The Language of Atoms: Performativity and Politics in Lucretius De rerum natura

Hardcover | January 16, 2015

byW. H. Shearin

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While scholarship on Lucretius has looked to connect De rerum natura to its larger cultural and historical context, it has never turned to speech act theory in this quest. This omission is striking at least in so far as speech act theory was developed precisely as a way of locating language(including texts) within a theory of action. At its root speech act theory is about how language is part of history and acts within it, and it thus holds promise for addressing this long-standing scholarly concern. Further, as this book asserts, speech act theory is not some modern development thatone may apply to De rerum natura but rather a theory native, at least in some respects, to Epicurus' school. The argument contends that a central problem in Epicurean semantics may be resolved if we allow that Epicurus (or his school) developed an understanding of performative language. It reads thefragmentary remains of Epicurus' writing on language against central texts of speech act theory such as J. L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words and Emile Benveniste's definition of the performative as a form of speaking in which the act of speech creates its own referent. The book moves on to consider the larger place of performativity within De rerum natura, and the poem's insight on the acts of promising and naming. Bridging critical theory and ancient philosophy, The Language of Atoms will engage scholars in a host of humanities disciplines, including Classics,Philosophy, and Comparative Literature.

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While scholarship on Lucretius has looked to connect De rerum natura to its larger cultural and historical context, it has never turned to speech act theory in this quest. This omission is striking at least in so far as speech act theory was developed precisely as a way of locating language(including texts) within a theory of action. A...

W. H. Shearin is Assistant Professor of Classics, University of Miami and co-editor of Dynamic Reading (OUP 2012).

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:232 pages, 9.21 × 6.42 × 0.98 inPublished:January 16, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0190202424

ISBN - 13:9780190202422

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsPreface1. Speech Acts in Epicureanism2. Lucretian Promises: fides, foedus, and the Politics of Nature3. Antonomasia, Anonymity, and Atoms: Naming Effects in De rerum natura4. Catachrestic Origins: Speech Acts and the Politics of the PerformativeWorks CitedIndex

Editorial Reviews

"One of the most exciting fields currently in Classics is the study of ancient philosophical texts not simply as systems of thought but as dynamic historical and discursive phenomena that exploit the social practices and linguistic resources of the culture in which they are produced. In hisrigorous exploration of the performative dimension of the De rerum natura, Shearin takes the study of the language of Lucretius to a new level of critical sophistication, and offers a fresh and compelling understanding of the poem's claims to a practical, therapeutic function." --Duncan Kennedy, University of Bristol