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Sophistics, Rhetorics and Performance,

How To Really Do Things With Words.
Barbara CASSIN
"How to do things with words? How can you really do things with nothing but
words? It seems to me that sophistics is in a way the paradigm of discourse that
does things with words. Doubtless it is not a performative in Austins sense of
the word, although Austin's sense varies considerably in extension and
intension. But it is for real a discourse that operates, that transforms or creates
the world, and has what I call a world-effect.
Making the relation with performativity is all the more tempting as
epideixis, the word that serves in Plato to designate sophist discourse, cannot be
rendered better than by performance, on condition that performance is also
understood in the sense of contemporary aesthetics as a happening, an event, an
improvisation that requires engagement (Gorgias is the inventor of discourse
ex tempore, according to Philostratus) something like an exploit.
Performative is Austins own invention, acclimated to French by Austin
himself at a colloquium held at Royaumont (Austin 1962); thereafter it was
immediately adopted and popularised by mile Benveniste (Benveniste 1966).
Performance is a much older term, which after ceaseless borrowings to and
fro between English and French has seen its meaning shifted and extended
accordingly. Klein's Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of English Language
(Klein 1971) maintains that in English performer was coined from Old French
parfournir (from Mediaeval Latin perfurnire) and/or parformer; in addition
French borrowed the term at least three times, if the Dictionnaire Culturel de la
Langue francaise (Rey 2005) is to be believed: in 1869, by analogy with the
vocabulary of horse races, to mean the manner of developing a subject, of
executing a work in public; in 1953, to denote individual result in the
accomplishment of a task; and in 1963, in the wake of Chomsky, it enters into
opposition with competence. In sum, the word is a fluid, bilingual term which
bridges sport (performance record), technique (performance the output of
(performance/competence) and modern art (performance happening).
Let us start with the relationship between performance and
performative. It is a way to interrogate the status of rhetorics, for which Austin,
without naming it, reserves a somewhat unstable place between the
locutionary on the one hand and the illocutionary or performative on the
other: the perlocutionary, per precisely as in performative.1
But it is not of Austin that I will speak. Austin is simply the contemporary
frame of reference that informs us today: he invented the performative as
such for us, by trying to isolate it. And he never hides the difficulty, the
permeability of his taxonomy. Just one citation is enough to show the difficulty.
In the seventh lecture of the twelve that make up How to Do Things with Words
(quite late then) he writes: It is time to make a fresh start on the problem. We
want to reconsider more generally the senses in which to say something may
be to do something, or in saying something we do something (and also perhaps
to consider the different case in which by saying something we do something).

Perhaps some clarification and definition may help us out of our tangle. For
after all, doing something is a very vague expression. When we issue any
utterance whatsoever, are we not doing something?" (Austin 1975, 91-2).
In the framework of the generalized theory of speech acts, the difference
between the locutionary, the illocutionary and the perlocutionary has for a long
time been in a tangle. It is not so easy to differentiate between the three. All
three are, precisely, acts of language, and without doubt the categories are at
once, abstract, slippery and overlapping. The locutionary or constative, a
normal statement, is an utterance that says something, it works of saying: the cat
is on the mat has a meaning (both a sense and a reference) and is
susceptible of being either true or false. For its part, the illocutionary or
performative stricto sensu does something in saying it: excuse me or the
session is open, has a force and is susceptible of success or failure (felicity
/ infelicity). Finally, the perlocutionary does something by saying: to convince,
persuade or mislead has an effect and produces consequences.3 The difference
between the performative-illocutionary and the perlocutionary, between force
and effect, is all the more labile as the illocutionary, to be felicitous, is itself
linked with effects: in particular, an effect must be achieved on the audience
if the illocutionary act is to be carried out.4
It is the difficulty of stabilizing this difference between force and
effect which leads me to reflect on what I call performance before the
performative, as an invitation to shake up the status of rhetorics.
In truth it is a matter here of three types of objects on which I have been
working in recent years, wondering what unites them. The answer is something
like: discursive performance. Trying to explain this to myself, I would like to
set out a route which has no regard for either epochs or places, or for literary
genres and disciplines.
1. We will begin with Ancient Greece: the primal scene Parmenides / Gorgias,
where we understand the distinction between faithful-discourse (truly
reporting things), and efficacious discourse (doing things for real):
ontology-phenomenology on the one hand, logology on the other. One
understands the distinction and at the same time acquires the means to call it
into question, to the profit of a generalized logology. That is to say, one
re-evaluates ontology as a discourse that acts, an absolutely successful
performance, even.
The model for the sophist performance is epideixis, in the rhetorical sense
of the term, and the model for rhetorical epideixis is the Encomium of Helen. An
epideictic performance that produces not only persuasion, but a world-effect,
because we are now in a world in which the innocence of Helen from
Euripides to Offenbach and Hoffmansthal is thinkable and even plausible.
2. We will then pass via the South Africa of the end of the last century: the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which aimed at and thematized the effect
of a doing with words. Of course, it did not operate with words alone, because it
was a concrete apparatus (Foucault would have said: dispositif); but in order
to make a rainbow people, to construct a common past and produce
reconciliation, it is essentially words, statements and stories that are caught up
in this apparatus.

