How Words Make Things Happen

David Bromwich
June 2019

Sooner or later, our words take on meanings other than we intended. How Words Make Things Happensuggests that the conventional idea of persuasive rhetoric (which assumes a speaker’s control of calculated effects) and the modern idea of literary autonomy (which assumes that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’) together have produced a misleading account of the relations between words and human action. Words do make things happen. But they cannot be counted on to produce the result they intend.