Sunday, December 06, 2009

Jukai and Performative Speech/Acts

I'm not a big fan of comic books, but I'd recommend that Brad Warner read "Derrida for Beginners," as this painless to read book introduced me to idea that there is a whole class of speech and action labeled as performative, that goes beyond that kind of speech we find in plays or songs song on the street.

These "performative utterances" are also referred to as illocutionary acts.

[A]n illocutionary act is an act (1) for the performance of which I must make it clear to some other person that the act is performed (Austin speaks of the 'securing of uptake'), and (2) the performance of which involves the production of what Austin calls 'conventional consequences' as, e.g., rights, commitments, or obligations. For example, in order to successfully perform a promise I must make clear to my audience that the promise occurs, and undertake an obligation to do the promised thing: hence promising is an illocutionary act in the present sense.

Jukai, in which someone before an assembled sangha makes a declaration of refuge in the Buddha, Sangha, and Dharma, and pubicly vows to uphold certain precepts (10 typically for us layfolk) is an example of a performative act.

It is like signing a contract - the truth or falsity of of the signature on the contract lies not in that document, but in the behavior of the signatories after the contract is signed.

I find it odd that people of a certain age are still wedded to the notions of an abhorrence of traditional ceremony. This abhorrence is no doubt a reaction to exposure to post-performative speech bad behavior a.k.a. hypocrisy. That hypocrisy and failure to live up to contracts, vows, and precepts is pandemic there can be no doubt. But the value of such speech is to create places in our minds where the value of upholding such vows and precepts are remembered, cherished, and where such vows and precepts may remain in our consciousness. You've got to have neural connections broken to store information; you might as well have few of them dedicated to the prospect of not screwing up yourself and others.

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