3. We will arrive in the here and now, with the Vocabulaire europen des
philosophies, Dictionnaire des intraduisibles (Cassin 2004), whose Humboldtian
foundation is the difference between the worlds that different languages
produce, the impact of the plurality of languages on discursive performance.
Logology, Epideixis, Rhetoric
Ontology/logology, or how Gorgias reads Parmenides' On Nature as a
In the reading that Gorgias treatise On Non-being or nature proposes of
Parmenides poem On Nature or being, everything manifestly turns around the
way in which being and saying are knotted together. To make things brutally
plain, it is one of two things: either there is being, esti, es gibt sein, and the task
of man, the shepherd of being, is to speak it faithfully, in the co-belonging of
being, thinking and saying: onto-logy, from Parmenides to Heidegger. Or: being
is and is only there in and by the poem, as an effect of saying, a discursive
production, what I propose to call a performance: logo-logy, to use Novaliss
Gorgias procedure, treatise against poem, consists simply in drawing
attention - an insolent attention - to all the maneuvers, whether of the Greek
language or discursivity itself, which allow the unveiling between being and
saying to be put in place. In particular, the manner in which On Nature passes
from esti to to on, from the verb to the subject-substantive participle (by a sort
of linguistic secretion,) by playing on the ensemble of meanings of esti: it is
possible, it is true that (as one says it is the case that,) is in the sense of the
copula and of identity, is in the sense of existence. To put it in
post-Aristotelian terms, by playing on homonymy or pollakhs at least, and on
amphiboly. To put it in slightly more Austinian terms, it is a way of making On
Nature understood as a situated utterance at least as much as a series of
propositions, and to make the illocutionary force of each constative phrase felt.
On Nature, then, as a speech-act.
The limit effect or catastrophe thus produced consists in showing that, if
the text of ontology is rigourous, that is to say, if it does not constitute an
exception in relation to the legislation that it sets up, then it is a sophist
masterpiece. The presence of Being, the immediacy of Nature, the evidence of a
speech that is charged with saying them adequately, vanish together: the
physics that speech uncovers gives way to the politics that discourse creates.
Thanks to the sophists - the masters of Greece, as Hegel put it - one
effectively attains here the dimension of politics, as an agora for an agn: the
city is a continual creation of language. It is even, as Jacob Burkhardt and
Hannah Arendt say, the most talkative world of all.
The status of epideictic performance: rhetorical effect and world-effect
The status of epideixis is central in this perspective.
Epideixis is the very name that tradition attributes, par excellence, to

sophistic discursivity. The term is consecrated by Plato (in, for example Hippias
Major 282c, 286a, Hippias Minor 363c, Gorgias 447c) (Plato 1997) and
designates the speech delivered by Prodicos, Hippias, and Gorgias, in
opposition to the dialogue through questions and answers that Socrates is fond
of. Something like a lecture, or, indeed, a performance, so much does the
orator give of himself: The Thessalonians try to Gorgianise, they would have
Critiasised if Critias had gone to give them an epideixis heautou sophias, that is
to say, with the same words as Aristotle for Thales, a demonstration of his
The term itself can only be understood by contrast with apodeixis.
Deixis is the act, and the art, of showing without speech, with ones index
finger extended, the disappearing phenomenon. Or, with a sovereign gesture,
the route of being, like Justice in Parmenides poem.
Apodeixis, which refers to all the apo (apophainesthai, apophansis)
characteristic of phenomenology,6 is the art of showing starting from what is
shown, using it as a basis to de-monstrate. With apodeixis, the phenomenon
becomes an object of science, passing from the singular to the general, Socrates
the man becomes visible in Socrates, and in such a way that one adheres to it
(lets not forget that apodeixis, proof, is the name for the technique of adhesion
that constitutes the heart of Aristotelian rhetoric).
Epideixis is the art of showing before and of showing as well,
according to the two main senses of the prefix. In this epi, performance and
eulogy are linked together. To show, publicly, before, in everyones eyes: an
epideixis may thus be a demonstration of force (the deployment of an army, in
Thucydides, for example, or the demonstration of a crowd), an exhibition. But
also showing more on the occasion of this publicity: by putting an object on
display, one makes use of it as an example or a paradigm, one over-does it
making of a fly an elephant, Lucian says. And one thus shows oneself as well,
as a talented orator, capable of contraries, or as a real poet, a fabricator. It is a
matter then, in the broad sense, of a performance, whether improvised or not,
written or spoken, but always related to the show, the public. In the restricted
sense, precisely codified by Aristotles rhetoric, it means epidictic eloquence,
praise or blame, which speaks the good or the shameful and aims at pleasure.
With sophistry, the two senses of performance and of eulogy are
conjugated and amplify one and other: the most memorable epideixis (the one
man show that made him a celebrity in Athens, that is to say, for always
throughout the world), is an epideixis, the Encomium of Helen, where praising
the praiseworthy and blaming the blameworthy he nonetheless succeeded in
clearing the infidel that everyone since Homer has accused. The paradoxical
nature of the eulogy reveals itself clearly here: Helen is the guiltiest of women
since she brought blood and fire to the whole of Greece, yet Gorgias convinces
us that Helen is innocence itself. The supplement of deixis that is epideixis
succeeds in turning the phenomenon into its contrary: the phenomenon
becomes the effect of the all-powerful logos. In any case that is why every
eulogy is also or above all a eulogy to the logos:
<ext>"Discourse is a great master, which with the smallest and least
perceptible of bodies accomplishes the most divine of acts [theiotota erga
apotelei] (Gorgias 1982) (Encomium of Helen 1982, 8)[ ext>

