Counterthoughts, Smooth Striders and The Art of Archery

I’ve brought up what Gilles Deleuze calls an ‘image of thought’ in ‘Difference and Repetition’ (1994 translation by Paul Patton) on a couple of occasions. To be more specific, in that book he (131) zooms into a particular image of thought, should we, perhaps, even say the image of thought, considering that, for most people it is the only image of thought there is. He (131) calls it the dogmatic, orthodox or moral image. In one of his essays, ‘To Have Done with Judgment’, as included in ‘Essays Critical and Clinical’ (1998 translation by Daniel Smith and Michael Greco), Deleuze links to what he calls the doctrine of judgment.

I try to point out to others that I do not subscribe to this dogmatic image of thought. I oppose it. In that sense I subscribe to another image of thought. The 1994 English translation of Deleuze’s 1968 published book ‘Différence et Repetition’ contains an additional preface which is written almost 30 years later from the original date of publication. In it he (xv) makes note of how it was the first book in which he wrote philosophy, rather than writing about philosophy, how he selected his arrows and shot them into the distance, rather than merely studying archery (this may seem odd, but this will crop up again, soon enough). He (xv) also notes that, more or less, everything he wrote after this book was connected to it, one way or another. He (xv) summarizes what the book is about:

“[T]he majority of philosophers had subordinated difference to identity or to the Same, to the Similar, to the Opposed or to the Analogous: they had introduced difference into the identity of the concept, they had put difference in the concept itself, thereby reaching a conceptual difference, but not a concept of difference.”

As this may seem rather abstract to people, he (xv) explains it in less fancy terms that, I believe, should be fairly easy to grasp even if you aren’t familiar with the book, his other work or, well, philosophy in general. Firstly (xv):

“We tend to subordinate difference to identity in order to think it (from the point of view of the concept or the subject: for example, specific difference presupposes an identical concept in the form of a genus).”

So, for example, you have A and B, both are identities. What is between them is difference. It is measured in relation to identity. You need identity for difference to emerge. Secondly (xv):

“We also have a tendency to subordinate it to resemblance (from the point of view of perception), to opposition (from the point of view of predicates), and to analogy (from the point of view of judgement).”

This is how you do it. As I sort of stated already, the problem is that, as he (xv) puts it:

“[W]e do not think difference in itself.”

The issue is that difference is merely what follows, an afterthought. As the title of the book suggests, half of the project for Deleuze in that book, and later on as well, is to flip these two, so that identity becomes secondary to difference, so that it’s not about identity in itself (or thing-in-itself, to put it in Kantian terms) followed difference but about difference in itself, followed by identity. The other half is about doing the same to repetition or, as he (xvi) puts it, making it so “that variation is not added to repetition in order to hide it, but is rather its condition or constitutive element, the interiority of repetition par excellence[.]” Simply put, repetition is not about the same, about the identical, say doing something over and over again (as in what we like to call repetitive when it seems to be just more of the same), but something that permits change, the non-identical.

Despite being often thought of as non-educated simpletons, in my experience athletes are the people who understand this pretty much immediately when you explain it to them. For them it’s rather obvious that they never actually repeat anything. They wouldn’t change, they wouldn’t develop, they wouldn’t get better if repetition was just about doing the same. They do still speak of repetitions or reps. Sure. But, for them, as Deleuze (xvi) puts it, repetition is rather the condition or constitutive element of variation. Who’s a simpleton now?

When these two, difference and repetition are flipped, we get at what the book is about. The problem with all this is that people do not think like this, as Deleuze is well aware. What needs to be done is to undermine, to question the traditional image of thought. He (xvi) warns us not to confuse the image of thought with method:

“By this I mean not only that we think according to a given method, but also that there is a more or less implicit, tacit or presupposed image of thought which determines our goals when we try to think.”

I find it helpful to think of it as like an operating system on a computer. It’s not about whether this and/or that piece of software doesn’t work the way it should or can’t accomplish what we want. That would be about the method, how we get this and/or that done once we are on a certain operating system. He (xvi) further elaborates the classic image of thought:

“[W]e suppose that thought possesses a good nature, and the thinker a good will (naturally to ‘want’ the true); we take as a model the process of recognition – in other words, a common sense or employment of all the faculties on a supposed same object; we designate error, nothing but error, as the enemy to be fought; and we suppose that the true concerns solutions – in other words, propositions capable of serving as answers.”

For him (xvi), the problem with this image of thought is that:

“[A]s long as the critique has not been carried to the heart of that image it is difficult to conceive of thought as encompassing those problems which point beyond the propositional mode; or as involving encounters which escape all recognition; or as confronting its true enemies, which are quite different from thought; or as attaining that which tears thought from its natural torpor and notorious bad will, and forces us to think.”

Aye, to get what he is after, and what I’m after when I point out that my peers subscribe to an image of thought that fails to account for this and/or that, is to start from the beginning, no, not at the method, but from the premise, from thinking itself. I think the very final words are worth emphasizing. The classic, traditional, dogmatic, orthodox or moral, whatever you want to call it (hence it’s, perhaps, best calling it just ‘the image of thought’) is exactly what keeps us away from thinking. It’s about more of the same, because it’s a line of thinking or model of thought that relies on the Same, the Identical, the Similar, the Opposed or the Analogous, as he (xv) characterizes it.

But what can we do then? His (xvi-xvii) solution is to come up with a new image of thought. To be specific, he (xviii) actually seeks to liberate thought, thinking, from the images that imprison it, that prevent the thinker from going beyond its limits. This is what he then does with Félix Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi).

At this point, before I attempt to explain anything in that book, it’s worth reiterating what Deleuze and Guattari (22) state in the introduction of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’:

“[A]ll we know are assemblages. And the only assemblages are machinic assemblages of desire and collective assemblages of enunciation.”

This is something that I find helpful to keep in mind at all times when I read the book. As a side note, what they state is not exactly correct because there’s more to them, to the book, than just assemblages, for example, abstract machines (or diagrams) that put assemblages into action (their immanent causes). It’s also worth noting how in a previous collaboration of theirs, in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ (1977 translation by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen Lane), they use a different moniker for assemblages, calling them desiring machines. Brian Massumi (82), the translator of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, notes in his guide to to both books, ‘A user’s guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari’, that:

“Due to persistent subjectivist misunderstandings, in A Thousand Plateaus the word was changed to the more neutral ‘assemblage’.”

That said, be as it may, they still use the word machine in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, which can be a bit confusing at times. At least I find it a bit confusing that they opt to call it another thing, for a good reason, as pointed out above, but then sort of half-ass it. For example, I’ll be covering much, but not all of the plateau called ‘1227: Treatise on Nomadology – The War Machine’ (which, by the way, I think has to be, in part, a cheeky wink to Gottfried Leibniz’s ‘Monadology’). The war machine is the key concept on that plateau but, as it turns out, the machine is an assemblage. As they (399) clearly indicate:

“Assemblages are passional, they are compositions of desire. Desire has nothing to do with a natural or spontaneous determination; there is no desire but assembling, assembled, desire. The rationality, the efficiency, of an assemblage does not exist without the passions the assemblage brings into play, without the desires that constitute it as much as it constitutes them.”

I try to write my essays in a state of flow, as it happens, and not edit them, beyond a final look for any typos (some may still be there, as I can’t be that bothered to double or triple check), but, for this essay, I felt like going back to add this here, just so that people don’t think that the war machine is not an assemblage but something altogether different. To be fair, their project is all over the place, intentionally so. They aren’t too fussed about it. Happens. Whatever.

Now, where was I? Right, to be clear, it is what the two write in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that prompted me to look up again what Deleuze has to say about the image of thought in ‘Difference and Repetition’. I was reading the plateau on the war machine where the two (374) bring up the classical image of though, noting that it is a model that is tied to state apparatus, which, in turn, defines its “goals and paths, conduits, channels, organs, an entire organon.”

To clarify here, organon is Greek and, apparently has to do with instrument or a tool that, I guess, here is about how it pertains to knowledge (actually, this is some proper foreshadowing). It’s also probably a reference to Aristotle. They (374) also characterize the classical image of thought as “covering all of thought” and “like the State-form developed in thought.” For them (374-375) it is rooted in mythos and logos, the mythical foundation and the legislative proceeding, pact or contract that sanctions that foundation. They (375) also refer to the former as the imperium of truth and the latter the republic of free spirits. If you’ve read other plateaus in the book, you can clearly see how this is also about the contemporary mixed semiotic, about signification and post-signification (but that’s something that I’ve covered in the past, so I won’t tangled up on it here). Anyway, they (375) add that, taken together, these two operate together, despite being antithetical to one another (think of, empire vs. republic …), and act as “the necessary condition for the constitution of thought as principle, or as a form of interiority, as a stratum.” Again, as a side note, if you’ve read the first plateau, the one on strata, this is easier to grasp. Also, if you’ve read that plateau, their (352) earlier comment on how it is a double articulation should make much more sense to you.

What is striking about this image of thought then? Well, this, what they (375) explain, is what struck me on this plateau in particular:

“It is easy to see what thought gains from this: a gravity it would never have on its own, a center that makes everything, including the State, appear to exist by its own efficacy or on its own sanction.”

It is, it seems, that the image of thought, gains a lot from the State model. By now, because I didn’t cover this, at all, and just jumped at it, you might be wondering, what state, what State? Luckily they (375) explain it in this context:

“But the State gains just as much. Indeed, by developing in thought in this way the State-form gains something essential: a whole consensus. Only thought is capable of inventing the fiction of a State that is universal by right, of elevating the State to the level of de jure universality.”

What they are saying here, and elsewhere on this plateau, is that State (or we can just call it state here) is not something that humans developed as societies evolved from primitive societies, once people grew out of being primitive simpletons or something along those lines. They don’t buy that, at all. It is explained in this bit, as they point out that a state is an invention, a fictive product of thought. It happens in a sudden flash, “in a single stroke, in an imperial form”, and what makes the distinction and relation between the governors and the governed possible, as characterized by Deleuze and Guattari (359). To put what has been already expressed more concisely, they (375) state:

“The State gives thought a form of interiority, and thought gives that interiority a form of universality.”

In other words, the state models thought, as well as protects it, whereas, in turn, thought legitimizes the state as universal, something that must be, so, in a way, also protecting it. So, again, it’s worth returning to the earlier bit on mythos and logos, the foundation and what legitimizes that foundation, which is, pretty much, what they are on about here as well. They (375-376) put it, once more, in other words:

“[B]ut that exchange is also an analytic proposition, because realized reason is identified with the de jure State, just as the State is the becoming of reason.”

If you struggle with this, they (376) also explain this in less abstract terms:

“[I]n the so-called modern or rational State, everything revolves around the legislator and the subject.”

You may wish to think of yourself as a subject, someone who is capable of doing this and/or that, like a grammatical subject in a sentence, but this is only part of the story. Here it is worth noting that you are, in fact, also not only subject, but also subject to. Our representative democracies work this way. You vote for someone else, or yourself if you are up for the job (or someone else if it seems a bit smug to vote for yourself), to represent you, in the hopes that your chosen representative gets into the house of representatives (parliament) where they legislate, that is to say come up with laws that people must obey. This is why the two (376) add that:

“Always obey. The more you obey, the more you will be master, for you will only be obeying pure reason, in other words yourself…”

If you find this oddly familiar, from my previous essays or from the book itself, it is because it is. On the plateau on regimes of signs, ‘587 B.C. – A.D. 70: On Several Regimes of Signs’, they (129-130) address the same thing, noting how this works in a contemporary society in which there is no single imperial despot who we must obey no matter what:

“There is no longer even a need for a transcendent center of power; power is instead immanent and melds with the ‘real,’ operating through normalization. A strange invention: as if in one form the doubled subject were the cause of the statements of which, in its other form, it itself is a part. This is the paradox of the legislator-subject replacing the signifying despot: the more you obey the statements of the dominant reality, the more in command you are as subject of enunciation in mental reality, for in the end you are only obeying yourself! You are the one in command, in your capacity as a rational being. A new form of slavery is invented, namely, being slave to oneself, or to pure ‘reason,’ the Cogito. Is there anything more passional than pure reason? Is there a colder, more extreme, more self interested passion than the Cogito?”

Not that it is surprising, but, as I pointed out, very similar. Back to the plateau on the war machine, where they (376) add that even philosophy or, perhaps, philosophy, in particular, is complicit in this paradoxical slavery to oneself:

“Ever since philosophy assigned itself the role of ground it has been giving the established powers its blessing, and tracing its doctrine of faculties onto the organs of State power. Common sense, the unity of all the faculties at the center constituted by the Cogito, is the State consensus raised to the absolute. This was most notably the great operation of the Kantian ‘critique,’ renewed and developed by Hegelianism.”

After Descartes, Kant is the one to, in particular, to be reprimanded by the two (376) for advocating for thought to function for the state:

“Kant was constantly criticizing bad usages, the better to consecrate the function. It is not at all surprising that the philosopher has become a public professor or State functionary. It was all over the moment the State-form inspired an image of thought. With full reciprocity.”

Make note of the word that they use quite a bit in the book: reciprocity. Keep that in mind. It crops up elsewhere in the book and helps you to understand what they are after in other contexts as well. Anyway, they (376) note that as complicit as philosophers like Kant and Hegel may have been in this, they no are longer the people the state turns to. In contemporary societies it is the sociologists (such as Émile Durkheim, who they mention) and the psychoanalysts who have taken this position of serving the state. I’d go as far as to argue that much of the academia operates this way, both voluntarily (albeit perhaps unwittingly) and involuntarily (you have to justify what good does this and/or that do for the society, for the state, for the well-being of people etc.). As they (374) pointed out two pages or so back, the state sets the “goals and paths, conduits, channels, organs, an entire organon.”

Now, if you made it this far, to this point in my essays, perhaps perplexed by how someone writes about five pages on thought and how one should focus on thought before anything else, you may find this laughable. Deleuze and Guattari (376) make note of this as well:

“In a sense, it could be said that all this has no importance, that thought has never had anything but laughable gravity.”

I mean, come on, fuck off (in the sense that it expresses sudden disbelief), are you kidding me, thought, why would it have any gravity, why would it be worth going on and on about? Well, because, as they (376) explain:

“But that is all it requires: for us not to take it seriously.”

That’s exactly why, but if you are not convinced, they (376) do provide a more elaborate explanation as to why we need to take thought seriously, why we shouldn’t just skip it and simply start from the subject:

“Because that makes it all the easier for it to think for us, and to be forever engendering new functionaries. Because the less people take thought seriously, the more they think in conformity with what the State wants.”

So, think of this the next time you find yourself wondering, along the lines of why is it that I feel bad about this and/or that, why is it that I’m anxious, why is it that I feel fearful of this and/or that. Would it not be that you, yourself, albeit, perhaps, by proxy, through representation, have created the norm, the standard that you, yourself, must now conform to through self-discipline? Just think of it. When you realize that all that angst, guilt, fear, etc. is your making, your rationalization, it goes away. Not that it’s easy to get to that point, but you can. Just saying, which is exactly what Deleuze and Guattari (376) address next when they make note of counterthoughts.

They (376) refer to counterthinkers as private thinkers in order to distinguished the from public thinkers, the state professors. They (376) name Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Shestov as these private thinkers, only to find the label private thinker not very apt because it emphasizes the individual, the subject, which, in turn, points to the interiority of thought when in this case it is about the exact opposite, about the exteriority of thought, what they call outside thought. At this point they (376-377) link thinking to the war machine (which may have puzzled you earlier on … because I didn’t explain it).

War machine is not exactly what you might think it is. If you think that it’s the army, the military or the military complex, you are mistaken. What’s relevant is that the war machine is what is exterior or outside the state, as Deleuze and Guattari (351) point out on the first page of this plateau. They (352) are very clear on this, that “war is not contained within this [state] apparatus.” Instead, for them (352, 355), armies or militaries are what happens when the war machine is seized, integrated or appropriated to the state, to function in its service. They (353-354) add that by being exterior or outside the state, from the standpoint of the interior or the inside, that of the state, war machine is always characterized as the negation of the state, not only acting against it (which it is, as they, 359, point out), but also in a negative form, such as “stupidity, deformity, madness, illegitimacy, usurpation, sin.” To be more exact, they (354) emphasize that the war machine is not only something merely outside the state, external to it, but, in fact, the very form of exteriority itself, whereas the state is the very form of interiority which “we habitually take as a model, or according to which we are in the habit of thinking.” As they (359) go on to clarify, the war machine is against the state-form, be it actual or virtual, an actual state to be opposed or opposing the circumstances that result in the emergence of a state. To make it absolutely clear, it’s worth reiterating that the war machine is not a military institution because, as they (355) point out:

The State has no war machine of its own; it can only appropriate one in the form of a military institution, one that will continually cause it problems.”

What do you mean by problems? They (355) argue that they will have their problems because what the state does is to rein in the war machine, in order for it to exist for an antithetical purpose, to go against itself, or so to speak. They (355) explain what happens when it is positioned between the two poles, mythos and logos, the despot and the legislator:

“Trapped between the two poles of political sovereignty, the man of war seems outmoded, condemned, without a future, reduced to his own fury, which he turns against himself.”

Only to wonder (356):

“Is it the destiny of the war machine, when the State triumphs, to be caught in this alternative: either to be nothing more than the disciplined, military organ of the State apparatus, or to turn against itself, to become a double suicide machine for a solitary man and a solitary woman?”

They (357) also further characterize the war machine on the level of society as what not only goes against the state, that is to say when a state emerges, but also wards off the formation of the state within a society that is not a state. How to characterize it? It’s anti-static? Haha! Anyway, funny business aside, they (357, 359) note how in what people call primitive societies (not a pejorative label here) do have their organization and their rulers, their chiefs. That said, they (357) add that having a chief, a top dog, or whatever you want to call it, is not what makes a state. Instead, they (357) argue that what makes a state is “the perpetuation or conservation of organs of power.” In other words, it involves setting up a fixed position or positions, a head or heads of state, and making sure that things remain the same. Now you might object to this. You might point out that chieftainship can operate the same way, to be, for example as inherited titles. They (357) disagree with you:

“[T]he chief … has no instituted weapon other than his prestige, no other means of persuation, no other rule than his sense of the group’s desires. The chief is more like a leader or a star than a man of power and is always in danger of being disavowed, abandoned by his people.”

How to put this more simply? Perhaps, one could say that the chief, the leader, the star, has to constantly to prove to be worthy of that status as there is no appeal to a fixed position, that he or she is entitled to lead, to rule, to be appreciated. So, as a mode of operation, it is not that the war machine can’t involve leaders. They can and they do. It’s rather that leaders can’t expect people to follow them, just because. They (358) add that the very function of the war machine goes against one erecting oneself on a pedestal and expecting to stay on that pedestal as there are always challengers. As they (358) point out, in this mode leadership is always immanent, warding off those, even the strong ones, who seek to stabilize it (in order to fix it in their favor). In other words, sure, it’s not against strong leaders, but it is against strong leaders who seek to rig the system. This is why they (358) speak of packs and bands where they may be and are leaders but those positions are always contestable.

Oh, and yes, there’s some clever wording here, on this plateau, going from bands to bandits, you know, those people who are outside the state, outside the law, outlaws. As another interesting bit, while I’m on it, they (357) note, in passing, that it’s a common misconception to think of the state as war like. It is the exact opposite, “the State is against war, so war is against the State”, as they (358) point out. The state does not want war as it risks the state, unless it serves the interest of the state, say, when you go against another state in order to grab land from it or the like. There is also yet another little fascinating bit that is easy to miss. This one is where they (358) characterize as indiscipline, noting that:

“We certainly would not say that discipline is what defines a war machine: discipline is the characteristic required of armies after the State has appropriated them.”

Aye, discipline is what you need to keep the war machine in check, to make sure it stays bound. They (358) add to this a word of caution, not to think that the rules of the war machine is inherently better than those of the state (probably because they are not here to judge anyway):

“We are not saying that [the rules of the war machine] are better, of course, only that they animate a fundamental indiscipline of the warrior, a questioning of hierarchy, perpetual blackmail by abandonment or betrayal, and a very volatile sense of honor, all of which, once again, impedes the formation of the State.”

Discipline is highly important for the state. It is what keeps the war machine in check. It keeps people from reaching to the form of exteriority. It keeps people within set limits, within boundaries, within fields, well within the interior. They (360) make further note of states as bounded entities, adding that not only do states operate through sovereignty, that is to say delimiting area reigned over by the state, what it is able to internalize or appropriate locally, but also in relation to what lies outside their borders, which, to be specific, is not simply a bunch of other states but rather the possibility of no state (the counter-state society, the war machine). They (360) aptly characterize this when they state that “the outside of States cannot be reduced to ‘foreign policy’” as there is no negotiating with the form of exteriority.

To make this easier to comprehend (rather than discussing primitive and pastoral societies), they (360) list, among others, commercial formations, such as multinational corporations, industrial complexes and religious formations and movements, namely those that are wide spread, as contemporary war machines. The point here is that while they are located within states, they are not beholden by them, as hinted by the word multinational. They even seek to undermine them, as is the case with multinational corporations that couldn’t give a hoot about the states, except for when it comes to securing their property. This is what they (360) call the ecumenical worldwide direction or, I guess, the global direction that undermines the states.

The other direction is the local direction that they (360) characterize as marked by various local segments and mechanisms, consisting various bands of people, marginal groups, minorities that are in conflict with the states locally. In contrast to the global ecumenical machines, they (360) refer to this direction as neoprimitivism, a modern form of tribal society.

For Deleuze and Guattari (360), these two divergent directions are always there, undermining or going against the state. What is listed here, as listed by them (360), is merely a collection of contemporary formations. Different times and different places have their own formations. Anyway, to get somewhere with this, they (360) add that these directions overlap or merge partially. Their (360) examples include how, in part, “a commercial organization is also a band of pillage, or piracy” and how “it is in bands that a religious formation begins to operate.” In other words, the global can go local and the local can go global. More importantly, they indeed do so. What is common between the two, despite the difference in direction and in scale, is that both the global and the local are irreducible to the state, as they (360) aptly summarize this. They are about war, whereas the state is about peace (states do wage war but only for there to be peace).

In summary, as summarized by the two (360-361), the war machine is a form of exteriority, a non-identity, existing only in its own perpetual metamorphoses, whereas the state is a form of interiority, about identity. Anyway, after that lengthy, albeit, perhaps, necessary detour, it’s to return to science or academics. Where was I? Right, I was about to link this to the image of thought before I went on to explain the war machine. Now that I’ve done that, what they (377) express should make a bit more sense:

“Every thought is already a tribe, the opposite of a State.”

Remember how they (376) hold that the state is the form of interiority and the professor is a state functionary, which results in an image of thought that is inspired by the state. Also, remember how they (376) point out that the state and the professor reinforce one another. In other words, this results in thought being modeled after the state and in conformity with it, which, as they (374) state, defines its “goals and paths, conduits, channels, organs, an entire organon.” In short, the dominant image of thought is that of the form of interiority. Back to the image of thought, that of the form of exteriority, which they (377) further elaborate as:

“But the form of exteriority of thought – the force that is always external to itself, or the final force, the nth power – is not at all another image in opposition to the image inspired by the State apparatus. It is, rather, a force that destroys both the image and its copies, the model and its reproductions, every possibility of subordinating thought to a model of the True, the Just, or the Right (Cartesian truth, Kantian just, Hegelian right, etc.).”

So, going back to what Deleuze states in the preface to the 1994 English translation of ‘Différence et Repetition’, the form of exteriority of thought, to use the terms he uses alongside Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, is not, strictly speaking an image of thought because it is a force that seeks to destroy the image, as well as its copies, to uproot the arborescent model and its reproductions. I reckon this is why Deleuze (xvii) considers it to be a matter of liberating “thought from those images that imprison it” rather than merely replacing one image with another as what they, he and Guattari, advocate for instead, the rhizome, is about the continuous metamorphosis. Then again, not unlike Deleuze (xvii) who briefly refers it to a new image of thought (before stating that it is rather about liberating thought from the images that imprison it), I find it hard to explain all this, going against the dominant image of thought, without stating that I subscribe to another, diametrically opposite image of thought. I mean, oh boy, oh boy, if I have to explain all this, now about 8 pages or so, just so that I abstain from referring to it as an image, or a model, in some peer-reviewed paper, yeah, it’s just not going to work (unless I get to spend that many pages to explain this central issue).

What about the bows and arrows bit then? I indicated that this will crop up again and this is the point in the book where archery gets mentioned. Deleuze and Guattari (377) explain the issue they take with what is called a ‘method’:

“A ‘method’ is the striated space of the cogitatio universalis and draws a path that must be followed from one point to another.”

I have yet to explain what striated space is, but I’ll get to it soon enough. Cogitatio universalis is the dogmatic image of thought, the form of interiority of thought that professors subscribe to. It takes different shapes, such as “Cartesian truth, Kantian just, Hegelian right, etc.”, to name a few, as they (377) do. In contrast, they (377) elaborate non-method:

“[T]he form of exteriority situates thought in a smooth space that it must occupy without counting, and for which there is no possible method, no conceivable reproduction, but only relays, intermezzos, resurgences. Thought is like the Vampire; it has no image, either to constitute a model of or to copy.”

Again, I have not explained smooth space, but I’ll get to that as well. Anyway, to get to the point about archery, I’ll have to let them (377) continue:

“In the smooth space of Zen, the arrow does not go from one point to another but is taken up at any point, to be sent to any other point, and tends to permute with the archer and the target.”

Finally, the point about bows and arrows, as also mentioned by Deleuze (xv) in the added preface of ‘Difference and Repetition’, is that it’s one thing to examine how examine how arrows are made, how they are shot, how far they go, how accurate they are, for what purposes they are shot, what they land on, etc. in order to master archery, to hit a target, and another thing to “trim our own arrows, or gather those which seem to us the finest in order to try to send them in other directions[.]” In ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ Deleuze and Guattari (378) make note of what happens to archery when the state is involved:

“Is it by chance that whenever a ‘thinker’ shoots an arrow, there is a man of the State, a shadow or an image of a man of the State, that counsels and admonishes him, and wants to assign him a target or ‘aim’?”

To contextualize this a bit, as it is torn off the page here by me, the bit on “a shadow or an image of a man of the State”, as opposed to “a man of the State”, has to do with this doesn’t require an official representative of the state, say a politician, a bureaucrat or a professor, as anyone who subscribes to that image of thought will do just as well. To put it in terms used elsewhere in the book, and repeatedly by me in my previous essays, everyone is a priest in this regard. It’s that pervasive.

In other words, you can learn to shoot arrows from one point to another according to an image or a model. Alternative, you can do the opposite by ignoring the image or the model in order to avoid being led by the arrow to this and/or that point. The arrow is in perpetual flight, or so to speak. You could, of course, say that the arrow is always at a certain point, but that’s besides the point here (haha!) as the arrow is always curving somewhere else. The point where it happens to be is only relevant if it is thought of as going from one point to another in a straight line.

I did a quick search on Deleuze, Zen and archery, which led me to read an article by Diana Soeiro titled ‘«Know thyself» Mind, body and ethics. Japanese archery (Kyudo) and the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze’ published in ‘Enrahonar. Quaderns de Filosofia’’in 2011. She (200) explains what kyūdō (弓道), the Way of the bow (do as the Way, you know, also like in kendō, the Way of the sword), or the art of archery, is, by first establishing what it is not:

“Asking «what is [kyūdō]» while writing on a piece of paper is one of the less [kyūdō]-like things one can do.”

Followed by explaining what it is (200):

[Kyūdō] is about doing and not about talking about it.”

So, as explained by Deleuze (xv) in the English preface, while there’s nothing wrong with talking about archery, that’s is to say examine the work of others, you are free to do so, but it is still not archery, that is to say it’s not creating your own work. Anyway, Soeiro (200) further elaborates kyūdō:

“The best way to understand what [kyūdō] is, is to find a place where it is taught and start practicing and observe others to practice.”

Perhaps it’s worth emphasizing that Deleuze (xv) is not against learning from others, but rather against establishing a model or a school of how to to do something. In this case it’s about archery, but he is actually talking about philosophy. So, the point is rather not to approach whatever it is that is at stake, say archery, as if it needs be learned through a manual. It’s about archery, not about measurements applied to archery. Soeiro’s (200) cites Kenneth Kushner in his 2000 book ‘One Arrow, One Life – Zen, Archery, Enlightenment’:

“A «Way» in its essence is therefore best described in action. Moreover, «actions become Ways when practice is not done merely for the immediate result».”

In her (200) own words:

“This means that action, in this context, should be taken as gesture. This distinction is crucial to understand that what is at stake in the practice in any of the «Ways» is not the result but the act of doing itself.”

Very simply put, it’s just about doing archery, not about examining what archery is, what happens when the arrow is propelled by the bow, from the point where you stand, and hits something, at the point where the arrow lands. In her (200) words, it’s about performing the gesture. To be more specific, she (201) elaborates what can be learned and cannot be learned:

“One can learn the gesture but one can never learn its result – and that is why in [kyūdō] hitting the target or not is irrelevant.”

If you fail to grasp the usefulness of this, why the point is about performing the gesture, think of it as a primary concern to you. Getting the gesture right, the movement as surely as possible is what it is about. That’s you try to learn. That is what you need to focus on. Hitting the target is secondary. Once you have perfected performing the gesture, you know that the target will be hit, as she (201) explains it. As that might be hard to comprehend, she (202, 206) reiterates this by stating that release which creates a sense of oneness occurs not when the arrow strikes the intended target but when one lets go, releases the arrow, letting it fly because kyūdō is not about proving yourself and be acknowledged by others for your skill with the bow and arrow but knowing yourself, your character, at that very moment, to reach harmony with yourself. Simply put, it’s about the experience of doing it, being involved in it, not about what comes after it.

I guess I should add that explaining the purpose of learning as reaching perfection is, perhaps, a bit misleading, in the sense that the practice is never over. You don’t simply start from zero, work your way to perfection, lets say a hundred as the measure of perfection, and you are done. As I pointed out earlier on, just ask an athlete how this performing the gesture works. They’ll tell you that it involves hard work and it’s not over once they achieve a certain level. They still need to work hard in order to maintain that level, in this case perfection. As Soeiro (202) characterizes it, this is why “practice is a Way to know yourself.” Linking this to the earlier point she (200) makes, it’s worth reiterating that this is, indeed, a practice that facilitates knowing oneself, but one that only involves doing, experiencing, not talking about what you do or experience, or, to be more accurate, did or experienced. As I really want to move on, as fascinating as this is, in summary of what is stated by Soeiro in the article, archery, that is to say the art of archery or the Way of the bow, is about experiencing oneness with the bow, knowing one’s place as “the medium between this (technique) and that (release)” (203), about becoming-bow, to put in Deleuzo-Guattarian terms.

If you think this is rather nonsensical, against common sense, even pointless in the sense of going through a rigorous, as well as a clearly repetitive process, to get somewhere, you are correct. That’s exactly the point, abandoning you, yourself, the subject, as the starting point for everything else and letting who you are, at any given time, emerge, to take shape through practice, that is to say though difference and repetition, as explained by Soiero (207-208). In her (208) words, linking this to will or desire, the point is to:

“To know through one’s own character fueled by the desire, to know. To know, not what society or others assumed as important for anyone to know, but to know what one’s own character wants to find out: following its … orientation. When you do know you no longer need to will it and knowledge (character and thinking) comes to you in a clear, sharp way.”

Connecting to the previous point about letting one’s identity to take shape through practice, I think it’s worth emphasizing here the point she makes about it not being what society or others want. You need to let go of such conception of yourself, as this and/or that, what others want you to be. I’d also emphasize here that it’s not only about letting go of how others view you but about letting go of how you view yourself as well. That’s the point about the release, literally letting go in order to let the arrow be propelled from the bow, in order to experience who you are as an event, going from the interior to the exterior only to curve back to the interior, as if your intention was to hit yourself, as explained by Soiero (202, 205). I guess, in a way, the purpose of kyūdō is always to shoot at yourself in order to develop, to become something else. I mean, you do want to get better at it, right? In her final remark Soiero (209) points out that while «Do» translates as «Way», «kyu» can be translated not only as bow, but also as endurance and continuity, as well as as student or beginner, so when all these sense of «kyu» are taken into consideration, kyūdō is about difference and repetition, “using the bow repeatedly where one, also repeatedly, is a beginner each time one shoots is like starting anew” which, in turn, “demands endurance and continuity.”

After a lengthy elaboration of the war machine, going on for about a dozen pages or so (387-401), Deleuze and Guattari (400) address martial arts in general. To better understand the importance of martial arts, it’s worth noting that, for them (398), weapons are the consequences of the war machine. To make more sense of that, it’s worth reiterating the war machine is an assemblage. As they (398) point out:

“The very general primacy of the collective and machinic assemblage over the technical element applies generally … for weapons.”

To get to the point, in summary of what they (398-401) go on and on about, both the war machine and the weapons that come about as its consequence are marked by speed (which will be explained later on). The gist here is that, unlike tools that are burdened by gravity, that have very specific heavy duties associated with running the state, namely making things, creating this from this and/or that, as well as keeping them together, weapons are linked to what they (397, 401) call the free-action model, permitting absolute movement and going against anything seeks to prevent this. As they (398) point out, weapons are tied “to a speed-perpetuum mobile system” and therefore, in a way, can be understood as speed itself. This is why they (400) are fascinated by how practicing martial arts can permit one to become something else:

“[M]artial arts do not adhere to a code, as an affair of the State, but follow ways, which are so many paths of the affect … the weapon being only a provisory means. Learning to undo things, and to undo oneself, is proper to the war machine: the ‘not-doing’ of the warrior, the undoing of the subject.”

I have stop here for a moment, to point out here that, as intriguing as kyūdō might be, it also seems to be or rather seems to have ended up rather striated and thus antithetical to the war machine as characterized by Deleuze and Guattari. How so? Well, because the performance of the gesture involves a specific, apparently nowadays codified, eight step method (hassetsu) described by Soiero (203-204), which is held as the correct way of performing the gesture leading to release. It’s worth reiterating that for Deleuze and Guattari (377):

“A ‘method’ is the striated space of the cogitatio universalis and draws a path that must be followed from one point to another.”

So, oddly enough, while it may have been that kyūdō is without a method, that it was more of a gradual process that required little talking rather than doing to get there, it seems that it has ended up with one, with different schools and what not. Apparently there is an official kyūdō manual, published by All Nippon Kyudo Federation. Looks a lot like it involves drawing a path that is to be followed, going from one point to another. Very striated, if you ask me. It’s not that this surprised me though. For example, Nietzsche is very much someone whose thought qualifies as what Deleuze and Guattari call the war machine, yet he ended up being a poster boy for a certain state that was very much at the center of things in the 1930s and 1940s. Not even death can prevent that from happening. The state is out to striate.

Right, so, I reckon that for Deleuze and Guattari the process would be about picking up a bow and arrow, learning to master it, with or without others, as you see fit, as there are many ways to do this. Of course, weapons are not the only way. For example, once you figure out what Deleuze is on about with difference and repetition, another way of thinking emerges that allows you to shape yourself the way you see fit. I think Ronald Bogue (35) puts it aptly when he explains the same thing in ‘The Master Apprentice’ which is included in ‘Deleuze and Education’ edited by Inna Semetsky and Diana Masny, published in 2013:

“The ‘way’ of philosophy is a way of living, a mode of existence, and like the way of Zen, one that applies to all aspects of life.”

Something tells me though that kyūdō is far from reading an official manual, going to school (in this case dojo) and going through the steps explained in the manual as instructed by a teacher, followed by enlightenment. I believe Bogue (34) manages to explain the role of the eight steps of kyūdō well:

“The postures, breathing techniques and metal exercises, however, are only means to an end.”

The point here being that for the aspiring archer, it is not only to be about archery, but about how one then applies this way to all aspects of life. It’s one way of getting there, or so to speak. For me, I do that through thinking, having read philosophy, Deleuze in particular, albeit not exclusively. As noted by Bogue (34), it is of little consequence how you get there, what path you take, be it through the way of the bow, the way of the sword or the way of the empty hand (or the way of writing or the way of tea, as listed by Soiero, 200), or the way of thinking, as done by Deleuze, as what matters is that you do.

Of course you cannot expect this to just happen to you. As pointed out by Deleuze (xv) in the added preface to ‘Difference and Repetition’ and explained by Bogue (34-35), you still need to learn, with or without others, albeit, as I’ve argued in the essays on Vološinov, all you know and all you do are always tied to others. This is what Deleuze did when he engaged in the philosophy of his predecessors, as well as his contemporaries. I guess you could say that he became-them in order to go beyond them, become someone else, someone else than them, to create something of his own. To put it very simply, for Deleuze, as he (23) explains in ‘Difference and Repetition’, the role of the teacher is not to say “‘Do as I do’” but to say “‘do with me’” because the former only results in reproduction whereas the latter permits heterogeneous development.

To get back on to the plateau on the war machine, going back a bit to an earlier remark they make about the two directions of the war machine, they (378) warn not to turn archery into a model of archer, “into a model to be copied.” To be accurate, they (378) don’t exemplify this with archery, but by examining art, contrasting those whose thought is of the form of exteriority (war machine) to those whose thought is of the form of interiority (state). Their (378) examples include contrasting Antonin Artaud with Jacques Riviere and Heinrich von Kleist and Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I opted to skip these here because I’m not that familiar with their work (I’d just do a poor job; I’m sure you can read those bits yourself). The point is the same as it is with archery. I guess it’s just easier to explain the dangers of valorizing those whose engage in outside thought. In their (378) words, valorizing such figures may end up turning them into monuments. So, indeed, you can learn from past masters (senseis in the context of kyūdō) but not in order to copy them, but to, eventually, find your own way.

To summarize this detour on the art of archery in non-Zen terms, Deleuze and Guattari (377) rephrase their point about bows and arrows, characterizing how on the level of the society it’s about “[a]n ambulant people of relayers, rather than a model society.”

I guess I have to go back a bit at this point, to explain striated space and smooth space. I’ll get to those in a moment. Deleuze and Guattari (361) elaborate on those concepts when they focus on the two kinds of science, the major, royal or imperial science and the minor or nomad science. By this point it should be obvious which is the state science and which is the war machine science. Those who wish to delve more into this may want to look up ‘The Birth of Physics’ (2000 translation by Jack Hawkes, 2018 translation by David Webb) by Michel Serres as they largely build on this book on this.

