He's de Man!

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From Paul de Man’s “Semiology and Rhetoric” in Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism:

“Confronted with the question of difference between grammar and rhetoric, grammar allows us to ask the question, but the sentence by means of which we ask it may deny the very possibility of asking.   For what is the use of asking, I ask, when we cannot even authoritatively decide whether a question asks or doesn’t ask?” (368)

I really liked how de Man, in trying to make a statement about rhetorical questions, asks one.  It was a clever little technique.  It is true.  Why form a statement into a question if you can just come out and say it?  (hehe…)  I believe that the purpose of doing that is to create a different effect.  If the author just comes out and makes a statement, there is no sentence variation.  The essay or conversation is slightly improved in sentence variation by the rhetorical question.  It is clever, too.  You have to think about a rhetorical question in a way that you don’t have to think about a factual statement.  The reader is forced to pause and review the concept, not just breeze over it.  I would even argue that a rhetorical question is a meditative device.

My next question for de Man would be if a rhetorical question is illocutionary, isn’t sarcasm as well?  Both rhetorical statements and sarcasm say one thing and mean another.  Sarcasm in a way of overstating something that cannot be true based on context (in writing) or facial features/context (in a one-on-one conversation).  Grammatically, the sarcastic comment is usually stated as a fact.  For example, “I love doing homework because it is fun to do.”  This is most obviously not true because everyone knows that doing homework isn’t the only thing one has to do in life and it certainly isn’t “fun.”  I would rather be watching TV or doing something active right now, but that will not get me the “A” grade that I desire, thus, I must do this and so must you. 

1.       Is sarcasm another kind of illocutionary device or was I wrong?  Why? 

2.       Can you think of any other devices that could be considered illocutionary?


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Quinn Kerno said:

Your question as to whether sarcasm is or can be illocutionary is a very interesting one. Certainly the Archie Bunker reference made by de Man suggests that indeed it at least can be, and your example also supports this claim so I wouldn't say you were wrong. However, I'm wondering if this is always the case for sarcasm or if it might avert illocution if presented in a different context?

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