I render apotelei with accomplishes, I could say performs: discourse

acts and performs acts and oeuvres (erga) to the end (apo). In his game of
re-creating Helen as henceforth from Euripides and Isocrates to Goethe,
Hoffmanstahl, Offenbach, Claudel and Giraudoux innocent, Gorgias makes it
manifest that the stake of epideixis is not, as it is in phenomenology, that of
passing from the phenomenon to its saying, but much rather, in a logological
mode, that of passing from the saying to its effect.
The model, which De Interpretatione will invert, finds itself in place: it is
not phenomena but discourse that makes the soul suffer. Once again, as Gorgias
puts it:
<ext>Into those who hear it comes the shiver of fear, pity full of tears,
mourning and faced with successes and failures belonging to foreign
actions and bodies, by the intermediary of discourses, the soul
experiences a passion of its own [epallotrin te pragmatn kai smatn
idion ti patma dia tn logn epathen h psukh ] (ibid 9) </ext>
With this praise of poetry as a measured discourse, we are not simply
within rhetoric, in the classical sense of the term. Tyranny, demiurgy,
discursive performance, is double: it is an effect on the soul, which passes from
the strange or foreign to the proper with nothing but words. At the same time
though it is a world-effect, where the object of discourse, the fiction8 takes on
consistency and becomes reality. As Jean-Franois Lyotard underlines, in The
Differend: it is not the addressee who is seduced by the addressor. The
addressor, the referent, the sense are no less subject than the addressee to the
seduction exerted (Lyotard 1983, 84).
In fact, the world is transformed: with sophistry, we said, one goes from
physics to politics. The eulogy shows itself to be a moment of political
invention, which serves to make a passage from the communion in the values of
the community (including the communion in the values of language, via the
meaning of words and metaphors, as Nietzsche emphasized) to the creation of
new values.
The first two paragraphs of the Encomium of Helen (ibid) testifies to this
passage and begins to produce it. I dont wish to resume the entire analysis,
just sketch it out by citing the paragraphs:
<ext> Order, for a city, is the excellence of its men, for a body, beauty, for
a soul, wisdom, for an action, value, for a speech truth. Their opposite is
disorder. Man, woman, speech, deed, city, thing, should be honored with
praise if praiseworthy, and incur blame if blameworthy; for to blame the
praisable or to praise the blamable is of equal error and ignorance.
It is to the same man that it befalls to say with rectitude what must be
said, and to contradict those who blame Helen, a woman which brought
together, in one voice and one soul, the poets [songs], the auditors
credence and the noise of a name which bears the memory of misfortunes.
I want, giving logic to discourse, to have brought to an end the accusation
against she of whom we hear so much abuse, demonstrate that those who
blame her are wrong, show the truth and put an end to ignorance. (ibid 1

It is in this way that, via the way in which a self gives logismon to the
logos come and pass from the one to the other in my discourse8 the liturgy
(kosmos, kallos, sophia, aret, altheia) opens onto a happening that performs
another world.
It seems to me that here we are closest to the labile frontier between the
perlocutionary and the illocutionary. The perlocutionary, with its rhetorical
effect on the other by saying subjective, one might say (Austin talks here,
it will be recalled, of what we bring about or achieve by saying something, such
as convincing, persuading, deterring, and even, say, surprising or misleading
(Austin, How to do things, 109); and the illocutionary, the most active of speech
acts, capable of directly changing the state of the world in saying and exceeding
the perlocutionary with something like an immediate and objective
world-effect (even if often disappointing: I bet you sixpence it will rain

From Gorgias to Desmond Tutu

Let us open another scene, one which to my eyes represents a passionate
contemporary application of sophist performance. As an epigraph one might
picture the magnificent tag, in black and white, that adorned the wall of the
house Desmond Tutu lived in when in Cape Town: how to turn human wrongs
into human rights - how to turn a phenomenon into its contrary by the force of
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission
To begin with it is doubtless necessary to sketch out the landscape. The South
African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is the key-apparatus
invented to avoid the predictable bloodbath at the end of Apartheid and to
promote what Tutu calls the miracle of the negotiated solution. It should
contribute to the production of a new nation, a rainbow people.
Three conditions appear necessary, even if they are never sufficient, in
order to to deal with hatred: a politics of justice, a politics of memory, a politics
of speech. It is evidently the third which matters to us, via the other two.
Justice: it is not a punitive justice (Apartheid belongs to those acts which,
along with Hannah Arendt, we can say one can neither punish nor pardon,) it
is a restorative justice (reconciliation) and even a founding justice (it founds
the rainbow people), or even transitional (this time to say, with Protagoras in
the apology of, it makes us pass from a less good to a better state, (Plato 1997,
167a ). It is possible only because one is engulfed in the kairos, at this instant
where, unlike at Nuremberg, there are neither winners nor losers. From this
the Commission drew its singularity: it was a commission, not a tribunal, it was
not presided over by a judge but by a winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, it
didn't set out penalties but recommended amnesties, and in what concerns us
here, it didn't examine court cases but listened to depositions, declarations,

Memory: unlike the first historical amnesty, that of the Athenian decree
of 403 BC, after the tyranny of the Thirty and the civil war, it is not an amnesia
(amnesty and amnesia are one and the same word, a doublet, in Ancient
Greek10). On the contrary, it is a politics of memory: to construct a common past
so as to constitute a new community, this rainbow people, with its archives
consultable online and its publicity (the sessions of the grand theatre of the
itinerant Commission moving from town to town were broadcast on television
on Sunday evenings one could never say I didn't know). But still there is no
overmemorisation and infinite memory: enough of the truth for (TRC 1998),
in the words of the Commissions Report itself, had to be obtained enough of
the truth for sharing a common past and living together. The truth that is
obtained, carefully distinguished from historical truth, is an explicit
production, a construction out of discourse.
Speech: speech is the key to the apparatus and is legible in the
conditions of the amnesty. These conditions are defined by the Law of July of
1995 which organized the Commission as such, two years after its invention
in Sunset Clauses. The three legal conditions for an act to be susceptible of
amnesty, therefore amnestied, are the following (I mention the first two so as
not to mutilate the apparatus):
1. It must have been committed during the so-called period of
Apartheid (between March 1st 1960 and the firm cut-off date of 10th May
2. It must have been an act or an omission (once more no
negationism will have been possible) or an infraction associated with a
political objective committed in the course of past conflicts.11
3. Finally applicants for amnesty had to make a full disclosure of all
the relevant facts, so that amnesty is defined as freedom in exchange for the
truth. (TRC Vol.1 Foreword, 29). The revelation is not an admission: no-one is
obliged or is in the position of obliging the perpetrator to talk. That is even the
key to the apparatus. This major condition for the amnesty is ironic, in the
Socratic sense of the word, and Tutu uses the term repeatedly: it makes the
criminal, the malicious, play the role of the public servant, the good. In effect
those criminals given an amnesty, civil or moral entities (firms, universities,
journals, political parties), are not accused persons one brings before a tribunal
and from which one extracts admissions, but petitioners, claimants who
present themselves and whose interest, all morality to one side, is to say
everything, to disclose the true. Since the amnesty is not a blanket amnesty but
is pronounced act by act, only what is said can be given an amnesty: claimants
can only be condemned for what they do not say, which one risks learning by
cross-checking, to the extent that everyone has an interest in talking. It is a
question then of a very particular discursive act: a statement, a declaration as
proper name, operating by itself and as such.
In other words, such a new politics of justice is built on a politics of
speech, of the attention given to language as act and as performance.
Language, discourse and rhetoric, does things