Deleuze and Guattari (361) characterize minor science as fundamentally fluid, pertaining to flows, fluctuation and consistency, and atomist. It’s about becoming and heterogeneity, making becoming primary and being secondary. It’s marked curving or curvilinear declination, deviating from a straight line, forming spirals and vortexes, and vectors. They (362) also note that minor science is problematic, that is to say that “figures are considered only from the viewpoint of the affections that befall them”, one going “from a problem to the accidents that condition and resolve it.” It is about figures designating events, that, to them (362), involve “all kinds of deformations, transmutations, passages to the limit[.]” What results from this is that one cannot examine this and/or that independently. They (362) exemplify this by noting that “the square no longer exists independently of a quadrature, the cube of a cubature, the straight line of a rectification.” They (362) caution not to think of problems in minor science as mere obstacles that one then after some pondering seeks to overcome but overcoming the obstacle as it is or while its projected, as it happens. For me, this is among the hazier passages on this plateau but I reckon that the point here is, as they (362) sort of go on to explain, that the problems are, in fact, the war machine itself, that is to say that in this conception we do not simply encounter pre-existing problems, as if they were out there, just waiting for us, but that we are the ones that create them (hence we project them) as much as we seek to surpass them. They (367, 408) indicate that minor science is what Edmund Husserl (166) calls “essentially, rather than accidentally, inexact” in the first book of ‘Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy’ (1982 translation by Fred Kersten), what they call “anexact yet rigorous” as it involves vague and fluent essences, such roundness. They are hardly exact, yet they are rigorous. What minor science is based on is what Deleuze and Guattari (368) call the plane of consistency or composition, also referred to as the plane of immanence elsewhere in the book.

In contrast, they (361) characterize major science as fundamentally solid (fluid is a deviation from solid), pertaining to “the stable, the eternal, the identical, the constant.” It’s about matter, being and homogeneity. Being is primary, while becoming and heterogeneity are mere secondary characteristics that we can observe as the differences between two identities, as explained early on in this essay. It is marked by the straight line, parallels, lamellarity, gridding and rastering. They (362) add that major science is theorematic, that is to say that “one … go[es] by specific differences from genus to its species, or by deduction from a stable essence to the properties deriving from it” and problems are approached as to be subordinated by the theorem. They (367) indicate that unlike minor science, major science deals with theorematic figures and seeks to be exact. They (367) exemplify this with a circle that is always ideal and fixed essence, which, nonetheless, spawn the problematic figures listed by Husserl (166), all related to both circles and roundness, such as lens-shaped, umbelliform and indented. What major science is based on is what they (368) call the plane of organization or formation.

Oddly enough, as indicated by the existence of problematic figures, the two conceptions of science meet at a point, between the exact and the inexact but rigorous. That said, Deleuze and Guattari (367) note that major science is given primacy over minor science, which, unfortunately, obscures “the relations between science and technology, science and practice, because nomad science is not a simple technology or practice, but a scientific field in which the problem of these relations is brought out and resolved in an entirely different way than from the point of view of royal science”, which, in turn makes it hard, if not impossible to appreciate minor science. Perhaps the best way of explaining the relationship between the two is conceptualizing it as the relationship between the state and the war machine. In their (367) words:

“The State is perpetually producing and reproducing ideal circles, but a war machine is necessary to make something round.”

In other words, major science wouldn’t exist without minor science. You can’t exactly draw circles without something as inexact as roundness. Therefore major science always ends up drawing from minor science. That said, as indicated by the two (368), those who subscribe to major science tend to take issue with those who subscribe to minor science because the state has no need for autonomous “intellectuals or conceptual innovators”. They (368) clarify that it’s not the state doesn’t want these intellectuals, the innovators, as they are, indeed, highly useful to the state, but that they should know their place and make it so that their intellect, their innovation, can be shared and reproduced by others, those who already know their place. They (368, 374) characterize those who know their place in the academics as having imagined autonomy as they think they are free to conduct research as they see fit, yet they are dependent on the state that sets the “goals and paths, conduits, channels, organs, an entire organon.” However, they (368) add that it’s worth noting that the state couldn’t care less about minor science but not because of its vagueness and inexactness but because of the way it operates. Simply put, they (368) argue that the types of divisions of labor in minor science just don’t mesh with the state. The state doesn’t like it when something that is done within its borders is done without its blessing, its supervision, its governance. Individuals and groups of individuals that have tacit knowledge are problematic because it makes the state dependent on them and not the other way around. The state finds it problematic when people have knowledge that doesn’t belong to them, or so to speak, because it undermines the governor-governed dynamic that is in its favor.

Deleuze and Guattari (369) offer another way of characterizing minor science and major science. Following Plato in ‘Timaeus’, they (369) classify minor science as Dispars, elaborating it as marked by material-forces, as well as irreducible adequations, inequations and differential equations, and major science as Compars, elaborating it as marked by matter-form, always in search of constants extracted from the variables or equations from the relations of the variables. In other words, they (369) define minor science as pertaining to singularities, haecceities (vague essences), events and individuations and major science with constituting general forms, objects. Moreover, they (369) characterize the two as the opposition of the nomos, open ended conventional law of particulars, and the logos, closed system of sovereign law of universals.

By further contrasting the two, we arrive to their definitions of smooth space and striated space. For them (361-362) smooth space is “vectorial, projective, or topological” and striated space is metric, gridded or rastered. They (362) add that “in the first case ‘space is occupied without being counted,’ and in the second case ‘space is counted in order to be occupied.’” It’s worth noting here that, as acknowledged in the notes (553), Deleuze and Guattari borrow this from composer Pierre Boulez, who distinguishes between smooth and striated space (surface) and time in ‘Boulez on Music Today’ (1971 translation by Susan Bradshaw, Richard Rodney Bennett). To give you an example, one listed by Deleuze and Guattari (363-364), sea is a smooth space, an open space that involves vortical movement. Later on they (386-387) exemplify this with pirates, as well as fleets that patrol the seas in order to secure them against pirates and other fleets. Gothic architecture also presents smooth spaces, namely in the form of Gothic cathedrals, in the sense that, at least according to them (364), they didn’t rely on Euclidian geometry to build them. Apparently the process of building them was largely intuitive. It’s not that no mathematics was involved but rather that it happened there and then, which then, according to Deleuze and Guattari (364-365) didn’t sit too well with state and church representatives because it wasn’t done according to set templates for building. Another example of a smooth space named by the two (365) has to do with the minor science involved in bridge building way back in the day.

Deleuze and Guattari (371) offer another way of explaining striated space and smooth space, by contrasting straight line with curve, vertical descent with curvilinear motion when considering velocity. They (371) state that:

“Smooth space is precisely the space of the smallest deviation[, clinamen]: therefore it has no homogeneity, except between infinitely proximate points, and the linking of proximities is effected independently of any determined path.”

Only to add that (371):

“Smooth space is a field without conduits or channels. A field, a heterogeneous smooth space, is wedded to a very particular type of multiplicity: nonmetric, acentered, rhizomatic multiplicities that occupy space without ‘counting’ it and can ‘be explored only by legwork.’”

And, in contrast to striated space, they (371) state that:

“It is a space of contact, of small tactile or manual actions of contact, rather than a visual space like Euclid’s striated space.”

And (371):

“[It] do[es] not meet the visual condition of being observable from a point in space external to [it]; an example of this is the system of sounds, or even of colors, as opposed to Euclidean space.”

They (371) go on to give more examples of how one makes more sense of smooth space and striated space, such as the matter of speediness and slowness, but I’ll leave it up to you to read it yourself. Instead, I’ll jump ahead to a passage on this plateau where Deleuze and Guattari (384-386) complicate the relation of the state, the war machine, striated space and smooth space when they state nothing prevents mixing and that while the state is out to striate smooth space, it is not that it seeks to halt everything, rather than to police everything, to capture and channel “flows of all kinds, populations, commodities or commerce, money or capital etc.”, to restrict circulation and regulate speed, slowing it down, relativizing it to movement, going from one point to another as opposed to roaming, turning moving bodies into moved bodies. They (386) indicate that the easiest way of doing this is setting up something to prevent passage, such as a fortress, but I guess a fence, a wall, a trench or the like would do as well. The point here is to relativize the absolute movement of those who roam, to channel or guide their movement, as well as to slow them down. Moreover, they (387) add that striation is not the only thing the state is capable. I noted earlier how sea is a smooth space, one that can be striated by making it dependent on land, on ports, but, according to them (387), state is also capable of occupying a smooth space that it cannot properly striate. This is the case with sea, patrolled by naval fleets, as well as the case with air, patrolled by air forces, as they (387) point out. This is sort of a word warning, not to think that smooth spaces as inherent positive and striated spaces as inherently negative. Deleuze (33) exemplifies this in ‘On A Thousand Plateaus’, as published in ‘Dialogues’ (1995 translation by Martin Joughin):

“We can’t assume that … that smooth spaces are always better than segmented or striated ones: … nuclear submarines establish a smooth space devoted to war and terror.”

Indeed, little black submarines can crop out of nowhere to devastate you. They don’t even have to lurk near your coast as just the notion that they might be there will be enough to unsettle you. Anyway, I’ll now jump back to the issue of minor science and major science. By procedure, they (372) classify the former as a matter of following and the latter as a matter of reproducing. To be more specific, they (372) clarify this distinction by stating that:

“[F]ollowing is not at all the same thing as reproducing, and one never follows in order to reproduce.”

Why is that? They (372) their conception of major science:

“The ideal of reproduction, deduction, or induction is part of [major] science, at all times and in all places, and treats differences of time and place as so many variables, the constant form of which is extracted precisely by the law: for the same phenomena to recur in a … striated space it is sufficient for the same conditions to obtain, or for the same constant relation to hold between the differing conditions and the variable phenomena.”

What they add next seems, perhaps, a bit unnecessary to even state, as we all likely know it already, but I’ll indulge stating the obvious nonetheless. So, they (372) add:

“Reproducing implies the permanence of a fixed point of view that is external to what is reproduced[.]”

In other words, to summarize what they state here is that major science is all about universals, coming up with universal laws for this and/or that that will hold regardless of where and when this and/or that, what happens to be observed, occurs. That’s the point they (372) make about major science involving “reproduction, iteration and reiteration”.

In contrast to major science, minor science is out for something different. It’s about following, going from one singularity to another, as they (372) explain it:

“One is obliged to follow when one is in search of the ‘singularities’ of a matter, or rather of a material, and not out to discover a form[.]”

The point they make about following being about actually following is exactly what they are saying. You are literally following something. They (372) provide an example where one starts by making one’s way to a plant, then follows the crevices made by water, examines them to figure out where the water has flown, in order to find where the seeds of the plant have been carried by the water. So, as they (372) summarize it, unlike major science which establishes universals and constants drawn from the particulars, from the variables, and establishes or reterritorializes around one fixed point of view, minor science is a “process of deterritorialization” that “constitutes and extends the territory itself.” How so? By following, for example, by all that tracking that involved in finding where the seeds have been carried by the water. As they (373) go on to point out, minor science is always on the move, never settling, never reterritorializing around what it encounters unlike major science which deterritorializes only in order to reterritorialize around what it comes across.

They (372-372) note that one might object to their examples, for example the plant example, because following looks awfully lot like going from one point to another and so on, step by step. They (372-373) acknowledge this but argue that it is only partially correct, considering that the procedures and processes of minor science “are necessarily tied to a striated space” of major science by being “always translatable, and necessarily translated” into striated space by major science. This (373) what they calls “the triumph of logos … over the nomos.” This does not, however, result in the destruction or disintegration of the smooth space of minor science. It’s always there. It’s just that major science is triumphant in translating, in converting smooth space into striated space … because it operates by placing grids or overlays on smooth space (I’m thinking of rasterizing a vector here, which may be of help to understand this if you’ve dabbled in graphic design). They (373) add that major science triumphs because minor science is dispersed, decentralized, never resulting in it “tak[ing] on an autonomous power, or even to haven an autonomous development.” They (373) argue that this is because they rely on intuition and construction, “following the flow of matter, drawing and linking up smooth space”, going one from problematic encounter to another, always ending up with more problems while problems are solved. I guess you could say that there’s always more to it, which, oddly enough they (374) go on to state, how minor science “inhabit[s] that ‘more’ that exceeds the space of reproduction and soon runs into problems that are insurmountable from that point of view”, the point of view of major science. Once you think you are done, once you’ve managed to solve a problem according to its own non-autonomous constitution, as they (374) characterize the process in minor science, you notice that you have ended up somewhere where there are other problems that you must solve and so on, and so on. This most definitely keeps happening to me. There’s always more to it, another problem to be solved, that, actually, oddly enough, is usually linked to the problem at hand, making it very hard to not address it in the same context. This is why I find article format so constrained. If only the world was so neatly parceled that one could figure out one thing at a time, in isolation from other things.

So, in summary, in opposition to minor science, major science is centralized and operates by “isolat[ing] all operations from the conditions of intuition, making them true intrinsic concepts, or ‘categories’”, as they (373) explain it. Note here how they are not against concepts or categories, as such, but against holding them true and intrinsic. That’s why they (373-374) call its apparatus apodictic. This is the point they make about how major science operates by reterritorialization.

Now that I managed to explain smooth space and striated space, minor and major science, it’s time to get back to where I left off, to the issue revolving around thought or image of thought. I ended up going off the path, to explain those concepts, when Deleuze and Guattari (377) argue against method, it being part and parcel of major science, and advocate for minor science and thought that is of the form of exteriority, while warning against monumentalizing who subscribe to the war machine and attempting to copy them. So, in summary, to reorient this essay, I now move back to thought from my detours into the specifics that ought to help understand what was expressed before and after those detours.

Deleuze and Guattari (379) pinpoint what the dominant image of thought and the striation of space that results from it aspire to: universality. They (379) clarify that there are, in fact, two universals that mark the dominant image of thought: the Whole and the Subject. The former they (379) define as “the final ground of being or all-encompassing horizon” and the latter as “the principle that converts being into-being-for-us.” They (379) then contrast this image of thought with another way of thinking, what has been covered so far to a certain extent, that they call nomad thought (as they do with nomad science). I guess you could also call it minor or minoritarian thought as well, but realize that nomad only makes sense, in the sense that nomads are always on the move but never fussy over going from one point to another. As they (380) later on point out, it’s not that nomads are unaware or ignorant of points, or unable to comprehend them, but rather that points are, for nomads, a consequence, not an underlying principle (for those sedentary, it’s the opposite). As (380) further clarify, for the nomad, the point is there only to be left behind, eventually, just like in a relay of a trajectory. To be accurate, to correct myself a bit, if we think of the nomads on their own terms, that is to say in smooth space, the nomads are actually never on the move as they never go anywhere, as they never leave, as they never depart, as Deleuze and Guattari (380) point out. The nomads are always where they are supposed to be, wherever they may roam. That only makes sense when you take into consideration milieu (which I’ll explain in the next paragraph). Anyway, to make more sense of the nomad thought, they (379) elaborate it:

“It does not ally itself with a universal thinking subject but, on the contrary, with a singular race; and it does not ground itself in an all-encompassing totality but is on the contrary deployed in a horizonless milieu that is a smooth space, steppe, desert, or sea.”

So, as I pointed out, like actual nomads, who are known to roam the steppes and deserts, nomad thought also roams, never settling and thus having no fixed view point, hence, I reckon, the point they make it being horizonless. Also, make note of how having no horizon is called milieu, which is about always being in the middle, as they (21) point out in the introduction. What they (379) add here is that in nomad thought milieu is smooth space, which does make sense, considering what has been covered so far, that smooth space lacks distinct points unlike striated space. Singular race may come across as a bit odd, so they (379) elaborate it being what they call ‘a tribe’, only to immediately warn against the possible pitfalls of these labels, from racializing it, from orienting ourselves as members of this or that group in opposition of other groups. As this is not only a touchy topic but also rather obscure (hence their warnings), they (379) clarify their views on this:

“The race-tribe exists only at the level of an oppressed race, and in the name of the oppression it suffers: there is no race but inferior, minoritarian; there is no dominant race; a race is defined not by its purity but rather by the impurity conferred upon it by a system of domination.”

So, in other words, assuming that I get this correctly, for them, just like for me, there is no such thing as a race, nor a tribe. Instead, what we have is minor vs. major, minoritarian vs. majoritarian (standard), as they (291) define on another plateau, the one that focuses on becoming. They (291) emphasize that it crucial to not confuse the various terms:

“It is important not to confuse ‘minoritarian,’ as a becoming or process, with a ‘minority’, as an aggregate or a state. Jews, Gypsies, etc., may constitute minorities under certain conditions, but that in itself does not make them becomings. One reterritorializes, or allows oneself to be reterritorialized, on a minority as a state; but in a becoming, one is deterritorialized.”

Following this clarification presented on another plateau, it is now clearer what they mean by race and tribe on the plateau on the war machine. Race and tribe only exist in relation to majority, which, according to them (291) implies state domination. That’s why they (379) point out that race is about impurity, deviation from the standard. So, strictly speaking, there is no race, no tribe, in nomad thought, except when it becomes subordinated by the dominant image of thought. Here it’s worth adding that this is also highly contextual, as they (379) point out when they state that:

“Bastard and mixed-blood are the true names of race.”

The Métis and the Mestizo exemplify what Deleuze and Guattari mean by this. If we go back in time, to when this minority emerged, they were exactly what Deleuze and Guattari (379) call a race: bastards, mixed-blood people. As indicated by the monikers Métis and Mestizo, they were the people of mixed origin, typically having a European born father and a Native American mother. Always an outsider to both. Impure in relation not only to one group but both groups. While not specifically related to race, they (413-415) also similarly characterize smiths or metallurgists as hybrids, as people shunned by sedentaries (state, striated space) and nomads (war machine, smooth space) alike because they are the true underground people, those who invent holey space (think of holes in the ground, caves, mines, where you get the metals needed in metallurgy). Smiths, and I guess bastards and mixed-blooded people, are, in a way, marked by vague essences, as pointed out by the two (414-415). They blur the distinction.

As this plateau is massive, some seventy-odd pages, I won’t be going through it all here. I have already skipped quite a bit and will keep doing that. I’ve also covered some parts of this plateau in previous essays (for example, the part where they discuss, metallurgy development of weapons, hylomorphism, emergent properties), so I go into those in this essay. There are, however, a couple of bits that I want to address. One of them is their (399-400) distinction between feeling and affect. For them (399), what is common with the two is that both feeling and affect are passions, effectuations of desire. What makes them distinct then is how they differ according to the assemblage, as they (399) clearly point out. The former they (399-400) link to the work regime of the state whereas the latter they link to the war machine. In their (400) words:

“Affect is the active discharge of emotion, the counterattack, whereas feeling is an always displaced, retarded, resisting emotion.”

In other words, affect is immediate, here and now, whereas … I had a bit of a giggle on this because I only agree … feeling is retarded. For a moment I pondered whether to characterize it as somewhere and then, as opposed to here and now, but I guess displaced is a good word for it, both spatially and temporally because it happens later on and isn’t tied to a specific place. Another thing here is the point they make about resistance and counterattack. The former is how the state operates, by blocking, by parrying, that is to say tempering action, slowing things down in order to protect itself, to reach “an equilibrium of forces”, as they (397) characterize it. The latter is about disrupting this equilibrium, albeit, the way I understand this, the specifics as to why they call it the counterattack rather than just attack has to do with maneuvering. Attack is about going on the offensive against an enemy, moving forward. Defense is about holding ground, halting an attack. Counterattack is about attacking the attacker, while thwarting the efforts of the attacker. Anyway, back to affects and feelings, to which they (400) offer another way of setting them apart:

“Affects are projectiles just like weapons; feelings are introceptive like tools.”

In other words, as they (395) point out elsewhere on the plateau, weapons are centrifugal, directed to exteriority, whereas tools are centripetal, directed to interiority. Anyway, I only bring up this distinction to indicate how feeling is more of an afterthought of affect, of discharges of emotion. This ties nicely to my previous essay where I point out how introspection fails to be experience itself and present it because attempting to explain experience, to yourself or to others, is always something displaced.

For me, another bit worth making note of here on this plateau is to remember that as much as they positively attribute the war machine, they (403) warn not to be nostalgic about it, to “resuscitate old myths or archaic figures.” You’d achieve little by attempting to role play a steppe nomad. As they (423) point out in the last paragraph of this plateau:

“It is not the nomad who defines this constellation of characteristics; it is this constellation that defines the nomad, and at the same time the essence of the war machine.”

So, as I pointed out, the war machine is not only about nomads. They (423) continue:

“If guerrilla warfare, minority warfare, revolutionary and popular war are in conformity with the essence, it is because they take war as an object all the more necessary for being merely ‘supplementary’: they can make war only on the condition that they simultaneously create something else[.]”

In other words, war machine involves war, rather obviously, but the purpose is not to destroy, or, rather to only destroy. This reminds me of how Deleuze and Guattari (28) state something very similar about discussion and criticism in ‘What Is Philosophy’ (1994 translation by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell):

“To criticize is only to establish that a concept vanishes when it is thrust into a new milieu, losing some of its components, or acquiring others that transform it. But those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are the plague of philosophy.”

To link this back to ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, criticism is about waging war, engaging in combat, but it is pointless if it is done only for the sake of it. To wrap this is up, to go back to the start, or so to speak, the issue that I keep encountering, especially in academics, is the dogmatic, orthodox or moral image of thought. We could also call it the thought as a form of interiority, as principle, as stratum. My favorite is calling it the static thought. It’s only fitting, really, because it gets it form of interiority from the state, which is interested in keeping things as they are, you know, as static. If we get hung up on having to call it science, calling it major science is only fitting. As argued by Deleuze and Guattari, the problem with this is that science, not unlike thought, is pointless, unable to invent anything if it is content and even happy to hold on to its existing images and their copies, its models and their reproductions. You just end up doing more of the same. There is no novelty to it. Perhaps it’s foolish of me to expect anything minoritarian though. Major science. State functionaries. Foolish me. Anyway, unlike the majoritarians, at least I offer an alternative, create something else, as I criticize those who subscribe to the dogmatic image of thought.

As a final note here, more as a general commentary, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this plateau. It is long, so long, but good, so good. There’s a lot to it, so, I reckon it’s better to not get hung up on this and that particular, otherwise you might find yourself not finishing it. For me the most interesting stuff is about the steppe nomads and warfare. Then again, what I find particularly relevant are the parts on science and thought, how the state and major science go hand in hand. Of course, what I find interesting on this plateau might not be what others find interesting. This was only about twenty or so pages whereas the plateau is about seventy pages, so it’s only likely that I skipped parts that might interest others. That’s why I always recommend people to read the originals themselves, no matter how intriguing my take may be on something.

Hmmm… ‘Boldt! How can you be Saussure?

Guess what! Okay, no need to guess, you know it. You know what it is (not black and yellow though). I’ll be, once again, focusing on Valentin Vološinov’s ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ (1973 translation by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik). Last time I looked into one of the chapters, the third chapter of the first part of the book, that pertains to psychology as well as anti-psychology, that is to say, on one hand, certain strands of psychology of his time, the 1800s and the early 1900s, and, on the other hand, phenomenology. I wasn’t sure if I’d cover it as it goes a bit out of its way to cover issues that aren’t that close to what I’m interested in, in general, but then opted otherwise because it includes various minor interesting bits that make it worth the reading.

In summary, it is established in that chapter that consciousness or psyche, i.e. how it is to be human or the human condition (as opposed to some other sort of consciousness, because, let’s be honest, other forms of life have some sort of consciousness, it’s just vastly different from ours), is social and emerges only through social intercourse, dealing with other humans, albeit it does also necessitate the human biology or physiology (but doesn’t simply follow from it without the social aspect). The interesting segments in the chapter are the bits on inner and outer speech, how experience is intertwined and colored by language (experience as a sign), introspection (not experience itself but a sign of a sign), as well as proton pseudos (false premise leads to false conclusions, regardless of the intermediate reasoning).

This time I’ll be going through the first chapter of the second part of the book that carry the titles ‘Two Trends of Thought in Philosophy of Language’. I wanted to include the second chapter ‘Language, Speech, and Utterance’ but I guess I’ll get it done eventually (it has a more critical look to things than what is in the first chapter).

If the introductory parts are not taken into account, this is actually the first part of the book that I read when I started reading the book because it is dedicated to key issues in language and linguistics. I reckon it’s actually fairly basic for linguists and perhaps not worth reading, in the sense that if you are a linguist, you probably know most of the stuff covered in this part of the book. Then again, if you are not a linguist, or a semiotician, then this part of the book is most definitely worth going through because, as the title suggests, it covers two major lines of thinking about language, not only at the time but, to some extent, contemporarily as well. So, if your background is something else, say geography, then, as dated as this book may be, this is a must read. Anyway, even if you are a linguist or a semiotician, I’d still read this. At least for me it was not only a refresher of this and/or that, but also included parts that were never covered in my prior studies (albeit that might not be the case for others).

Vološinov (45) indicates in the abstract that the first trend of thought is individualistic subjectivism and the second trend of thought is abstract objectivism. As this is about the philosophy of language, doing the groundwork for the study of language, he (45) ponders:

“But what is language, and what is word?”

Only to answer this himself (45):

“We do not, of course, have in mind anything like a conclusive definition of these concepts. Such a definition (insofar as any scientific definition may be called conclusive) might come at the end of a study, but not at its beginning.”

So, let us not be hasty, is what he is saying here. He (45) proposes that instead of jumping to conclusions here, we start by setting up methodological guidelines that we follow and see how they pan out. In particular, he (45-46) proposes that we use our eyes and hands, to see and to grasp, if you will, only to point out that when it comes to language, it seems that ear, our hearing comes before seeing and touching. He (46) makes note of this, should I say, impericism of the sound:

“[I]ndeed, the temptations of a superficial phonetic empiricism are very powerful in linguistic science. The study of the sound aspect of language occupies a disproportionately large place in linguistics, often setting the tone for the field, and in most cases is carried on outside any connection with the real essence of language as … sign.”

Oh, and yes, I did not typo empiricism as impericism. It is my point exactly when it comes to this. Anyway, he (46) clarifies what the problem with this is:

“If we isolate sound as a purely acoustic phenomenon, we will not have language as our specific object. Sound pertains wholly to, the competence of physics.”

That sounds about right. If we just look at language as sounds, there’s really nothing to it. It’s just sounds among other sounds, like the sound of my computer humming in the background. It’s then just well within the competence of physics to address, mere sounds among other sounds. He (46) moves on with the issue:

“If we add the physiological process of sound production and the process of sound reception, we still come no closer to our object.”

In other words, we’ve only added who (or what, if we don’t differentiate between animate and inanimate) makes the sounds and who (or what…) receives it. He (46) thus adds more layers to this:

“If we join onto this the experience (inner signs) of the speaker and listener, we obtain two psychophysical processes, taking place in two different psychophysiological beings, and one physical sound complex whose natural manifestation in governed by the laws of physics.”

Here it’s worth noting, as a side note, that this makes more sense, this is easier to get, if you went through the previous chapter on psychology where experience and inner speech (inner signs) is covered. We are slowly getting somewhere with this but he (46) still isn’t happy about it because:

“Language as the specific object of study keeps eluding us.”

Only to summarize what has been, nonetheless, achieved so far (46):

“[W]e have already encompassed three spheres of reality – the physical, the physiological, and the psychological, and we have obtained a fairly elaborate composite complex.”

What is lacking then, don’t we have it all already? For him (46), what is clearly lacking is what he calls “a ‘soul’”, some unity, something that links these three components so that they are not a mere list of separate entities but “precisely the phenomenon of language.” What is this ‘soul’ then? I mean he isn’t suggesting that it’s literally missing a soul. For him (46), as you might guess if you’ve read other parts of the book (or at least previous parts), is the social intercourse. In his (46) words:

“In order to observe the phenomenon of language, both the producer and the receiver of the sound itself must be place into the social atmosphere. After all, the speaker and listener must belong to the same language community – to a society organized along certain particular lines.”

However, that’s not all, as he (46) continues, adding that:

“Furthermore, our two individuals must be encompassed by unity of the immediate social situation, i.e., the must make contact, as one person to another, on a specific basis.”

This is an important addition because, as already covered in my previous essays on this book, language is always particular, not only general. If we ignore this addition that he makes here, we have a conception of language that is social but what is social about it, the language community, the society with its organization, rendered inert, fixed, set in stone. That would be just idealism again, assuming that there is this ideal language community, this ideal society that can be understood according to its organization along those certain particular lines. However, that’s not the case. In summary, thus far, he (47) states:

“So, we may say that the unity of the social milieu and the unity of the immediate social event of communication are conditions absolutely essential for bringing our physico-psycho-physiological complex into relation with language, with speech, so that it become a language-speech fact.”

To make it absolutely clear what language isn’t, as also argued in the previous chapter:

“Two biological organisms under purely natural conditions will not produce the fact of speech.”

So, as I stated earlier on about the human condition, consciousness or psyche, it doesn’t simply emerge from our biology, our physiology, on its own, sort of unprompted. Anyway, he (47) notes that be as it may, what he has stated thus far in this chapter, has done little to clarify anything rather than further obscuring it. That is, however, only because language is highly complicated, involving multifaceted and multifarious connections, some more, some less important than others, as he (47) summarizes the issue. For him (47), what must be done is to account this all, to bring all these strands together “to the focal point of the language process.” Obviously that’s not going to be an easy task, but, then again, if it was easy, then we wouldn’t be going on and on about it.

Where are we at then, at this point? Well, we’ve landed at the very heart of the issue, the problem of language itself. He’ll move on to address it by taking a closer look at the two philosophies of language, individualistic subjectivism and abstract objectivism, and how they seek to solve this problem, which he (47-48) calls “the problem of the identification and the delimitation of language as a specific object of study.”

Starting with the former, individualistic subjectivism, he (48) characterizes it as based on a conception of language in which the creative act of speech is based on the individual, the source of language being in the individual psyche. Again, I reckon that if you read the previous chapter, this point comes across better. In a nutshell, as summarized by him (48), language is seen as a continuous or unceasing creative process that emerges from the psyche of an individual, which, in turn, means that the laws of language, that one is to study in linguistics, are also the laws of individual psychology. Simply put, as stated by him (48), language is seen as analogous “to art – to aesthetic activity.” He lists four principles of this trend. Firstly (48):

Language is activity, an unceasing process of creation (energeia) realized in individual speech acts[.]”

Secondly (48):

The laws of language creativity are the laws of individual psychology[.]”

Thirdly (48):

Creativity of language is meaningful creativity, analogous to creative art[.]”

Fourthly (48):

Language as a ready-made product (ergon), as a stable system (lexicon, grammar, phonetics), is, so to speak, the inert crust, the hardened lave of language creativity, of which linguistics makes an abstract construct in the interests of the practical teaching of language as a ready-made instrument.”

If this seems familiar to you, it’s probably because you are familiar with Wilhelm von Humboldt’s conception of language. Of course you might not be, like I wasn’t until it was explained to me, rather randomly, on the aesthetics lectures I attended last semester. I reckon you don’t really run into his conception of language these days because, well, it’s not only out of fashion, but also kept out of fashion, namely for being … cough, cough … German, because, something tells me that most things German got effectively erased from curricula due to certain events in the last decades of the first half of the 1900s, as I pointed out in a short essay dedicated to Wilhelm von Humboldt’s views on language.

Anyway, as suggested by ergon (product) and energeia (process), this trend is indeed marked by the influence of von Humboldt, as indicated by Vološinov (48). It’s not that he is the only representative of this trend, as noted by Vološinov (48), as there are others, such as Johann Georg Hamann and Johann Gottfried von Herder who were his predecessors, but he is, nonetheless, the most influential representative of this trend. In Vološinov’s (48) words:

“Humboldt’s powerful thought has exercised an influence far exceeding the scope of the trend we have just characterized. It can be claimed that all post-Humboldtian linguistics, to the present day, has experienced his determinative influence.”

He (48-49) acknowledges that von Humboldt’s thought is not one specific thing, a totality that neatly aligns with the four principles of this trend that he listed, but rather a host of things far too broad and complex, as well as contradictory, to fit his description, lending itself to “widely divergent trends and movements.” He (49) adds that von Humboldt’s successors, those who are part of this trend, as much as they rely on his work, their conceptions of language are narrower and more simplistic than von Humboldt’s views. I mean, as I pointed out in the essay dedicated to him, his work, largely existing only in German, is very extensive and all over the place. In that sense, it’s only bound to happen that if you build on his works that you end up coming across as rather simplistic and small in scale in comparison to him. Anyway, be as it may, Vološinov (49) sees von Humboldt’s views as pivotal to the emergence of the first trend. It’s still worth keeping in mind that it is incorrect to classify this trend as representing vol Humboldt’s philosophy of language. To my understanding, and if I remember correctly, language is markedly social for von Humboldt, which is something that Vološinov (49-50) considers largely missing in the first trend, with the insistence that language is situated only in the individual psyche. So, in a way, von Humboldt is and isn’t a representative of this trend.

What actually fits the bill, the four principles he lists, instead of von Humboldt, Vološinov (50) names Karl Vossler and his followers. He (50) indicates what distinguishes what he calls the Vossler school:

“[I]t is defined first and foremost by its decisive and theoretically grounded rejection of linguistic positivism, with its inability to see anything beyond the linguistic form (primarily, the phonetic from as the most ‘positive’ kind) and the elementary psychophysiological act of its generation.”

Only to add what Vossler is after (50):

“The main impetus to linguistic creativity is said to be ‘linguistic taste,’ a special variety of artistic taste. [It] is that linguistic truth by which language lives and which the linguist must ascertain in every manifestation of language in order genuinely to understand and explain the manifestation in question.”

Vološinov (50) cites Vossler summarizing his views in ‘Grammar and the History of Language’, published in 1910 in the journal ‘Logos: Zeitschrift für systematische Philosophie’. Because I’m not lazy, I traced this back to the original, ‘Grammatik und Sprachgeschichte oder das Verhältnis von »richtig« und »wahr« in der Sprachwissenschaft’, in which Vossler (94) states:

“Aber eine Wissenschaftliche Sprachgeschichte wird erst diejenige sein, die durch die ganze praktische Kausalreihe hindurch zur ästhetichen gelangt: so daß der sprachliche Gedanke, die sprachliche Wahrheit, der Sprachgeschmack, das Sprachgefühl oder wie Wilhelm von Humbodlt es nennt: die innere Sprachform in all ihren physisch, psychisch, politisch, ökonomisch und überhaupt kulturell bedingten Wandlungen ersichtlich und verständlich wird.”

Which is translated into English, apparently from the Russian translation of the same journal issue (as, apparently, it ran side by side as German/Russian, one being translated to the other), by the translators, Matejka and Titunik (50-51):

“The only history of language that can claim the status of a science is the one that can run the whole gamut of the practical, causal order of things so as to arrive at the aesthetic order, so that thereby linguistic thought, linguistic truth, linguistic taste, and linguistic sensibility or, as Wilhelm Humboldt has called it, the inner form of language, in its physically, psychically, politically, economically and, in general, its culturally conditioned transformations, may be made clear and understandable.”

Why did I go through the effort of finding the original, in German? Well, translation is always a translation. There’s that. Then there’s a translation of a translation. That’s hardly ideal. As a side, before I continue on Vološinov, this journal is fascinating. It contains texts by the likes of Benedetto Croce, Ernst Cassirer, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Edmund Husserl, Georg Lukács, Georg Simmel and Max Weber, plus a host of others I just don’t recognize. Right, back to Vološinov (51) who summarizes that:

“[F]or Vossler the basic manifestation, the basic reality, of language should not be language as a ready-made system, in the sense of a body [inherited], immediately usable forms – phonetic, grammatical, and other – but the individual creative act of speech (Sprache als Rede).”

As a side note, to clarify a bit, the [inherited] part above is almost as is as there seems to be typo in the book, the word being ‘inhereited’. Anyway, he (51) adds that what follows from this conception of language is that speech acts do not simply consist of one going for “shared, stable, and immediately usable” grammatical forms of a specific language across all utterances, but actually stylistically concretizing and modifying these forms on the go, thus individualizing and uniquely characterizing each and every utterance. He (51) labels this as stylistic individualization and emphasizes that as it is creative, that is to say productive, it is also historical, which, in turn, results in the production of grammatical forms. In other words, he (51) argues that, for Vossler, style, the creative production of language, is primary, and grammatical form, the solidified product of style, is secondary. He (51) summarizes this as “the precedence of style over grammar”. As a final note on this trend, before I move on to the second trend, it’s worth noting that he (51-52) mentions Benedetto Croce as part of this first trend, indicating that in his works the key term is expression, that is to say artistic expression, which then should be the object of study in linguistics.

The second trend, abstract objectivism, is, I reckon, very familiar to linguists, as well as semioticians, or at least should be. You’ve been sleeping during lectures if you haven’t encountered this. Like me, you may have been ignorant of the first trend for years, but with regards to the second trend, I don’t know how you managed to pass the introductory course exams if you aren’t familiar with it. It’s just that familiar to you. Just dropping the name Ferdinand de Saussure should do the trick.

Vološinov (52) broadly characterizes abstract objectivism as shifting the focus on language from its use to it as “the linguistic system[,] as a system of the phonetic, grammatical, and lexical forms of language.” He (52) further contrasts the two trends, noting that in the first trend language is considered “an ever-flowing stream of speech acts in which nothing remains fixed and identical to its itself” whereas in the second trend language is considered “the stationary rainbow archer over that stream” and what is pivotal are the “the phonetic, grammatical, and lexical factors that are identical and therefore normative for all utterances” thus registering and insuring “the unity of a given language and its comprehension by all the members of a given community.”

Turning his attention to normativity, he (52-53) clarifies that he considers this second trend as focusing on normative identities, for example, how something is pronounced in order to be understood by all members of a specific language community, because there is no actual factual identity at play as each utterance is unique to each individual speaker due to various physiological differences between people. I would add here that, to be accurate, even each utterance by the same speaker is unique as one is, after all, tied to time and space. We never stay the same, so we can never, strictly speaking say the same thing again the same way we did before. Sure, as he (52) acknowledges, we may think that there are no differences because we cannot hear them, to distinguish the minute differences between speakers and their peculiarities. In short, it’s about normative identity because it can’t be about actual identity. As I’ve discussed in my past essays, contrary to popular belief, identity is about being non-identical to someone or something else. In simple terms, wearing the same t-shirt, whatever it is that they want you to buy to supposedly stand out from the crowd, is about being identical, resulting in a twisted sense of uniqueness that builds on the same, being the same as others. That’s normative identity alright.

