to find, HAPPY/FELICITOUS promises and statements are still being made and it seems to me that one of the great and sacred tasks we have in this strange age in which we are living is to seek out and strengthen the contexts in they can still occur. These contexts are today all what we might call interstitial — i.e. to be found in the small collective spaces that currently exist between our current economic/political structures. (And here I am suggesting that this context cannot be found, at present, in our current economic/political structures.) These interstitial places — and I'd like to hope that the Cambridge Unitarian Church where I am minister might be one of them — are important (even holy) centres of resistance against the widespread willingness to accept MISFIRES and ABUSES as the (coming) norm.

Surely the norm we should be seeking to bring back into the heart of our culture is one in which the HAPPY/FELICITOUS is (generally) able to prevail?

If you are interested in following up Austin's work the following links may be of interest to you.







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