From Gorgias to Tutu via Austin

This performance can be described in four components.
The first, the most decisive, relates to the construction of the world, to
the world-effect of the performance. Allow me to take a short cut and make a
rapprochement between this major phrase of the Encomium of Helen that we
have already cited:
<ext>Discourse is a great master, which with the smallest and least
perceptible of bodies accomplishes the most divine of acts (Gorgias
1982, 8).<ext>
and this no less sovereign phrase from the Report of the Commission:
<ext> It is a commonplace to treat language as mere words, not deeds,
therefore language is taken to play a minimal role against violence. The
Commission wishes to take a different view here. Language, discourse
and rhetoric, does things: it constructs social categories, it gives orders,
it persuades us, it justifies, explains, gives reason, excuses. It constructs
reality. It moves certain people against other people... (TRC 1998, III
(Perpetrators), 124).
One sees here that as with sophistry, language operates to do things, to
construct reality whilst acting on those who listen and those who speak.
From Gorgias to Tutu via Arendt
The second component leads from the sophists and from Aristotle to Tutu via
Hannah Arendt. It is linked to the construction of human being in his very
humanity, that is to say, in his political being, his politcalness, engaged with
what Aristotle takes from the sophists in order to counter Platos
philosopher-king, to wit the construction of politics in language.
The Commission is sophistico-Aristotelian-Arendtian in that it
rehumanises all those who appear before it by allowing them to speak. It makes
all of them, victims as well as perpetrators, animals endowed with logos,
discourse-reason, and hence political animals, more political than the others
as Aristotle specifies. They can once again appropriate what is proper to man.
No longer are they monkeys nor passers-by stuck in silence, nor even
executioners rendered mute by the horror of the crimes that they have to deny
so as to continue existing.
From Gorgias to Tutu via Freud
The third component is cathartic and therapeutic: it leads from Protagoras (to
pass from a less good to a better state) or Gorgias to Tutu via Freud. I would like
simply to underline the importance of this thematic of the logos-pharmakon
across Antiquity and relate the therapy of discourse to the matrix of its
expression that one finds, yet again, in Gorgiass Encomium of Helen:

<ext>There is the same relation [logos] between the power of discourse

[h tou logou dunamis] and the disposition of the soul [tn ts psukhs
taxin], the disposition of drugs [h tn pharmakn taxis] and the nature of
bodies [tn tn somatn phusin]: just as one drug expels a humour from
the body, and some stop illness, and others life, so amongst discourses,
some distress, some charm, cause fear, make the hearers bold, and some,
by some wicked persuasion, drug the soul and bewitch it (Gorgias

It is not difficult to make the rapprochement between the logical

pharmacy of Gorgias and the order-words of the Commission. Revealing is
healing on the cover of the dossiers that it examines, healing our land on the
banners of the public sessions. The therapy develops in the slightly obsessional
metaphorics of Apartheid as a sickness of the social body, with its syndromes,
symptoms, wounds, antiseptics and medication. To talk, to speak, tell the story,
tell your story, full disclosure marks an individual and collective undertaking to
heal (personal and national healing, healing through truth telling,) where the
truth becomes the essential ingredient of the social antiseptic.12 But as it is a
question of a sickness of the soul, a sickness one treats by speaking, it is finally
a matter of a countrywide psychoanalysis, for which, moreover, the country
pays. While it might merit more detailed study, psychoanalysis as a discursive
performance is something that can hardly be doubted.
Semantic responsibility: How do we talk?
The last component is apparently less connected to what we have conserved
of sophistry, although Prodicus is caricatured by Plato for his scruples over
synonyms, and Protagoras gets irritated by the discordance between the
feminine h mnis, Achilles anger, and the eminently virile character of the
hero and of the epic itself that this anger sets off (Plato 1997, Protagoras
337ac), (Aristotle 2004, I, 14, 173b, 17-22; Aristotle 1926, Rhetoric III, 5,
1407b 6).
It is a question of a politics of responsibility with regard to the words that one
employs: what world do we contribute to producing by speaking as we speak,
and how is language articulated with our speech acts? Thucydides already
remarked that stasis, the civil war in Athens, was also a war of words: Words
had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given
them (Thucydides 1954, 3, 82). Twenty-five centuries later, Victor Klemperer
sensed, as a philologist, the rise of Nazism in the German language: Words can
be like tiny doses of arsenic: they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no
effect, and then after a little time the toxic reaction sets in after all
(Klemperer 2000, 14). And once again this resonates with the distressing,
sober testimonies collected by Jean Hatzfeld in Into the Quick of Life: the
Rwandan Genocide. The Survivors Speak (Hatzfeld 2005): There is something
important I must point out: the genocide changed the meaning of certain words in the survivors
language; and it completely lifted the meaning out of other words, and so the person listening must
be alert to such changes in meaning (Hatzfeld 2005, 159).