This normativity applies to all elements of language, not only phonetic, hence he (53) calls it the “normative identity of linguistic form”. With regards to the individual, the speaker, he (53) states that in this view the speaker is seen as merely implementing and impleting a particular form in a particular speech act. In short, the order of things is reversed here. Unlike in the first trend, from the view of the first trend, in the second trend the product (ergon) becomes before the production (energeia). One just applies language and the differences in speech between speakers are considered fortuitous factors that, nonetheless, do not play an important role, as he (53) points out. In summary, thus far, from the view of the second trend, creativity that underlines the first trend is irrelevant because language is considered a distinct system of language separate from “individual creative acts, intentions, or motives” of its speakers (and writers if we go beyond speaking). In his (53) words:

“Language stands before the individual as an inviolable, incontestable norm which the individual, for his part, can only accept.”

There is no non-acceptable, as he (53) goes on to clarify:

“If the individual fails to perceive a linguistic form as an incontestable norm, then it does not exist for him as a form of language simply as a natural possibility for his own individual, psychophysical apparatus.”

Simply put, as he (53) summarizes it:

“The individual acquires the system of language from his speech community completely ready made. Any change within that system lies beyond the range of his individual consciousness.”

In other words, in the second trend language is this pre-existing fixed thing that you just inherit from people around you as grow up. Whatever you say, you ain’t changing a thing. You can’t even think otherwise. He (53) explains what follows from this:

“The individual act of articulating sounds becomes a linguistic act only by measure its compliance with the fixed (at any given moment in time) and incontestable (for the individual) system of language.”

So, to put it bluntly, your only option is compliance. Resistance is futile. If your articulation is off, too much, then it isn’t considered language because it is measured in compliance to a fixed and incontestable system. You can always ask: ‘what about this, what about that?’ The only reply you get is no, that falls outside the bounds of language.

Having summarized the second trend, albeit only in brief, so far, Vološinov (53-54) moves on to address what are the laws that govern the system of language. His (54) short answer is that these laws are irreducible to any other laws, hence they are always already there. As a reminder, to jog your memory, in the first trend the laws are also the laws of consciousness or psyche.

His (54) more elaborate answer is that synchronically, that is to say examining language at any specific point in time, say right now, all forms of language are mutually indispensable and complementary and thus form a system. He (54) calls this linguistic systematicity. Importantly, as expressed by him (54), as language is a system beyond you in this view, it cannot explain individual consciousness or psyche. What follows from this, as he (54) goes on to explain, is that language operates beyond you on an as is basis and you inevitably opt in to it.

What also follows from this is that, as I’d put it, is that language is considered neutral. This is because, as he (54) states it, there is no room for evaluation and discrimination, style or taste, that, for example, something is considered “better, worse, beautiful, ugly, or the like” as the only criterion in linguistics is whether something is correct or incorrect. This was, sort of pointed out already, as he (53) states that language is inviolable. If you claim something that violates the laws, then it’s simply a matter of you being incorrect as it doesn’t correspond with the normative system of language, as he (54) clarifies the issue. It’s a yes or no. What ifs are always rendered into yes/no because there is no room for evaluation beyond that binary.

An important bit here is also to make note of how this results in, from the point of view of the individual speaker, the arbitrariness of language, as linguistic systematicity is not based on anything that comes from the individual speaker, be it natural (biological or physiological) or social/cultural (artistic, creative), as he (54) summarizes this point.

Having explained the first characteristic of the second trend, that language is a synchronic system beyond the individual, Vološinov (54) moves on to explain the second characteristic of the trend. He (54) argues that if language is independent from the individual, then language must be a collective product, a social entity that operates like a normative social institution, above and beyond the individual. What is crucial about this is that, as we know, language does actually change, no matter how fixed it may seem. It only happens on the level of the speech community, the collective, as he (54) characterizes it. This occurs, according to him (54-56), as “a special kind of discontinuity between the history of language and the system of language[.]” In other words, there is a gap between how language develops (diachrony) historically and how it is always, at any given point in time, a full fledged system in which everything is neatly in place, consistent, indispensable and complementary (synchrony) ahistorically. Any change is, rather obviously, always in contradiction of the system of language. He (56) argues that to make room for this change, it must be attributed beyond the individual because, remember, the individual is incapable of consciously changing the system (always within its bounds). So, as he (55-56) points out, any change is to be attributed to unintentional errors, which, once popularized in the community, become the norm.

Vološinov (55-56) explains the second principle and, centrally, the incapability to make the synchronic and the diachronic dimensions mutually comprehensible in quite the detail, with examples pertaining to ‘I was’ or ‘Ich was’ and it gets changed, but I reckon you get the point and can take a closer look yourself in case you didn’t get the point. Instead of getting bogged down by the examples, it is more fruitful to contrast the two trends. Similar to the way he summarized the first trend, he (57) also provides a list of four basic principles for the second trend. Firstly (57):

Language is a stable, immutable system of normatively identical linguistic forms which the individual consciousness finds ready-made and which is incontestable for that consciousness.”

Secondly (57):

The laws of language are the specifically linguistic laws of connection between linguistic signs withing a given, closed linguistic system. These laws are objective with respect to any subjective consciousness.”

Thirdly (57):

Specifically linguistic connections have nothing in common with … values (artistic, cognitive, or other). Language phenomena are not grounded in … motives. No connection of a kind natural and comprehensible to the consciousness or of an artistic kind obtains between the word and its meaning.”

Fourthly (57):

Individual acts of speaking are, from the viewpoint of language, merely fortuitous refractions and variations or plain and simple distortions of normatively identical forms; but precisely these acts of individual discourse explain the historical changeability that in itself, from the standpoint of the language system, is irrational and senseless. There is no connection, no sharing of motives, between the system of language and its history. They are alien to one another.”

As you can see, and as he (57) goes on to point out, these four principles are the antitheses to the four principles of the first trend. To make more sense of the second trend, it is, perhaps, useful to contrast it with the first trend. He (56) indicates the key differences between the two trends, first summarizing individualistic subjectivism:

“[F]or the first trend the very essence of language is revealed precisely in its history; the logic of language is not at all a matter of reproducing a normatively identical form but of continuous renovation and individualization of that form via stylistically unreproducible utterance.”

Or, defined more concisely as (56):

The reality of language is, in fact, its generation.”

In summary, to put this all in other words, language is always in the moment, here and now, as one unity, as it is uttered, as he (56) goes on to elaborate in Vosslerian terms. It is also worth adding here that, as emphasized by him (56), what language is and how it goes from one historical form to another always occurs in psyche, in individual consciousness. As noted earlier on (48), explaining things in Humboldtian terms, the first trend is all about the energeia, whereas the second trend is about ergon.

Speaking of von Humboldt, who is, arguably, the progenitor of the first trend, albeit, strictly speaking not of his doing, Vološinov (57) indicates that origins of the second trend are murky and there is not a single person like von Humboldt that one could consider as its founder or, at least its forefather. Instead, he (57-58) notes that its origins are in rationalism, Cartesianism and the Enlightenment, going all the way back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Jumping to the 20th century, as quickly done by Vološinov (57-59), as I pointed out when I switched over from explaining the first trend to explaining the second trend, the biggest name to represent the second trend is Ferdinand de Saussure and his contemporaries, namely Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye. In his (58) words:

“The ideas of this second trend all have been endowed with amazing clarity and precision by Ferdinand de Saussure. His formulations of the basic concepts of linguistics can well be accounted classics of their kind. Moreover, Saussure undauntedly carried his ideas out to their conclusions, providing all the basic lines of abstract objectivism with exceptionally clear-cut and rigorous definition.”

I think it’s worth noting here that his approval here is not of the second trend, of abstract objectivism, but how it is well it is formulated and presented by de Saussure. I guess you could say that he approves it for its rigor, even if he doesn’t agree with it all. I don’t know what it is, but having read other studies, unrelated, in unrelated fields, such as geography, there seems to be just something to the way they wrote in the early 1900s. For example, I remember reading J.G. Granö’s ‘Pure Geography’, originally published in German in 1929 as ‘Reine Geographie’ and subsequently in Finnish in 1930 as ‘Puhdas maantiede’, out of interest to landscapes. I can’t say I agree with Granö, with much anything, really, but, oddly enough, I enjoyed reading it. The clarity, the precision, the rigor. It has its appeal.

After noting in passing that abstract objectivism, following de Saussure, via Bally and Sechehaye, has had considerable impact on Russian linguistics, Vološinov (59) summarizes the key things about de Saussure’s conception of language, split into three aspects: “language-speech (langage), language as a system of forms (langue) and the individual speech act – the utterance (parole).” In this conception language-speech (langage) consist of both language (langue) and utterance (parole). Crucially, as emphasized by Vološinov (59), in this conception language-speech (langage) “cannot be the object of study for linguistics” because it’s “a heterogeneous composite”, not something that has “inner unity and validity as an autonomous entity”. As approaching language speech (langage) isn’t feasible, one must turn to something else, which, for de Saussure (25), is language as a system of forms (langue), as indicated in ‘Cours de linguistique générale’ first published in 1916 as edited by Bally and Sechehaye (the pagination here is from the second edition, first published in 1922, albeit I’m looking at a 1971 republication):

“Il n’y a, selon nous, qu’une solution à toutes ces difficultés : il faut se placer de prime abord sur le terrain de la langue et la prendre pour norme de toutes les autres manifestations du langage. En effet, parmi tant de dualités, la langue seule paraît être susceptible d’une définition autonome et fournit un point d’appui satisfaisant pour l’esprit.”

Which is translated by Wade Baskin into English in ‘Course in General Linguistics’ as (9, pagination from the 1983 edition):

“As I see it there is only one solution to all the foregoing difficulties: from the very outset we must put both feet on the ground of language and use language as the norm of all other manifestations of speech. Actually, among so many dualities, language alone seems to lend itself to independent definition and provide a fulcrum that satisfies the mind.”

To make more sense of this, de Saussure (25) elaborates the difference between language (langue) and speech (parole):

“Pris dans son tout, le langage est multiforme et hétéroclite ; à cheval sur plusieurs domaines, à la fois physique, physiologique et psychique, il appartient encore au domaine individuel et au domaine social ; il ne se laisse classer dans aucune catégorie des faits humains, parce qu’on ne sait comment dégager son unité.”

Which translates to (9):

“Taken as a whole, [language-]speech is many-sided and heterogeneous; straddling several areas simultaneously – physical, physiological, and psychological – it belongs both to the individual and to society; we cannot put it into any category of human facts, for we cannot discover its unity.”

This is the point Vološinov (59) makes about how language-speech (langage) can’t be object of study for linguistics. Anyway, as we need to get somewhere with this, I’ll let de Saussure (25) continue on the difference between language-speech (langage) and language (langue):

“La langue, au contraire, est un tout en soi et un principe de classification. Dès que nous lui donnons la première place parmi les faits de langage, nous introduisons un ordre naturel dans un ensemble qui ne se prête à aucune autre classification.”

Which translates to (9):

“Language, on the contrary, is a self-contained whole and a principle of classification. As soon as we give language first place among the facts of speech, we introduce a natural order into a mass that lends itself to no other classification.”

I think here it’s worth noting that how he indicates that one introduces not just an order, but a natural order, hence the emphasis of language as a system (langue) over speech (parole). This is why Vološinov (60) states that for de Saussure language (langue) is always the point of departure for speech (parole). With regards to speech (parole), de Saussure (30) further comments on it:

En séparant la langue de la parole, on sépare du même coup : 1o ce qui est social de ce qui est individuel ; 2o ce qui est essentiel de ce qui est accessoire et plus ou moins accidentel.”

Which translates to (14):

“In separating language from speaking we are at the same time separating: (1) what is social from what is individual; and (2) what is essential from what is accessory and more or less accidental.”

Okay, but that’s not all as de Saussure (30) continues:

“La langue n’est pas une fonction du sujet parlant, elle est le produit que l’individu enregistre passivement ; elle ne suppose jamais de préméditation, et la réflexion n’y intervient que pour l’activité de classement [.]”

Which translates to (14):

“Language is not a function of the speaker; it is a product that is passively assimilated by the individual. It never requires premeditation, and reflection enters in only for the purpose of classification[.]”

As you can see here already, language (langue) is something that does not originate in the speaker. Instead, it is the speaker who assimilates the language, which happens passively, without any need to reflect upon it. Anyway, de Saussure (30-31) still continues on this:

“La parole est au contraire un acte individuel de volonté et d’intelligence, dans lequel il convient de distinguer 1o les combinaisons par lesquelles le sujet parlant utilise le code de la langue en vue d’exprimer sa pensée personnelle ; 2o le mécanisme psycho-physique qui lui permet d’extérioriser ces combinaisons.”

Which translates to (14):

“Speaking, on the contrary, is an individual act. It is wilful and intellectual. Within each act, we should distinguish between: (1) the combinations by which the speaker uses the language code for expressing his own thought; and (2) the psychophysical mechanism that allows him to exteriorize those combinations.”

So, in summary, language as a system (langue) is beyond the individual and thus social, whereas speech (parole) is individual, which happens to be main thesis here, as noted by Vološinov (60). The important thing here is to note that in de Saussure’s linguistics speech or utterance (parole) is simply inconceivable as its object of study, as indicated by Vološinov (60).

Now, as approving as Vološinov (58) is of the clarity and rigor of how de Saussure presents his view on language, he (61) just doesn’t buy it and states it contains a proton pseudos, a false premise that undermines de Saussure’s whole project (which I hope to address sooner or later). Here it’s worth reminding that, again, reading the previous chapter helps immensively as it covers the issue that comes with false premises. In short, in case you didn’t read it or forgot about it already, the issue is that if your premise is false, your conclusions end being false, no matter how much you there’s blood, sweat and tears in between the premise and the conclusions. Vološinov (60) turns to de Saussure’s (129) own wording again here:

“C’est ainsi que le « phénomène » synchronique n’a rien de commun avec le diachronique …”

Which translates to (91):

“The synchronic and diachronic ‘phenomenon,’ for example, have nothing in common …”

The synchronic is explained by de Saussure (140) as:

“La linguistique synchronique s’occupera des rapports logiques et psychologiques reliant des termes coexistants et formant système, tels qu’ils sont aperçus par la même conscience collective.”

Which translates to (99-100):

Synchronic linguistics will be concerned with the logical and psychological relations that bind together coexisting terms and form a system in the collective mind of speakers.”

Whereas, for de Saussure (140), the diachronic is about:

“La linguistique diachronique étudiera au contraire les rapports reliant des termes successifs non aperçus par une même conscience collective, et qui se substituent les uns aux autres sans former système entre eux.”

Which translates to (100):

Diachronic linguistics, on the contrary, will study relations that bind together successive terms not perceived by the collective mind but substituted for each other without forming a system.”

It’s not hard to figure from the definitions which form of linguistics is important for de Saussure (if it wasn’t obvious already). There’s also something peculiar about stating that language is a system that exists in the collective mind of speakers, in the sense that it is outside them. That seems awfully superorganic or transcendentally holistic to me. It doesn’t do much good either when Vološinov (60) indicates that alongside de Saussure school of linguistics there is another similar school of linguistics that builds on the sociological school of Émile Durkheim, as represented by Antoine Meillet. I mean this has Durkheim written all over it. Collective mind of speakers? Did you mean collective consciousness? Anyway, I won’t get tangled up on this as not long ago I wrote an essay that focuses on this very issue.

This is pretty much everything that Vološinov has to say about the two trends in this chapter. In the very final paragraphs he (61-62) notes that, of course, there are more trends than these two trends and he only opted to cover them because they are the major trends. If we think how things are now, in glorious retrospect, it’s rather evident that only the abstract objectivism is still around. Of course that doesn’t mean that individualistic subjectivism is gone altogether. It’s rather that there isn’t much of a competition in linguistics these days. The are minorities that seek to undermine abstract objectivism, also known better known as structuralism, typically under the heading post-structuralism, because, well, structuralism, as I see it, should be largely, no, sorry, should have been binned ages ago.

I have to separate this, as this is going to be a rant. Feel free to skip this paragraph if you can’t be bothered with me ranting. I realize that I anger my fellow linguists with all this … heresy! I was actually going to write that I ‘probably’ anger them but, well, judging by the lack of appreciation to what I do, especially in terms of funding (except for travel???) and peer review, it’s rather evident that it’s not just ‘probably’. I do anger them. Of course no one expresses it, at least not in their own name. I would actually welcome open anger, confrontation and combat, instead of what it gets morphed into because it serves them, their desires: anonymous satire, judgment and appeals to asylums of ignorance, such as appealing to consensus or propriety. I’d have respect for challengers, just as I have respect for Plato, despite everything that I disagree with with him.

Where was I? Right, yeah, things have changed alright, ever since Vološinov wrote this book. There are challengers, namely those who engage in sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and pragmatics, to name a few. Of course, compared to the mainstream, it’s all very bubbling under and not considered linguistics proper. Anyway, skipping his brief elaboration of minor trends, say various philological strands, which do, of course exist, Vološinov (62) expresses his unhappiness with linguistics, as well as other disciplines:

“In linguistics, as in any other discipline, there are two basic devices for avoiding the obligation and trouble of thinking in responsible, theoretical, and, consequently, philosophical terms.”

Ooooh! How dare he! Do go on (62):

“The first, way is to accept all theoretical views wholesale (academic eclecticism), and the second is not to accept a single point of view of a theoretical nature and to proclaim ‘fact’ as the ultimate basis and criterion for any kind of knowledge (academic positivism).”

These days the first way is known as ‘anything goes’, which, is, oddly enough, what the people subscribing to the second way accuse people who are, in their view, just off the hook with all the, whatever, unnecessary theoreticism, esotericism or mysticism. I wonder though. I don’t think there is much room for the first way these days though, except in the views of those who subscribe to the second way, which is, at least the way I see it, the majority in academics. I usually despair when I have to read academic papers, not because they are eclectic but because they tend to be devoid of any theory, grounding, premise, plane, philosophy, whatever you want to call it. It’s all just supposedly factual, which is exactly what Vološinov (62) is upset about here. I know I’ve expressed this before, but, yeah, it’s a bit sad that, somehow, some obscure Russian fellow (62) who lived in the early 1900s, managed to put it all so, so well already back in the day:

“The philosophical effect of both these devices for avoiding philosophy amounts to one and the same thing, since in the second case, too, all possible theoretical points of view can and do creep into investigation under the cover of ‘fact.’”

Oh dear, oh dear. If only this wasn’t so to the point and so well expressed. This is exactly what I mean when I complain (oh, and I DO complain about it) about people sneaking in a premise, a presupposition, some a priori, through the backdoor, as if nothing of such ever happened, as if it all was simply a matter of facts. Vološinov (62) even picks the most fitting word for such behavior:

“Which of these devices an investigator will choose depends entirely upon his temperament: the eclectic tends more to the blithe side; the positivist, to the surreptitious.”

Aye, an eclectic would be like, yeah, dude, whatever, anything goes, can’t be bothered, but, I can’t think of such people in the academics, except, perhaps the people who are about to retire and just don’t care and give the students better grades than they should be getting, just because, because it’s not like it makes any difference if you do or don’t as no one is going to fire you for it. Surreptitious. What. A. Great. Word. For. This. Doing something stealthily, you know like … when sneaking. Wicked mischief! That’s exactly what I keep running into in a lot of texts, talks and presentations, even if it happens, I guess, unwittingly to certain extent.

While the first chapter of the second part of the book is dedicated to the elaboration of the two major trends, the chapter that follows it, the second chapter, expands the discussion, moving on from explaining the trends to properly analyzing them (there is some analysis already in the first chapter, but it’s still rather superficial, more contrastive than critical). Rather than presenting things in the same order as in the previous chapter, Vološinov (65) continues on the second trend in order to the questions posed at the end of the previous chapter (63), which is what I hope to get around to do next, in the next essay.

Interpenetration – The Ins and Outs of Social Intercourse

In the previous essay, like in multiple essays before, I focused on Valentin Vološinov’s ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ (1973 translation by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik). I was able to cover the second chapter of the first part of the book, as well as a large chunk the fourth chapter of the second part of the book.

In summary, it was established that theme is the thematic unity of an utterance, the upper limit of linguistic significance, whereas meaning is the lower limit of linguistic significance. Importantly, without one, you don’t have the other. In other words, they presuppose one another. You could say that theme is what is important in language for Vološinov as he is all about how language is used and how it keep changing as it is used. Then again, for him, there has to be something that locks people together, otherwise we have people just uttering nonsense to one another. In other words, the theme of each utterance is unique, indivisible and unreproducible, whereas meaning, nested in theme, is what is divisible, reproducible and self-identical. Theme needs to convey meaning, but meaning cannot be separated from theme, the thematic unity of an utterance. In short, on their own, words have no meaning. Other interesting bits include how he emphasizes the importance of intonation, not in a way what you’d expect, really, but how context comes to drive intonation, which, in turn, comes to drive theme and meaning, even on a single word basis (for example how flexible swear words can be). This all then linked back to how we come to talk to one another is context dependent, how people are part of this and/or that social group and certain hierarchical structures that come to influence their view of the world, how this and/or that item, thing or discursive object comes to appear in their circle of items, their purview.

Moving on, chapter three of part one is titled ‘Philosophy of Language and Objective Psychology’. In the abstract, inner speech is mentioned so this ought to get interesting. It was already covered, sort of, but not really, so I’m looking forward to going through this. Vološinov (25-26) kicks off with pointing that what he means by objective psychology is to be rooted not in physiology or biology but in sociology. More precisely, to avoid the terms he is using (namely ideology that he keeps repeating so often that it gets annoying), he (25) states that consciousness or conscious psyche is a sociological fact, not a physical or a biological fact. He (25) expresses this in order to point out that natural sciences are of no use here because the psyche is not a product of biology or physiology. Simply put, he (25) argues that, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, psyche is the product of external, not internal processes. To be clear, he (25) does add that it, of course, requires the individual, otherwise there’d be no psyche to discuss.

He (26) elaborates that what is known as inner experience, the subjective psyche, is the very same material reality of that of signs, that of language. He (26) warns not to take this to mean that there is nothing outside the inner experience, the subjective psyche. Indeed there is, as he (26) notes that just the human body involves a large number of physiological processes. It’s rather that our consciousness has no existence of its own, as he (26) goes on to point out. What is it then, if not part of human physiology or biology, the organism, or an entity of its own? In his (26) words:

“By its very existential nature, the subjective psyche is to be localized somewhere between the organism and the outside world, on the borderline separating these two spheres of reality.”

Again, he (26) adds to this, warning not to take this as meaning that it is simply a matter of situating this moment “between the organism and the outside world” because the moment, how you, me, everyone really, come to make sense of the world and ourselves is not a physical encounter but a semiotic one. In his (26) words, “the organism and the outside world meet here in the sign.” Very simply put, just as he (26) puts it, “[p]sychic experience is the semiotic expression of the contact between the organism and the outside environment.” What follows from this, as pointed out already in rejection of applying methods of natural sciences, is that “the inner psyche is not analyzable as a thing but can only be understood and interpreted as a sign.” In fancier terms, as he’ll come to address this, introspection is pointless, albeit only in the sense that one attempts to present the inner psyche, one’s own experiences as the expression of one’s experiences is always a representation, a sign of a sign, as he’ll (36) point out later on. For me, it’s you stepping outside yourself, as if that was even possible, to analyze you. What a pointless exercise! Not understanding that it is you who is analyzing you, going around in circles, not taking into account that your analysis of your condition is conditioned by you. Sad and funny, at the same time.

Vološinov (26) takes a detour to Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911), a philosopher and a polymath. He (26) summarizes that for Dilthey:

“[I]t was not so much a matter that subjective psychic experience existed, the way a thing may be said to exist, as that it had meaning.”

More importantly, he (26) argues that, as I pointed out, we get nowhere if we do the opposite:

“When disregarding this meaning in the attempt to arrive at the pure reality of experience, we find ourselves, according to Dilthey, confronting in actual fact a physiological process in the organism and losing sight of the experience in the meantime – just as, when disregarding the meaning of a word, we lose the word itself and confront its sheer physical sound and the physiological process of its articulation.”

As you can see, he (26) reiterates the point I covered about theme and meaning in the previous essay. At this stage of the book, this may seem somewhat off, even contradictory as he (26) goes on to state that “[w]hat makes a word a word is its meaning” and “[w]hat makes an experience an experience is also its meaning” but it’s worth keeping in mind that, as he goes on to explain later on in the book, in chapter four of the second part, meaning is nested in theme and everything is contextual. As I pointed out in the summary part, that doesn’t negate meaning. What he is after is that just as language cannot be separated from context (otherwise it becomes meaningless), the inner experience cannot be separated from context. To repeat myself, you cannot step outside yourself, as if you were separate from yourself, in order to analyze yourself. That is just impossible.

Now, while Vološinov (26-27) agrees with Dilthey on that inner experience cannot be reduced to physiology, he disagrees with Dilthey on, pretty much, everything else, namely that “psychology must provide the basis for the humanities.” It’s just untenable for him, idealistic, that everything, including meaning, is grounded on the subject, the individual. He (27) finds it lacking because no provision is made to the social character of meaning. More importantly, for him (27), this builds on a poor, if not false premise, a proton pseudos, in which meaning is considered essential but it’s not explained what it is and how it is connected language. So, for him (27), Dilthey ends up using meaning as a handy analogy, as an explanatory figure, but ends up drawing false conclusions. So, as I pointed out, this all falls apart unless you address meaning, which Vološinov does, in particular, in chapter four of the second part of the book. Here I think it’s worth adding though that while that’s spot on calling something idealist, you have to careful with going the other way as well, otherwise you still end up going the idealist route, as discussed in the fairly recent essay on Marx that I wrote.

Right, as you might expect if you read my previous essay or read the book yourself, perhaps in a wonky order, then Vološinov’s objection won’t come as a surprise. I know I’m repeating myself, again, but he (28) puts this so nicely that I’ll indulge in this repetitiveness once more:

“If experience does have meaning and is not merely a particular piece of reality …, then surely experience could hardly come about other than in the material of signs. After all, meaning can belong only to a sign; meaning outside a sign is a fiction. Meaning is the expression of a semiotic relationship between a particular piece of reality and another kind of reality that it stands for, represents, or depicts.”

Or, more simply put (28):

“Meaning is a function of the sign and is therefore inconceivable (since meaning is pure relation, or function) outside the sign as some particular, independently existing thing.”

So, in summary, yes, inner experience does necessitate meaning, as argued by Dilthey, but it’s not something that springs from the subject, the individual. Simply put, it’s interindividual (hence relational/functional) because meaning comes about only through language or, more broadly speaking, semiosis. It’s probably not worth adding this, what Vološinov (28) goes on to state, here as this is rather basic for many linguists and semioticians, but I’ll do that anyway because it crystallizes the issue with language so well to those who are not familiar with linguistics and/or semiotics:

“It would be just as absurd to maintain such a notion as to take the meaning of the word ‘horse’ to be this particular, live animal I am pointing to.”

He (28) adds another example, one about apples (sadly, not oranges), noting how if that were the case, that there was such relation, then one would, for example, always also quite literally consume the meaning. So, in other words, without using specific examples, he (28) states that:

“A sign is a particular material thing, but meaning is not a thing and cannot be isolated from the sign as if it were a piece of reality existing on its own apart from the sign.”

What follows from this then is that (28):

“[I]f experience does have meaning, if it is susceptible of being understood and interpreted, then it must have its existence in the material of actual, real signs.”

He (28) argues that what follows from all this, up to this point with regards to experience, is that as experience is tied to the sign, any and all experiences are expressible, they have the potential to be expressed, be it in words, gestures, facial expressions or the like (hence why I refer to language/semiosis). Now, I’d note here that, aye, yes, that makes sense, yet, what one experiences is not necessarily expressed or expressible in a way that relays and conveys the experience to someone else. Then again, perhaps I’m getting too tangled up with how one goes about expressing that verbally and ignoring the nonverbal side of expression. Anyway, be it as it may, one way or another, he (28) emphasizes this connection because for something to be an experience, it must be somehow meaningful, hence his insistence of it having the potential to be expressed. In fact, he (28) is very adamant on this point, for a reason that resonates with what I’ve come across in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (translation by Brian Massumi) by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari when they elaborate their views on language:

“Thus there is no leap involved between inner experience and its expression, no crossing over from one qualitative reality of reality to another.”

I brought up Deleuze and Guattari because this reminds me of how they reject the view that language is instrumental, in the sense that it is something that we make use of to express ourselves, our thoughts and experiences, as sort of an afterthought (thinking preceding utterance). So, as heavily emphasized by Vološinov (28) here, that is not the case. All our experiences, all our thoughts, yours and mine, are linked to language or sense making, to put it more broadly. So, to briefly return to the earlier point, you need expression, language/semiosis, for there to be any experience before you even bring up the point out about how it is that you express those experiences. Simply put, expression is not something that exist separate from experience, nor the other way around. Sure, you may experience something in a way that differs from how you express it, say non-verbally followed by a verbal expression, but that’s still in the same realm or reality, as he (28) goes on to point out.

So, in summary, it’s all very material, even psyche, as he (28) goes on to list:

“Any organic activity or process: breathing, blood circulation, movements of the body, articulation, inner speech, mimetic motions, reaction to external stimuli (e.g., light stimuli) and so forth.”

He (29) even goes on to provide his own concise recap of this (btw, it’s something which, to my surprise, he keeps doing quite a bit in the book, every now and then within the chapters):

“In short, anything and everything occurring within the organism can become the material of experience, since everything can acquire semiotic significance, can become expressive.”

That said, (29) adds that while this is all well and good, as it’s about right, this is not all there is to a psyche or inner experience. It’s not just what occurs within the organism but also outside it once the psyche has developed and differentiated to an extent that it is able to make use of what else is there, subtly plying it, shaping it, refining it and differentiating it. This is what he (29) calls the semiotic material that is at one’s disposal in the extracorporeal social milieu once proceeds to express oneself outside oneself. This is the point where he (29) emphasizes the importance of inner speech:

“[I]t is the word that constitutes the foundation, the skeleton of inner life. Were it to be deprived of the word, the psyche would shrink to an extreme degree: deprived of all other expressive activities, it would die out altogether.”

To further emphasize the importance of this, he (29) reiterates that if language/semiosis is ignored, psyche, that is to say consciousness, is rendered into a mere physiological process rooted in an organism. It’s not worth repeating his objections here, considering he has gone through them already to the extent that here the text drags on a bit. Simply put, he (29) objects to ignoring the social aspect particular to humans.

Skipping certain other somewhat repetitive bits, Vološinov (29-30) aligns himself with functional psychology, namely a variant of it based on the work of Franz Brentano. He (29-30) is particularly interested in the content of the psyche. In summary, he (30) notes that in functional psychology (of its time, of course), there are two factors, the “content of experience” and “the function of any particular referential content within the closed system of individual psychic life.” The content factor is not psychic in nature. It is indicated as either “a physical phenomenon on which the experience focuses (e.g., an object of perception) or a cognitive concept having its own logical governance or an ethical value, etc. It is, as you can see (30), very much just the content, the “referential aspect of experience … a property of nature, culture, or history” and therefore is of little interest to the psychologist as all that falls into the domains of various scientific disciplines. Simply put, as he (30) characterizes it, the content factor is what experience is. In stark contrast, the function factor has to do with what he (30) calls the “experienced-ness or experientiality of any content outside the psyche”. This is for him (30) exactly what the psychologist should focus on. It is the object of psychology. Simply put, he (30) states that if the content factor of psyche is the what aspect of psyche, the function factor is the how aspect of psyche. In other words, the psychologist, at least the functional psychologist, is not interested in what experience is, be it this and/or that, but how it is that one comes to experience this and/or that. In his (30) words:

“The psychologist … studies only how thought processes with various objective contents … come about under conditions supplied by any given individual subjective psyche.”

Note how he points out that this is about a process, one that isn’t universal. If we summarize all that has been covered so far, it’s also worth noting how this is not to be understood as the process being particular to the extent that it is individual, what people tend to call subjective. Okay, yes, it is individual and thus subjective but only in the sense that inner experience is never separate from expression, which, in turn, is never separate from experience (and so on, and so on). In other words, in his (30) view the psychologist studies how it is that this and/or that experience comes about, under these and/or those conditions that are markedly social.

He (30) points out that he aligns with functional psychology because while it, indeed, came out of idealism, it also exhibits diametrically opposite tendencies to interpretative psychology, namely that of the Dilthey type. As noted earlier (26), Dilthey is all about meaning being tied to psyche, about the unity of content and function in the psyche, as one might put it after his (30) formulation. As also noted (or foreshadowed) earlier (26), he (30) states that functional psychology goes the other way, not only keeping them separate in the psyche, drawing a clear line between content and function, the interface of the inside and the outside, but also situating the subjective psyche somewhere there, in between the two. For him (30), what results from this is a major shift in focus, away from what something is, as this and/or that, to how it is that this and/or that comes to be experienced by someone as this and/or that. This is, more or less, the point that I brought up in the previous essay, how, elsewhere in the book, he (21, 106) calls this the social or evaluative purview, how certain items (discursive objects in Foucauldian parlance) come to enter or exit the circle of items of this and/or that group of people.

While Vološinov (29-31) is, arguably, in agreement with functional psychology, in particular on how “the psyche is not to be identified with any physiological process”, he isn’t happy about how its representatives fail to express what it is then if not physiological and how they don’t address the role of language/semiosis in its emergence. Moreover, as they are unable explain what it is then, he (31) isn’t keen on how they fall back on idealistic conceptions of being, an autonomous subject (for example the Kantian transcendental subject). Simply put, not unlike the interpretative psychologists, the functional psychologists, nonetheless, end up using the subject as a starting point. As he (31) puts it, they tend to resort to appeals to “for a ‘transcendental consciousness,’ ‘consciousness per se,’ or ‘pure epistemological subject,’ and the like.” He (31) adds that they fail to address language/semiosis as they place it in the transcendental realm. In other words, you could say that they do make note of it, that it plays role, but they place it out of our reach because they are unable to address it properly (kind of like with what Kant does with space and time, as I’ve discussed in an earlier essay). The issue here is, of course, that we get nowhere if language/semiosis is not taken into account. Otherwise we end up having to resort to explaining psyche as emerging from physiology, biology or a transcendental subject.

To contextualize this with my own research and my own position in the world of academics, I realize that this may seem like drudgery, going back to these types of points about the role of psyche or consciousness, when Icould skip it all, not be bothered with it, like most of my peers do, regardless of the discipline (except, perhaps, notably in psychology and philosophy) and be happy with it. Then again, as discussed by Vološinov (27), if I don’t address how it is that we experience the world, we risk failing to understand what the world is like. To put this in fancier terms, as expressed by Vološinov (27) when he mentions proton pseudos (πρῶτον ψεῦδος), if one starts with a false premise, one risks drawing false conclusions. As you might not be familiar with proton pseudos, in psychology, it appears in Sigmund Freud’s 1895 ‘Entwurf einer Psychologie’, translated into English under the title ‘Project for a Scientific Psychology’ (1954 translation by Eric Mosbacher and James Strachey). It is mentioned by Freud (416) in part two, in ‘The Disturbances of Thought by Affects’, and translated as the first lie. If we take a look at a relevant dictionary, for example the ‘International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis’ (2005 edition, edited by Alain de Mijolla), Bernard Golse (1342) explains it as being related to how Aristotle’s theory of syllogism (see Prior Analytics, Book I), how one ends up drawing false conclusions from false premises:

“[I]f the premises are false, if there is an original error, then the conclusions must necessarily be false in spite of the soundness of the intermediary reasoning.”

I wanted to use Golse’s explanation of proton pseudos because his definition is not only concise but also makes note of intermediary reasoning. Now, syllogism is an everyday thing, so this is applicable to pretty much everything. The thing is that proton pseudos is not much of an issue in everyday life. We get proven wrong all the time, on this and/or that. It just happens. We often start with false premises and end up drawing false conclusions, only to be later on corrected by someone that our conclusions don’t hold because the premise was false to begin with. For example, you start with the premise that a certain person gave you certain look and after a fair bit of reasoning conclude that it means that the person likes you, perhaps even fancies you, only to be later on told by that person that that is not the case. Now, I don’t represent everyone on this, but such everyday mishaps, relying on false premises, are not biggies. Sure, if it is your first time misreading something, then it’ll probably sting a bit, even make you get a bit defensive about it. Anyway, people tend to get over such and move on in their lives, almost as if nothing had happened. There tends to be a certain humility to it, at least eventually.

To get back to my point about how this relates to my own work, I reckon I’m super keen on this issue. That’s why I get called ‘Mr. Theory’, the ‘Theory Guy’ and the like. People often fail to understand why I am so keen on this, probably because they assume that all thinking, all theory, is based on the same premise, the same image of thought (to put this in Deleuzian terms). For me, you always have to start from a premise, a foundation, a cornerstone, a plane (to put this Deleuzo-Guattarian terms). Even if you don’t state your premise, there’s always a premise. The problem with premises is exactly this. If your premise is false, your conclusions will be false, regardless of all the reasoning that takes place between the premise and the conclusions. To put it nicely, if your premise is off, you risk ending up with horse apples. So, in practice, say you wrote an article, some dry as alabaster 7000 words, and think you achieved something. Maybe. Maybe not. If your premise is sound, your intermediate reasoning is sound and so are your conclusions. Now that’s a big IF. If your premise isn’t sound, your intermediate reasoning may well still be sound but your conclusions end up not being worth the paper it’s written on (or the bytes on a drive). So, if I criticize someone, a peer or peers, for subscribing to the dogmatic image of thought, even if unwittingly, this is exactly why. For example, if you presuppose the autonomy of the subject, the individual, and base your work on that, you need to be aware that by doing so you may end up undermining everything you’ve done and all that intermediate reasoning won’t save you from the criticism you get for building on a shoddy premise, especially if you try to avoid the issue by indicating that theory is of little concern to you (or the like).

