Although the concept of the performative has influenced literary
theory in numerous ways, this book represents one of the first
full-length studies of performative language in literary texts.
Creating States examines the visionary poetry of John Milton and
William Blake, using a critical approach based on principles of
speech-act theory as articulated by J.L. Austin, John Searle, and
Emile Benveniste. Angela Esterhammer proposes a new way of
understanding the relationship between these two poets, while at
the same time evaluating the role of speech-act philosophy in the
reading of visionary poetry and Romantic literature.
Esterhammer distinguishes between the ''sociopolitical
performative,'' the speech act which is defined by a societal
context and derives power from institutional authority, and the
`phenomenological performative,'' language which is invested with
the power to posit or create because of the individual will and
consciousness of the speaker.
Analysing texts such as The Reason of Church-Government,
Paradise Lost, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Jerusalem,
Esterhammer traces the parallel evolution of Milton and Blake from
writers of political and anti-prelatical tracts to poets who,
having failed in their attempts to alter historical circumstances
through a direct address to their contemporaries, reaffirm their
faith in individual visionary consciousness and the creative word -
while continuing to use the forms of a socially or politically