Antjie Krog, the remarkable journalist and Boer, afrikaans, writer who


followed the work of the Commission, quotes a letter from January 1986
addressed by the magnate Anthon Rupert to President Botha: I am appealing
to you in person. Reaffirm your rejection of Apartheid. It is crucifying us; it is
destroying our language with this, in the guise of a reply from the President:
I am sick and tired of the hollow parrots cry: apartheid. I have said many times
that the word apartheid means good neighbourliness (Krog 1998, 266, 270).
And for her part, Krog begins with the question: how easily and naturally the
story shifts from politics to language. What do we do with the language of
the Boere (ibid 99). The Commission also vigourously collared the civil war of
words. Thus, the security forces failed to take exercise proper care in the words they
used.(TRC Vol.6, paragraph 99), those who were guilty of terrorist acts and those who
struggled by legal and peaceful means were called terrorists without distinction, confusing them
all in the single category of persons to be killed (TRC Vol.6, paragraph 90). That is why the young
military recruits complained to the psychologist that the present has destroyed the foundations of
meaning that would allow them to recover from their traumatic experience (TRC Vol.6). The
discourse of apartheid was therefore a bad medicine, exploiting the poisonous side of the
pharmakon: in the opinion of the Commission, the kind of rhetoric used by politicians and SSC
functionaries was reckless, inflammatory and an incitement to unlawful acts (TRC Vol.6, paragraph
90). Like the euphemism of the final solution it is what allowed certain of those in charge to claim
that they never gave the order to kill: take out, wipe out, eradicate, that doesnt mean kill, there
would supposedly have been a misunderstanding, an excessive zeal, a mistake, bad will on the part
of the subordinates. To which the Commission replies: one has to conclude that these words were
intended to say exactly what they said (TRC Vol.6, paragraph 97). Exactly what they said:

taking words at their word. Not only that ones speaking is an act, but what a
word says is an act. Signifier, signified and referent, or phonic matter, meaning
and denotation form a bloc. Without wanting to project more distinctions
loaded with history and doctrines onto this, I would simply like to underline
how close this injunction is to what Aristotle considered as the intractability of
sophistry. What the demonstration of the principle of non-contradiction comes
up against is that the sophist pretends to stop at the logos that there is in the
sounds of the voice and in words.13 This requirement, which obliges Aristotle
to use constraint (bia) and not persuasion, underlies discursive performance:
the characteristic of the act is to say what is said, without regard for the
intention; and even to say the whole of what is said, including homonyms and
amphibolies, since what is said, is said. It provides the ground for Sophistical
Refutations that Aristotle analyses: sophists take the adversary at his word
because they take the word, and even the phrase, at its word. They consider
that for reasons of discursive propriety one cannot escape from the fact of
saying what one says and of hearing what one hears.
Performance is thus put to work in a multiple fashion within this very
particular political attempt, but it is always a matter of pausing on the act that
discourse constitutes at all levels let words do things.

The Difference of Languages as Plurality of Performances

The universal/singular tension


As a third step I would like to start from the recent Vocabulaire europen des
philosophies, Dictionnaire des intraduisibles (Cassin 2004). An impossible book:
over twelve years, 150 collaborators worked on philosophical texts written in
fifteen European languages, or languages constitutive of Europe. We started
from untranslatables, thats to say symptoms of the difference between
languages - not what one doesnt translate, but what one doesnt stop (not)
translating: after Babel with happiness. But it is well-known that the Greeks
were, to borrow Momiglianos expression proudly monolinguistic so much
so that hellenizein signifies to speak Greek as well as to speak properly and
to think and act as a civilised man, by contrast with barbarizein which crushes
and confuses the foreign, the unintelligible and the inhuman. How then can
working on the Greeks furnish the slightest grasp of the difference of
It is very simple in any case I believe that I can simplify with the
ontology / logology key. Either one begins with things. Or one begins with
The onto-logy of Parmenidean unveiling opens onto a metaphysics of
adequation. With Plato and Aristotle, things can be described like this:
language is an organon, a tool, a means of communication, and languages, as
Socrates says in the Cratylus, are simply the different materials that serve to
fabricate this tool,14 sort of habits of the idea. That is why one must start from
things, from what is, and not from words (Plato 1997, 439b [once again I do not
understand this number/digit] ). From this perspective, it is a matter of
communicating to the things under words as quickly as possible, of producing
the unity of being under the difference of languages, of reducing the multiple
to the one: translation is then what Schleiermacher calls dolmetschen,
interpretariat, a go-between.15
The world that starts from words is a completely different world;
language is no longer considered, firstly or solely, as a means, but as an end and
as a force: Whoever finds language interesting in itself is different to whoever
only recognizes in it the means for interesting thoughts (Nietzsche 1971,
134). Hence the only there is is the Humboldtian plurality of languages:
language is manifest in reality solely as multiplicity (von Humboldt 1903,
240), language is and is only the difference of languages. From this perspective,
to translate is no longer dolmetschen but ubersetzen, understanding how
different languages produce different worlds, making these worlds
communicate and disquieting them the one with the other, in such a way that
the readers tongue goes to meet that of the writer.16 The common world
becomes a regulating (or guiding) principle, a goal, and not a point of
departure. This regime is that of the Dictionnaire des intraduisibles(): at bottom
it is sophist logology immersed in the plurality of languages. It then becomes
pertinent to ask oneself about philosophies as they as they are expressed or
said, about what it is to philosophize in languages.
From this point of view, Philosophy (with a capital P) is a tension
between the universal and a multiplicity of singulars. Schleiermacher describes
it perfectly, on condition that we underline his and still:
Here [in authentic philosophy], more than in any other domain, each language
contains, despite the diversity of contemporary or successive opinions, a
system of concepts, which, precisely because they touch each other, are united