This issue becomes way more problematic when we take into account all the existing work that has been done under this or that premise. Those who stand to lose if their premise is shown to be false will, obviously, try their best to make the issue go away, not only by deflecting or diverting the criticism (as I pointed out) but also by doing their best to make the life of those who do not agree with them hard. For example, torpedoing people in peer review and in the allocation of research funding are handy ways of accomplishing such because they tend to involve anonymous assessment, meaning that you cannot get caught for misconduct. People who stand to lose are well aware of the issue. They know that if their premise were to be proven to be false, all their work done based on that premise would potentially be rendered worthless and their positions would be put into question. Why risk anything if you can make it so that it doesn’t come to that? Their premise might hold, there is that. Then again if it indeed does hold, then there is no need to resort to such underhand tactics. Surely it would be more noble to let people challenge your premise. Then again, I’m well aware that it’s just not practical. No one wants to risk their sweet gig, especially not the clergy.

Where was I before that tangent on proton pseudos? Right, so, for Vološinov (31) the problem with functional psychology is that its representatives tend to rely on Kantian views, thus giving primacy to the subject. He (31-32) moves on to address phenomenology, namely Edmund Husserl and those building on his works, labeling them as intentionalists (because intentionality is in a key role for Brentano and Husserl). He (32) characterizes the intentionalists, as well as the neo-Kantians (as a side note, one could actually call Kant a phenomenologist, as explained in an earlier essay), of the 20th century as antipsychologists. I acknowledge that I’m more than a bit out of my league discussing phenomenology (or phenomenologies) and this summary is bound to be a bit ham fisted but, simply put, Vološinov (32) locates the problem with intentionalists and neo-Kantians in the eradication of psyche. Assuming that I understood this correctly, as intended by Vološinov, based on what I know and can remember (feel free to correct me), in general, the issue is that while there is no Cartesian body/mind duality, phenomenology leaves no room for the discussion of psyche and its emergence. What follows from this is that it also eradicates the role language/semiosis in all this, which, well, rather obvious just doesn’t work for Vološinov (32-33) because the reality of the psyche is also the reality of the sign. As he (33) goes on to emphasize:

“[E]very outer … sign, of whatever kind, is engulfed in and washed over by inner signs – by the consciousness. The outer sign originates from this sea of inner signs and continues to abide there, since its life is a process of renewal as something to be understood, experienced, and assimilated, i.e., its life consists in its being engaged ever anew into the inner context.”

Only to (34) to repeat the same point in simpler terms with the use of examples:

“[T]here is no qualitative difference here in any fundamental sense. Cognition with respect to books and to other people’s words and cognition inside one’s head belong to the same sphere of reality, and such differences as do exist between the head and book do not affect the content of cognition.”

In other words, inner speech and outer speech are one and the same thing, well, sort of, and part of the same reality. He (34) explains this by noting that part of the problem is that we rely on a false dichotomy, placing ‘individual’ and ‘social’ in binary opposition when ‘individual’ is, as it is generally understood “as possessor of the contents of his own consciousness, as author of his own thoughts, as the personality responsible for his thoughts and feelings”, a product of the ‘social’. Simply put, we like to think that we are autonomous thinking subjects, always in control, making rational choices, but, ironically, even that conception, how we like to think that way, is a mere a surface effect that originates beyond us. He (34) warns not to take this as him claiming that there are no individuals, that one isn’t physically separate from others, as that still holds for him. Instead, he (34) locates the issue of ‘individual’ as pertaining to how it has become conflated with individuality, resulting in one concept already in force, the individual, being replaced by another concept, individuality. So, one starts with being physically separate from others, an individual, and then conflates it with how one is, what one has become, which has to do with individuality that is a social phenomenon, followed by asserting that how one is, what one has become is based on the physical separation from others. Vološinov (34) characterizes this move as quarternio terminorum, also known as the formal fallacy of four terms, which results in invalid reasoning.

I stated that inner and outer speech are one and the same thing, but only sort of because, after all, Vološinov does distinguishes between the two. With regards the former, he (34-35) states that:

“Meaning implemented in the material of inner activity is meaning turned toward the organism, toward the particular individual’s self, and is determined first of all in the context of that self’s particular life.”

This is what he (35) thinks the functionalists get right but adds that, as he pointed out earlier, they are missing the sociological aspect. So, he (35) is saying that it works two ways, in and out, inward and outward, and that it belongs to two systems that govern it, the unity of the inside, the organic unity, and the unity of the outside, the linguistic/semiotic or social unity. He (35) states that the system that pertains to the inside is marked by the unity of the biological organism, as well as “by the whole aggregate of conditions of life and society in which that organism has been set.” In addition, he (35) states that the system that pertains to the outside is marked by the unity of language/semiosis and governed according to its laws. There’s a bit more to this discussed by him (35-36) but it is borderline repetitive, so I’ll leave it for you to read.

As I hinted earlier on, Vološinov (36) moves on to address introspection, what he defines as a process of self-clarification and self-observation in which one attempts to understand one’s own inner signs, one’s experiences, through other signs (hence the comment he makes in the footnotes about introspection being about the sign of another sign). Now, earlier on I mocked this process and I stand my ground on this, regardless of whether he’d agree with me or not. As he (36) points out, I believe correctly, if we want to observe and study psyche, one’s experiences, the inner signs, it’s only possible through other signs; “[a] sign can be illuminated only with the help of another sign.” He (36) clarifies this with an example:

“I feel joy”

He (36) argues that this is a clear cut case of introspection. This is not an expression of one’s experience, in this case of one’s joy. This is just an afterthought, or so to speak. For him (36), a direct expression of one’s joy would be, for example:

“Hurray!”

In this case, he (36) argues that this is directly expressing one’s experience, even if it is arguably not the experience itself. He (36) adds that it is, however, introspection in the sense that as it is expressed it becomes possible to introspect it, to have that afterthought that one did just feel joyous. He (36) also lists a third possibility, somewhere in between the two:

“I’m so happy!”

This is what he (36) calls a transitional case as it involves introspection, turning on to oneself, yet it is partially colored by the immediateness of the expression.

I’m a bit torn here, pondering whether I was too hasty to dismiss introspection. Then again, I think that I should be stating, what I’m after, is that direct expression of one’s experience is fine but turning it into an afterthought isn’t because, as Vološinov (36) points out, it involves “no actualization of inner sign.” Anyway, to get somewhere with this, linking the inside, introspection, again to the outside, observation, he (37) indicates that no introspection is ever separate from observation, no inner signs are illuminated without the help of outer signs, hence his insistence and emphasis on the social aspect of psyche. He (37) argues that this results in making it impossible to differentiate between the two, the inner signs and the outer signs, probably because it is impossible to imagine a situation in which one wouldn’t engage in introspection, illuminating an inner sign with another sign, without observation, the outer signs that others have expressed to you at some stage of your life. This is why psyche, consciousness is always involves social unity, not only organic unity.

In summary, Vološinov (37) argues that “[t]he understanding of any sign, whether inner or outer, occurs inextricably tied in with the situation in which the sign is implemented.” There is no way around this. It’s always situational, always contextual. Introspection, delving into one’s experiences, is only possible in the moment, in a specific social situation, because experience is always tied to that moment, in relation to everyone and everything, both in time and space. He (37) summarizes what happens if this is ignored:

“Complete disregard of social orientation leads to a complete extinguishment of experience, just as also happens when its semiotic nature is disregarded.”

This is because (37):

[T]he sign and its social situation are inextricably fused together. The sign cannot be separated from the social situation without relinquishing its nature as sign.”

After summarizing his views and his objections that pertain to language and psychology, he (37-38) returns to the problem of inner speech. He (38) notes that inner speech is particularly problematic because it is hard, if not impossible, to analyze it the way linguists analyze outer speech, utterances, be it, for example, in terms of lexicography, grammar or phonetics. Indeed, for instance, how does one examine the sounds of one’s inner speech, its grammar or its lexis, without jumping from inner speech to outer speech? Vološinov’s (38) answer to this is to address inner speech as inner dialogue with its units being what he calls “total impressions of utterances” that alternate with one another according to laws of evaluative or emotive correspondence or dialogic deployment, in part dependent “on the historical conditions of the social situation and the whole pragmatic run of life.”

He (38) clarifies these “total impressions of utterances” by exemplifying it with those moments when you fail to come up with the right word for this and/or that thing or phenomenon but do have a total impression of what it is that you’d wish to express. He (38) calls them the sort of tip of the tongue experiences where one fails to concretize the impression into a specific image. It’s when you know what the experience is but fail to put it into words for some reason. I know it has happened to me and keeps happening to me, yet it’s hard to explain, probably because it’s all about failing to put something into words. He (39) expresses his keen interest in inner speech but concedes that he has no idea how to tackle it, how to analyze it in a way that would be productive.

Wrapping things up, to end with a positive note, Vološinov (39) summarizes what psychologism and antipsychologism get right. He (39) argues that psychologism is correct in the sense that there can be no outer sign without an inner sign, no expression without someone to understand and experience that expression and, I would add, someone to express that sign. Then again, he (39) also argues that antipsychologism is correct in the sense that there can be no language/semiosis that is secondary to psyche. This is the conundrum, how can outer speech be a requirement for psyche when for speech to be understood it must also require inner speech? It is bizarre, that’s for sure. That’s, perhaps, why he (39) comments on it, noting that it is continuous interplay, working both ways, the inner becoming the outer while the outer becomes inner but never collapsing into the other, the psyche having an “extraterritorial status in the organism”, it being “a social entity that penetrates inside the organism of the individual person.” His (41) final words on this, in this chapter, is to characterize the interplay of the inner speech and the outer speech as interpenetration that takes place in the process of social intercourse. While it is perhaps evident already, considering that I noted already how he (39) views this interplay as continuous, he (40) warns not to think of this interplay as fixed or anyhow tragic as there is nothing inherently negative about the dynamic nature of language, even if it lends itself to all kinds of tragedies and horrors.

I reckon this chapter isn’t the best part of the book but I went through it because it sheds light on how Vološinov understands consciousness as social, emerging only through social intercourse as opposed to simply emerging from one’s biology or physiology. Now, it’s also worth noting that by emphasizing the social intercourse (interaction with others) Vološinov does not argue that biology or physiology doesn’t matter. It all does, but, for him, others tend fail to take language/semiosis into account when they either fall back to physiology and/or some ideal transcendental subject. With regards to particulars, this chapter is worth the reading because it includes the discussion of inner and outer speech, how experience is intertwined and colored by language (experience as a sign), introspection (how it isn’t experience but a sign on a sign) and proton pseudos (how one needs to be very aware of one’s premises in order to avoid drawing false conclusions, as well as to avoid wasting one’s time doing all that work that takes place in between). This chapter is only about fifteen pages and it includes things that I didn’t include (that may help you understand what he is after). It’s well worth reading and doesn’t take that much time either.

Well, well, well

Last time I managed to actually get into to the book, to examine Valentin Vološinov’s ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ (1973 translation by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik), albeit only the first chapter or so. I could have gone on but it got a bit heavy with the tangents that came about from the asylum ignorance bit mentioned by Vološinov (13). So, I’ll continue from where I left off, which is at about chapter two of the book.

In summary of the first chapter, Vološinov argues that language is pivotal in all that we do as the word is the medium of consciousness, comprehension and interpretation. It is not the only mode as there are, for example, images, music, gestures and movement, but all nonverbal is, nonetheless, unseparable from the verbal. Everything is linked to language. It is a phenomenon, among others, if you will, yet it always accompanies all other phenomena. I guess you could say that, in a sense, language is always rather imperial, always bleeding into things, not exactly conquering them, as what’s outside language never actually becomes language, but making them subservient to it, always mediated through it, to certain extent. Another important point is that language is interindividual, not individual. It emerges from people but only in relation to one another. It never emerges from a person in isolation from other people.

Vološinov (17) moves to address one of the fundamentals of Marxism, the relationship between base and superstructure or infrastructure and superstructure, the former being, roughly speaking, the material conditions (means of production and how they are organized) and the latter being the ideal conditions (the ideological layer, if you will, with the institutions, be they political, educational, cultural, religious etc.). He (17) argues that examining these two would benefit considerably from taking language into account because he finds attributing the development of the superstructure as merely caused by the base rather poor as it comes across as rather mechanic and hardly explanatory.

He (18) uses the example of the superfluous man, Rudin, a conceptual person, who, I admit, I had to look as being created by Ivan Sergejevitš Turgenev, a Russian writer who lived in the 1800s. It is introduced in ‘The Diary of a Superfluous Man’ published in 1850, but also used in ‘Rudin’, published in 1856. In short, based on the book about the superfluous man, he is someone who could do just about anything as he has the background (the money, the contacts, the skills) but just can’t be arsed to do anything of note as it’s probably too easy and not worth it. Instead, the superfluous man, obnoxious enough to write about himself, to himself, despite having done next to nothing in life, which he, the superfluous man, does acknowledge, leads a superfluous life, something that he does also acknowledge. He is the type of a guy who lies in bed, all morning, if not all day, because he pities himself … because his woman fancies someone else etc.

Anyway, Vološinov (18) argues that it’d be simplification to rationalize the superfluous man as an expression of content, the degeneracy of the gentry. This also holds the other way around. The point he (18) is making is that one should not only look at the content or the expression, but both at the same time and not in a causal way. To make sense of this, he (18) clarifies that while there are superfluous men in Turgenev’s works, it doesn’t follow that they are mechanically produced in his works by socioeconomic factors related to the gentry. Instead, he (18) argues, the superfluous men need to be considered as having a specific role in Turgenev’s works and the works themselves as having specific role in social life.

In summary, what Vološinov is after, at least the way I see it, is that one needs to take content and expression into account in series. I reckon this feels oddly familiar to me because I’ve read something similar in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi) by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. I’m recalling this on memory alone, but, simply put, they argue that while form of content and form of expression are indeed distinct, one can function as the other one, so that it becomes a series of this and that. So, for example, all the relevant parts are the form of content of a car which is the form of expression but that car can also be understood as form of content with other cars that together are the form of expression of traffic. I know that may be a bit crude and somewhat off, but you should get the gist. So, keeping all this in mind, Vološinov (18) states:

“Surely it must be clear that the ‘superfluous man’ did not appear in the novel in any way independent of and unconnected with other elements of the novel, but that, on the contrary, the whole novel, as a single organic unity subject to its own specific laws, underwent restructuring, and that, consequently, all its other elements – its composition, style, etc. – also underwent restructuring. And what is more, this organic restructuring of the novel came about in close connection with changes in the whole field of literature, as well.”

To unpack this, let’s say that this operates on many levels. I’d still say in series but perhaps levels is easier to grasp, so I’ll go with that here. So, on one level, in the novel ‘Rudin’, which is the novel Vološinov is referring to, the superfluous man is not just some random character unconnected to what else is contained and happens in the novel. On another level, the novel is not unconnected to literature, so it didn’t emerge unconnected to it either. Now, of course, as it is evident here, contributions to literature, including those of Turgenev, change literature which then alter the field of literature. The point Vološinov (18) is making is that:

“[A]ny explanation must preserve all the qualitative differences between interacting domains and must trace all the various stages through which a change travels.”

In short, what he (18-19) is after is that, in the Marxist nomenclature, there is an interrelationship between the base and the superstructure and, importantly, this interrelationship is not simple as the base causing changes in the superstructure in a mechanical fashion. To my understanding this is not in contradiction to Marx as the base does operate as the conditions for the superstructure, yet it’s not, strictly speaking a one-way street. What is different with this is how Vološinov (19) attributes language a key position in all this. Following what he went on and on about in the first chapter, he (19) states that:

“What is important about the word in this regard is not so much its sign purity as its social ubiquity.”

Simply put, language is everywhere and everyone is tangled up in it, all day everyday. There’s no escaping the word. He (19) continues:

“It stands to reason, then, that the word is the most sensitive index of social changes, and what is more, of changes still in the process of growth, still without definitive shape and not as yet accomodated into already regularized and fully defined … systems.”

In other words, language is everywhere, at all times, but it is not static. Language is always too busy to stay the same. It’s not that it’s all over the place, that there’s no fixity to it, but that it is constantly subject to change. Moreover, as he (19) goes on to explain, it’s not that people choose to change the language but that it inevitably ends up changing as people go on about their everyday life. As the world changes, so does the language, hand in hand, albeit not in mechanic causation. Language, not unlike social structures, is, as he (19-20) puts it, persistent, yet engulfed and washed over by the tides of creativity that occurs as people interact with one another (outer speech), as well as in reaction to various events that one encounters in everyday (inner speech). Also, as stated in the first chapter, he (20) adds that these speech performances are not separate from other forms of modes of making sense, for example miming, gesturing and acting out. He (20) argues that what follows from this then is that one must look at language from two viewpoints, the content and the expression, to use the Deleuzo-Guattarian terms. In other words, to him (20), language must be understood as being affected by the themes of everyday life, which then manifest in it, as implemented in discussions, expressions, questions, pondering etc. As emphasized in the first chapter, he (20) warns not to attribute the change in language to the individuals as language never emerges from a person in isolation from others.

I guess you could object to that on the grounds that once you’ve been reared into language, your use of the language, even in the absence of others can cause it to undergo change, even if you never speak out loud. Then again, how would you know? Also, that would require that you don’t engage with anything that has been written, be it by others or you, as those could also be seen as moments of interlocution. I mean I do that all the time. This blog is a good example of that, me engaging with others, dead and alive, as well as myself. Anyway, as I pointed out, it would still be very hard to imagine a world without other people, without any written records and the possibility to create any. Something also tells me that we can’t exactly test that in lab either. I reckon it wouldn’t take long for a person to go insane in such a setting, that is to say without any hope of it being only a temporary arrangement. This probably also explains why people write on the walls that confine them.

Vološinov (20-21) clarifies that while this is not about the individual, the individuals are not rendered into one giant blob, but rather a wide number of different social groups that, taking time into consideration, have their repertoires of speech forms, their behavioral speech genres, with its themes So, for example, people working in some technical field speak to one another in a rather technical fashion, while people in business go for the concise statements. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that just because you work in some technical field or in business that you necessarily speak in this or that way in other contexts. Then there’s hierarchy. Even in those fields used as examples by Vološinov there tends to be some sort of hierarchical organization. People’s position in relation to others affects how it is that they come to speak to one another. In his (21) words:

“Every sign, as we know, is a construct between socially organized persons in the process of their interaction. Therefore, the forms of signs are conditioned above all by the social organization of the participants involved and also by the immediate conditions of their interaction. When these forms change, so does sign.”

Only to add that, as he (21) sees it, if one is to study language, it cannot be separated from everyday life and simply be studied in isolation from its contexts. He (21) gets very adamant on this, reiterating in bullet point form that you cannot locate language outside materiality and outside social intercourse, which, in turn depend on the purview of time and place, as well as the social groupings.

He (21) moves from speech forms to speech content, with specific emphasis placed on “evaluative accentuation that accompanies all content.” To make more sense of this, he (21-22) goes on to point out that we come to label this and/or that content depending on space and time. In his (21-22) words:

“Every stage in the development of a society has its own special and restricted circle of items which alone have access to that society’s attention and which are endowed with evaluative accentuation by that attention.”

Now, I realize that this may seem a bit topsy-turvy, how he argues that items come to access to our attention, but that’s what he is really saying. If we were to turn this around, to say that depending on space and time, our real life societal conditions, we come to pay attention to certain items or objects, we’d be stating that there are these ready made items or objects, these things that are simply out there, just waiting for our society to develop to the level that we come understand them and pay attention to them. That’s not what he (21-22) is after, at all. That’s why he (21-22) says that he have these circles of items that come to have access to our attention. The presence of those items is dependent on us, which also makes the circle of items subject to change. In his (22) words:

“Only items within that circle will achieve sign formation and become objects in semiotic communication.”

How does that work then? He (22) is quick to answer:

“In order for any item, from whatever domain of reality it may come, to enter the social purview of the group and elicit … semiotic reaction, it must be associated with the vital socioeconomic prerequisites of the particular group’s existence; it must somehow, even if only obliquely, make contact with the bases of the group’s material life.”

So, as I pointed out already, all the items, all the objects, for example in your room, are only such because they make sense to you and they only make sense to you because they are relevant on the level of the society, hence the point made about socioeconomic and material conditions being prerequisites. There is nothing in your purview that do not conform to this. That said, if the conditions change, we may come to add more items into the circle of items and/remove some from it. This should not be understood as items simply disappearing all the sudden (which sort of may happen, think of the items that we uncover in archaeology, then think of all the items that were made of materials that decay) and others appearing out of nowhere. This is not about what some thing is in itself, but how we come to make sense of this and/or that, according to the relevant conditions. For example, the extensions of a tree is known as branches, but if they fall off or are chopped off, they become sticks once you encounter them as separated from the tree and, possibly, pick them up. That piece of wood doesn’t change (although I guess it will dry up, decay etc. eventually), only how we come to make sense of it.

What’s particularly interesting here is that none of this is whimsical. You cannot alter the circle of items, what we come to sense and make sense of as this and/or that, by yourself. It’s not up to you. I can call a table a chair and a chair a table but that doesn’t change anything. Others wouldn’t agree and even if they did agree, we’d end up back to square one as calling what we call a chair a table and vice versa doesn’t change anything. We could be having the same conversation, arguing that I want to call what we call a chair, in this case called a table, a chair and the same thing with what we call a table, in this case a chair, a table. He (22) makes note of this:

“Individual choice under these circumstances, of course, can have no meaning at all. The sign is a creation between individuals, a creation within a social milieu. Therefore the item in question must first acquire interindividual significance, and only then can it become an object for sign formation.”

He (22) acknowledges that this may come across as puzzling, considering that all this accentuation is produced by an individual, only to note that it is all actually social because others also come to recognize whatever is at stake as such and such. I realize that his use of accent and accentuation may be a bit confusing, so, the way I understand it being used by him, in this context, is about giving emphasis, making something more noticeable. He (22) clarifies his use of the word as it always being, first and foremost, interindividual. He (22) explains this in relation to animals:

“The animal cry, the pure response to pain in the organism, is bereft of accent; it is a purely natural phenomenon. For such a cry, the social atmosphere is irrelevant, and therefore it does not contain even the germ of sign formation.”

In other words, human language is always accentuated, its always vested with this and/or that, whatever it may be. At this state, or actually right before the animal example, he (22) tentatively settles “to call the entity which becomes the object of a sign the theme of the sign” with all sign then having their themes and all verbal performances having their themes. This is only tentative for him because he returns to this later in chapter four of the second part of the book, where he (99) clarifies his use of the word:

“A definite and unitary meaning, a unitary significance, is a property belonging to any utterance as a whole. Let us call the significance of a whole utterance its theme.”

He (99) adds that:

“The theme is the expression of the concrete, historical situation that engendered the utterance.”

And provides a simple example (99):

“The utterance ‘What time is it?’ has a different meaning each time it is used, and hence, in accordance with our terminology, has a different theme, depending on the concrete historical situation (‘historical’ here in microscopic dimensions) during which it is enunciated and of which, in essence, it is a part.”

Mentioned in the footnotes, he (99) acknowledges that his use of the word is different from how it is used in literature and suggests that, perhaps, instead of theme it would be more apt to speak of thematic unity. He (100) further comments on the theme of an utterance as going beyond linguistic forms, be they lexical, morphological, syntactical or phonological, segmental or suprasegmental, extending to extralinguistic factors specific to the situation.

He (100) distinguishes theme from meaning, stating that theme is always indivisible and unreproducible, always an instance in the moment, an event, if you will, whereas meaning, nested in theme, is what we come to extract or abstract from the utterance as divisible, reproducible and self-identitical. So, when it comes to his example, he (100) argues that the meaning, as he defines it, of “What time is it?” is always the same, across all the instances of that utterance as it is an abstraction of all those instances of its enunciation, what’s common between them. That is, nonetheless, not the same thing as the theme of a specific utterance, which is always context dependent.

Having distinguished between the two, theme and meaning, he (100) notes that in practice it is impossible to neatly separate them from one another:

“There is no theme without meaning and no meaning without theme.”

In other words, they are in reciprocal presupposition. He (100) exemplifies this by noting how it is impossible to teach someone, say a foreign language learner, the meaning of this or that word without resorting to other words, without resorting to the theme. I keep repeating this example, but this is how it works when you look up a word in a dictionary, how meaning of a word only emerges in connection to other words. It’s worth noting that he (100) is not dismissive of meaning as he notes that there has to be some, relative, fixity to language, otherwise nothing makes any sense. Then again, the meaning only emerges in verbal intercourse, thus meaning is always, nonetheless, context dependent and thus also subject to change. So, in his (101) words:

“Meaning … belongs to an element or aggregate of elements in the irrelation to the whole. … [I]f we entirely disregard this relation to the whole (i.e., to the utterance), we shall entirely forfeit meaning. That is the reason why a sharp boundary between theme and meaning cannot be drawn.”

Simply put, as he (101) defines it:

“Meaning, in essence, means nothing; it only possesses potentiality – the possibility of having a meaning within a concrete theme.”

Relevant here, he (101) calls theme “the upper, actual limit of linguistic significance” and meaning “the lower limit of linguistic significance.” In other words, as he (102) comes to characterize this, theme has to do with the “investigation of the contextual meaning of a given word within the conditions of a concrete utterance” whereas meaning has to do with the investigation at “the limit of meaning”, “in the system of language”, as is the case dictionaries. What follows from this is, according him (102), that the splits to usual and unusual meanings, central or peripheral meanings, denotation and connotation are unsatisfactory and fallacious. You can’t have denotation, usual or central meaning, because, in his formulation, meaning is the lower limit, a synthesis, an abstraction extracted from a host of utterance. He is particularly adamant on this, when he (102) asserts that:

“[If it were the case], it would leave theme unaccounted for, since theme, of course, can by no means be reduced to the status of the occasional or lateral meaning of words.”

In other words, if that were the case, the theme, the thematic unity of an utterance, would have to follow from the meaning. However, that’s not the case. It is the exact opposite. The general, that is to say meaning, is derived from the specifics, that is to say the theme. It would be wholly unsatisfactory to take a number of utterances, form a standard on the lower limit of those utterances and then judge utterances on that basis as either central or peripheral, denotative or connotative. It’s also simply unnecessary as, for some reason, people can make sense of one another’s utterances without any abstraction or theoreticization of language. For example, I don’t need an authority to tell me how to make sense of this or that, be it some person or a dictionary. In social intercourse, to put it in his parlance, you routinely encounter strange or unfamiliar words, yet, somehow you manage to muddle through, inasmuch as you do of course, pending on how willing your interlocutors are to put what is strange or unfamiliar to you in other words, you know, like in a dictionary.

This is why Vološinov (102) turns to what he calls “the problem of understanding”. He (102) differentiates between “passive understanding, which excludes response in advance” and active, genuine understanding that always “constitute[s] the germ of a response.” In his (102) exact words:

“To understand another person’s utterance means to orient oneself with respect to it, to find the proper place for it in the corresponding context.”

So, in a nutshell, to understand what someone is after is all about the context, what they mean specifically, not what they said means in general. That’s the differences between the upper limit and the lower limit. Therefore, as a result, he (102) argues that “[a]ny true understanding is dialogic in nature.” Actually, I reckon that is a bit of an understatement, in the sense that you can have no understanding without being immersed in language, without ever having engaged in dialogue. Remember, language is not about you, nor about anyone else in specific. You may be fooled to think that it emanates from you but it doesn’t. You can’t say anything unless someone else has said something to you first. To clarify this, I know that’s quite the mind warp but to the best of my understanding, yeah, as much as I like to credit myself for this and that, as having come up with it own my own, I’m very certain that others taught me to speak, hence the point made about understanding being dialogic in nature. He (102) further clarifies this:

“Understanding strives to match the speaker’s word with a counter word. Only understanding a word in a foreign tongue is the attempt made to match it with the ‘same’ word in one’s own language.”

As a result, he (102-103) reiterates that:

“Meaning is the effect of interaction between speaker and listener via the material of a particular sound complex.”

Followed by a rather humorous, yet apt bit on electricity and light bulbs (103):

“It is like an electric spark that occurs only when two different terminals are hooked together. Those who ignore theme (which is accessible only to active, responsive understanding) and who, in attempting to define the meaning of: word, approach its lower, stable, self-identical limit, want, in effect, to turn on a light bulb after having switched off the current. Only the current of verbal intercourse endows a word with the light of meaning.”

To amuse you just a tiny bit more here, while I was writing that down, word to word, I realized that it’s not only humorous and apt, but also … wait for it … enlightening. Sorry, I just couldn’t resist the temptation. Also, it’s worth adding to the first bit, the one preceding this funny one, that it also applies in writing, not only with regards to spoken language.

Ooh, how lucky! Before I jumped to chapter four in order to explain theme, I attempted to explain how he uses accent. Here he (103) he acknowledges that he needs to do a better job at that, to explain its importance in the way he understands language. It is what he (103) calls the “interrelationship between meaning and evaluation”, that is to say how everything we express, say or write, also contains a value judgment, a specific evaluative accent.

He (103) exemplifies this with what he calls “the most superficial value judgement incorporated in the word”, also known as “expressive intonation”. I remember this being covered on an introductory course on phonetics with various hilarious examples as to how merely changing the intonation, the way we say something, affects how we come to understand something. That’s all we and good, and, as a side note, brings back fond memories, but what’s interesting here is that how he (103) points out that it’s not (only) that intonation defines how we come to understand something but how intonation itself is a result of the situation, the immediate context, which is often rather ephemeral.

He (103-104) exemplifies this with a lengthy passage from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s ‘A Writer’s Diary’. The passage is just way too long to include here, especially when the point is rather simple. You have most likely encountered it in the English language context. So, in summary, in the passage there are six tipsy artisans who the narrator, Dostoyevsky (it’s his diary), encounters in passing, each of them saying the one and the same word, a noun that is not indicated in the passage. No other words are uttered. The narrator characterizes the noun as a unprintable, as well as forbidden if women are around (sign of times … that’s 1800s for you!), which Vološinov states as being a common obscenity. In the English context this would surely be ‘fuck’, know for being a rather flexible word. I can’t be bothered to crawl the internet for what the exact word here might be. I guess I have to ask a speaker of Russian. My intuition says it’s probably ‘blyat’ (блять), a rather common emotional expression for this and that in Russian, or its equivalent in the 1800s. Anyway, you get the point. You only need to change the performance to land on something different, even if ever so slightly different. If you struggle to find an example look up the scene in TV-series ‘The Wire’ where two detectives go through an old crime scene, just mainly uttering ‘fuck’ to make sense of what happened at the scene.

To emphasize the importance of the immediate context, he (104) states:

“The conversation was conducted in intonations expressing the value judgments of the speakers. These value judgments and their corresponding intonations were wholly determined by the immediate social situation of the talk and therefore did not require any referential support.”

He (104) points to a case where it becomes more or less, not entirely but largely, irrelevant what the expression happens to be as it is about how it is done. He (104) lists expressions such as “‘so-so’, ‘yes-yes’, ‘now-now’, ‘well-well’” functioning as vents, the doubling “allowing the pent up intonation to fully expire.” This is my example, not his, but just consider the difference between:

“Well, what do we have here?”

And:

“Well-well, what do we have here?”

I guess you could triple that as well, while we are at it:

“Well-well-well, what do we have here?”

It does make a major difference. This is, of course, only my take and I have conjured my own context to it. In the first utterance it’s rather straight to the point, perhaps with a slight surprise. In the second utterance there is clearly more emphasis on the surprise. It’s a bit snarky already. In the third utterance, there’s even further emphasis. It’s not snarky anymore, in the sense that there is no joy taken in it. It’s more of a disappointment, as if you saw it coming. If you want a real life example, not my made up one, look up some compilation video of Matthew McConaughey saying ‘alright’, ranging from ‘alright’ to what he is known for, ‘alright-alright-alright’, all the way to it being uttered so many times that I lost count. If all this doubling and tripling bothers you, look up Owen Wilson saying ‘wow’ all the time instead. I think he does a couple of ‘wow-wow’ or ‘whoa-wow’ and ‘wow-wow-wow’ or ‘whoa-whoa-wow’ but he is pretty locked on uttering only once. This actually also works with ‘fuck’, just look up the scene on ‘The Wire’.

Getting back to his Dostoyevsky example, he (104-105) reiterates that in the theme of the utterance, each and every time, as uttered by six different people, it “is implemented entirely and exclusively by the power of expressive intonation without the aid of word meaning or grammatical coordination.” He (105) reiterates his earlier point about how this operates at the higher limit and reducing it to the lower limit just won’t work. He (105) clarifies what will happen if you do that, reduce it to the lower limit:

“Only the abstract element, perceived within the system of language and not within the structure of an utterance, appears devoid of value judgment.”

He (105) argues that the problem with this is that while you can go for the lower limit, come up with some semantically ultra broad utterance and imagine a super wide social audience, it still necessitates an element of evaluation. Skipping bits here (which I’m sure you have the time and the will to read yourself), he (105) addresses changes in meaning that happen not only in the sense that a word used to mean this and/or that back in the day, as often indicated in a dictionary, but also in everyday life when words are used differently. In short, he (105) emphasizes that utterances are never separate from evaluation, which, in fact, permits change, makes language creative. For him (105) a change in meaning is thus always a reevaluation, i.e. “the transposition of some particular word from one evaluative context to another.” He (105) is particularly clear and adamant on this, what happens if theme and (re)evaluation is ignored:

“The separation of word meaning from evaluation inevitably deprives meaning of its place in the living social process (where meaning is always permeated with value judgment), to its being ontologized and transformed into ideal Being divorced from the historical process of Becoming.”

For those who are familiar with the work of Deleuze and/or Guattari, by themselves or together, and subscribe to becoming, not being, this couldn’t be a better example for you. Simply put, he rejects semantics and advocates for pragmatics. Note how he states that this results in language being ontologized, transformed into something ideal. It is set up as having its own existence. He is not stating that it has its own existence, that it is a being of its own. To be absolutely clear, he points out that this is an illegitimate move, deriving something ideal and static from something actual and dynamic.

So, conversely, in summary of what this essay has been all about, more or less, (106) he argues that:

“[I]t is essential to take social evaluation into account. The generative process of signification in language is always associated with the generation of the evaluative purview of a particular social group, and the generation of an evaluative purview … is entirely determined by expansion of the economic basis.”

Now, I left out the following bit, in order to pay more attention to the evaluative purview, which he (106) defines as:

“[T]he totality of all those things that have meaning and importance for a particular group[.]”

This brings me back to where I started, the second chapter of the first part of the book where the importance of groups is indicated. He (106) exemplifies the importance of material conditions, that is to say economic conditions, that bear relevance to various human groups with prehistoric herdsmen and contemporary people (early 1900s to be exact here). He (106) is being quite dismissive of the herdsmen when he argues that they were “virtually interested in nothing, and virtually nothing had any bearing on” them. Of course this is in contrast to the people of his time. This is what he (106) calls the evaluative purview. This lands me back to the final pages of the second chapter where he (21) calls this “the social purview of the given time period and the given social group.” This is also the point he (20-21) makes about how people belonging to different groups, for example engineers engage in technical jargon on the job and business people make use of concise statements (buzzwords?), as well as how the adjust accordingly if they speak members of other groups and/or their superiors and inferiors. Obviously this expands to virtually all contexts and group memberships, be they are formal or informal.

This all, particularly what is discussed in chapter four, also helps to understand how he (22) conceptualizes how items (objects, things) come to appear in the circle of items for this and/or that group of people in this and/or that time and place. That’s the point he makes about purview. So, yeah, he (106) is dismissive about the purview of prehistoric herdsmen but only in contrast to the purview of contemporary people. The circle of items for the herdsmen was for sure small but not because they were too dumb or blind to see them items out there but because their socioeconomic circumstances did not push new items to enter their purview. Now, as I pointed out earlier on in this essay, this should not be taken as if there is list of things, in themselves, only waiting to be uncovered by a more advanced human being, as if things were simply hiding in plain sight. This reminds me of how Michel Foucault defines discourse in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ (1972 translation by Alan Sheridan):

“[P]ractices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.”

This is also highly relevant to contrasting appearance and apparition, the former being about the looks of this or that item (object, thing) and the latter being about how that item (object, thing) comes to be seen (or sensed, to avoid ocularcentrism here). This distinction applies regardless of whether one assumes that there is something essential to things (items, objects), that there is a corresponding idea, a thing-in-itself, or not. Apparition is highly relevant here because it pertains to the conditions of inauguration, how something enters our purview, to the systematic practices that form it.

In the very last pages of the second chapter Vološinov (23) reminds the reader not confuse the groups of people with the sign community, with speakers of this and/or that language. If they were one and the same thing, then different people belonging to different groups would be unable to comprehend one another. He (23) calls this multiaccentuality of signs:

“[I]t is thanks to this intersecting of accents that a sign maintains its vitality and dynamism and the capacity for further development.”

He (23) warns of the perils of flattening this, studying language in isolation from everyday life. It may be of interest to the researcher to do so, but, for him, and for me, as I agree with him, this ignores reality. It kills language, as he comes to characterize the issue later on in the book. What makes language particularly interesting is the exact opposite, its vitality and mutability, which also make “it a refracting and distorting medium”, as he (23) characterizes it. Simply put, language is not interesting for what it is but for what it does. He (23) acknowledges that this, what he calls multiaccentuality, can be used to, well, is inevitably used to portray language as uniaccentual. This is the point where language becomes a language, fixed and standardized, as judged according to certain interest by those designated to the task. In Deleuze-Guattarian parlance those people are the priests. Those who tell us what this and/or that means. This is the central issue Vološinov has with linguists throughout the book.

I’ll stop here, for now. I intend to keep going with this book as contains so many good points out this and that, many which I have yet to cover. As a disclaimer, I don’t agree with Vološinov on everything. I’ve already mentioned how I don’t like the word ‘ideology’ and this book drops it in almost every sentence. That keeps irking me and I try do my best to avoid using it. I’m also not fond of dialectics, so I try to avoid that as well, as much as I can without distorting what I considering important in the book. Do I succeed in such? Well, yes and no. I’m sure there are people who’d like to point out that I got this and/or that wrong, that I can’t skip these and/or those parts, or that I shouldn’t reformulate this and/or that in the way I’ve done. There’s that. There’s always that. That’s why I recommend people to actually read the originals themselves, not just take someone’s word for it and be happy with it.

