Shooting a donkey: Accidents and mistakes in Austin and McEwan

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Remember J. L. Austin's attempt-in "A Plea for Excuses"-to differentiate between doing something "by mistake" and doing it "by accident"? Well, Austin's attempts at philosophical distinctions-such as his more celebrated distinction between constative and performative language-do not always result in tenable oppositions. Therefore, this article sets out to explore the accident/mistake distinction with reference to a contemporary novel: namely, Ian McEwan's Enduring Love. The novel is particularly apt because it opens with a fatal accident, which, in turn, leads to a plot-shaping mistake. These extraordinary events both challenge and vindicate Austin's "ordinary language" conception of his subject.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-434
Number of pages14
JournalPhilosophy and Literature
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


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