and complete each other in the same language, form a whole whose different
parts do not correspond to any of those of the systems of other languages, with
the exception, and still, of God and of Being, the first substantive and the first
verb. Because even the absolutely universal, although it finds itself outside of
the domain of particularity, is illuminated and coloured by language
(Schleiermacher 1999, 84-5).
Neither globish nor ontological nationalism
Now this philosophical gesture is also, and today perhaps above all, a
political gesture. Which linguistico-philosophical Europe do we want? Answer:
there are two that we dont want, that I propose to characterize as everything
in globish and ontological nationalism.
The first catastrophe-scenario only allows one language to remain,
without oeuvre or author: globish (for global English): globish and dialects, thats
all. Every European language, French, German, etc, would only be for speaking
domestically and would be preserved as an endangered species via a politics of
the patrimony. English itself, that of Shakespeare and of Joyce, would become
one of those dialects that no-one understands any longer. Globish meanwhile,
the language of communication par excellence, would allow for submissions to
Brussels, by proposing issues and deliverables in a knowledge-based economy. The
difficulty evidently bears on the relationship between globish and the English
language. That is even the thing that makes the menace so intense: the risk of
collusion between a pragmatic esperanto and the language of a culture.
I would like to develop things in the following way. English is evidently the
language of an Empire, as koin, Latin, and to a lesser extent, French were
before it. It is the language of American economics and diplomacy, become an
auxiliary international language," ( AIL) to borrow Umberto Ecos expression,
before it gets deposed by another, no doubt. However, there are philosophical
reasons for globish being English: in my opinion, the link between the language
of an Empire and analytic philosophy constitutes the cultural foundation of
such AIL. On the one hand, a certain analytic philosophy effectively advocates
the angelic innocence of the universal. What counts is the concept, not the
word Aristotle is my colleague at Oxford. Wherein one rediscovers Plato:
languages are the habits of the concept and the habit matters little; Leibniz and
his universal characteristic: When disagreements arise, there will be no more
need for discussion between two philosophers than there is between two
calculators. In truth it will be enough for them to take their pens, to sit down at
a table and to say to each other (after having called a friend, if they wish):
calculemus, let us calculate; (Leibniz 1980); the project of the Lumires:
Before the end of the eighteenth century, a philosopher who would like to
educate himself thoroughly concerning the discoveries of his predecessors will
be required to burden his memory with seven or eight different languages.
And after having consumed the most precious time of his life to learning them,
he will die before beginning to educate himself. The use of the Latin language,
which we have shown to be ridiculous in matters of taste, is of the greatest
service in works of philosophy, whose merit is entirely determined by clarity
and precision, and which urgently requires a universal and conventional
language(Le Rond d'Alembert 1963, 92 93).


Good philosophical company, in truth, encouraging us to find in the

English language a contemporary version of Latin and a plausible ersatz of a
universal language. So why not English?
Especially given that the angelic innocence of the universal is
accompanied by the militancy of the ordinary. Taken this time as an idiom, in
the singularity of the oeuvres and authors who have expressed themselves in
English in the philosophical tradition, English is the language of fact par
excellence, the language of everyday conversation attentive to itself. Whether it
is a matter of empiricism or of the ordinary language philosophy resulting from
the linguistic turn, one deflates the pretentions of metaphysics by being matter
of fact regarding the fact of the matter; attentive to what we say when we speak
everyday English. No longer why English. But because of English.
Hence the exceptional force of a globish supported by, or reliant
on,analytic English that makes a continental philosophy stuck in the history
and thickness of languages appear amphigoric, that would have Jacques Derrida
taught in comparative literature departments only. From this perspective, the
very idea of untranslatability is null and void. Worse, it has no usefulness.
The other catastrophe scenario is a hermeneutic and continental, rather than
analytic, failing whose modern point of departure, linked to the inconvenient
problem of the genius of languages, is German Romanticism. (Herder, for
example, writes whilst the muse in Italy converses by singing, in France, it
recounts and ratiocinates with preciosity, in Spain it has knightly imagination,
in England it thinks with acuity and depth, what does it do in Germany? It
imitates17). I always come back to this phrase of Heideggers, which renders
[the problem] legible in a caricatural manner:
<ext>The Greek language is philosophical i.e. not that Greek is loaded with
philosophical terminology, but that it philosophises in its basic structure and
formation [Sprachgestaltung]. The same applies to every genuine language, in
different degrees to be sure. The extent to which this is so depends on both
the depth and power of the people who speak the language and exist within it
[Der Grad bemisst sich nach der Tiefe und Gewalt der Eixstenz des Volkes und
Stammes, der die Sprache spricht und in ihr existiert]. Only the German language
has a depth and a creative philosophical character to compare with the Greek
(Heidegger 2002, 36). </ext>
The Greek language then, and the German, more Greek than the Greek. I have
proposed calling the second catastrophe-scenario ontological nationalism,
taking up the diagnosis of Jean-Pierre Lefebvre (Lefebvre 1990). All the work
of the Dictionnaire (Cassin 2004) [my guess] runs counter to this tendency to
sacralise the untranslatable, the symmetrical failing of the Universalist
contempt. But if this tendency insists, it is because on the one hand, Greek and
German are two idioms pregnant with philosophical oeuvres that are
determining for philosophy and its history. On the other hand it is because Heidegger is
the contemporary who has taught us or reminded us that to speak language is totally different
from employing language and that translating is a deployment of ones own

language as an aid to an inderstanding of a foreign language (Heidegger 1968

128, 1993, 79 80).