Talk Idiot Talk – Trump Cards and Asylums of Ignorance

Maybe this time I get to where I’m trying to be at, examining ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ by Valentin Vološinov (1973 translation by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik). The last time I attempted to tackle this book I got sidetracked by a related matter, how language itself plays a role in how we come to make sense of the world. Perhaps this time I at least get past the introduction.

In summary, last time, before I got sidetracked by all kinds of things, both related and unrelated to this, I covered how Vološinov (9-10) indicates that items, such as common tools, can be converted to signs, standing for something else than themselves. So, in short, they are symbolic. To be clear, Vološinov (10) states that one still shouldn’t go confusing the two, the material object and the sign, as one can’t function instead of the other. Simply put, a tool doesn’t simply warp into a sign nor a sign to a tool. He (10) provides extra examples, extending this from tools to various consumer goods. I’m sure that I don’t need to give a list of such items.

Crucially, for Vološinov (10), there is a division between the material world and the world of signs, even though there is certain crossover and signs themselves have a certain particular materiality. In his (10) words:

“A sign does not simply exist as a part of a reality – it reflects and refracts another reality. Therefore, it may distort that reality or be true to it, or may perceive it from a special point of view, and so forth.”

He (10) adds that each sign must also be subject to evaluation as they always possess semiotic value. As I explained a while ago in a previous essay, I’m not fond of the word ‘ideology’, so I’m trying my best to avoid using it here and explaining this all in other words. Anyway, it’s worth noting that Vološinov (10) holds that signs coincide with ‘ideology’, which I’d just replace here with semiotic value.

He (11) reiterates, just to make things absolutely clear, that signs are not superficial reflections, shadows or representations of reality, but, in fact, very much a material part of reality itself. He (11) notes that people often forget that each sign, be it spoken, written, drawn, painted or presented as movements of bodies, whatever it may be, always has materiality. Simply put, they are always very much part of our reality, something out there, not just in our heads, or so to speak, as he (11) wishes to make absolutely clear to the reader, noting that “[t]his is a point of extreme importance.” He (11) rejects the body/mind split in which language and thinking are separate, language being the external realization of thinking:

“[Idealists and psychologists] assert … [that] the external body of the sign is merely a coating, merely a technical means for the realization of the inner effect, which is understanding.”

In particular, he (12) comments, for idealists consciousness is posited as something above and determining existence and for psychologist, the empirical/positivist type, consciousness has little importance in the sense that it is, sort of, a happy accident. In short, he (12) calls the error in locus with the two as all or nothing, superhuman or subhuman. For him (12) this is a grave error, not only leading to methodological errors, but also radically distorting what’s at stake, what’s being studied, reality itself. For him (11), what’s missing is:

“[They both] overlook the fact that understanding itself can come bout only withing some kind of semiotic material (e.g. inner speech), that sign bears upon sign, that consciousness itself can arise and become a viable fact only in the material embodiment of signs.”

Followed by an explanation of what I keep explaining every now and then in my essays, the chain of signification (11):

“The understanding of a sign is, after all, act of reference between the sign apprehended and other, already known signs; in other words, understanding is a response to a sign with signs.”

He (11) even calls it a chain, in which there is movement from one sign to another and so on. Again, if this bewilders you, just search for a word in a dictionary and you’ll notice how in order to understand the word you need to understand it in other words, quite literally so because it’s explained by using other words (which you need to look up as well if you are not familiar with them). Here it’s also worth noting that, as he (11) insists, this doesn’t mean that just because signs only ever refer to other signs that they have no materiality. He (11) is very adamant on this, stating that:

“[N]owhere does the chain plunge into inner being, nonmaterial in nature and unembodied in signs.”

I reckon he is being very adamant on this and keeps reiterating the point because if you tell people that signs only refer to other signs, that words refer to other words, they may then react to it by asking you whether language just in your head then, whether it’s something ethereal. He is also not saying that it doesn’t have to do with consciousness. It does, but it’s not superficial. It’s not a glossing that follows from it. He (11) elaborates how it is linked to consciousness:

“[The] chain stretches from individual consciousness to individual consciousness, connecting them together. Signs emerge, after all, only in the process of interaction between one individual consciousness and another. And the individual consciousness itself is filled with signs. Consciousness becomes consciousness only once it has been filled with … semiotic … content, consequently, only in the process of social interaction.”

So, simply put, your consciousness emerges in relation to other conscious individuals, whose consciousness has emerged the same way. In addition, the signs, language, emerges in interaction with others, other conscious individuals. In other words, consciousness and language emerge from the collective, to use the word preferred by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi). Vološinov (12) calls the conditions in which consciousness, signs, as well as language, can emerge an interindividual territory. He (12) specifies this territory is not a mere delimited area in which people, two individuals, come to contact. Instead, he (12) adds, this territory is defined by social organization, that the two (or more) individuals from a group, social unit. In other words, the individual consciousness emerges from the interindividual, from the social. In his (12) words:

“The individual consciousness not only cannot be used to explain anything, but, on the contrary, is itself in need of explanation from the vantage point of the social[.]”

So, in summary, it’s an error to start from the conscious individual, from the subject. It’s a presupposition that leads to all kinds of errors. He (13) calls this move, entering something to the house by the back door, as Whorf (246) calls it in ‘Language, Mind, and Reality’ (pagination from posthumous 1956 publication ‘Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf’ edited by John B. Carroll), the asylum ignorantiae, the refuge of ignorance:

“It has been made the place where all unresolved problems, all objectively irreducible residues are stored away.”

If you are not familiar with this, asylum ignorantiae, the refuge of ignorance, it can be found mentioned in Baruch Spinoza’s first book of ‘Ethics’ (see appendix, 1883 translation by R.H.M Elwes):

“So they will pursue their questions from cause to cause, till at last you take refuge in the will of God – in other words, the sanctuary of ignorance.”

Now, of course, while Spinoza focuses on God here or rather attributing a cause to the will of God, this applies to any attribution of cause to this or that when you run out of gas and just simply don’t know, hence it being a refuge, an asylum or a sanctuary of ignorance. This is why I went on a tangent on ‘culture’, ‘nature’ and ‘ideology’. They end up being used as a refuge of ignorance, along the lines of ‘it’s in my culture that …’, ‘nature seeks revenge’, ‘it’s ideological’, ‘it’s against human nature’. Spinoza summarizes what’s in common with these in the following sentence:

“So, again, when they survey the frame of the human body, they are amazed; and being ignorant of the causes of so great a work of art, conclude that it has been fashioned, not mechanically, but by divine and supernatural skill[.]”

To be fair, I’m not surprised if and when people go for the refuge of ignorance. The other option is to concede that you are ignorant, that you really haven’t put much thought into whatever it is that is at stake. I’m just fine with that, but something tells me that people, albeit not all people, aren’t into that, conceding that they may be wrong. I reckon it’s not even about being right or wrong, knowing or not knowing. Instead, it’s about the who, who gets to be right and who doesn’t, hence my gripes on the issue in some my previous essays. Spinoza summarizes this well:

“Hence anyone who seeks for the true causes … and strives to understand … phenomena as an intelligent being, and not to gaze at them like a fool, is set down and denounced as an impious heretic by those, whom the masses adore as the interpreters of nature and the gods. Such persons know that, with the removal of ignorance, the wonder which forms their only available means for proving and preserving their authority would vanish also.”

What was it again that Deleuze and Guattari had to say about this in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’? They (116) refer to a hysterical crowd of people who stand outside the temple where priests interpret the will of a god or a despot-god, the supposed icon proper being the face of the despot-god. The Byzantine Emperor would be a great example of this, a despot-god, surrounded by the orthodox clergy. You might, of course, object to this as religious nonsense, to which Deleuze and Guattari (116) would reply:

“This … is applicable to not only to the imperial despotic regime but to all subjected, arborescent, hierarchical, centered groups: political parties, literary movements, psychoanalytic associations, families, conjugal units, etc.”

Later on, in case you still find it nonsensical, relating only to groups of people in which abuse is possible, Deleuze and Guattari (130) address the absence of a despot-god:

“[T]he paradox of the legislator-subject replacing the signifying despot: the more you obey the statements of the dominant reality, the more in command you are as subject of enunciation in mental reality, for in the end you are only obeying yourself! You are the one in command, in your capacity as a rational being. A new form of slavery is invented, namely, being slave to oneself, or to pure ‘reason,’ the Cogito.”

So, in other words, as you may have gathered already, you don’t even need a group of people to oppress you, to interpret the world for you and tell you how to live. You can, and likely do, that all by yourself, to yourself. This is why Deleuze and Guattari (130) characterize it as:

“A strange invention: as if in one form the doubled subject were the cause of the statements of which, in its other form, it itself is a part.”

Strange indeed, as well as cold, while also passional, as they (130) further characterize it. Anyway, back to Spinoza and the refuge of ignorance. Vološinov (13) explains the irony of it:

“Instead of trying to find an objective definition of consciousness, thinkers have begun using it as a means for rendering all hard and fast objective definitions subjective and fluid.”

Oh, burn! This is why I find myself objecting to research where there is no ‘theory’, where research is carried out on an as is basis, not explaining the foundation one builds on. I think Catherine Belsey (3) puts it well in ‘Critical Practice’ (pagination is from the 2nd edition, 2002) when she states how not “worrying about niceties of theory” results in “evad[ing] confrontation with [one’s] own propositions, protect[ing] whatever values and methods are currently dominant, and so guarantees the very opposite of objectivity, the perpetuation of unquestioned assumptions.” I also find it disturbing when I get comments about my work in which ‘theory’ is, for some reason, referred to as ‘literature review’. The what now?

As a side note, I’m not fond of ‘literature reviews’ anyway, in the sense that they tend to be lists of prior research, just dropping names and giving others credit for having written something at times at best remotely relevant to your own work. What I like to do instead is to read what those people, the people I’m expected to name, have read, in order to read what those people have read (and so on and so on). I’m just not too fond of relying on the word of others on the words of others, especially when people are, in my experience quite often, in the habit of dropping a name, but not giving you an exact page number but only a broad reference to some 500 page book. I’d rather read the original, if possible, rather than rely on someone else’s unspecific take on it, no matter how hot shot that person happens to be in some circles. Why would I take their word for it? This also holds regardless of whether I feel like I can trust their take because I find it highly useful that I don’t have to crawl through a random 500 page book in order to read more on this and/or that, whatever it is that got my attention in passing in someone else’s work. Now, that said, when someone’s work is relevant to my own, yeah, sure, I’ll point that out. I just don’t like being told who I should and who I should not be referring to.

Sometimes I get the odd nag that the works I’ve cited are dated, as if the date itself was more relevant than the quality of the work or insight contained in the work. If someone makes a great point a hundred years ago or a thousand years ago, damn straight I’m going to tip my hat to that direction, as opposed to citing someone contemporary on the basis that it’s contemporary. I realize that I may be the odd one here, but I prefer doing my work ground up, not just applying templates, doing what many others have done before me. I also don’t like the practice of kowtowing to the latest trend in this and/or that field, for example, ethnography, as if there is only one way of doing things. I’m exactly the kind of a-hole who gets hung up on a single word, writing page after page why it, for example ‘culture’ or ‘ideology’, is word that I don’t want to use for this and/or that reason. I’m also the kind of a-hole who doesn’t like presuppositions and pays a lot of effort to avoid resorting to such, hence I include a ton ‘theory’ in whatever I write, to much chagrin of others who tend to find it tedious, if not mysticism. How dare he be so laborious!

In a previous essay I mentioned the lopsided, if not actually one sided, criticism of one of my manuscripts. One of the gripes was that the approach, if not the whole subfield in linguistics, best known as the study of linguistic landscapes, should now longer be offered to academic audiences as it has expired (the wording makes it ambiguous as to whether it’s the approach or whole the subfield). It’s amusing really, implying that someone’s work will potentially give you food poisoning. It’s not even just potentially dodgy, as would be the case with a best by date, but simply to be chucked to a nearby bin as hazardous waste. Gotta love it, someone basing their judgment on that. Of course, not all of that went to waste, as waste as my writing may be to these commentators, for the comments proved to be great material for laughter, for me and to some others, for the piety of the comments is hard not to notice. Others shared similar stories, even those in hard sciences, how, for example, someone’s manuscript was commented as, well, how to put it in an amusing way, road apples, only to be accepted by another journal with comments that praised it as not just worth publishing but a must publication in the field. What was it again that people say about opinions and hoops?

What was my point again? Right, so, I agree with Paul Feyerabend (1, pagination from the third edition) who writes in the ‘Introduction to the Chinese Edition’ of ‘Against Method’, first published in 1975, that there are no general standards as to how one should look into this and/or that, especially not, I’d add, just because someone says so. In my case, I guess, it was just simply too much to ask to get commentary that indicates what it is that is the correct method or approach, as well as the appropriate body of work that one should follow. It’s funny, really, asserting a standard for research but not telling what it is. It gets even funnier when one takes into consideration that the journal in question is supposedly interdisciplinary. That is some next level self-elevation, asserting a standard that not only in one field but multiple fields. Then again, I’m just a mere student, so what do I know anyway.

Feyerabend (2) also points out that one should not assume, as it sort of follows from what was stated already, that there is one way, one right way of solving all the problems. So, if I’m posing this type of question, the way I do, I am not picking some existing problem like you do in school and then provide the correct answer to it, as recommended by Henry Bergson (58) who discussed the issue in ‘The Creative Mind’ (1946 translation by Mabelle Andison):

“One might just as well say that all truth is already virtually known, that its model is patented in the administrative offices of the state, and that philosophy is a jig-saw puzzle where the problem is to construct with the pieces society gives us the design it is unwilling to show us.”

Oh, snap, did I just, by accident, because I had to look this up again, explain what my dear commentators had in mind for me, that I have to do as I’m told, that I should already know and present what it is that they can’t be bothered to tell me? He (58) continues:

“One might just as well assign to the philosopher the role and the attitude of the schoolboy, who seeks the solution persuaded that if he had the boldness to risk a glance at the master’s book, he would find it there, set down opposite the question.”

This gives me flashbacks, to a time I was a schoolboy. There were the books, back then we had actual books. They were called work books. They had the tasks or the questions, followed by the blank space or spaces where you wrote down whatever it is that you thought was the answer. There were also the other books, the books that teachers had, the books with all the right answers in them. Oddly enough, that is exactly how Bergson depicts it. Later on in life, I think in high school, I used to mock teachers, as I do now with people who conduct surveys, especially if the surveys are not open ended, by asking them whether they want my answers or do they want the right answers, the correct ones I’m expected to jot down on paper so that I’m a good schoolboy. Sadly, after high school this was still largely the case even in university where I encountered the same thing. Anyway, he (58) continues:

“But the truth is that in philosophy and even elsewhere it is a question of finding the problem and consequently of positing it, even more than of solving.”

In short, as your own questions and that thou shalt find the answers. Don’t ask the questions you are expected to ask and provide the answers you are expected to provide for those questions. He (58) clarifies:

“For a speculative problem is solves as soon as it is properly stated. By that I mean that is solution exists then, although it may remain hidden and, so to speak, covered up: the only thing left to do is to uncover it. But stating the problem is not simply uncovering, it is inventing.”

So, again, with added emphasis, make up your own questions and seek answers to them. Be inventive. Be creative. As he (59) goes on to add:

“Discover, or uncovering, has to do with what already exists actually or virtually. Invention gives being to what did not exist; it might never have happened.”

Simply put, as expressed by Bergson (58-69), ask, or, rather, posit your own questions and come up with the answers to them, as you see fit. It doesn’t lead to anything new if you just ask the questions you are expected to ask and then provide them answers you are expected to provide, according to this and/or that preconception.

To connect this to my own work, I come up with my own questions and seek answers to them, the way I see fit, not the way others see fit. I wouldn’t even know how to operate otherwise as I’m not exactly clairvoyant. So if I approach my data this and/or that way, it’s because I’m positing a certain question and seek answers to it. I’m not for judgment, but if you want to judge the work, do at least judge it according to what it sets out to do and whether it achieves that, not according to something else that you project into the work for whatever reason.

One of commentators wondered why it is, supposedly in contradiction to my use of the works of Deleuze and Guattari, that my work mainly is quantitatively and why it ignores the marginal but, perhaps, highly interesting phenomena, those odd bits and bobs that end up statistically so insignificant that they become a pain to present. Ah, you see, that is a different thing, a different question. I agree that marginal or fringe phenomena can be highly interesting and important, perhaps even more than the central phenomena, but it is not what I set out to do, or is it? I did not set out to address the fringe phenomena, as intriguing as they might be, but to address, to render apparent, which phenomena are central and which are marginal. That is what I set out to do in that text so why is it that I get knocked for something that I didn’t? On top of that, in order to focus on the marginal phenomena, I would have to presuppose that something is indeed marginal, unless, unless, you know, I actually did the work to find out what are the central and marginal phenomena. That’s exactly what I did! I did it because I’m not fond of taking things for granted. Also, judging someone on their use of Deleuze and Guattari, the two fellows who, quite notably, didn’t want anyone to dictate how their work should or shouldn’t be used and dedicated their time to figuring out how to get around the issue, how to live one’s life without relying on the principle of judgment, is self-defeating. So, what’s with the hate, eh?

There’s also the issue that, to my knowledge, applies to all journals, that there is some strict word limit. It’s hilarious to think that people consider 6000 words a lot, not to mention 8500 words or the like. Something like 12k is a breeze to write, not a problem, but for some reason in a world gone digital we still worry about the number of words or the page count, as if anyone read journals on paper anymore. What I’m saying is that I could accommodate for this and/or that better, if the world wasn’t so obsessed about paper. Also, at times I’m quite amused by how I’m supposed to do good work, in, say under 7000 words, when the list of references takes up about 1500 words of that, or the like. What results from this, these limits, is what is known as salami slicing. I once got feedback that I pack too much into one article. To me, it barely had any content because all the other parts that more or less get repeated in each and every article. You have to have those segments, all that theory and relevant background information, as well as an introduction and a conclusion, so the actual content, what I bring to the table, ends up being very little. I want to treat people to some big, thick, tasty, juicy, not too dry, salami sausage, but all I can offer at a time is a dried thin slice of it because the sides and some dressing take all the space on the plate.

I’m fine with different approaches, different philosophies, as long as the foundation is made clear. Same with the criticism of others. Deleuze and Guattari (28) explain this particularly aptly in ‘What Is Philosophy?’:

“[W]hen [people] criticize each other it is on the basis of problems and on a plane that is different from theirs.”

Adding that (28), people do this by:

“[They] melt down the old concepts in the way a cannon can be melted down to make new weapons.”

The fundamental issue being that (28):

“[Criticism] never takes place on the same plane.”

To clarify this a bit, plane is what I just called a foundation. They (28) are not, however, entirely dismissive of criticism itself:

“To criticize is only to establish that a concept vanishes when it is thrust into a new milieu, losing some of its components, or acquiring others that transform it.”

In other words, if you are on a certain plane, you simply cannot approach a concept located on another plane without moving on to that plane. If you wish to stay on that plane of yours, you need to accept that the concept will not be simply the same as it is on the other plane. You can’t just pluck it from somewhere else and expect it to work. It’s up to you to make it work, one way or another. That said, this is generally not what people do or are willing to do. They (28) clarify the issue:

“But those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are the plague of philosophy.”

The thing is, as I pointed out already, that people are not willing to make things work, to familiarize themselves with this or that, to step on to another plane and see how it works. Firstly, people don’t want to do that because, well, it’s hard work. It takes a lot of time and effort. It’s just way easier to just sit back and kick back. Secondly, doing that may lead to having to concede that you’ve been wrong, that you actually aren’t the authority on this and/or that, yet have been posing as one. Authority is a sweet gig, not only because you get to reap the benefits associated to it, be it, for example, wealth or prestige, but also because it makes it possible to eliminate pretenders, that is to say rivals or claimants, people who question their position and legitimacy as authorities. As pointed out by Spinoza, this can be done by denouncing and excommunicating people for their deemed impiety and, if necessary, branding them as heretics. This is also known as resorting to ressentiment, as explained by Deleuze and Guattari (28-29).

Not long ago I was watching this debate clip, where you have one for and another against something. The point in such a debate is to reach an understanding after having argued for and against, weighing the options in the end. One of the debaters, the one with the proposition wished the debate be rational and based on the Socratic method, as present in, for example, Plato’s ‘Theaetetus’ (which I happened to read recently). It is a form of dialogue that is supposed to get the interlocutors somewhere, to tease out the truth, the idea, the essence, by eliminating inconsistencies on the way. Deleuze and Guattari (29) make note of this in ‘What Is Philosophy?’ and wonder:

“[I]n Socrates was philosophy not a free discussion among friends? Is it not, as the conversation of free men, the summit of Greek sociability?”

Were people, friendly with one another, trying to get to somewhere, together? They (29) answer their own question:

“Socrates constantly made all discussion impossible[.]”

How so? They (29) do explain:

“[He made it] impossible both in the short form of the contest of questions and answers and in the long form of a rivalry between discourses. He turned the friend into the friend of the single concept, and the concept into the pitiless monologue that eliminates the rivals one by one.”

In short, it is presented as a dialogue but it is a mere monologue where the interlocutor is turned into a mere foil. He isn’t actually interested in letting others have a say and what they think about this and/or that. The whole approach is rigged in a way that he gets to what he is after. It relies on cleverly eliminating your rivals. Daniel Smith (19) explains this well, far better than I can, in ‘Platonism’, contained in his compilation book ‘Essays on Deleuze’ published in 2012, when he notes that Plato is always after the major question, the ‘What’, never minor questions, the ‘Who’, the ‘Where’, the ‘When’, the ‘How’ or the ‘How many’, not to mention according to the ‘Whom’. He (20) clarifies that this question, “What is …?”, always functions the same way as it “presupposes a particular way of thinking that points one in the direction of essence” which then leads to the idea, how something is in itself, by its very nature. He (20) adds that while Deleuze acknowledges that indeed it would be incorrect to answer that question, ‘What is …?’, by pointing to, for example, a ‘Who’, the very question is rigged as it assumes, presupposes that there is a thing in itself, an idea, an abstract essence. Simply put, it only follows from that form of question that Socrates is always right in the end because he sets the rules of the game while appearing as if he didn’t.

This was also evident in the debate clip I watched. The one high on the Socratic method appealed to articulating the issue, narrowing it down, and blamed the opposition for hedging, not getting to the point and articulating it clearly, when the opposition pointed out that you have to address the issue by asking all these minor questions as well before getting to any point. The opposition actually tried to point out that the way the issue is posed is rigged in favor of one party but just couldn’t explain what it is, how it is done, so it ended up looking like the opposition lost. What the opposition should have done, more aggressively, is to challenge the legitimacy of the question, the proposition. Of course, that would have required moving the discussion into philosophy, which was just out of their comfort zone and probably would have been rejected by the side that triumphed because it would have undermined the whole argument on a very fundamental level.

Anyway, as noted by Smith (20-21), Deleuze is not saying that ‘What’ is, sorry for the pun, out of the question, nor are ideas or essences, but that they are emergent, here and now, according to these and/or those conditions. Simply put, they are no longer primary, the conditioning, but secondary, the conditioned. So, to go with the topic of language, we can still ask, for example, what is English or Finnish, but only as how it is they’ve become those entities which then involves a series of minor questions. They are things, but not things in themselves.

I went on a quite the tangent there. Back to Vološinov. So, when it comes to empiricism/positivism, something Vološinov (12-13) does address, sort of, in connection to psychology, but quickly glosses over it, without really explaining how, as he (13) sees it, that approach ends in the same refuge of ignorance. He (12) notes that individual consciousness is considered as coming to being from “the presocial recesses of the psychophysical, biological organism” and characterizes it as “just a conglomeration of fortuitous, psychophysiological reactions which, by some miracle, results in meaningful and unified ideological creativity.”

I believe I sort of addressed this already in the essay on Marx, but I think Louis Althusser does a better, a more convincing job at explaining how this route ends up contradicting itself. In ‘Marxism and Humanism’, as included in ‘For Marx’ (1969 translation by Ben Brewster, pagination from the 2005 edition), Althusser (228) makes note of this very issue:

“For centuries, this problematic had been transparency itself, and no one had thought of questioning it even in its internal modifications.”

If we go the empiricist route, broadly speaking that knowledge is derived from sensory experience, and/or the positivist route, broadly speaking the same approach but taking into account reason and logic, the individual subject, the one doing all the sensing and reasoning, is a given. That’s the starting point. Althusser (228) challenges this, noting how this is a presupposition as deriving knowledge from sensory experience necessitates there to be a universal human essence that is manifested in each and everyone of us. He (228) elaborates this:

“If these empirical individuals are to be [human], it is essential that each carries in [one]self the whole human essence, if not in fact, at least in principle; this implies an idealism of the essence.”

In other other words, the empiricist/positivist ends up contradicting him- or herself in the sense that basing knowledge on sensory experience, reasoning and logic, whatever the actual configuration may be, as Althusser (288) goes on to exemplify, is an idealist conception. This is what Deleuze and Guattari (130) characterize as the doubled subject in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. This also resonates with Vološinov (13) to whom objective ends up becoming subjective if the conscious individual is held as a given.

Back to Vološinov (13) who, as already indicated a couple of times, argues that consciousness is not a given and therefore not an adequate starting point. For him (13), “[t]he only possible objective definition of consciousness is a sociological one”, not a psychological one, because the individual is dependent on the group. He (13) therefore defines consciousness as “tak[ing] shape and being in the material of signs created by an organized group in the process of its social intercourse.” Therefore, for him (13) “[t]he individual consciousness is nurtured on signs”, “derives its growth from them” and “reflects their logic and laws.” As a result, in summary, for him (13), [t]he laws of this reality are the laws of semiotic communication and are directly determined by the total aggregate of social and economic laws.”

So far this has been rather abstract and, perhaps, seemingly disconnect from language as the discussion has revolved around signs. Vološinov (13-14) addresses this, noting that while not limited to language, considering that one can express oneself in other ways as well, language is the phenomenon par excellence when it comes to shaping individual consciousness. He (14) emphasizes that “[a] word is the purest and most sensitive medium of social intercourse” and notes how it is particularly pliable, how it can be put into any use, including but not limited to “scientific, aesthetic, ethical [and] religious” uses. Vološinov (14) makes an observation about an important feature of language, that ‘talk is cheap’. In his (14) words:

“[A] word … is produced by the individual organism’s own means without recourse to any equipment or any other kind of extracorporeal material.”

So, as just as I put it, talk is cheap. You don’t need anything else, any equipment or materials to express yourself. Okay, sure, you do need the air, something to transmit it, aside that, it is indeed very cheap and effective, to the extent that Vološinov (14) argues that:

“This has determined the role of word as the semiotic material of inner life – of consciousness (inner speech).”

Simply put, the individual human consciousness needs something as pliable as language in order for it to emerge. It is, by no means, the only form of human expression, but it is, most importantly, pliable to the extent that you don’t even need to materialize it in speech, hence the point made about inner speech. You can put language into use, and well, simply do, without having to utter it out loud. This is why Vološinov (14) argues that:

He (15) then summarizes language, the word, as the medium consciousness and that in order to comprehend anything, “be it a picture, a piece of music, a ritual, or an act of human conduct” one needs to take it into account as speech operates not only as outer speech but, crucially, also as inner speech. In other words, language is not merely an instrument that you put into use whenever you say something to someone else (or speak to yourself out loud for some reason, say when rehearsing a speech). As he (15) points out, everything else, “all other nonverbal signs … are bathed by, suspended in, and cannot be entirely segregated or divorced from the element of speech.” He (15) emphasizes that whatever you say, think or do, as initiated by you or in reaction to, is always linked to language. That said, he (15) warns not think that words as signs can simply replace nonverbal signs, one to one, be they, for example, images, music, rituals or gestures. As important as it is, no doubt about it, it’s still only one mode among others, or so to speak. Then again, as he (15) points out, these other modes are always linked to language, supported and accompanied by it, as they never appear in complete isolation from it. Simply put, as emphasized by him (15), the word, the language is always there, as an accompanying phenomenon, not only externally (as the influence of others) but also internally (as the inner speech), which affects our understanding and interpretation of phenomena.

I was going to extend this essay, moving on to the second chapter in ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’, but I guess this is enough, for now. I’ll write more as there is plenty of interesting material to cover in this book and more tangents to be weaved in, so this will not be the end of this. What I particularly liked about this essay was how in the first chapter Vološinov uses the expression asylum ignorantiae, which then led me to Spinoza. That is a good expression for a certain move, which people have a habit of resorting to, wittingly or unwittingly. It is also still highly relevant. While people may no longer explain and justify something, their views or actions, as attributable to ‘God’ but they still make use of the same move, attributing it to ‘culture’, ‘nature’ or ‘ideology’. It’s worth adding here, as it came to me that I had forgot to address it, ‘landscape’ also functions as an asylum of ignorance. I’ve pointed this out a number of times in the past already, but I guess it’s worth reiterating here how it can utilized to explain and justify something. For example, at times you notice in some news outlet, such as a newspaper, that someone is objecting to land development. They could indicate that they do not want to see such and such developments because of this and/or that specific reasons, actually often tied to or solely their own interests, but instead they resort to justifying their objections in ‘landscape’. There is nothing inherent to ‘landscape’, it doesn’t exist on its own, but that doesn’t stop people from using it to further their own causes, be it wittingly or unwittingly.

Scepter of Marx | Specter of Napoleon

This may seem, erm, like Olympic level pedantry, but what can you do. I pointed out in the final bits of a previous essay that I’m not fond of using the word ‘ideology’ but I didn’t really delve into it as the essay was more on the issue I take with ‘culture’, as well as ‘nature’, which, I vaguely remember addressing already in another essay.

I’ll start with the dictionary definitions first. The word (OED, s.v. “ideology”, n.) etymology is a combination of ‘ideo’, the combo form of ‘idea’, and ‘-logy’, as you may have figure out yourself even without a dictionary or another source. The former (OED, s.v. “idea”, n.) has to do with a Platonic concept of a general or ideal form (of something) or its essence, as opposed to its real instance. For example, there is an idea of the chair and actual real chairs. It is also noted that in Kantian formulation ‘idea’ (OED, s.v. “idea”, n.) is an a priori concept, existing “beyond the bounds of possible experience or empirical knowledge” and in Hegelian thinking “the absolute truth of which all phenomenal existence is the expression. This is the Platonic ‘Idea’ with a capital ‘I’.

It is also noted that the word (OED, s.v. “idea”, n.) has come to be understood as partially synonymous with ‘concept’, ‘notion’ and ‘thought’. Other notable definitions include what is noted as Cartesian uses of the word (OED, s.v. “idea”, n.), pertaining to “[s]enses relating to the mind without necessarily implying an external manifestation” as would be the case in many Platonic definitions that imply some phenomenal expression.

The latter (OED, s.v. “-logy”, comb. form) should not be confused with ‘-ology’, also a combined form, but one used when something is the science or discipline of this or that, like theology, sociology or zoology. The word‘-logy’ has its roots in ‘logos’ (OED, s.v. “logos”, n.) and has to do with “those which have the sense of ‘saying or speaking’” or “(one) who speaks in (a certain way).

When the two are combined we get ‘ideology’, the way one speaks of ideas. It could be understood as the study of ideas and/or their expression, as noted in the dictionary definition of the word (OED, s.v. “ideology”, n.), but it generally isn’t used in that sense these days. The way it is, perhaps, used most often is (OED, s.v. “ideology”, n.):

“A systematic scheme of ideas, usually relating to politics, economics, or society and forming the basis of action or policy; a set of beliefs governing conduct. Also: the forming or holding of such a scheme of ideas.”

Now, it’s worth emphasizing that this is how it is, in general, used these days. It is also how I remember it being taught in school. That’s not, NOT, how it came be though. It is in the other sense that it came to be and I’ll focus on that before returning to how it is understood these days.

So, the word ‘ideology’ (OED, s.v. “ideology”, n.) was, apparently, used in the ‘study of’ sense first in the 18th century, as discussed by Étienne Condillac, a French philosopher, but the first listed case of it being actually used is indicated as having been expressed in 1796, as proposed during a lecture held by count Antoine Destutt de Tracy, also a French philosopher.

In ‘Eléments d’idéologie’, published as a series of publications from 1801 to 1815, Destutt de Tracy elaborated on its definition. The last part, ‘Traité de la volonté’, was translated into English in 1817 under the title ‘A Treatise on Political Economy’, on the request by Thomas Jefferson. I’m looking at the 1970/2009 reprint, so the pagination is from that. Destutt de Tracy (1) characterizes ‘Ideology’ as “true logic … absolutely the same science with that of the formation, the expression, and combination of our ideas”, the “general grammar, or analysis of the understanding”. He (2) also calls it “the science of logic”, which, for him, consists of “the observation of two facts”. Firstly (2):

“[O]ur perceptions being every thing for us, we are perfectly, completely, and necessarily sure of all that we actually feel.”

Secondly (2):

“[It] is but a consequence of that, is that none of our judgments, taken separately, can be erroneous, since, for the very reason that we see one idea in another, it must be actually there[.]”

Which he (2) then further clarifies:

“[B]ut … their falsity, when it takes place, is purely relative to all the anterior judgments, which we permit to subsist, and consists in this, that we believe the idea, in which we see a new element, to be the same we have always had under the same sign, while it is really different, since the new element we actually see there is incompatible with some of those which we have previously seen there[.]”

To make sense of this, he (2) adds that for this to hold, something has got to give, either the first or the latter part. Otherwise this results in a contradiction. He (2-3) wishes to engage with this because, for him, others only start where he finishes off with his treatise on logic. In his words this is important because:

“Whereas, when we have well established the first truths, it is easy to deduce the consequences which flow from them.”

I don’t exactly agree with him on ‘ideology’ being the ‘science of logic’, but this is a good point regardless of whether you agree with him or not. I’ll give him that. When you set up a premise, it is sort of easy to work from there on out. I’m fine with that, as long as you make it apparent what that premise is. If only people would do that though.

Anyway, I don’t really buy that Destutt de Tracy manages to do what he wishes to do, to come up with a science of sciences, a universal superscience, one that comes before all other sciences, be they physical or social, as Timothy Derrell (i-ii) characterizes it in the introduction to the book. For me this couldn’t be much more Platonic, with its dualism, the separation of the body and the mind, and its transcendence, having some eternal and universal realm of ideas and the real world that we live in, as well as with the insistence of focusing on the ideas themselves, particularly, before anything else.

In summary, it is evident that ‘ideology’ is a word that came to be as a combination of ‘idea’ and ‘-ology’, as the study of ideas that is to precede all sciences. However, as I already pointed out, about no one uses the word in this sense these days. Emmet Kennedy (354, 358) argues in his 1979 article ‘“Ideology” from Destutt De Tracy to Marx’, published in Journal of the History of Ideas, that the word fell out of use in this sense largely because it ran afoul of Napoleon’s interests. Kennedy (358) indicates that Napoleon stated to the Council of State in France on February 2, 1801, that (translated from Albert Vandal’s 1902-1907 ‘L’Avenement de Bonaparte’, page 451):

“Windbags and idéologues who have always fought the existing authority.”

It is worth clarifying that what we know call ideologues, in general, were back then a specific group of people associated with ‘Ideology’, hence being called ‘Idéologues’. Kennedy (354-355) notes that while Destutt de Tracy came up with the word because, unlike metaphysics and psychology, it was supposed to be clear to everyone, perhaps, I guess, even self-explanatory, it also extended to everything, including the society, making it, oddly enough, rather obscure. In his (355) words:

“[I]t is the basis of grammar, logic, education, morality, and ‘finally the greatest of arts, for whose success all the other must cooperate, that of regulating society.’”

He (355) notes that not all of the ideologues agreed with this, extending ideology to the society, because it made it too broad in its application. He (355) argues that “[i]t was the extension of the meaning of ‘ideology’ which led to its pejorative use.” In short, summarizing Kennedy (355-356), Destutt de Tracy came to replace theology with ideology at the top of the hierarchy of sciences. It would then function as the basis of the society, functioning as its basis of morality. In other words, society would run according to the morality derived from this science of ideas. While that may have been originally all well intended, he (356-357) points out that once extended and actually applied, it ended up being affected by what it was supposed to affect. In other words, all these extensions that it was supposed to inform ended up informing it. Simply put, politics, economy, morality and social organization, in particular, came to inform it. This is rather ironic, considering how, as noted by Kennedy (357), “[i]deology was supposed to study intellectual habits, not succumb to them like schoolmen, Platonists, Scotists, Thomists, and Cartesians”, as well as “Kantians”, as well as to not function like a cult or a sect, yet, somehow, it came to revolve around the ideologues, Destutt de Tracy and his followers. That pretty much explains how you end up using ideologues as a pejorative.

The pejoration of the word is also reflected in the dictionary definitions for the word. It (OED, s.v. “ideologue”, n.) can be understood in two senses. Firstly, it can be understood as either as a synonym for ideologist (OED, s.v. “ideologist”, n.), which, in turn can be understood in three ways. Firstly, it can be understood as having to do with those who study ideas, as already covered so far. Secondly, it can be understood as having to do with people who are regarded as being impractical, speculators, idealists, visionaries or theorists. One of the examples provided for this is in reference to how Napoleon treated the people indicated in the first sense of the word with contempt. Thirdly, it can be understood as standing for the proponent of this or that ideology, in the contemporary sense of the word. Back to ideologue (OED, s.v. “ideologue”, n.), which, in the second sense can be understood as standing for:

“A proponent or adherent of a political, economic, or other ideology, especially one who is uncompromising or dogmatic.”

This definition is indicated as tied to the third sense of ideologist (OED, s.v. “ideologist”, n.). What is important here is the very final words: “uncompromising or dogmatic”. It is how Kennedy (357) characterizes how the ideologues came to operate, despite their supposed opposition to such. This was, perhaps, a bit unnecessary to explain in this detail, but I thought this benefited from fleshing it out a bit. It should make it a bit easier to understand how, ironically, the word ideologue came to be understood the way it is generally understood these days, as someone who adheres to this or that belief in a very uncompromising or dogmatic way, you know, like a cultist. This reminds me of how schools of thought tend to operate, but let’s not tangled up on that as I’ve written on that before.

