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2 October 12:15 pm WED

Talk: Nancy Bauer
Dean of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Professor of Philosophy

“Words as Deeds: The Ontological Power of Language (and Art)”

In the late 1950s, philosopher J. L. Austin delivered a notorious series of lectures at Harvard in which he observed that words do a lot more than allow people to publicize what’s in their heads: in the right circumstances, he claimed, words can do things, too. A standard example: one can say, “I now pronounce you wife and wife,” under the right circumstances, and thereby marry two people. Bauer claims that Austin’s view has radical implications. She argues that what gives words their sense is what people do with them. When new uses of language—such as sexual harassment, transgender, and disability—catch on, they don’t change just what we call things; they literally transform what’s in the world. In other words, they harness the power of art.

Presented in conjunction with "Bookworks", a wide-ranging exploration of the practice of artist-made books, drawing on the contemporary artists’ books and special collections at Tufts University. On view 22 August–15 December at the Aidekman Arts Center/Medford.