To Deterritorialise: Synonymy and Homonymy

The heading to take between these two stumbling blocks may be named
in Deleuzian terms: to deterritorialise. The two points of impact of the notion
of performance on a work like that of the Vocabulaire may be grouped together
under this heading.
The first relates to what Humboldt designates as the synonymy of principal
languages: the way in which different languages produce different worlds,
that are neither exactly the same nor completely different. With the
Humboldt of the Fragment of a Monograph on the Basque [see below] it
must be maintained that the plurality of languages is far from reducible to
a plurality of designations of a thing, they are different perspectives on the
same thing, and when the thing is not the object of the external senses, one
is often dealing with as many different things fashioned differently by each
language: being is an effect of saying, not only are we perspectivists,
relativists, but logologists. Humboldt adds: the diversity of languages is the
immediate condition for us of a growth in the richness of the world and the
diversity of what we know about it. At the same time, this is how the region
of human existence expands, and new ways of thinking and feeling are
offered to us with determinate and real characteristics (von Humboldt
1996, 433).

Such is precisely the ambition of a work like the Dictionary, for which
Humboldt, endeavouring to translate Aeschylus Agamemnon (Aeschylus 2004)
despairing of ever succeeding, prefigures the design (and the sketch, disegno).
A synonymy of principal languages of this sort... has never yet been
attempted, although it may be found in fragments of many writers, but if it was
treated with intelligence it would become one of the most seductive works.
The synonymy of principal languages relates to the fact that corresponding
words in each of these languages passes for an expression of the same concept.
But they only do so with a difference. a connotation, a degree in the scale
of sentiments which is divided up between words and concepts: so little is a
word the sign of a concept that the concept cannot be born without it, still less
be fixed; the indeterminate action of the force of thought is condensed in a
word the way that faint clouds appear in a pure sky. It is, then, an individual
being, of a determinate character and figure, of a force acting on the spirit, and
capable of transplanting itself (von Humboldt 2000, 33). It is also by the
movement of deterritorialisation, thus, from the outside of another language
that one succeeds in perceiving how equivocally one's own language is
fabricated. It is on Lacan, as a good logologist, that I will rely to make this
heard. One can apply to the languages of philosophy what he writes in
L'Etourdit regarding the lalangues of every unconscious: one language
amongst others is nothing more than the integral of equivocations that its
history has left in it (Lacan1973, 47).
Instead of being the radical evil of language, as it is in Aristotle, homonymy,
equivocation is not only the condition for wit and for jokes, but the condition
for what is proper to one language, among others. The choice of symptoms that


untranslatables are arises from attention to homonymy. It is not difficult to

make it heard with some examples. Thus in Russian: pravda, which customarily
one renders by truth, signifies justice primarily (it is the agreed
translation of the Greek dikaiosun) and is thus a homonym from the French
point of view; inversely, our truth is a homonym from the Slavic point of
view, as the term crushes together pravda, which arises from justice, and istina,
which arises from being and from exactness. It is the same with the ambiguity
for us of the root svet light/world, as too the problematic homonymy of mir,
peace, world and peasant commune, on which Tolstoy doesn't stop playing in
War and Peace. One could empty a good part of the dictionary by pulling on
this thread. Because it is not only a question of isolated terms, but of networks
of terms: what German designates as Geist is sometimes Mind and sometimes
Spirit, and the Phnomenologie des Geistes is sometimes of the Spirit and
sometimes of the Mind, making Hegel a religious spiritualist or the ancestor of
the philosophy of mind. But it is also valid for syntax and grammar, the
skeleton of languages, with the amphibologies and syntactic homonyms
created by the order of words; diglossia (a high language and a low language in
Russian, that one doesn't know how to translate); the nuances of tense and of
aspect that some languages crush and others don't, down to the Spanish
doublet ser / estar which makes our being even more equivocal. In short, at
least two languages are required in order to know that one is spoken, so that
one is spoken? Basically it is the homonyms of a language that give the best
access to the synonymy of languages.
Hannah Arendt, who wrote her Denktagebuch in several languages, both
as a way of dealing with her exile all the same it is not the German language
which has gone mad she said in her interview with Gunther Gauss and her
practice of philosophical texts, thematises this very precisely as a philosophical
<ext>Plurality of languages: if there was only one language, we would
perhaps be more assured about the essence of things.
What is determining is that one, there are many languages and they are
distinguished not only by their vocabulary but equally by their
grammar, that is to say, essentially by their manner of thinking, and that
two, all languages can be learned.
Given that the object, which is there to support the presentation of
things can be called Tisch as well as table indicates that something of
the genuine essence of things that we make and name escapes us. It is
not the senses and the possibilities for illusion that they contain that
renders the world uncertain, any more than the imaginable possibility or
lived fear that everything is a dream. It is much rather the equivocity of
meaning given within language and, above all, with languages. At the
heart of a homogeneous human community, the essence of the table is
unequivocally indicated by the word table, and yet from the moment
that it arrives at the frontier of the community, it falters.


This faltering equivocity of the world and the insecurity of the human
that inhabits it would naturally not exist if it wasnt possible to learn
foreign languages, a possibility that demonstrates that there exist still
other correspondences than ours in view of a common and identical
world, or even when only one language were to exist. Hence the
absurdity of the universal language against the human condition, the
artificial and all-powerful uniformisation of equivocity.18</ext>
So even an object of the external senses, contrary to what Humboldt
says, is diffracted according to its name: trapeza, on four feet like the counter of
a money-changer, or rather tabula, like a wax tablet for writing on, or mesa as a
plateau at the foot of the mountains. This faltering equivocity of the world
means that we are not sure about the essence of things: logology as the calling
into question of ontological certainty.
Under the loose notion of performance, I have so far brought together at
least two types of language act (in French, actes de langage): on one hand,
speech acts (actes de parole) like Parmenides On Nature as read by
Gorgias, or the statements from the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission; and on the other hand, what I would like to call tongue acts
(actes de langue), with the semantic responsibility, or world-effect, of the
difference of languages. It leaves open the question of the relationship
between performative and performance, a much vaster category, for which
the performative constitutes something like the tip. But to my eyes,
thinking in terms of performance is linked with the general transformation
of the landscape that Austin seeks to accomplish with the performative. He
insists on it in his last lecture when explaining the five most general classes
of performatives, which, even if he is far from equally happy about all of
them nevertheless allow him: play Old Harry with two fetishes which I
admit to an inclination to play Old Harry with, viz. One the true/false fetish,
two, the value/fact fetish (Austin 1975, 151).
Without forgetting this last phrase, at the very end of his final
lecture: I leave to my readers the real fun of applying it in philosophy

(Translated by Andrew Goffey)

Centre National de la Recherche scientifique, Paris.