Moving on. Kennedy (358) notes how ‘ideology’, now already quite distant from being merely the neutral science of ideas that is supposed to inform all other sciences, came to be associated with the bourgeoisie but was, in fact, not markedly bourgeoisie rather than aristocratic or elitist as the core of the ideologues were themselves nobles. As I pointed out early on, Destutt de Tracy himself was a count (comte).

Back to Napoleon, who, summarizing Kennedy (358-359), attacked the ideologues because their visions of society undermined his … erm. … imperial vision. I’m not exactly surprised that an emperor would do everything to get rid of anything and anyone that just even might undermine his position. In short, as noted by Kennedy (359-362), ideology came to be denounced as rebellious conspiracy by the Bonapartes, as well as the Bourbons who were back on the throne from 1814/1815 to 1830.

What is the connection between the two sense of the word, as science of ideas and as ways of speaking, from Destutt de Tracy to Karl Marx? Kennedy (366) notes that Marx was familiar the economic theory of Destutt de Tracy, having at least once cited one of his works. Anyway, he (366) reckons that, while aware of Destutt de Tracy’s economic theory, Marx picked up ‘ideology’ from how it was used at the time in 1830s and 1840s, having been significantly changed from how it was used by Destutt de Tracy in 1796. Kennedy (368) summarizes how Marx viewed ‘ideology’ in relation to the creator of the word, Destutt de Tracy:

“Ideology, thanks to Tracy, became for Marx neither simply science of ideas nor liberal political theory, but a system of thought which seeks to justify the existing mode of production and the social relationships which spring from it.”

As you can see, ideology came to be understood as a system of thought. That would be the way we understand the word these days, as already indicated very early on in this essay. Without going into detail here, yet, that system of thought has two components, appearing as a neutral science of ideas but actually being a socio-economic doctrine. This also further explains how something, possibly even well intended, came to be condemned for being presented as a neutral quest for truth, how things are in themselves, and how everything should flow from that, when those presenting it seem to have been a fairly tight knit group of uncompromising notables in the society, largely consisting of members of the aristocracy.

Kennedy (366-368) elaborates Destutt de Tracy’s views on economy, but as I’m sure you are capable of reading it yourself and probably are at least sort of aware of what Marx opposed, liberal economic theory, so I won’t go through it here. In short, it’s nothing out of the ordinary in that regard, private property being at the core of it all and poverty being just something that comes with the territory, or so to speak. That’s why Marx (613) calls Destutt de Tracy ‘der fischblütige Bourgeoisdoktrinär”, a fish blooded bourgeois doctrinaire, in ‘Das Kapital’. In summary, as expressed by Kennedy (368):

“By the time Marx used the word it had already acquired a pejorative sense, but it was specifically Marx’s reading of Tracy’s economics in the Elémen[t]s d’idéologie which led him to associate the word with bourgeois class interests – and that despite the high pedigree of nobility of the Comte Destutt de Tracy.”

So, the pejorative view of ideology is not something that Marx came up all by himself but rather how it was already presented at the time, albeit, stemming from the French Revolution, as something that opposed the imperial or royal state of affairs, the Ancien Régime and its revivals. Was it bourgeois? Well, I guess, yes and no. Yes in the sense that it pretty obvious that the bourgeoisie came to benefit considerably from getting rid of monarchy and the seigneurialism feudalism. No in the sense that the ideologues were largely nobles. It would go against their interest to give up their privileges. Then again, perhaps they envisioned having those privileges and all that property they already had but under a different system, giving them a head start, having all that to begin with. Well, that’s just a hunch anyway. I’m not exactly an expert on the French Revolution. One way or another, there is something rather ironic to this. The key ideologues were nobles yet, it seems, that they couldn’t see how their status as nobles, as seigneurial landlords, depended on feudalism, having a monarch who grants them the rights to their property. It could be that they were flip flopping though, maneuvering between different statuses based on what benefited them the most at a given time.

What is Marx’s own take then? In ‘The German Ideology’ (1970 unspecified translation, 1974 second edition, edited by C.J. Arthur) he (61) addresses one’s premises:

“The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination.”

So, Marx is against starting from a given standpoint, be it arbitrary, just random, or dogmatic, some specific line of thinking. He (61) continues:

“They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way.”

As you can see, Marx starts from the middle, as is, not from a given start. His view is also, well, sort of obviously really, materialist, based on the actual conditions in which people live their lives. It is not that he (61) doesn’t acknowledge what he opposes, what the idealists, of his time, work with:

“[Humans] can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like.”

But that’s not primary for him. Skipping quite a bit here, as I’m sure you know how to read (otherwise you are just staring at some quibbles on a screen), by yourself, I’ll move to the bit where Marx addresses feudalism. He (63, 66-67) makes note of two different ways or points of how to organize a society, the country and the town/city, the former being the mode of organization in feudalism, a hierarchical structure of who gets to hold what piece of land in exchange for tokens of loyalty (tax/service), and the latter being its counterpart, the mode of organization in corporatism, people gathering in crowded spaces to trade (merchants, craftsmen). What’s in common with the two is that, as you might guess, most people ended up at the bottom of the pyramid. This is the riffraff, the rabble, the commoners, the peasants, the laborers, whatever you want to call the largest segment of the population (you know, the people who most definitely should not be allowed in temples, if you know what I mean).

Where does what he opposes then come to play? Well, Marx (68) notes that:

“The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of [humans], the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behavior.”

So, cutting in here, for a moment, all this, what he calls the production of ideas, conceptions and consciousness itself, is, as I pointed out, secondary to material activity and dealings. That said, as secondary as it may be, he does note that they are interwoven, so, in a way, calling it secondary, as we are, always, in the middle of things, is a bit off. If it were simply just secondary, derivative, an offshoot, it would have no effect on our material activity and dealings. That’s not exactly the case. Anyway, Marx (68) continues, listing what comes from all this:

“The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc. of a people. [Humans] are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. – real, active [humans], as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms.”

So, we have all those, politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, whatever, the list could go on and on, the point being that they are human creations, which, in turn are created in relation to the actual conditions of life that condition them. He (68) continues:

“Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process.”

Ah, yes, we are always in the middle, always in process. He (68) then addresses ideology, the topic of this essay:

“If in all ideology [humans] and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process.”

Now, if you don’t know what a camera obscura is, look it up. This still applies when it comes to cameras, even the digital ones. The image is inverted, upside down, on the camera sensor, but, of course, the software flips it for you so when you check the image, on the camera, on the phone, on the computer (actually all are computers), you don’t need to flip it yourself, unless something has gone awry. It is how it works, up is down, left is right, and the other way around. Marx also points out how this also happens on a human eye, with no discernible separate moment existing for it. It happens as part of the process. It’d be rather disturbing if it didn’t. Anyway, to get to the point, Marx is saying that ideology, how things supposedly are, as Destutt de Tracy and his followers might put it, is always a human creation that is conditioned by real life circumstances. It’s not a given, a priori, but what follows, a posteriori. That’s why Marx (69) states that:

“[W]e do not set out from what [humans] say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at [humans] in the flesh. We set out from real, active [humans], and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process.”

So, as I pointed out, and agree with Marx on this, you can’t start with an ideal human, the human being that is just a given. That’s a premise that you set up. That’s why it is a presupposition, a particularly naughty one as it ignores what Marx is on about here. He (69) continues:

“The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process … Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence.”

Only to reiterate this in a more simplistic manner (69):

“[Humans], developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.”

And again, even more simplistic manner (80):

“It is clear here that individuals certainly make one another, physically and mentally, but do not make themselves.”

So, as I put it, we are always in the middle. We are always what we’ve become, which, in turns affects what we’ll become, to me, rather obviously so. This is also why I get frustrated when I see work that ignores this, when a research is conducted on a premise that conforms to the dogmatic or moral image of thought, which, in its contemporary form (as even that is subject to some alteration), starts with a fully autonomous and free thinking subject. In terms used by Marx (69), their “starting-point is consciousness taken as the living individual”. So, they start from a premise that is taken for granted. Even more problematically, it is a premise that is rarely mentioned by those who rely on it. It sort of gets smuggled in through the back door. In my opinion, and, relevant here, in Marx’s opinion, it is a poor premise. Now, you might disagree and argue that I, as does Marx, start from a premise. Yes. How do you not? Aren’t we always in the middle? That’s the whole point Marx is making and he (69) acknowledges this, in particular:

“This method of approach is not devoid of premises. It starts out from the real premises and does not abandon them for a moment. Its premises are [humans], not in any fantastic isolation and rigidity, but in their actual, empirically perceptible process of development under definite conditions.”

I might not agree with him on the specifics on this, but I agree with the gist of this. There is, perhaps, a bit too much emphasis on the perceptible material conditions for me. I think this bit skips over how what he opposes comes to affect their premises. Anyway, aside from that here, I’ll let him (69) continue:

“As soon as this active life-process is described, history ceases to be a collection of dead facts as it is with the empiricists (themselves still abstract, or an imagined activity of imagined subjects, as with the idealists.”

In other words, again, you have to start from the middle and wonder how it is that we got there, to the middle (which, obviously keeps changing, as we are always in the middle). He points out that not only do the idealists fail to get this but also the empiricists, because both start from the same fantastic notion of an isolated and rigid, autonomous and free individual. So, oddly enough, even the hardcore empiricist who asserts that he or she relies on observation alone ends up being an idealist.

As a side note, Marx makes a point I’d often like to make when he (70) notes that philosophy should not be viewed as separate and independent from the material world and the production of knowledge. At times I get asked why I get tangled up on philosophy or theory, whatever the label people want to use for something they consider esoteric and distanced from reality. I don’t know about others, but in agreement with Marx here, on this point, theory is never separate from practice. In order to have practice you need theory, but there is no theory if there is no practice. For me, they are in mutual presupposition, as I’ve covered before in an essay that included a bit on this very topic, as discussed by Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault in conversation with one another.

Anyway, the side note also ties in with the issue I take with studies in which, as explained by Marx (69), “the starting-point is consciousness taken as the living individual”. I reckon a lot of people, scholars included, don’t see anything odd in that, but, at least for me, as well as for Marx (69), that is replacing historically specific people with ahistorically generic people, determining life by consciousness, not “consciousness by life.” To clarify that further, Marx (73) puts it in other words, stating that yes, everyone possesses or has consciousness, is conscious, but there is no ‘pure’ consciousness as human consciousness is always conditioned by experience. Simply put, as he (74) puts it, human consciousness is a social product, one that, same as language, arises from interlocution and is markedly relational, in the sense that a conscious being is aware of existing in relation to others who are also keenly aware of this relationality. In other words, it has this in-betweenness to it.

Related to a previous essay of mine, albeit, perhaps, only rather superficially, Marx (75) makes note of a specific point or a moment when division of labor becomes apparent. For him, it is the moment when physical and mental labor are separated, when, on one hand, you have the people who do physical manual labor, that is to say using their hands, and, on the other hand, people who think. Feel free to think of the body/mind duality here. Same with the practice/theory split. Funny thing though, how manipulation, the skillful handling of something comes to be associated the latter, albeit, strictly speaking, it has or had to do with the former. Anyway, Marx (75) points out that this is also the point when the first ideologues appeared, the conceptual persona known as the priest, as discussed in the previous essay. Most importantly, however, he (75) argues that:

“From this moment onwards consciousness can really flatter itself that it is something other than consciousness of existing practice, that it really represents something without representing something real; from now on consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself from the world and to proceed to the formation of ‘pure’ theory, theology, philosophy, ethics, etc.”

He (75-76) then adds, somewhat famously I’d say, that this leads the immaterial or ‘pure’ consciousness to various contradictions with existing social relations and forces of production, sparked by the devolved division of labor, that different people end up doing different things, as both producers and consumers of this and/or that. This then, cough cough, leads to all kinds socioeconomic issues in society, to put it as broadly as I can here.

I’m trying to stay on topic here, but as a second side note, Marx (77) makes another good point about how one should not mix up community with the state, which is sort of an aberration of the community. The point he is making is that the individual has his or her own interests and the community, as individuals come together, has, or well, should have its communal interests, but state serves neither, only itself, while appearing otherwise. He (77-78) goes on to call the interest of the state the general interest which caters to no one particular nor in particular, yet it is to be taken as serving the interest of the community and the individual. I may not agree with this 100%, but, well, broadly speaking, it is a fairly good depiction of the relation between the individual and the state, the illusory form of the community, as he (77-78) calls it. If you’ve ever had to deal with state bureaucracy and ran into some surreal, perhaps even Kafkaesque, situations where your interest is of little concern, where it is all about the general interest that makes no sense, not for you, not for anyone, now you know why.

As a third side note, related to second side note, as I’m reading this, I’m a bit puzzled by how Marx, somehow, finds the blame in the market, not in the state and/or the combination of the market and the state. I mean, sure, he (77) does point out that the state arises from the relations between people, “such as flesh and blood, language, division of labour”, as well as the classes that come about from the division of labor, which, in turn result in unavoidable struggle between the classes for mastery or domination of the society in order to run the society according to the interest of that class. He’s throwing in a lot of interests, which remain rather murky here. There’s individual interest, communal interest, state interest, but now also class interest, which, in a way is not the same as communal interest, unless each class is now to be understood as a community. He (77) is also stating that they struggle, unavoidably, mind you, for representation in order to represent their interest as the general interest.

So, if everyone, no, not everyone, as individuals that is, but as members of this or that class, is seeking to dominate the society which then results in replacing whatever general interest happened to be with this or that class interest, how is it that the market is to blame? Would it not be the state to blame? Actually would it not be the people, or, sorry, class, to blame for using the state to present their interest, not the individual or communal interests, as general interest, the interest that is masquerading as everyone’s interest individually and communally? I reckon I understand what he is after, how individual interest runs counter to the state interest, as it certainly does, ask just about anybody, which pushes them to change things. If he or she, or, well a class I guess, to stay true to the book at hand (albeit I’m reading this on a screen), manages to do just that, get his or her, or the class interest through, then someone else, some other class of people, will, unavoidably feel aggrieved and seek to change things around and so on, and so on. I get that. This is not rocket surgery. I get that he is trying to point out that it’s a rat race, that one ends up being a pawn, among other pawns, and that there’ll be pawns (pawnage!?) regardless of who runs the society. Sure … and? Tell me something new, something that I don’t already know. Okay, okay, fair enough, people probably didn’t know that in 1846 when it was written, nor in 1932 when it was published.

What Marx (78) recommends is a communist society, where people get to dabble in whatever it is that they fancy, no, not exclusively so, as that’s exactly what he is against (division of labor). I see what he is after, that you should be allowed to do this or that, to hunt, to fish, to herd, to be a critic, to use his (78) examples, without being just a hunter, a fisherman, a herder or a critic. Sure. Sure. I don’t see why you should be pigeonholed into this and that. It is, likely, sign of the times, 1800s vs. 2000s, but I just don’t buy it that you can’t be a bit of all of those, not that you have to (geez, what a list of options he has given …), and as a consequence lose your livelihood unless you live in a communist society. I don’t think my society is purely made out of awesomesauce, yet I could do all of those, even though hunting and fishing require a license and herding is not exactly common these days (because no one wants to be a herder, mind you), and, most importantly, not lose my livelihood. He (80) reiterates these points, with a wish to remove barriers that bar people from doing whatever they wish. Signs of the times I guess, but, technically, nowadays, there’s only a handful of jobs that you can do only if you have this or that education, namely doctors, so I don’t think this argument works that great. I reckon people, themselves, tend to think that they must do this or that and that they can’t do something else, but I guess that’s a topic for another day. Am I living in a communist society? No. Ha, take that Marx (with the benefit of over a hundred and fifty years of hindsight, of course)!

Right, where was I? About the market. So, he (78-79) lists examples of how property came into being, yet, hmmm … , I don’t see how it is all connected to the market. For example, landed property, a distinct feature of feudalism, a system of lords and vassals, where the one on top, the superior hands out land to his inferiors, who, in turn, do the same, in exchange of servitude, is listed as stemming from this. Yet, again, while I realize that I may be off with this, it would seem that the division of property in a certain hierarchical way and the division of labor is a product of feudalism rather than the other way around. For me, feudalism is very much against the market. Ownership of land is what counts and it is fixed according to this hereditary hierarchy. If we think it as the state, it is as aristocratic or elitist as it gets. Oh, and no, I’m not saying that feudalism is, by any means, great for anyone, except the select few, of course. What I’m trying to get at here is that it is state, using it as you see fit to run the society that is, perhaps, to blame here.

What about the market then? Marx (79-80) notes how, at the time, in the 1800s, the economists described free market trade as an invisible hand that makes things go round, boom and bust, based on supply and demand, just as I remember it being taught in school, you know, in reference to Adam Smith and the like. He (80) makes note of private property, something that is, I’m hesitant here, a feature of the capitalist society, a central problem in his view, anyhow. I’m just thinking, would it not be that it is a feature of the state, not of the market. And no, I’m not being apologetic about the market here. Again, so, if feudalism is state ran by aristocrats and capitalism, after the demise of landed aristocrats, is ran by the bourgeoisie, remember, those crafty traders in the towns and cities, would it not be that they reappropriated the notion of property, previously, more or less, exclusive to the aristocrats who had, ultimately, a divine right to it (Emperors and Kings, who give them or those who give the titles, are there, of course, because God, who else, wills it) and made it apply universally to anything you can think of, really. Something tells me that you can’t make that work, you cannot have property unless you back it up having a system that guarantees it. The market won’t do that. Why would you or your competition care about what you think is yours? Duh! To put it nicely, they would just outcompete you. To put it bluntly, they would destroy you and take all that you have. Unless! Unless, guess what, you get the state to make it so that your competition can’t do that, at least not in the most obvious way, by force. So, it is, again, the state that comes into play here. You just may want to cling on to it, unless you want to risk it, of course.

In summary, thus far, it is not exactly that the market is to blame for this, but the way those on the market find it useful to make use of the state to back up their business. To me, it seems, that the issue is not private property, itself, but the state that guarantees it. Without the state, or states, those pro market would have a tough time holding on to what they have, unless they come up with something that does what they need, something that guarantees what they have, which, to me, sounds a lot like what the state already affords them. Later on in the book, he (113-114) does make note of this, how the bourgeoisie have to rely on the state as the guarantee of their property, and goes on to further explain how it was branded as based on the general interest (114-115). Simply put, the notion of property as a right to something falls apart without the state that guarantees it.

When it comes to his solution to the issue, how we’d fix it, or, rather, how it would eventually end up being fixed, out of necessity, really, he (80-82) argues, as you might be aware already, for a communist revolution that will solve the alienation issue, that the interests do not meet. He claims that once the great mass of people, the propertyless, the proletariat, come together in cooperation and transform the society. To be accurate, he emphasizes that this needs to happen on a global level, everywhere, not just here and/or there, otherwise the interests are, again, merely rendered into the general interest, which, in turn, results in alienation. Simply put, without it being global, it results in cosmetic changes, still reproducing of existing conditions. This is the basis for the well known slogan contained in the ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ first published in 1886 (English translation in 1888 by Samuel Moore and Frederick Engels) by Marx and Engels:

“Working Men of All Countries, Unite!”

The original being:

“Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!”

So, it would be more accurate to replacing working men with proletariat. More commonly, this has been popularized in the form:

“Workers of the world, unite!”

That’s not in the official English translation supervised by Engels though. It would be apt to go on a tangent into the invention of slogans, but I have already discussed that in the past, to some extent. It might be worth reprising, but I’ll leave that to another day. So, right, the point Marx is making, with and without Engels, is that everyone in the world needs to rally behind this, otherwise it won’t work. It needs to be a global movement because the market is also global. It’s a bit odd, for me, a bit off, that Marx (82) argues that “[c]ommunist is … not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself” but “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.” To me, he seems quite keen on going against the market, when it is the state that functions to guarantee the operation of the market. Why not focus on the state more? Not that I know, but this just made me wonder, hence the tangent.

Anyway, getting back to ideology, the topic of this essay, he (84-85) advocates for coming up with ideas, grounded on practice, not practice, grounded on ideas, and calls ideology “idealistic humbug”. He (86) argues against understanding practice as motivated by abstractions, such as religion and politics, because it ends up becoming an explanation for this and/or that practice. In his (86) words:

“The ‘idea’, the ‘conception’ of the people in question about their real practice, is transformed into the sole determining, active force, which controls and determines their practice.”

This is why I go against such ‘ideas’ or ‘conceptions’ such as ‘culture’ and ‘nature’. As explored in a previous essay, they end up being used not only as labels for sets of practices but as what causes them and which people then use to explain and justify them. He (86) exemplifies this with the Indian and Egyptian caste-systems, which people then take as “the power which has produced this crude social form” of division of labor. He (86-87) also uses German historiography as an example, arguing that it severs history from real life and its conditions, reducing it all to religion, to pure spirit, to pure consciousness. I would add, here, however, that ‘ideology’ has a tendency of ending up understood and use the same way, as this entity of its own, determining, active, which makes people do things and people then explain their or someone else’s behavior by attributing it to this or that ideology. We could say the same thing about the classes that Marx keeps on returning to. They keep coming across as these abstract blobs, in which people act according to certain class interest that is taken for granted.

Then there is the revolutionary class, which, then, he (94) argues isn’t actually a class at all but “the representative of the whole society”, “the whole mass of society confronting the one ruling class”, marked by being “more connected with the common interest of all other non-ruling classes” because it has yet to become a particular class, marked by particular class interests. When that actually happens, when you have a revolution, as in the case of the French Revolution, he (95) states that each time a broader, a more populous group is elevated into the position of power than the one it replaces, thus becoming the ruling class. He (95) then adds that, as it goes, it also elevates members of those other non-ruling classes, albeit only by promoting them, for example from the proletariat to the bourgeoisie.

What irks me is his insistence on class. He does explain how it comes to be, the division of labor being the key here. That said, they seem oddly set in stone. I realize that this text was written in 1840s, so, yeah, there’s that and societies were quite a bit different from what they are now. For example, I’m keenly aware that in Finland, the backwater that I hail from, the estates system of representation, consisting of nobility, clergy, bourgeoisie and land owning peasantry, with, of course, the nobility dwarfing the others in terms of the number of allotted seats, was abolished as late as 1906. It doesn’t take a doctorate to understand why property and status mattered back then and, I guess, still does, to large extent. Then again, while I get that he is basing all this on who does and gets to do what, and the material conditions, who owns what and/or doesn’t, his insistence on class as explaining this and/or that human interests and behavior just comes across awfully rigid and static, as well as deterministic.

Looking at this from another perspective, taking into account, more or less, only the bits where he (94-95) argues that the revolutionary non-class, or, I guess, yet-to-be-class, is the bubbling under mass of people, larger in numbers than the ruling class, defined only by its opposition to the ruling class, then class makes more sense. So, when the bourgeoisie axed, in some places quite literally so, the aristocracy, they then, and only then, emerged as the bourgeoisie when they became the ruling class. Then again, what results from that is that whatever the way things work, as managed by this or that group of people of certain socioeconomic status, you have class vs. non-class, which, to me, seems like a quite the simplification. He (93) also makes note of the possibility of the existence of royals, that is to say a king, aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, which then contradicts the class vs. non-class mass formulation, or, at least it seems like it does. On top of that, while I’m hardly an expert on this, I’m guessing here, but what about the patrician maritime republics, city states such as Venice, that stood in distinction from the feudal hierarchies, having their own way of running things? Also, what about the nomads?

Anyway, I’m a bit puzzled by this, how there is the ruling class, then the emerging revolutionary mass that either becomes the ruling class, as in the case of the bourgeoisie overthrowing the aristocracy, or abolishes the class system, as in the proposed case of the proletariat overthrowing the bourgeoisie, yet he uses examples where different classes coexist. Is it this or that? Which one is it? Or is it something else that I just fail to comprehend. I acknowledge that I may simply be missing something, there’s that, but that’s my gripe.

Getting back to where I was, I’m also not buying the way he lumps together people as a distinct class, based on the material conditions. It assumes that they are homogeneous, at least highly so to the point that they always look after one another in the end regardless of any differences or hostilities among the members of the class, as explained by Marx (93). For example, why would aristocrats be all determined to oppose monarchy? To my understanding, at least in the European context, many aristocrats were nobles, people who held hereditary titles, such as duchies, counties and baronies granted to them by the monarch, a king or emperor whose position at the top was typically also hereditary. Why would they be determined to abolish the monarchy, the system that guarantees their exclusive property rights? Would it not be possible that, for example, a duke seeks to undermine the monarchy but in order to get to the top himself, to be crowned the king or the emperor? Of course, it may be in their or become their interest to change the system, especially if the monarchy is absolutist. They might indeed prefer oligarchy over monarchy. Fair enough. This also ignores how elective monarchies function. Moreover, if the maritime republics are taken into consideration, they were markedly bourgeoisie, yet they had, you could say, aristocratic or noble aspirations, yet without depending on a monarch. For example, Venetian doges were elected for life and crowned to that position with a ducal hat. Anyway, as accurate or inaccurate as I may be here, by being very brief, the point I’m trying to make is that class probably isn’t as clear cut a thing as Marx wants us to believe.

Back to ideology. While I clearly don’t agree with Marx that much on other things, he (93-94) does makes some good points, about how something imagined, something thought up, can become taken for granted, as if having independent existence, which is then used to explain and justify the existing state of affairs at any given time. These can be anything, really. You only need to come up with it and then elevate it, to universalize it. He (94) gives examples, ranging from aristocratic ideas of honor and loyalty to bourgeoisie ideas of freedom and equality. So, in practice, if you end up in an argument over something with someone, they may appeal to your sense of honor or loyalty, pointing out that doing this and/or that is dishonorable or disloyal. The same applies to freedom and equality. You can be reprimanded for holding views that may be deemed illiberal or anti-egalitarian. The point here is, as explained by him (94), that these are not, by any means universal but they are to be taken as such and one is compelled to behave and think accordingly. This is why, as he (94) puts it, ideas come to hold sway. To get back to the definitions on ‘ideology’ early on in this essay, he (96) characterizes what’s at stake as being “able to distinguish between what somebody professes to be and what he [or she] really is”, hence the very early point made about it being not about ideas but about the way one speaks of ideas.

I realize that I got carried away, here and there, and possible just didn’t understand everything or maybe it is explained elsewhere in the book or in other works, so there’s that. I think I still got what I wanted, an examination of ‘ideology’, which, at least for me, is just a shorthand for saying that someone is talking out of one’s hoop. So, in a way, your could say that it is a handy word. Then again, I don’t like, and try to avoid it like the plague, because it ends up used to back up a claim, to explain and justify whatever it is that one is saying. So, ironically, by attributing something as ‘ideology’ or ‘ideological’ or someone as an ‘ideologue’ one ends up promoting an ‘ideology’, making an ‘ideological’ move and acting like an ‘ideologue’.

Hammer Time! – Idolatry, Orthodoxy and Heresy

This essay is motivated by feedback, no, not from you, the reader. I mean no one probably even reads this, so, as you might guess, it’s from article reviewers, my judges, if you know what I mean. It’s also somewhat relevant to what I came across recently, so I’ll see if I can mesh them together. Of course, it’s a given really, who provided the feedback is not indicated because that’d just add too much integrity to the whole process of judging other people’s work. This is a general thing, not related to this case or journal. This time it was indicated that the rejection was based on the comments from the editors and reviewers, but I reckon it all came from the reviewers. I don’t understand why the editors would even put it to review if they didn’t find the manuscript to be ok, in the sense that it’s ok enough to make some other people read it and judge it. Seems a bit unnecessary to have it reviewed, only to reject it yourself in the end.

Before I get things started, it’s worth pointing out that not all reviewers or referees, whatever you want to call them, despite their anonymity, act the way this or these persons did. It’s unclear who wrote what. It’s not evident whether it is a summary or whether the two paragraphs are by two different people. I’m not going to name anyone, the reviewers (not that I even could), the editors (they probably have nothing to do with the reviews, they just go with it, probably don’t even read what they have to say, nor could I confirm if they did, or didn’t) or the journal (it’s enough for me to know). The specifics don’t do any good. The issue is larger than that. It’s a systematic practice not limited to one journal. So, yeah, it is its own discourse, it’s own thing and that’s what needs to be addressed. I guess I should say should be addressed though. I mean, come on, it’s not like me pointing out the obvious is going to change anything. Don’t be silly. But do read on though!

So, I was reading Baruch Spinoza’s first book of Ethics’ (1883 translation by R.H.M Elwes). I ended up reading it because it had this bit that apparent he came up with or, well, at least made it popular. I’ll save that for another essay. Right, so, in the appendix Spinoza states:

“Hence anyone who seeks for the true causes … and strives to understand … phenomena as an intelligent being, and not to gaze at them like a fool, is set down and denounced as an impious heretic by those, whom the masses adore as the interpreters of nature and the gods. Such persons know that, with the removal of ignorance, the wonder which forms their only available means for proving and preserving their authority would vanish also.”

Now, this hit me, hit me hard. It struck a chord. To be denounced. To be treated as impious, as a heretic. By whom? By those who are in position to interpret how the world works. Why they’d do that? Well, not because it matters, not because they know how the world works, really, but because it proves and preserves their authority. Simply put, it’s a sweet gig. Okay, you might object to this, point out that Spinoza was dealing with religious authorities and that we no longer deal with such. After all, science is objective!

Fair point. Spinoza is referring to actual religious authorities. Acknowledged. This also led me to read Gilles Deleuze’s short book on Spinoza, ‘Spinoza: Practical Philosophy’ (1988 translation by Robert Hurley). As noted by Deleuze (10), he got his fair share of condemnation from religious authorities, “Jews, Catholics, Calvinists, and Lutherans”, as well as “the Cartesians”, which is, you know, basically all of them. On top of that, he (10) notes, “all the[se] right-thinking circles … competed with one another in denouncing” his work. He (10) adds that it went on and on, to the point that “‘Spinozism’ and ‘Spinozist’ became insults and threats” and the denunciation ended up being extended to even those who were against Spinoza but weren’t harsh enough on him. This is what is known as excommunication, anathema, herem and ostracism, to give the practice a few names. The reasons are, as Spinoza himself points out, related to deemed impiety or heresy, some sort of wrong think.

This leads me to the word itself, heresy, defined in a dictionary (OED, s.v. “heresy”, n.) as:

“Theological or religious opinion or doctrine maintained in opposition, or held to be contrary, to the ‘catholic’ or orthodox doctrine of the Christian Church, or, by extension, to that of any church, creed, or religious system, considered as orthodox.”

The point here is that there is a right opinion. Heresy is in opposition, hence it is wrong think. It is also (OED, s.v. “heresy”, n.):

“By extension, Opinion or doctrine in philosophy, politics, science, art, etc., at variance with those generally accepted as authoritative.”

As well as (OED, s.v. “heresy”, n.):

“In sense of Greek αἵρεσις (see etymology): Opinion or doctrine characterizing particular individuals or parties; a school of thought; a sect.”

So, as you can see, it is not limited only to religion, albeit, in a sense, as it has to do with opinions and beliefs, whatever the context, it does, arguably, have that religious characteristic to it. In Spinoza’s case it was certainly the case, no doubt about it, but, as you can see, it doesn’t have to be about religion.

Deleuze and Félix Guattari (116), more or less, say the same thing in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi), when they characterize the situation as one consisting of a hysterical crowd of people who stand outside a temple, waiting, anxiously, while, inside, the priests interpret the will of a god, or a despot-god, the stand-in for or viceroy of god, the icon proper.

Of course, this is all just nonsense, the priests have no idea of what there are doing. They don’t know any better than the people outside the temple. They just claim they do. They are just talking out of their hoops. Now, you might object to this. You might ask if I’m also just talking out of my hoop as well. Well, yes, you could say that. I reckon I am talking out of my hoop, all the time. The thing is that everyone does, all the time. The difference is that the priests claim that they don’t. If they didn’t claim that they do know their shit (sorry, it’s only fitting here, with the hoop and all), do you think the crowd outside the temple would ever ask them anything? Of course they wouldn’t. That’s why the priests tell people otherwise. It’s a sweet gig! Why would anyone let go of such? Duh! This the point Spinoza makes. That’s why the priests seek to stamp out any behavior that just might undermine their authority as the interpreters of this and/or that and viciously strike down anyone who dares to think otherwise, anyone who dares to challenge their authority by branding them a heretic. The great thing about authority is, for them that is, that people already believe them to be the arbiters of truth, the will of a god, and therefore people rally behind them, in fervor. They don’t have to prove anything. They just need to state that it is the will of god. Deus vult!

To make this a bit more contemporary, Deleuze and Guattari (116) argue that:

“This … is applicable to not only to the imperial despotic regime but to all subjected, arborescent, hierarchical, centered groups: political parties, literary movements, psychoanalytic associations, families, conjugal units, etc.”

Aye, you are fool if you think the same logic isn’t applicable elsewhere. After all, a sweet gig is a sweet gig! It doesn’t matter if in your job description it is actually stated that you are a priest or not. I’ve pointed out this before and I’ll do that now as well: a priest is a conceptual persona, someone who occupies this or that position or office, which entails certain things. It just happens to be that actual priests, more as they were as opposed to how they are, are the ones that give us the moniker. So, no, this has nothing to do with someone’s relationship and/or understanding of a deity. It’s about how that, or anything similar, lands them a sweet gig in which they are elevated into a position authority. If you are interested in that, conceptual personae, do yourself a favor and check out ‘What Is Philosophy?’ by Deleuze and Guattari (1994 translation by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell).

You should have by now got the gist of this. In case you don’t, let me summarize this all for you. If you have authority, you get to be right. If you are positioned in a way that allows you to exercise power over others, you get to be right. Those who do not have authority, those who are positioned outside the temple have to ask you what is right. If they don’t, if they don’t know their place and ask silly questions, they shall experience the wrath of god, or so to speak. This is all because, as Spinoza points out, the priests have to prove and preserve their authority, otherwise they don’t have it. They would otherwise lose their sweet gig.

Why does no one oppose the priests then? That is a good question. It’s not like people haven’t tried. Spinoza asked that question in the mid-1600s. That took some proper guts to do back then and it sure wasn’t great for his health. I’m sure others tried that as well before him but you just don’t get to read about them, for obvious reasons. That said, to be honest, I don’t think most people have any clue of Spinoza, but that’s pretty much the point here. As Deleuze (11) characterizes him, with, what I take to be, in reference to Friedrich Nietzsche, as someone “who overturn[s] values and construct[s] their philosophy with hammer blows” and “disturb[s] the established sentiments, the order of Morality and the Police”. It is in ‘Twilight of the Idols: Or, How to Philosophize with the Hammer’ (1997 translation by Richard Polt) that Nietzsche (4) states that, simply put, the purpose of the hammer is to test whether we bow down to false idols, whether our idols are but are mere hollow shells. To answer the question, people don’t want to challenge priests because it might do them harm. They might even see the issue, but the temptation is just too much. If you go against the priests, you won’t be able to land such a sweet gig. In other words, you won’t challenge the priests because you probably want to be one yourself.

So, to flesh this out, how did the reviewers react to my work, my manuscript? Well, I pointed out already that the editorial decision was a rejection. Here, I think, it’s worth conceding that my work is not perfect. It is never is and will never be. Simple as that. The way I look at what I’ve written, in hindsight, is always underlined how this and/or that could be better, how that could be stated in this and/or that way and how I could have incorporated this and/or that into it, here or there. It often seems, after a while, quite drab, as if someone else wrote it. That’s because, in a way, someone else did write it. That’s sort of the travesty of writing, how something you wrote is torn from you the moment you’ve written it, the moment you lift your pen(cil) or you stop applying pressure to the keys on a keyboard in rapid succession. It ends up existing in isolation of you and your will. It becomes a thing of its own, really, while you’ve moved on and have become someone else. That’s why it’s so weird, as if looking at what someone else wrote, albeit, perhaps, in somewhat similar fashion that you might write, right now.

That said, it having its issues, there always being this and/or that, unavoidably really, the feedback was, for me, underlined with the voice of authority, that of a priest. This year has been, let’s say, an interesting one, pitching articles, trying to make them all sexy, according to whatever angle and/or latest trend some journal wishes to emphasize, only to get rejections for whatever reasons. This one markets itself as interdisciplinary, which I take to be a good sign, but, as usual, it seems to be just some buzzwords on top of buzzwords. Fair enough, I cant’ blame them for that, really, when everyone is in the habit of doing that.

The typical response is the straight forward one, takes a week or so, perhaps two, at best, to be told by the editor that this is just not our thing, as interesting as this may be. Try somewhere else. That’s fair enough. I mean the editor is in charge and his or her job is to assess whether something fits or not, according to this or that preset criteria. If it doesn’t, then, well too bad. That’s pigeonholing 101. No biggie. In my experience, as limited as that may be, the editors are actually fairly reasonable people. They have no time for any nonsense. It’s like working in a big corporation. They never get personal about anything because that’d be too much of a hassle. Sometimes you even get you get good tips, recommendations to check out this and/or that article or a book, something that you probably wouldn’t have come across yourself, possible because of the reasons elaborated in this essay (it ends up accepted in some seemingly obscure publication that a search engine won’t land you upon).

What tends to irk me is the reviewers or referees. As I pointed out already, there are no names and thus no risk of misrepresenting anyone, considering that, technically, this, might as well, could all be made up as there is no transparency in the process (as I have pointed out a number of times in the past). For all I know it could all be made up by an AI or some dude in some office called Chuck. There is just no way to know. In this case, I reckon, there are two reviewers, hence the two paragraphs.

The first one seems like he or she just couldn’t be bothered, as if it was too much to ask to write more than two sentences, to actually explain and justify why it is that my work is, supposedly, not worthy of publishing. To me it is merely an assertion that it’s trash, oh so neutrally assessed and well justified. It gets called “student work”, “despairing” and “mechanistic” in terms of its approach, building on dated work, some three decades and over old, and is, simply, insignificant with regards to the results, hence far from being worthy. It highly amusing reading, how I’m, by default, positioned outside the temple by the reviewer, as this unworthy, utterly devoid of any hope, at best an automaton.

