The Work of Language in Hedda Gabler
For ordinary language philosophy—the philosophical tradition after Ludwig Wittgenstein and J. L. Austin, as constituted and extended by Stanley Cavell—meaning arises in use. Utterances are actions and expressions. This philosophy, therefore, is closely attuned to the work of language in theater. This paper shows that ordinary language philosophy gives rise to a kind of literary criticism that considers reading an practice of acknowledgment, as en effort to understand exactly why the characters say precisely these words in precisely this situation. By paying close attention to Hedda’s interactions with three different linguistic worlds—the Tesman world, the Brack world, and the world she shared with Løvborg in the past—this chapter brings out the contrast between the conventionality and brutality of Hedda’s surroundings and Hedda’s ideals of courage and freedom, and shows that Hedda is more vulnerable, and more damaged, than previous readings have assumed.
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