1. But per doubtless doesn't have the same meaning in both cases, even if
this isn't something Austin makes explicit. The per of performance denotes
the accomplishment of a to the end whereas the per of perlocution
denotes the means, that is, the by of by saying: it is by means of saying,


and not in the saying itself (in saying as characteristic of the

illocutionary or performative) that the perlocutionary acts. In (Austin 1975,
108) see the quote that follows, where the perlocutionary figures in

2. It will be noted that Austin does not then give an example, in quotes, of
perlocutionary utterance. This difficulty is doubtless linked to the complex
definition of perlocutionary acts what we bring about or achieve by saying
something (Austin 1975, 109). This or which, for better or for worse,
manages the difference between the speaker and the listener, recurs on
page 118: The perlocutionary act maybe either the achievement of a
perlocutionary object (convince, persuade) or the production of a
perlocutionary sequel. The illocutionary act is distinguished from the
illocutionary act as I ordered him and he obeyed is distinguished from I
got him to obey (117). The subtle difference doesnt relate necessarily or
directly to distinct utterances. It is as if the perlocutionary, the utterance of
the third kind, appeared and disappeared between the seventh and the tenth

3. So here are three ways, securing uptake, taking effect, and inviting a
response, in which illocutionary acts are bound up with effects; and these
are all distinct from the producing of effects which is characteristic of the
perlocutionary act (Austin.118).

4. Here is how Novalis describes logological reduplication: everyone

ignores what is characteristic of language, that is that it is quite simply only
concerned with itself. That is why language is such a marvelous and fruitful
mystery: that someone can speak just for the sake of speaking is precisely
when it expresses the most magnificent truths. Allow me to refer here also
to Barbara Cassin (Cassin 1995, 113-7). This speaking for the sake of
speaking cannot not be compared with the legein logou kharin by which
Aristotle expels the sophists from the community of speaking beings who,
obeying the principle of non-contradiction, always speak in order to signify
something (Aristotle 1979, IV, 4, 1006a 11-26 and 5, 1009a 20-21). I refer
here to Barbara Cassin and Michel Narcy La Dcision du sens (Cassin 1989).

5. (Plato 1997) Philostratus in The Life of the Sophists. On epideixis heautou

sophias see endnote 10 below.

6. One need only consult 7 of Being and Time (Heidegger 2008).

7. I am deliberately using the risky word fiction in the sense of discursive

fabrication, which should be spelled fixion as it is in Lacan, to make us
sensitive to two questions. The first is the etiolated or parasitical status
of literary or poetic creation in Austin (see for example Austin op. cit. p.
104). The second is the calling into question of the distinction between
genres of discourse (including the difference philosophy / literature,
with the oh-how ambiguous status of Greek poetry) when one takes the
logological point of view (here I can only refer the reader to my LEffet


sophistique (Cassin 1995), cited earlier).

8. Phere d pros allon apallou metast logon On Melissus Xenophanes, (Gorgias

1982, 9) (82 B 11 DK, II, 290, 1. 25).This is how Gorgias punctuates his
eulogy to poetry, by drawing attention to the act of language that is
operating and in the process of being accomplished.

9. I rely here on the work by Philippe-Joseph Salazar (Salazar 2004a and


10. The decree stipulates m mnsikakein you will not recall the evils of
events past and punishes those who do with death. See Aristotle (1996) The
Constitution of Athens 39.

11. I dont wish to make a point here of the evident difficulties of this, which
coincide with those of the Law of Due Obedience in Argentina, because it is
not appropriate to the matter at hand.

12. [These phrases do not appear in the final published summary of findings].

13. For Aristotles Metaphysics (Aristotle 1979, IV, 5, 1009a 20-22) the
context is apparent in the following: One doesn't discuss with everyone in
the same way: some require persuasion, others constraint. One the one hand,
for all those who have maintained this position [the refusal of the principle],
having found themselves in an aporia, their scorn is easy to cure: it is not
with what they say but with what they think that one confronts them. But
all those who discourse for the love of discourse, their cure is a refutation of
what is said in the sounds of the voice and in the words [tou en ti phni
logou kai en tois onomasin].

14. if all legislators [who name] don't work on the same syllables, this
should not be forgotten: that all blacksmiths do not work on the same iron,
whilst making the same tool for the same purpose; yet, as long as they give
it the same form, even if it is from a different iron, the tool remains correct,
whether one makes it here or with Barbarians (Plato 1997, Cratylus 389e 1
390a 2)

15. Schleiermacher 1999, 209-210, 34-5 and see also C Berniers glossary
(135 8).

16. I am paraphrasing the celebrated bifurcation: either the translator

leaves the writer alone as much as possible and makes the reader go to meet
him or he leaves the reader alone as much as possible and makes the writer
go to meet him (Schleiermacher 1999, 49). And, with Schleiermacher,
choosing the lack of tranquility of the first way.[I am not sure what she
means here?]

17. Herder (1996, 105) Imitation becomes the genial characteristic of a

language that would be lacking in genius, exactly as the hand in Aristotle is


the tool of tools, capable of using, and thus standing for, them all.

18. See November 1950 [15] (Arendt 2003, I, 42-43), November 1965 [58]
and [59] ( Arendt 2003, II, 642 644) and July 1968 [76] and [77] (Arendt
2003, II, 690)


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