Firstly, I love how the reviewer thinks it’s somehow a good argument, to begin with, mind you, to imply that someone is a student. So what if I’m a student? What does that prove, in itself? Projection of your own privileged status, perhaps? Also, seriously, devoid of hope? Opinionated much? Also, again, projection of your own privileged status. Secondly, what one calls mechanistic, I call rigorous, paying attention to the nitty-gritty details, taking data seriously and going through it systematically. Thirdly, how is it that the date of publication of anything is anyhow relevant, as opposed to the content? Where do we draw the line? This year? The year before? Is it five years, ten year? Do tell me. By that logic, while I’m hardly a fan of the man’s work and influence, overall, we might just ignore Plato just because he lived over two thousand years ago. Don’t think he is relevant? Good luck trying to ignore his influence. He is pretty much responsible for the way most people think, so, yeah, sure, let’s just ignore everything that wasn’t published this year. That only makes sense. Oh, and this is definitely not just some random gripe that I just now encountered. This keeps happening, as if it was a legit argument.

The second reviewer was less frugal in his or her words, but equally, if not more so, dismissive. It is all, again, assertions, albeit this reviewer actually does actually use the first person pronoun ‘I’, cushioning the blows a bit with a hint of subjectivity, unlike the first reviewer who just dismisses the whole thing, as if the work was, objectively, trash. Anyway, in this case as well what is asserted is not backed up. My work is, apparently, superficial, insignificant, unenlightening, uninteresting and focuses on the wrong things, not to mention artificial, imitation or an inferior substitute of an approach that the reviewer seems to consider out of date. The way the final bits are worded implies that the reviewer does not approve the study of linguistic landscapes, at least not anymore. It is, as if it was this fad, something that ran its course, provided some good insights, but should now longer be done, hence the point made how it’s inappropriate for the journal in question, not just in general but especially in the way I do my research. There’s also the bits that, once again, as this has happened before, the reviewer simply doesn’t understand. Fair enough, the reviewer, sort of, concedes that this may be the case, that he or she just fails to see it. Then again, it seems to me that it is a mere show concession, so, actually just build up for the following derision of what I wrote (the typical formula of ‘I may be wrong … but …’).

In particular, the part where I explain my goal through the words of Paul Klee, how making or rendering something visible isn’t about the appearance but about apparition, seems to be something people just don’t get (even though you only need to look up the words in a dictionary in case you don’t get it). Simply put, it’s not about how we see something but about how that what we see comes to be, so that we may see that something. Okay, perhaps I need to reword it as unspecific to vision, albeit I’m not sure how that is going to make it easier to comprehend, considering how ocularcentric we tend to be. You’ll understand the whole thing wrong, from the get go, if you think that my goal is to show some pretty pictures of the world. That’s pretty much the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do. Doing that would be pretension to mimesis, which is, oddly enough, what I get criticized for. Quite ironic, really. On top of that, it is indicated in the manuscript, multiple times, that the focus is on the apparition of materialized discourses, how certain practices come to result in certain material manifestations in the landscape. It is not about how those discursive objects look, their appearance, but how and why it is that they come to appear in the landscape, their apparition. This is the connection to agency then.

For me, the reviews are textbook examples of orthodoxy in science and scholarship. There is a dominant school of thought that dictates the right opinion and my opinions are wrong opinions, those of a heretic, a wrong thinker. I made it absolutely clear what my stance is, as I think one should. I reckon that is something that, in particular, irked the reviewers. It’s almost like they fell into a trap, getting upset about me pointing out that much of existing research tends to subscribe to a dogmatic image of thought, marked by the thinking autonomous subject, as I’ve discussed in the past, only to then assert the dogma in the feedback to me. I’m actually quite surprised how clear they are on that, how they show their true colors, or so to speak. I would have expected highly polished wording, where one is dismissive but very politely so, as if it wasn’t personal but actually is, you know like in legalese, just toeing the line, so that it’s virtually impossible to fault the reviewers for anything. The wording is clever though. I’ll give them both that. None of the comments are, strictly speaking, directed at me, but at my work, so any ad hominem arguments are to be implied by the reader.

I’d like to end this short essay by going back to Spinoza, so that, in case you find my reaction to the reviews a mere rant, at least you can get something out of this. Deleuze (13) puts it aptly in his book on Spinoza:

“[For Spinoza] satire is everything that takes pleasure in the powerlessness and distress of men, everything that feeds on accusations, on malice, on belittlement, on low interpretations, everything that breaks men’s spirits (the tyrant needs broken spirits, just as broken spirits need a tyrant).”

The way I read the comments provided for me, detailing why my manuscript was not accepted, the writers seem to take pleasure in what they’ve written. They seem to enjoy accusing me, belittling me and providing interpretations that are only backed up by their authority over me, their position above me. They probably also enjoy the fact that I appear to be helpless, having no actual recourse. As I’ve pointed out this before, to repeat myself, the reason why any review is anonymous is not because it makes what is reviewed better in any way, shape or form, but because it makes it impossible to challenge them. It shelters them from criticism. It is there to preserve their authority which is the only thing they need. The point is to keep the riffraff outside the temple, where they belong. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of that, but, yeah, that characterization of satire is fitting here. It explains the comments.

In the words used by Deleuze and Guattari (28) in ‘What Is Philosophy?’, these people criticize me “on the basis of problems and on a plane that is different from theirs” and “melt down the old concepts in the way a cannon can be melted down to make new weapons.” The point they are making is that people do not even want to agree. Instead, they want to be in the right. As they (28) point out, it is unavoidable that you will struggle to understand what someone else is doing when it is situated on a different plane, a different foundation, to put it in other words. You have to look at what someone else is doing in its own light, otherwise you will likely, albeit not necessarily, end up misunderstanding and/or misrepresenting their work. Of course, that is, assuming, that you want to try to see where they are coming from and make it work for you. They (28) state that people do not do this:

“But those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are the plague of philosophy.”

Ah, yes, to criticize without creating, that is it. That is the comments I got this time. No backing up the criticism, only criticizing for the sake of criticizing. No willingness to make it work, no willingness to understand it. Now, as you can see, I’m not saying that could not make it work. They could. They just don’t. Why? I reckon it has to do with a sweet gig. On top of that, getting to understand what I understand, why I say the things I say and how I say them, takes a lot of work, a lot of hours that need to be spent reading, thinking and possible even writing. It might take years to get to that point, so, yeah, they just won’t. No one wants to do any hard work these days.

This has everything to do with the doctrine of judgment, as Deleuze calls it in ‘To Have Done with Judgment’, included in a collection short essays by him, titled ‘Essays Critical and Clinical’ (translation by Daniel Smith and Michael Greco). In it he (127) states where the logic of judgment stems from:

“[It] merges with the psychology of the priest, as the inventor of the most somber organization: I want to judge, I have to judge.”

And who it is that gets to judge then (127):

“The power to judge[,] and to be judged[,] is given to whomever stands in this relation.”

And how it actually functions (127):

“But the judgment of knowledge in this sense implies a prior moral and theological form, according to which a relation was established between existence and the infinite following an order of time: the existing being as having debt to God.”

The peer review system is exactly like this. People want to judge. People have to judge. This also means that there has to be someone to be judged. This gets rather warped because the judge is never an equal, a peer, in this arrangement. It is not a contract between two parties, between equal partners, but three parties, the judge, the judged and the third party that the judged is deemed to be in debt by the judge, as explained by Deleuze (127-128). The judge always gets to win because the appeal to a third party is how the game is rigged. In peer review, as exemplified by this case, there is some moral claim, in this case that it is inappropriate, unenlightened and unworthy, thus rejected from publication. It is also implied, well that’s my take anyway, that I should be ashamed of my work, for it is a desperate attempt at, something that only a student would come up with. This is the hallmark of the modern form of judgment, in which, as explained by Deleuze (129):

“At the limit, dividing oneself into lots and punishing oneself become the characteristics of the new judgment or modern tragedy.”

So, as I pointed out, I’m not only judged by people who are presented as my peers, but I am to also judge myself, to be ashamed of my failings pointed out to me by my judges and self-flagellate to remind myself of these failings, of my debt that can never be paid. Therefore, as stated by Deleuze (129):

“Nothing is left but judgment, and every judgment bears on another judgment.”

The only way out of judgment is replacing it with combat, replacing judges with combatants, having the two parties (note, not two plus that one outside party, the one to appeal to without prior agreement between the two parties) go head to head with one another, as explained by Deleuze (132). Of course, in order to do so, to not just fall back on to relying on judging others, one must first come to terms with oneself, to combat oneself, as elaborated by Deleuze (132) as the combat-between, which is to precede combat-against others.

How would one go about it then, if we were to swap judgment with combat? Simply put, to escape the doctrine of judgment, one has to come to terms with others without recourse to any outside party, be it actual or made up. It is merely a matter of agreements and disagreements between two parties. As Deleuze (134) characterizes it, it becomes a matter of decisions that resolve combat. To get to that, to become a combatant instead of a judge, well, that’s not going to be easy because you can then no longer make appeals to a third party.

When it comes to me, I am truly sorry, for denouncing me, mocking me, ridiculing me is not going to work. You can claim to superior to me, all you want, with or without fancy titles or degrees. Feel free to elevate yourself all you want by calling me a student. A knave or a knight. Makes no difference to me. I treat everyone the same. You can try to appeal to some sense of shame, bad conscience or guilt, that I am, somehow, in debt to a third party, but that won’t do any good. I know how that works and why priests appeal to such. I know its a ruse, a powerful one, one that is intended to ruin my day, make me feel bad about my failings, dwell on them and, perhaps, seek recourse, to complain bitterly to the editors. Yeah, I see right through ressentiment. It is hallmark of the doctrine of judgment. I am a combatant, so, instead of complaining about the issue to editors or to my superiors, in attempt to change anything through some appeal to professionalism or propriety, I will feel content about the amusing fact that you had to endure reading something that you clearly resent, possible because the hammer hit too hard and/or precisely.

It is highly amusing, if it is the case that is, if those who reviewed me, sorry, no, my work, were upset, if not outraged, by my assertion that much of previous research (not all, mind you) subscribes to a dogmatic image of thought. Why? Well, because, as I explained in a previous essay, in more detail, the doctrine of judgment is part and parcel of what Deleuze (129-133; 103-110) calls the dogmatic, orthodox or moral image of thought in ‘Difference and Repetition’ (1994 translation by Paul Patton) and in ‘Nietzsche and Philosophy’ (1983 translation by Hugh Tomlinson). The main issue is, contemporarily, that it is largely associated with the Cartesian Cogito, which involves the presupposition of the subject, the self, posing something a posteriori as something a priori. That is the modern source of judgment, both highly passional and super cold at the same time, being the master and the slave at the same time, as characterized by Deleuze and Guattari (130) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. This results in people immediately getting triggered and judgemental. Why? Because it threatens their very foundation, their image of thought that they subscribe to, albeit largely unwittingly as they probably take their opinion, their belief, that is to say doxa, to be the truth. I guess it can even feel like someone is questioning your sanity, which is not very desirable to you. What is desirable to you is the doxa, that you come before everything else, that you are free to think and act. I reckon that explains their reaction.  I explained how this works, in the quite detail, in my manuscript. It is, actually, something that most reviewers struggle to comprehend, how that point is so important in my research, how subjectivity and signification connect to the faciality/landscapity complex and how they end up mutually reinforcing one another. This all applies in particular to priests, who, probably, always knew that there is nothing fixed to interpret, that faciality is just a sham. Simply put, challenging the dogmatic image of thought, the doctrine of judgment, threatens not only their image of themselves and how the world works but also their authority to tell others how it is. As noted by Spinoza, challenging them makes it very hard for them to prove and preserve their authority. Of course, we can’t have that, riffraff trying to enter the temple and challenge the priests to combat, now can we?

Becoming-wave

Following the previous tangent, addressing the use of ‘culture’, as well as, to lesser extent, ‘nature’ and ‘ideology’, it’s time for me to once again attempt to dip me feet into ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ by Valentin Vološinov (1973 translation by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik). It’s an interesting book published as it strikes me as ahead of its time, quite a bit to be honest, considering it was published in 1930.

Just as the title suggests, Vološinov (9) explains his interest in language, in relation to Marxism:

“[T]he bases for the studies of scientific knowledge, literature, religion, ethics, and so forth … are closely bound up with problems of the philosophy of language.”

He (9) clarifies his position on language by distinguishing it from what lies outside language, physical bodies:

“A physical body equals itself, so to speak; it does not signify anything but wholly coincides with its particular, given nature. In this case there is no question of ideology.”

In other words, he is saying that what lies outside language, regardless of what we make of it, in language, say, a body, an actual human body for instance, is just what it is, what it happens to be at any given moment. Sure, he (9) adds, physical bodies can be converted into signs, into language. He (10) further elaborates this with a proper Marxist example by explaining that a tool, for example, a hammer or a sickle, has a very specific function. It can also be converted into a sign, standing for something outside itself, for example as the insignia of the Soviet Union.

As a side note here, I’d argue here, to further complicate this, that a tool, be it a hammer, a sickle, or something else, is, itself, already a conversion. To go back to the example in the previous essay, a chair is chair because we hold it to be a chair, not because it is a chair-in-itself, unless, of course, we build on a premise in which objects exist in themselves, sort of ready made or, if crafted, created according to an idea of the specific object. This leads me to another tangent, so I won’t be making much progress on Vološinov this time either.

A while ago I was reading what Benjamin Lee Whorf had to say about language and its connection to reality, as discussed by him in his 1941 text ‘Language, Mind, and Reality’ (pagination from posthumous 1956 publication ‘Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf’ edited by John B. Carroll) and I came across something relevant. Whorf (246) states:

“For science’s long and heroic effort to be strictly factual has at last brought it into entanglement with the unsuspected facts of the linguistic order.”

Ah, yes, to simply take things (haha, it’s so hard to avoid that word) for granted, as facts as Whorf puts it, or to address how those things, those facts, those objects, come to be thought as such. It would be only apt to bring in some Michel Foucault here, but I’ve done that in previous essays, so I won’t do that this time. It would also be handy to explain this in reference to Kenneth Olwig’s assessment of what a thing is, but I’ve also done that previously so I won’t do that either. So, I’ll just work with Whorf this time. Anyway, in my experience, as limited as it may, most of my peers opt for the first approach. To be fair, I don’t think they consciously take that approach. Instead, they just end up that way. That’s how taking things for granted works. You don’t really think about it as it all seems about right. There is nothing to challenge. That’s doxa for you alright, as I’ve explained a number of times in the past in reference to Pierre Bourdieu (68) in ‘The Logic of Practice’ (1990 translation by Richard Nice). For me, taking things for granted just doesn’t cut it, no matter how tedious, not to mention heretical, it may seem to start from scratch, to dig deep, to question all fundamentals. Anyway, Whorf (246) further addresses the unsuspected facts:

“These facts the older classical science had never admitted, confronted, or understood as facts. Instead they had entered its house by the back door and had been taken for the substance of Reason itself.”

In other words, as I like to explain it, this is about sneaking in a presupposition, hence the point made about a back door. He (246-247) goes on to give some examples (which I’m sure you can look up yourself), followed by a summary of the underlying issue with the obsession of Reason in science (247):

“For certain linguistic patterns rigidified in the dialectics of the sciences – often also embedded in the matrix of European culture from which those sciences have sprung, and long worshipped as pure Reason per se – have been worked to death. Even science senses that they are somehow out of focus for observing what may be very significant aspects of reality, upon the due observation of which all further progress in understanding the universe may hinge.”

Oui, to put this in contemporary terms, to be more easily understood by those who are familiar with computers, it’s not that you aren’t achieving something by using a computer, you are, but what if, what if the operating system is limiting you by setting limits to what can be achieved through it. To be more faithful to Whorf, as language is not separate from thinking, it affects the way we think, which affects the way we come to understand the world. He (248) elaborates what he is after:

“All that I have to say on the subject that may be new is of the PREMONITION IN LANGUAGE of the unknown, vaster world – that world of which the physical is but a surface or skin, and yet which we ARE IN, and BELONG TO.”

I’m not exactly sure how new his contribution is though. I find his (247-248) take to be rather Kantian (not that it’s unique only to Kant though), considering he refers to the unknown, inconceivably manifold, vaster world, realm of patterned relations also as a noumenal world and what the different sciences address as phenomena. If you are unfamiliar with noumenon and phenomenon, simply put, for Kant, noumenon is the thing-in-itself and phenomenon is how it comes to appear to us, inasmuch as it does. Crucially, for Kant, while we can acknowledge the noumena, we can never know them. They are out of our reach. As a result, we are left to deal with phenomena and addressing how they come to appear to us, as they do, inasmuch as they do.

To be honest, what Whorf is after, or at least what I think he is after, reminds me of how Gilles Deleuze (208-209, 222-223) conceptualizes reality, the real, in ‘Difference and Repetition’ (1994 translation by Paul Patton) as both virtual and actual, with difference giving rise to identity, intensities developing sensible extensities. Anyway, Whorf (248) argues that:

“[D]ifferent sciences chop segments, as it were, out of the world, segments which perhaps cut across the direction of the natural levels, or stop short when, upon reaching a major change of level, the phenomena become of quite different type, or pass out of the ken of the older observational methods.”

To link this to Deleuze, now that I went there already, this reminds me of how Deleuze, along with Félix Guattari, explains this in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi) as a matter of subtraction, as always ‘n-1’ (6). Deleuze also elaborates this in ‘L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze’, the series of interviews with Claire Parnet, when he addresses the letter U (U, ‘U comme Un’). He states that science has to do with particulars, with singularities, not at all with universals or reproducible phenomena. That may seem a bit … contrary to the popular opinion, but that’s exactly the point he is making. He uses the example of falling bodies, that “all bodies fall”, only to counter it by noting that it is of little importance that they do so. What is of importance is the fall itself and the singularities of the fall. As he points out, their reproducibility is secondary to what’s at stake itself, in this case the fall and the singularities of the fall. Simply put, the general, the universal, is not at all universal, in the sense that it’s actually secondary to the particular, the singular. It’s derived from those particulars, those singularities. That’s why it’s always ‘n-1’ not ‘n’. It’s always subtracted. If you pile up ‘1’, it does not result in ‘n’. As a related matter, this is about confusing ‘multiple’, piling up ‘1’, with ‘multiplicity’, which isn’t about piling up ‘1’ because ‘1’ is already subtracted from the multiplicity.

Where was I before that tangent on Kant, followed by Deleuze? Right, so, back to Whorf, who goes on (and on) to explain all kinds of things about language in the non-western parts of the world. He (249) moves on to brings up how “mathematical formula[s] … enable a physicist to adjust some coils of wire, tinfoil plates, diaphragms, other quite inert and innocent gadgets into a configuration in which they can project music to a far country” which allows him or her to make “possible adjustment of matter to a very strategic configuration, one which makes possible an unusual manifestation of force.” He (249) adds that “[o]ther formulas make possible strategic arrangement of magnets and wires in the powerhouse so that, when the magnets … are set in motion, force is manifested in the way we call an electric current.”

These formulas remind me of diagrams and diagrammatics, as explained by Deleuze in his book about Foucault, aptly titled as ‘Foucault’ (1988 translation by Seán Hand), in reference to its use by Foucault in ‘Discipline and Punish’ (1977 translation by Alan Sheridan). I’m emphasizing Deleuze here because Foucault doesn’t delve that much into it, using the word only twice in the whole book (171, 205, pagination from the 1995 edition) when he examines the spatial configurations of military camps and prisons, both involving what is known as Panopticism.

In Deleuze’s (33-34) terms what Foucault is after is an abstract formula, “an optical or luminous arrangement” or “abstractly … a machine that not only affects visible matter in general … but also in general passes through every articulable function.” If you are familiar with ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, the wording, referring to Foucault “view[ing] it abstractly as a machine”, makes you think of it as an abstract machine (which, spoiler alert, it is). Anyway, Deleuze (34) elaborates these bits:

“So the abstract formula … is no longer ‘to see without being seen’ but to impose a particular conduct on a particular human multiplicity.”

This why it is machinic, to put it in Deleuzo-Guattarian parlance. It’s not only a mere static arrangement, but also how that arrangement comes to operate. I’m pulling this out of memory, to jog it a bit, but it is an abstract machine, in the sense that it puts certain arrangements, that is to say assemblages, or, better yet, agencements (the French original agencement, used to indicate how it is active, arranging, assembling, rather than a static arrangement or assemblage), into action, functioning as the formula, or so to speak. The English words, assemblage (used by Massumi) and arrangement (sometimes used by others in their own translations), do not neatly capture what Deleuze and Guattari are after with agencement. He (37) notes that in Foucault’s parlance the concrete assemblages are typically called mechanisms.

To connect this to singularities, as mentioned already, it is the assemblages, the agencements, that construct or, perhaps, to be more apt, arrange them in relation to one another, albeit in a way that is never done or united, in the sense that the arrangements are always subject to change, well, inasmuch they are as they do tend to hold together, more or less, hence the static appearance. How to put it? To pun a bit here, to make South Park reference, the composition is always fractured but whole, as Deleuze and Guattari (16) might allow me to characterize it, to humor you, the audience, a bit, considering they call a concept “a fragmentary whole” in ‘What is Philosophy?’ (translation by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell).

This also reminds me of how earlier on, a few paragraphs back, I pointed out how you cannot get to the multiplicity by piling up ‘ones’. Later on in the book, they (23) add that you cannot approach concepts like pieces of a puzzle. If we are to think the world as a puzzle, for them (23) the issue is that the pieces have irregular contours so there’s no telling how they fit. I realize that I may be off with this but I like explain the issue along the lines of, okay, it’s puzzle alright, but considering that you always subtract from the multiplicity, you have no idea how big the puzzle is. Simply put, even if you get this or that piece of the puzzle together and even if they fit neatly, not to mention seem complete, you have no idea whether you completed it or not and even if you did, congratulations, the puzzle itself is subject to change and might have changed while you were putting it together.

Deleuze and Guattari (23) find it more apt to compare this to a dry-stone wall, you know one of them walls that are just piles of stone slabs, holding together not because the wall is a marvel of masonry but because it just sort of does, inasmuch as it does, as long as it does, pending on the arrangement of stones. It’s only fitting, not to mention hilarious, that they (23) characterize philosophy “as being in a perpetual state of digression or digressiveness, considering that I have a habit of going on a tangent, which may involve another tangent, only to lead to another tangent, as you may have noticed if you’ve read my essays. The thing is that they may seem unrelated, hence I like to call them tangents, but I’m the kind of guy who has to follow all kinds of sidetracks, like I do in this essay, to make (more) sense of what the main track is about, well, assuming there is a main track that one ought to focus on.

To get back to diagrams, in ‘Foucault’ Deleuze (34) summarizes what Foucault is after with the concept:

“[I]t is always concerned with unformed and unorganized matter and unformalized, unfinalized functions, the two variables being indissolubly linked.”

What’s in between them, linking them is the diagram, the informal dimension as Deleuze (34) puts it. To put it very concisely, he (34) characterizes it as:

“The diagram is … a cartography that is coextensive with the whole social field. It is an abstract machine. … [I]t makes others see and speak.”

Moreover, he (35) adds that:

“It never functions in order to represent a persisting world but produces a new kind of reality, a new model of truth.”

To link this back to assemblages, to make this a bit more concrete, he (37) states that:

“[T]he diagram acts as a non-unifying immanent cause that is coextensive with the whole social field: the abstract machine is like the cause of the concrete assemblages that execute its relations; and these relations between forces take place ‘not above’ but within the very tissue of the assemblages they produce.”

To be precise, to specify what he is after by calling it an immanent cause, he (36-37) warns not to think of it as a transcendent idea, ideological superstructure or an economic infrastructure. This is why I went on a ten page tangent on ‘culture’, ‘nature’ and ‘ideology’. He (37) further clarifies that “there is a correlation or mutual presupposition between cause and effect”, hence the connection between abstract machines and assemblages.

To get somewhere with this, he (35) characterizes diagrams as unstable and fluid, in the sense that they effectuate what they effectuate yet they are subject to change because what they effectuate may also lead to change the diagrams (otherwise they’d be permanent arrangements, or so to speak). Moreover, he (34) argues that, strictly speaking, “in terms of form [a diagram] makes no distinction between content and expression” or, to put it in Foucault’s parlance, between “discursive formation and a non-discursive formation.” Now, that is not to say that they, these two, regardless of which parlance you prefer, can’t or won’t diverge. He (38) makes note of this and argues that through doubling (I reckon this is about double articulation, as explained in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’) they gain their forms, as as form of content and form of expression, as form of the visible and the form of the articulable, as discursive and non-discursive formations. To wrap this up, he (38) reiterates that it is between the two where we find the diagram.

Back to Whorf (249-250) who compares mathematical formulas, specialized formula-language of mathematics, with what he calls mantric formula-language that is also specialized but manifested differently in terms of its form, working on the human body and its nervous system. He argues that like with the inorganic, in his examples the magnets and the wires, or, I guess, to connect this to Vološinov, any tools or their parts, the organic lacks the capacity to operate the way we think they do unless they are patterned properly, in ways not simply attributable to the various parts that make up the whole. I might be reading too much into this, but this reminds me of the organization of bodies discussed by Deleuze and Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ in relation to the concept they call a body without organs. I’m also thinking their (23) dry-stone wall example here, as presented in ‘What is Philosophy?’.

Moving on, as Whorf does when he shift the discussion from bodies and their arrangements to language itself and (250) asserts that “[w]e must find out more about language!” He (250) clarifies his position:

“Already we know enough about it to know it is not what the great majority of men, lay or scientific, think it is. The fact that we talk almost effortlessly, unaware of the exceedingly complex mechanism we are using, creates an illusion. We think we know how it is done, that there is no mystery; we have all the answers. Alas, what wrong answers!”

Haha, I have to cut in here, to commend Whorf on his moxy, his candor and assertiveness. How dare he rock the boat! This may be from early 1940s but damn it is refreshing, if not invigorating, reading when compared to much of contemporary academic texts. Anyway, he (250) continues:

“It is like the way a man’s uncorrected sense impressions give him a picture of the universe that is simple, sensible, and satisfying, but very wide of the truth.”

He (250-251) exemplifies this with people who we might nowadays call flat earthers, albeit in his example there is no hint of conspiracy to it that we might associate to such nowadays. He is simply pointing out that it is a fairly recent thing to understand gravity and how bodies are arranged accordingly in the solar system, or in space to be more general, as well as on earth. He (251) also exemplifies this with how people used to think that heart has to do with “a place, where love, kindness, and thoughts” reside, not as a pump for circulating blood in the human body, how cooling was thought to be an addition of cold to heat, not a reduction of heat, and how leaves were thought as having some inherent property of greenness, not “the chemical substance of chlorophyll” that makes them appear green. In summary, he (250-251) is stating that it comes across as preposterous, against common sense, to propose such to the people he is characterizing, the point really being that for them asserting that the earth is flat, and the like, is simply adequate, matching their needs there and then.

He (251) argues that regardless of whether we think that the world is round and goes around or that it is flat, to use that example again, we “are in conception of language.” It’s worth noting that he (250-251) is not ridiculing people for being uneducated simpletons. No, no. In fact, he (251) notes that while we are tempted to hold one, the scientist or the scholar, better than the other, the layperson, even the scientists and the scholars fail to address the effect the conception of language and its forces have on people. In his (251) words:

“He [or she] supposes that talking is an activity in which he [or she] is free or untrammeled. He [or she] finds it a simple, transparent activity, for which he has the necessary explanations.”

To briefly comment on this, before I let Whorf continue, this characterization reminds me a lot of how in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ Deleuze and Guattari characterize language thought of as informative and communicational instrument in mainstream linguistics. Anyway, Whorf (251) holds the opposite view:

“But these explanations turn out to be nothing but statements of the NEEDS THAT IMPEL HIM [OR HER] TO COMMUNICATE.”

In other words, as Deleuze and Guattari, as well as Vološinov (we’ll get to this, eventually), might put it, you simply don’t speak language. Instead, language speaks you, through you. You are a talking head, not because you inherently are one, but because you’ve become one. For example, notice how I added [she] and [her] alongside ‘he’ and ‘him’, in order to make note of how Whorf is complacent and complicit of what he is describing, asserting that it’s always a man who makes these observations, has these thoughts etc. This was published in 1941, the year he died, and thus was likely written in the late 1930s and/or early 1940s. At the time and even decades later, this was nothing out of the ordinary. I don’t know if I need to emphasize this, at all, but ‘man’, ‘he’, ‘him’ and ‘his’ were words to use, as you may have noticed when you read old texts or listen/watch old recordings. Actually it’s quite ironic, really, how Whorf is focusing on how language affects our sense of the world, unbeknownst to us, only to have it happen to himself, as he is explaining it. Here language speaks through Whorf, indicating how at the time, immersed in that language, women were not considered people, or at least not important enough to warrant their inclusion. Of course, if language didn’t speak through him, he’d be just full of hot air on this issue, so it’s only fitting that it does. It’s, perhaps, worth adding here that Finnish does not have this issue as there is only one, non-sexed, pronoun, which works just fine (and if you need to make out the sex, you have to look for other cues).

The exclusion of women, how it was and still, to some degree is, manifested in language, reminds me of how it can also pertain to other types of expressions. I remember how I attended a geography field trip to Dublin during my year abroad. I believe we had just crossed the O’Connell Bridge and were standing in front of the O’Connell Monument. We made our way up the O’Connell Street (the pedestrian walkway between the O’Connell Streets, Upper and Lower, to be specific), going past four monuments on the way: the William Smith O’Brien Statue, the Jim Larkin Statue, the John Gray Monument and the Spire. We walked and walked until we reached the intersection where O’Connell Street meets Parnell Street. There’s yet another monument there: the Parnell Monument. It was at that point when the geography lecturers asked us what’s the deal here, what’s with all these statues. No one said a thing. Perhaps the Irish students didn’t find anything particular to say about a bunch of monuments dedicated to handful of notable people. For them it’s most likely obvious that these people deserve their veneration. As no one said a thing, I braved to point out the obvious, that none of monuments were dedicated to women, which made people, the women included, go a bit ‘oh, true, true, this main street has nothing that is dedicated to great Irish women’. They needed an outsider to make that observation for them.

Back to Whorf (251) who I keep interrupting:

“They are not germane to the process by which he [or she] communicates. Thus he [or she] will say that he [or she] thinks something, and supplies words for the thoughts ‘as they come.’ But his [or her] explanation of why he [or she] should have such and such thoughts before he [or she] came to utter them again turns out to be merely the story of his social needs at that moment.”

As you can see for yourself, Whorf (251) isn’t at all convinced that thought precedes speech and what follows from it, that language is a mere instrument for people to communicate with others (in order to express their thoughts). He (251) continues:

“[H]e [or she] supposes that there need be no light thrown on this talking process, since he [or she] can manipulate it anyhow quite well for his social needs.”

Here Whorf acknowledges that alright, okay, if we assert that people are driven by their social needs, people are still in the habit of countering it in a way that retains the primacy of the autonomous rational subject by conceding that they have social needs but that they actively make use of language in order to fulfill those needs. Whorf (251-252) does not agree:

“This he [or she] implies, wrongly, that thinking is an OBVIOUS, straightforward activity, the same for all rational beings, of which language is the straightforward expression.”

Instead, for Whorf (252), thinking and language are as mysterious as anything gets, really, operating largely under the hood, unbeknownst to us, here and now. In his (252) words, “a person’s thoughts are controlled by inexorable laws of pattern of which he [or she] is unconscious”, the patterns being “unperceived intricate systematizations” of language. With regards to languages, typically considered as neatly separated distinct entities, Whorf (252) considers them as pattern systems that have become distinguished from one another (albeit, perhaps it’s worth adding that only to such and such degree) in operation. He (252-253) goes on (and on) to provide examples of this and that in different languages and how they differ, but that’s not what interests me in his work, so I’ll largely skip it here. The gist of his examples is that, with particular emphasis on English, we, those in the western world in particular, come to think of the world as full of ready made objects, distinct things, even though it is easy challenge this premise. I’ve been using the chair example, but that has the issue that it is fairly easy to argue that it is a distinct thing on the basis that it is typically fabricated. Whorf (253) provides a more compelling example when he points out that we like to think there are hills or swamps, even though what’s actually at stake is “local variations in altitude or soil composition of the ground”. Where does a hill start? What’s it based on? And I’m not even trying to be funny here. These are legit questions. Whorf (253) explains what language does:

“Each language performs this artificial chopping up of the continuous spread and flow existence in a different way. Words and speech are not the same thing. … [T]he patterns of sentence structure that guide words are more important than the words.”

To which he (253) then gives the name of combinatory scheme that comes to organize shape segmentation and vocabulary. For him (253) this is “the pattern world par excellence.” He (253) adds that it is formless, by which he clarifies as, somewhat contradictorily, not without form or organization but without a spatial referent, a visual shape in space, such as a hill or a swamp. He (253) characterizes this pattern world or realm of patterns as something that can be actualized spatiotemporally, that is to say in space and time. In other words, what Whorf (253) is trying to say is that the segmentation to shapes and words, that is to things and words (to drop a subtle hint to Foucault here), is when the patterns have been actualized. This makes me think of the virtual and the actual again, as explained by Deleuze in ‘Difference and Repetition’. Anyway, Whorf (253) continues:

“Such patterns are not like the meaning of words, but they are somewhat like the way meaning appears in sentences. They are not like individual sentences but like SCHEMES of sentences and designs of sentence structure.”

If what preceded this in the text made me think of the actual and the virtual, this made me think of how Deleuze argues how we make sense of things, as opposed to what certain words mean, as explained in ‘The Logic of Sense’ (1990 translation by Mark Lester and Charles Stivale). The second sentence here may seem somewhat contradictory and it’s hardly the same as how Deleuze explains it, but I’ll let Whorf (253) continue:

“Our personal conscious ‘minds’ can understand such patterns in a limited way by using mathematical or grammatical FORMULAS into which words, values, quantities, etc. can be substituted.”

For me, this moves back to how Deleuze builds on difference in itself and how you can have something that is simultaneously undetermined, determinable and determination, as explained by him (171) in ‘Difference and Repetition’. To be specific, in his (171) words:

“The symbol dx appears as simultaneously undetermined, determinable and determination. Three principles which together form a sufficient reason correspond to the these three aspects: a principle of determinability corresponds to the undetermined as such (dx, dy); a principle of reciprocal determination corresponds to the really determinable (dy/dx); a principle of complete determination corresponds to the effectively determined (values of dy/dx).”

To make more sense of this, how this is related to what Whorf (253) is getting at, make note of how Whorf refers to formulas in which one can place words, values, quantities and so on. Also, make note of the earlier bit, on how Whorf (253) expresses that meaning appears in sentences, not individually but in patterns. Now, the way Deleuze explains how we make sense of things in ‘The Logic of Sense’, as also explained in a more rudimentary fashion in ‘Difference and Repetition’, on its own, a word or a symbol, such as dx or dy, have no meaning, but together create meaning (or sense, which I prefer over meaning because meaning tends to be associated with the words themselves whereas sense is tied to this in-between operation). The similarity becomes even more apparent on the following page where Whorf (254) states that:

“Mathematics is a special kind of language, expanded out of special sentences containing numeral words, 1, 2, 3, 4 … x, y, z, etc. But every other type of sentence of every language is also the potential nucleus of a far-reaching system.”

This bit just so in case you fail to grasp what the x and y would be substituted by. Whorf (254-256) goes on to explain how this function, how language functions formulaically, providing the underlying patterns that govern word generation, regardless whether the words are sensical or nonsensical. He (256) also reiterates that this all happens unconsciously, so people are unaware of the patterning and how it constrains their them in terms of their thinking, what they can and can’t express, as well as the organization of reality. This makes me think of Pierre Bourdieu (68) again, how doxa is a state of body or habitus in which something becomes and thus is taken for granted, as explained by him in ‘The Logic of Practice’. Bourdieu (164) clarifies doxa in ‘Outline of a Theory of Practice’ (1977 translation by Richard Nice), stating that it sets sense of limits or sense of reality, in which what appears objective does not adhere to objective reality but to is own internal logic of organization. So, in Bourdieusard parlance, Whorf (256) argues that language affects our sense of limits, our sense of reality. Whorf (257) summarizes this:

“This organization is imposed from outside the narrow circle of the personal consciousness, making of that consciousness a mere puppet whose linguistic maneuverings are held in unsensed and unbreakable bonds of pattern.”

Now, this should not be taken as undermining people’s intelligence. In fact, Whorf (257) emphasizes that he holds the opposite view. He (257) is actually quite struck by how even humans are in this respect, how supposedly primitive people have little issues with complicated calculations or, conversely, how the supposedly brightest scientific minds of humanity are as dim-witted as anyone else when it comes to explaining what language is and how it works. Later on, he (263) reiterates this point, stating that it can be a bitter pill to swallow for the educated westerners that, to be hyperbolic here, some backwards tribesmen, some crude savages, or so to speak, have to pay little to no effort with regards to language, even though it takes many decades for the bright minds to superficially describe how that language works.

He (257) moves on to note how, if challenged to address the role of language and their ignorance towards it, uneducated people reject such as theoretical and impractical, whereas, conversely, the educated people, reject such as metaphysics, mysticism or epistemology. As an anecdotal side note here, it was noted during the aesthetics lectures that I attended last semester that condemning something as mysticism used to be a thing among the religious authorities. The issue with mystics is that they generally don’t do things by the book, in the case of Christianity quite literally so (by the Book), and thus pose a threat to religious hierarchies. Whorf (257) that this is also the case in science:

“Western culture in particular reserves for the investigators of language its most grudging meed of recognition and its meagerest rewards, even though it has to counter the … tendency to find language, mysterious as it is, the most fascinating of subjects – one about which men love to talk and speculate unscientifically, to discuss endlessly the meaning of words[.]”

I think he could have gone a bit further with this rather than just pointing out that study of language tends not to be held in high esteem nor very rewarding, except, perhaps, on a personal level, despite our obvious everyday fascination with language. Okay, fair enough, the criticism is there, sort of, as I did point out already, but I think he could have gone after the apparent dogmatism, as well as the hostility towards theory, in the academic circles. There is, however, a bit, a funny one, where he challenges the supposed neutrality and objectivity of language in science:

“‘Electrical’ is supposed to be a scientific word. Do you know what its referent is? Do you know that the ‘electrical’ in ‘electrical apparatus’ is not the same ‘electrical’ as the one in ‘electrical expert’?”

Now, I don’t think you need me to answer this question. The point here is that words have no built in reference, no meaning inherent to them, as he (261) goes on to state. Feel like challenging that? Okay, look up a word in a dictionary. What does it refer to? You’ll come to notice that a word always refers to another word. It is always explained in other words, which, if you are unfamiliar with, must look up in order to understand the word you were looking up (and so on, and so on). He (260) goes on to mock scientists for their naïveté by pointing out that, far from being clear, scientific words, such as “force, average, sex, allergic, biological”, are, in fact, markedly vague, not unlike, “mirabile dictu”, words, such as “sweet, gorgeous, rapture, enchantment, heart and soul, star dust”, you find used “in the language of poetry and love!” He (261) also characterizes science as “the quest for truth, … a sort of divine madness like love.” Gotta love his moxy!

Moving on, skipping a couple of pages worth of examples pertaining to, among other things, cats and raccoons, Whorf (263) summarizes how scientific language, nested in Western traditions and built on Indo-European languages, affects understanding of reality:

“[C]aught in a vaster world inscrutable to its methods, [it] uses its strange gift of language to weave the … illusion, to make provisional analysis of reality and then regard it as final.”

Now, he (263) acknowledges that this is not unique only to the West, but it is where this has been taken the farthest and thus determined as final. Simply put, in general, reality is considered as simply out there. I’m again skipping the various examples he (264-268) provides for the reader and, instead, condensing it all to an earlier point he (262) makes about how underlying pattern affects the way we make sense of the world. To be more specific, to use, perhaps, the most illuminating example, he (262) notes that in English agency must attributed to some entity, some being. So, a flash is a flash. Fair enough. But in action it, the flash, flashes. Same with rain. It rains. There’s a curious redundancy there. What is this it that rains? To use an example not used by Whorf, in Finnish that’s just ‘sataa’. There’s no it to it. Is that a major difference? Well, I’d say yes and no. Yes, in the sense that having to have an agent, an it, makes it seem like there is one. Okay, sure, you typically have clouds when it rains, but, strictly speaking, to best of my knowledge, clouds have no intentionality. On top of that, it can actually rain when there are no clouds, so what’s this it again? No, in the sense that you still get wet from it and what not. On top of that, it’s not like it’s impossible to grasp the differences. I grew up with Finnish, aye, but I’m not forever locked in that, forever failing to grasp how someone could think differently. So, in summary, it does make a difference, as aptly expressed by Whorf (263):

“A change in language can transform our appreciation of the Cosmos.”

Note how he is not saying that it can transform the Cosmos, but how it can transform our appreciation of it. The key here, why one would pay attention to language, is that taking this into consideration allows us to understand the world in a different light, to highlight different aspects that we might be missing if we don’t and just take language for granted, as a neutral medium for communication information about the world. In his (263) words:

“For do you not conceive it possible that [people] all unknowingly project the linguistic patterns of a particular type of language upon the universe, and SEE them there, rendered visible on the very face of nature?”

So, conversely, to give this a negative treatment, if language is not taken into consideration in how we come to see the world, or sense it (to avoid ocularcentrism), we not only miss the potential of seeing it in a different light, that is to say sensing it in different ways (to be sense neutral again), but also risk projecting on to it, resulting in seeing things, as they say.

I reckon the best example that he (262) gives on this is a wave, which is something I hope to cover in the future in a topic largely unrelated to this. In summary, he points out that not unlike a hill or a swamp that are, more or less, static (or, well, appear to be so), a wave is also thing in English. It has the same issue again. How do you define a wave? Where does it begin and where does it end? How does one segment water into a thing? How? More importantly, how does one segment moving water into a thing? Even calling it moving is a bit off, considering that it’s not actually even a thing that moves. I’m actually failing at words how to put it differently. I guess I could say that the water is folding or coiling on to its self, continuously (this is a topic for another day, but, to get the picture, think of a giant wave, with a surfer riding it). I guess water is becoming-wave, to put it in Deleuzo-Guattarian terms. Anyway, Whorf (262) characterizes it as undulating. I reckon the issue is also present in Finnish. ‘Aalto’ is, actually, pretty absurd, now that I think of it. Whorf (262) notes how Hopi does not suffer from this issue, as in there are no waves but only waving or sloshing, that undulating that he was referring to. One can, apparently, call attention to waving, to a particular point, but there’s still no such thing as a wave. Again, I’m sure a speaker of Hopi is not unable to get to the point where he or she can understand the world as having these things. I’d be surprised if that wasn’t the case as otherwise Whorf would be contradicting himself throughout the text. So, yeah, I think language does make a difference as to how we come to understand the world as language plays a part in how it is all assembled right in front of our eyes, to put this in Deleuzo-Guattarian terms.

 

Tour de Detour

I was going to write an essay, a fairly long one, along the lines of 20 to 30 pages, single spaced, as I’ve done in the past, no biggie, but I quickly ended up on a seven, no, in the end, nine page tangent on ‘culture’. So, instead of covering what I was going to cover, ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ by Valentin Nikolaevič Vološinov (1973 translation by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik), a peculiar little book published in 1930, I’ll focus on a related issue, that of culture, for reasons that I’ll express shortly.

Right, in summary, the translators, Matejka and Titunik, (1) note that the book was written in the late 1920s. It’s peculiar in the sense that, as noted by the translators, it has little do with Marxism as Marx nor Marxians didn’t really delve into the realm of language prior to his venture, or so he at least claimed. In other words, it’s a curious piece of work that has ‘Marxism’ in its title, yet it largely has to do with something else as, well, language just wasn’t part of the canon. It rather connects language to Marxism rather than explaining it in Marxian tradition. The translators do a good job at condensing the key points of his thinking, so do check it out, but I’d be too practical for me to just reiterate their summations. Instead, I plant to take a closer look at certain parts of the book and explain the main features myself and try to connect it to my other readings and essays, past and future ones (as I’m going to go on a tangent here).

As I simply can’t stand the word ‘ideology’, I’ll replace it with ‘collective’ throughout the essays on the book. For me the issue is that ‘ideology’ is one of those words that gets thrown around wherever and whenever someone runs out of gas. It’s a shorthand. It’s a lazy presupposition that people sneak in to back up a claim. In this sense it gets used the same way as ‘nature’ or ‘culture’. To make more sense of this, it’s on my shortlist of banned words because instead of doing the hard work, explaining or at least trying to explain why it is that we have this or that or this or that happens, whatever that may be, people just happily fall back on them. For example, at times people explain their views or their behavior as part of their ‘culture’. Similarly, people may claim it’s ‘natural’ or that it is ‘human’, ‘humane’ or in ‘human nature’. At times, when something dramatic happens, something beyond the control of people, say when a hurricane levels a major city, people claim that it is ‘nature’ seeking revenge for what humans have done. The common theme here is that ‘nature’, ‘culture’ and ‘ideology’ are considered as having a life of their own, external to people, and having agency. I’m sorry but that is just lazy. If I notice you using them, that way, I reserve the right to ridicule you for it. You can’t say you didn’t have it coming, for reasons I’m going to explain in this essay.

I remember coming across this issue in one of the first texts I read that had to do with landscape research. If you haven’t read James Duncan’s ‘The Superorganic in American Cultural Geography’, published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers in 1980, then do yourself a favor and go through it. He is dealing with this issue and it’s worth reading even if you aren’t interested in geography. He (182) summarizes the issue quite neatly:

“Today in popular, nonacademic modes of thought the distinction between the individual and society is virtually taken for granted.”

He (183) then adds that:

“Most theories in social science today are based on the assumption that individuals are atomistic and thus independent of one another.”

I’m not so sure that this applies, as such, anymore, at least not in the more critical academic circles. Then again, I do recognize this, this emphasis or, no, rather, the taken for granted notion of the autonomy of the subject, the individual. I’ve had trouble explaining my own views on this because, for others (albeit not everyone), it just makes their blood boil when you challenge this notion. It’s, of course, only understandable, not only because it makes your head hurt, quite a bit actually, but also because it fundamentally challenges your perception of yourself. Anyway, Duncan (183) continues:

“This leaves unresolved the problem of accounting for the order one finds in society unless it is imposed by an external force from without.”

He (183) notes that there are two solutions to this problem. The first one is the atomist or individualist treatment of the problem, that people are independent from one another and that they just agree or disagree to get along, or so to speak. The second one is the holist treatment of the problem, that there is something autonomous and beyond the individuals that makes things go round, or, as expressed by Duncan (183), “‘work themselves out,’ or ‘seek their equilibrium.’” He (183) argues that Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s transcendental object known as Geist and its successors, such as Émile Durkheim’s concept of ‘collective consciousness’ and Alfred Kroeber’s concept of ‘superorganic’, are classic examples of transcendental holism, in which society functions prior to the individuals and thus also irreducible to them (as it is not drawn from the individuals). As noted by Duncan (183), this also results in the whole being the active determining force acting upon the individuals, not the other way around. What really irks Duncan (183-184) about this, or that’s my take on it anyway, is that the agency of individuals is relegated to acting as determined by “transcendental formal cause, e.g. society, culture, and God.” Duncan refers to Aristotle in this context, which made me think of how, if I remember correctly, for Aristotle teleology is something, like a plant, having a goal, to grow to be just that, while its the parts also have a goal, to support the whole. Anyway, that’s from memory, so correct me if I’m wrong.

Duncan (184) moves on to address Afred Kroeber’s, Robert Lowie’s and Leslie White’s treatments of culture as superorganic. I’m not going to go through it all, for I’m sure you can read it yourself, but, in summary, he (185) notes that:

“[White] like Durkheim, Kroeber, Lowie and other transcendental holists believes that culture cannot be reduced to the individual.”

Moreover, earlier on he (185) characterizes its development according to White:

“[C]ulture originated and is undergoing a continuous process of improvement because of man’s ‘neurological ability to symbolize.’ Once culture had developed, it became extrasomatic, obeying laws of its new development quite independent of the laws governing its human carriers. Culture generates its own forms, independent of men, and those which are not useful to its purposes are discarded.”

The problem with this type of definition of ‘culture’ is that, to reiterate it, it relegates agency of people as to mere bearers or carries of the superorganic, as noted by Duncan (187-188). He (188) explains what results from this:

“The formal cause, culture, therefore becomes reified. It has power to do things.”

It’s actually culture doing it all. That’s the cause. Sure, people actually do all that, but it’s the culture that is seen as putting them to work. The parts are just doing what the whole wants. Now, Duncan is, by no means, defending these or this type of conceptions culture. This article is widely known for holding the exactly opposite view. He (189) notes that these notions have been challenged a number of time, by, among others Edward Sapir and Franz Boas, namely for being “methodologically undemonstrable”. He (189) cites Boas (235), in his 1928 book ‘Anthropology and Modern Life’, as having expressed:

“[I]t hardly seems necessary to consider culture a mystic entity that exists outside the society of its individual carriers and moves by its own force.”

With regards to Sapir (286, pagination from ‘The Collected Works of Edward Sapir III: Culture’, edited by Regna Darnell, Judith Irvine and Richard Handler), in his 1932 book ‘Cultural Anthropology and Psychiatry’, Duncan (189) cites him as having expressed:

“It is not the concept of culture which is subtly misleading but the metaphysical locus to which culture is generally assigned.”

Ay, I reckon that the issue is exactly this. Culture tends to be considered as something external to people, as if having a life of its own and making things happen. Sapir (285) is actually addressing how culture, or, rather “[t]he so-called culture of a group of human beings” is “ordinarily treated by cultural anthropologists” as “a systematic list of all the socially inherited patterns of behavior which may be illustrated in the actual behavior of all or more of the individuals of the group.” He (285) takes issue with culture being ordinarily conflated with society, which is “a theoretical community of human beings”, “itself a cultural construct which is employed by individuals who stand in significant relations to each other in order to help them in the interpretation of certain aspects of their behavior.” Instead, to get to the point here on the locus, he (285) argues that:

“The true locus of culture is in the interactions of specific individuals[.]”

As well as (285):

“[O]n the subjective side, [the true locus of culture is,] in the world of meaning which each one of these individuals may unconsciously abstract for himself from his participation in these interactions.”

Adding what follows from this (285):

“Every individual is, then, in a very real sense, a representative of at least one sub-culture which may be abstracted from the generalized culture of the group of which he is a member. Frequently, if not typically, he is a representative of more than one sub-culture, and the degree to which the socialized behavior of any given individual can be identified with or abstracted from the typical or generalized culture of a single group varies enormously from person to person.”

What he is saying here is that culture is not a monolith, a thing of its own. Later on he (288) refers to such conception as “total culture” (to which he objects to, of course). What he is really against here is conflating culture with society. I think it’s also worth emphasizing his own view on culture where it has to do with the interaction of individuals and how meaning is abstracted from this participation from others. In other words, culture is emergent. It emerges in the interaction, in the interlocution between individuals. It’s not something that exists outside the interaction of people, on its own. It’s not a society. It’s not a state. It’s not all encompassing. Later on he (288) characterizes his conception of culture as varying infinitely. I take this in the sense that culture is not an infinite continuum at all times as otherwise we’d just have individuals, neatly separate and distinct from one another (each person as his or her own culture, if you will), but that it’s the potential to vary infinitely, that is to say that it’s not stuck in time as this or that. He (289) is, after all, emphasizing that you cannot neatly separate the individual and the society and use that as a starting point. Sapir (287) further explains what he is after:

“For each individual, the commonly accepted fund of meanings and values tends to be powerfully specialized or emphasized or contradicted by types of experience and modes of interpretation that are far from being the property of all men.”

He (287) lists different occupations as sub-cultures: “[t]he dairyman, the movie actress, the laboratory physicist, the party whip”. For him (287) they all have their own worlds, or so to speak, with varying degrees of opaqueness in relation to one another. Simply put, if you, the dairyman, fail to understand someone working in the movie industry (or the other way around, if you don’t like idea of you as a dairyman), it’s because their world is rather opaque to you. You just don’t get it, well, unless you get into it, which, may, of course, take a bit of time. Also, notice how he maintains that individuals have much in common with others but not all others. If we’d have nothing in common with others, if a sub-culture was used in a sense to mark the individual, then everyone would be opaque to one another. We continuously struggle to understand one another. Anyway, what follows from this, he (287-288) argues, is that:

“If we consider that these specialized cultural participations are partly the result of contact with limited traditions and techniques, partly the result of identification with such biologically and socially imposed groups as the family or the class in school or the club, we can begin to see how inevitable it is that the true psychological locus of a culture is the individual or a specifically enumerate list of individuals, not an economically or politically or socially defined group of individuals.”

Furthermore, he (288) warns not to work with preconceptions, what he humorously calls unicorns, such as those economically, politically or socially defined groups. Why? Well, as he (288) points out, they may have very little to do with people themselves. In this text he (285-286, 288) uses delineation of areas as example this. So, for example, a municipal border may be of little actual consequence to the people living at the border, on this or that side. Sure it has some consequence, but it hardly determines your everyday life, or, well, I hope it doesn’t. The same applies to categorizing people according to some socioeconomic standards.

It’s also worth clarifying here that for him (288) the individual, or what he calls an individual, is not:

“[S]imply biologically defined organism maintaining itself through physical impacts and symbolic substitutes of such impacts[.]”

Instead, what an individual is for him (288) is:

“[T]hat total world of form, meaning and implication of symbolic behavior which a given individual partly knows and direct, partly intuits and yields to, partly is ignorant of and is swayed by.”

This just so that you won’t feel frustrated by what he means by individual (as he does use it quite a bit in the text). To get to somewhere with this, and to eventually move on, I’ll skip to a bit where he (289) summarizes the locus of culture, as it is generally treated by people and how he wishes it’d be treated. He (289) first summarizes how culture is generally understood:

“Ordinarily the locus will be a substantial portion of the members of a community, each of them feeling that he is touching common interests so far as this particular culture pattern is concerned.”

Only to object to this (289):

“We have learned that the individual in isolation from society is a psychological fiction. We have not had the courage to face the fact that formally organized groups are equally fictitious in the psychological sense, for geographically contiguous groups are merely a first approximation to the infinitely variable groupings of human beings to whom culture in its various aspects is actually to be credited as a matter of realistic psychology.”

I think I’ve gone on a long enough tangent on this oeuvre. That said, Sapir also has early 1917 paper titled ‘Do We need a “Superorganic”?’, which can also be found in the same edited collection of his works. It is in this text that the issue is addressed, well, as hinted by the title, that the issue is addressed very directly. He (34) argues against Kroeber’s superorganic conception of culture because it ends up ignoring people and relegating their agency:

“All individuals tend to impress themselves on their social environment and, though generally to an infinitesimal degree, to make their individuality count in the direction taken by the never-ceasing flux that the form and content of social activity and inevitably are subject to.”

Make note of how he advocates for taking into account the role of the individuals while also acknowledging that the impact of each individual is, of course, rather small. He also acknowledges that whatever they do is not in isolation of others as the participation is social. In other words, no one does anything alone, even if whatever they actually do, say dig a ditch, is done alone. For even that simple task, you still need to have come to terms with what digging a ditch is. It involves a quite a bit. You need to have a shovel, know what a shovel is, know what a ditch is, for example, in contrast to a mere hole in the ground. No one was ever born to dig ditches, even though many people have surely dug ditches throughout history. Someone must have taught you all that, just so that you can dig a ditch, be it voluntary or not.

Duncan (190) notes that what he made use of, a handful of critics of transcendental holism (of which I highlighted only some), is, of course, selective and that their own formulations of culture may not be exactly sufficiently formulated either. That said, regardless of their own formulations and the rest of their work, he (190) reckons that they are correct on this issue, on the basis that transcendental holists cannot demonstrate that culture exists as a distinct entity that has an ontological status (a life of its own) and causative power (makes things happen, even if only by mobilizing people to do its bidding), regardless of how you define it. Simply put, it just doesn’t fly that there “a transcendent, autonomous level”, as he (190) characterizes it.

Not unlike Sapir, Duncan (190-191) acknowledges that people, the transcendental holists in particular, fail to recognize that culture is something that people do, not just something that is, by itself, for itself, because it appears as if it is not tied to anyone in particular, because it seems to be anonymous. That said, he doesn’t let people off the hook. He (191) criticizes people who opt to explain whatever it is that is at stake in such way for choosing to ignore the complexities of human action. This is exactly why I call it lazy to explain something as having to do with culture, that something is the way it is because it’s cultural. I take issue with it because it can be neatly used to back up an argument. For example, I can object to someone’s behavior, say violence towards others and challenge it. Now, the person I’m addressing could explain the situation and contextually justify the situation. That is rather complex and the person may realize that it might end up having to concede that I’m correct object to his or her behavior on this and/or that grounds. In other words, it may well be that it’s not in the interest of that person to do so. Alternatively, the person may explain that what I object to is part of his or her culture, it’s what people do. Oh, okay. That makes sense. My bad. Carry on. In the light of what’s been discussed so far, the problem with that is that culture is used as an a priori justification. It can’t be challenged or, at least, it would seem to be the case. Now, obviously, that doesn’t hold, at all. It’s just something that people sneak in as a justification. It’s a posteriori masquerading as a priori, a pretender.

He (191) summarizes the issues of transcendental holism, noting that it reduces agency into a single entity, in this case culture, which then obscures all the details. It ignores all the variables, even the common ones such as various interest groups, including but not limited to social groups, political groups, businesses, state institutions and financial institutions. In Sapir’s terms, it ignores what is relevant to people in much of everyday life, all what he calls sub-cultures. What results from this, what Duncan (191) finds particularly problematic, is that reducing everything into one blob, that of culture, not only ignores all those groups but also all the tension and conflict between those groups. In his (191):

“Thus the unintended consequence of the superorganic theory has been to discourage inquiry into important questions of social interaction by rooting explanation in a transcendental realm.”

So, as I pointed out, it results in people using it as an explanation and a justification, one that cannot be contested. It just is what it is. There’s nothing wrong here. No need to question people’s decision making process. It all makes sense in itself. Carry on.

At first it may seem that Duncan argues in favor of an autonomous subject or individual, considering how he (194-196) criticizes the view of conditioning, that people become creatures of habit, automatons, but that’s not exactly the case. He (196) goes on to acknowledge that unconscious or unselfconscious behavior does play a part in all this. Conversely, he (196) notes that individual choice and creativity also play a part, yet neither is unconstrained. In other words, he is arguing for a middle ground here. He (196) clarifies that while there are constrains to human action and thinking, what Pierre Bourdieu (164) calls sense of limits or sense of reality in ‘Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977 translation by Richard Nice), these constrains are not effectuated “by mysterious suprahuman forces” but by various conditions that pertain to human activity. He (196-197) exemplifies this, noting that “[o]ne could say that people allow cultural prescriptions to dictate their behavior” and that these prescriptions have an impact on people, “not because [they are] part of any mechanism by which a superorganic culture determines behavior but because many [people] believe that [the prescriptions] are … characteristic and they therefore act in accordance with this belief.”

He (197) then moves on to advocate for a reformulation ‘culture’ as something not unlike proposed by Sapir. For Duncan (197), as well as for Sapir, and I agree with both on this one, culture should “not [be] treated as an explanatory variable in itself but used to signify contexts for action or sets of arrangements between people at various levels of aggregation.” So, as Sapir puts it, culture should not be taken as ‘total culture’, a totality with a life and agency of its own, but as ‘sub-cultures’, as “a series of contexts”, as Duncan (197) calls them. That said, as acknowledged already, Duncan (197) reiterates that these sub-cultures or contexts that operate at variable scales, with varying degrees of influence on the people involved, in part pending on who it is that gets to exercise power over others and who those others happen to be, often have distant and thus obscure origins, which, in turn results in people often taking them for granted, “as guidelines for action.” This is what Bourdieu (164) calls doxa.

Is that it? Can we be happy with that formulation? I have no idea. I prefer not using it at all, even if it is so, so very hard to avoid using. I’m sort of fine using it in everyday life, in the sense that Sapir and Duncan use it, as explained thus far. Then again, as explained in this essay, many people hold culture as a ‘total culture’ rather than as a plethora of ‘sub-cultures’. So, every time I use it, in the way I prefer using it, people think of it as a ‘total culture’. Simply put, I prefer not using it, at all, because it has that baggage. To be honest, I don’t think I really have much use for it. When I was reading Sapir, I found it odd, as well as unsatisfactory, that he, for some reason, labeled everyday interaction and interlocution between certain people or groups of people as sub-cultures. Fair enough, I guess it’s easier to get the point across when you contrast them, what is generally considered as culture, ‘total culture’, with what he proposes as ‘sub-culture’. I don’t know about others but it just bothers me. If there are numerous ‘sub-cultures’, it pushes me to think that they are part of a larger culture, at least to some degree. Why call them sub-cultures, at all? I know I’m being anachronistic here but if you wish to rhizomatic, you can’t keep the tree, the hierarchy. That formulation is just unsatisfactory to me. Anyway, that’s why I much prefer speaking of assemblages and collectives, albeit that often results in people just staring at me, bewildered, the what now?

Getting on with things, one of the problems with ‘culture’ is that it’s this used on myriad ways. Related to Duncan’s 1980 article, Don Mitchell attempts to address this very issue in his 1995 article ‘There’s No Such Thing as Culture: Towards a Reconceptualization of the Idea of Culture in Geography’ published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. As you can see from the title, he is arguing that there is no such thing as culture. What we have instead is an idea of culture. Now, that’s also evident from what I’ve covered so far. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t exist if people think it does. That’s sort of the gist of this. For him the issue is that no matter how you reformulate the concept, moving away from the superorganic conceptions of it, it still ends up, as if, having a life and agency of its own. I’m not entirely sure if I’m compelled by his arguments, nor that I agree on everything, as such, but, as I explained with regards to Sapir, he is on to something alright. There is something to this that keeps haunting me whenever it is invoked, regardless of how it is conceptualized. I just can’t shake it.

What in particular irks Mitchell (106), is that it is hard to understand what culture is, what makes it distinct, what differentiates it from other concepts. He (106) is also troubled by it being a shorthand for, well, basically everything. It’s sort of a conceptual trash heap (you know, like one of those ‘other’ categories used in surveys for whatever the people who came up with the survey didn’t think of). He (106) acknowledges that in this sense it certainly has its uses. It’s exactly that, a handy shorthand. Then again, he (106) finds that problematic because it is so chaotic that it no use for explaining anything in particular. Oddly enough, Mitchell (106-107) comments on the shift from culture to subcultures, noting the exact same issue that I have with it, that the very notion of a subculture retains the notion of culture, as I just expressed it a couple of paragraphs back. I have read his article in the past, but only now I noticed that. Interesting. I guess it’s unavoidable really. I mean this connects to a broader issue that has to do with categorization, how if you categorize something as this, what this is is defined in negation by what it isn’t. You can’t fix the issue by adding categories because the issue itself has to do with categorization. It doesn’t lead anywhere, it just creates further division.

Mitchell makes note of the issue of divisions as well. He (107) notes that, among others, modern ethnographers can’t help but to uphold culture as an ontological given as they continually engage in creating disjunctions, us vs. them by positing people as this or that. In his words, as he (107) aptly puts it:

“Hence culture was a concept deployed to stop flux in its tracks, creating stability and ‘ways of life’ where before there had been change and contest. The idea of culture demanded a mapping of boundaries and edges, the specification of a morphology: culture had to become a bounded object that ultimately differentiated the world.”

Ay, as I pointed out, this is what you get when you engage in categorization. Pay attention to the last few words here, the differentiation of the world. The thing with arborescence, the hierarchical model of a tree, is that difference is to be found in between identities, those bounded entities, those branches. Simply put, identity is considered primary, difference is considered secondary. If you’ve read my essays, you’ll know that I hold and advocate the exact opposite view. Mitchell (107) is well aware of this when he notes that there is a movement (I’d say a fringe movement, it doesn’t even make a dent some twenty years later) that acknowledges the problems that come with bounded entities like culture, considering the expression ‘to be caught between cultures’. That said, he (107) immediately jumps to point out that as novel as that may be, to find yourself caught in between, or so to speak, that very notion still clings on to those boundaries. Indeed, you can’t be in between if identity emerges from difference. You can only be in between if difference emerges from identity. The former is proper individualism, in the sense that identity is, as the word itself does suggest, indivisible. Simply put, to be an individual, you cannot be divided. The latter is not individualism as it permits division. What is is instead is dividualism.

Getting back on topic here, with regards to culture, Mitchell (107) argues that it’s plagued by infinite regress. He (107) reckons that no matter how people try, they cannot come up with an apt definition for it without resorting to other concepts. To be more specific, he (107-108) states that:

“These bedrock terms, always receding as writers try to pin down their definitions, end up referring to nothing (or everything). They stand as empty (or overfull) abstractions. With each round of definition, the ontological basis of meaning recedes one step further, always just out of grasp, always deferred. They have roots in no worlds, at least not internally. ‘Culture’ is thus approached obliquely or its internal laws are declared to remain still obscure, in an effort to retain faith in ‘culture’s’ very existence.”

Ah, well, yes and no. I agree that culture is an idea, a discursive object, if you will. That’s, I think, what people can agree on. It’s also a powerful one. Again, fair enough. I’ve already addressed those. The problem here is that this can be applied to anything. That’s how language works. It isn’t rooted in this world in the sense that a word, say a chair, corresponds to something actual, an object, say an actual chair. Just stating that is an exercise in absurdity. The issue with that is that I’m asserting that there is a discreet entity, an object, that corresponds to that word, chair. There is no such thing. If there was, then, well, then chairs would be things-in-themselves, eternal ideas if you will. To be fair, maybe there is, but I am not convinced by such. Anyway, there is no isomorphism, no one to one correspondence between the discursive and the non-discursive. If we just look at words, language is just that, infinite regress. Open up a dictionary. Look up a word. Does it point outside the book (or screen)? Does it, perhaps, instead, point to other words? Oh. Yes. It. Does. It’s pretty much a practical joke if you ask me. Words explaining words, ad infinitum.

To circle back to the start, to the third paragraph, to be specific, Mitchell (108) explains why I wish to reserve to right to ridicule people for using words like culture:

“[W]e continue to parcel humanity into discrete, bounded cultures; we continue to insist that culture exists and that it is important. And in this sense ‘culture’ does come to exist in the world. That is, it exists as a concept that is made real. The infinite regress is stopped in practice. As an abstraction or covering term, whether by ethnographers and geographers or by cultural critics, marketers or geopolitical strategists, it is made to function as explanation.”

Ah, yes. Yes, indeed, it is made to function exactly like that, as explaining whatever it is that is at stake. To reiterate the point I made early on, I acknowledge that it is a handy word, for this reason exactly. Can’t explain it? Well, worry not, for ‘culture’ can always be used to explain it. Mitchell (108) further explains why he takes issue with it:

“The idea of culture is not what people are doing; rather it is the way people make sense of what they have done.”

So, to explain this in discursive terms, it’d be fine if culture was explained as a matter of practice, what people do, but it is used to explain, to justify, what was done. Simply put, people explain this or that practice as part of their culture in order to justify that practice. This is the point that I made about it being used to back up claims, along the lines of ‘it’s part of my culture’. Mitchell (108) explains this more eloquently:

“The lists of processes and activities … use[d] to exemplify culture are important not because they are culture but because, through struggle over the power of definition … they are made to be ‘culture’.”

The point he is making here is that, if you struggle (haha, a very fitting word here!) with this, the set of practices, whatever they may be, in this or that ‘culture’, are not inherently part of that ‘culture’. They’ve become reified as ‘culture’, as he (108) points out. Moreover, he (108) adds that not every practice gets to be part of this or that culture, hence the point made about culture being defined through social struggle and it being an idea, one fashioned as a certain set of practices, largely by those who get to have a say on it. In his (108) words, to put it more eloquently:

“Culture thus comes to signify artificial distinctiveness where in reality there is always contest and flux. What gets called ‘culture’ is created through struggles by groups and individuals possessing radically different access to power.”

This is why I pointed out that it is largely defined by those who get to have a say on most things. Access to power, or, as I’d specify it, access to positions in which one can exercise power (as, for me, power is never held, as such, only exercised) varies, so if culture is, indeed, something, it’s not something in which everyone gets to have an equal input. Simply put, some tend have more influence than others, even if that is always contextual. Mitchell (108) summarizes the key problem with ‘culture’:

“[It] is … a very powerful name – powerful because it obscures just what it is meant to identify.”

Spot on! Calling a set of practices, or, to be more specific, to put this discursively, systematic practices, culture only obscures that they are practices. It turns them into explanation of those practices, giving them validity, hence the point I made about people using ‘culture’ to justify their actions. Now, he (108-109) goes on to acknowledge that abstraction and reification has its uses. In discursive terms, to use the chair example again, life would be highly impractical if we’d engage in debate with others, or just ourselves, on whether a chair is a chair, or so to speak, every time we encounter a chair, rather than just making use of it. What he (109) objects to, and I do as well, is using ‘culture’ as a broad concept because it ends up explaining nothing. It becomes senseless. He (109) also objects to, as do I, using it as a narrow abstraction because it ends up just a mere synonym.

What Mitchell (109) proposes instead of culture is ideology, hence culture being only an idea of culture. Now, it’s worth acknowledging that Mitchell’s (109) article ruffled some feathers and he got plenty of flak for his take on culture among … cough, cough … cultural geographers, of which some is warranted and some isn’t. I’m not going to cover all the responses, nor his response to those responses (I’m sure you can look this up yourself, as you should), but I’ll address one of the responses, that of Denis Cosgrove. He addresses Mitchell’s article in his 1996 response, published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers and titled ‘Ideas and Culture: A Response to Don Mitchell’. He (575) makes a keen observation:

“For Mitchell, the idea of culture is henceforward an ideology and, for all the subtle protestations to the contrary, we find ourselves firmly back in a modified base-superstructure position.”

He (575) adds to this that Mitchell evades this issue, swapping culture with ideology, by redefining it in relation to political economy and class as something more chaotic than they are. For Cosgrove (575), it is more apt to define culture in relation to nature, to which I would add that, once again, we are getting nowhere with this. For me, this is just moving furniture. Sure, you can define culture as “a process of differentiation from ‘nature’ through wilful human intervention”, but that assumes that there is will involved (which flirts with the autonomy of the subject) and that there is such a thing as nature (which comes across as awfully superorganic). Cosgrove (575) does actually make note of Mitchell’s move, how culture is a matter of divisions, it being defined as this or that, in contrast to what it then isn’t. For me, this is stating the obvious, regardless of who says it, be it Mitchell, Cosgrove or someone else. That’s how categorizing works. You always end up doing splits. That’s arborescence 101.

To end this essay, I only went on this tangent, addressing ‘culture’, in relation to ‘nature’ and ‘ideology’, because, as you’ll come to notice, the book by Vološinov that I’m going to address, hopefully soon, is riddled with the word ‘ideology’. Okay, fair enough, it was published in Soviet Russia so it probably wouldn’t have got published if it wasn’t riddled by it, but it can get a bit nauseating when you read it. You sort of have to wire your brain to sort it out, to replace it with something more apt like ‘collective’ to make it less of a pain to read. That’s why I’m all about assemblages and abstract machines these days, even if that baffles just about everyone else, including my peers, those who are in the position to judge me, if you know what I mean.

Showtime!

Show concessions or show concessions? Good question. Probably both. Anyway, that is the title of an article that appeared in the journal ‘Discourse Studies’ in 1999. It is by Charles Antaki and Margaret Wetherell. This is tied to my prior essays on pragmatics as this time I’m taking a closer look at what kind of moves or tactics a speaker can employ to gain ground in speech (or writing). I used the insight of this article in my MA thesis, so it’ll be interesting go through it again. In short, what I remember, I appreciated the way it focuses on argumentation, with specific emphasis on how people not only provide an argument, assert something, but also simultaneously engage in certain tactics that undermine possible counter-arguments. The highlight for me was how a speaker (or a writer) can undermine others by conceding to them, the core thing discussed in this article.

Antaki and Wetherell (7) kick off by arguing that we are in the habit of thinking ‘concessions’ as something that has to do with agreement over this or that, following a prior disagreement. Sure, fair enough, that sounds about right. If you concede to or on something, you give in, hence it follows that there has to be some prior disagreement or contention. Their (7) argument is that this ignores certain senses of conceding. In my words, as I’m putting a bit of an antagonistic spin on this, perhaps more than Antaki and Wetherell, concessions are typically seen as rather rational, weighing options and then coming to a decision on the issue, thus conceding if one changes one’s position over to someone else’s position on the issue. However, there is more to this.

Antaki and Wetherell (7) … I was going to write concede … differentiate between a concession or making concessions and a show concession or “making a show of conceding”. They (8) elaborate that the former is about yielding, coming to the conclusion that one was wrong and thus conceding that one was wrong. In contrast, they (8) add, show concessions, to use the moniker from the article title, are about making it appear as if one is conceding, as if one is aware of the situation in general and takes different viewpoints into account. Later on, to add emphasis on this point, they (11) reiterate that it isn’t about reaching an agreement after disagreeing.

They (8-9) present show concession as typically having a tripartite structure. It consists of a proposition, followed by a concession and a reprise. You could, of course, pluralize those, but let’s keep it simple here. The proposition is an argument, something that can be challenged or disputed, at least to some extent. The concession functions as presenting possible counter-arguments, those bits that could challenge the proposition, the presented argument.

Throughout the article they note certain markers that tend to crop up in this tripartite structure. They (13) focus on these markers which indicate the concessions and the reprises. For example, they (13-14) state that concessions are typically marked by expressions, such as ok(ay), alright, obviously, of course, sure, you know, fair enough, granted and I agree, and that reprises are typically marked by contrastive conjunctions, such as but, nevertheless, whereas and anyway. They (13) add that the concession markers function to signal that one’s own proposition is retrospectively disputable (as it refers back to the proposition) but also prospective in the sense that it introduces what follows, another proposition that functions as the counter-argument to the initial proposition. It sort of operates in between, as a double hinge as they (13) call the coupling of concession and reprise. They (14) note that when it comes to reprise, it must connect back to the original proposition in order to function. They (15) add that it does not require that what is stated as the reprise to match the form of the proposition. They (15) clarify that it may well be the case that it is, that it is more or less a reiteration of the proposition, perhaps with only very minor changes, but resemblance is not a key factor here. That said, they (15) note that it’s a fine line, that “too much deviation from closeness in form and in time … risks the reprise not being heard, and the structure misfiring.” Simply put, this move fails if people fail to hear it as they can’t connect it to the original proposition, either because they can’t recognize it in the reprise or they’ve already forgotten what the proposition actually was (although, as a side note, I reckon that can also be beneficial, if your argument is, for example, just poor, as you’d probably want them to forget about your proposal).

To make more sense of this, in case this comes across as too obscure or abstract, I’ll provide some examples. Going back to the work I did as an undergraduate, I’ll cover some examples that I used in my MA Thesis years ago. I focused on persuasion and dissuasion in the 2008 US presidential election debates. In those debates Barack Obama made good use of show concessions. I was going to bold the parts that indicate the markers (not in the New York Times transcripts used here), but, well, the platform does not allow it in a satisfactory way. They are not always clearly there but I reckon the formulations still function even in their absence. During the first debate, held on September 26, 2008, Obama made a proposition:

“But we’re also going to have to look at, how is it that we shredded so many regulations? We did not set up a 21st-century regulatory framework to deal with these problems. And that in part has to do with an economic philosophy that says that regulation is always bad.”

To which his opponent, John McCain, replies:

“Somehow we’ve lost that accountability. I’ve been heavily criticized because I called for the resignation of the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. We’ve got to start also holding people accountable, and we’ve got to reward people who succeed.”

To which then Obama replied with a show concession after being prompted to address McCain’s views:

“Well, I think Senator McCain’s absolutely right that we need more responsibility, but we need it not just when there’s a crisis.”

Only to immediately lean into to it and follow it up with a reprise:

I mean, we’ve had years in which the reigning economic ideology has been what’s good for Wall Street, but not what’s good for Main Street. And there are folks out there who’ve been struggling before this crisis took place. And that’s why it’s so important, as we solve this short-term problem, that we look at some of the underlying issues that have led to wages and incomes for ordinary Americans to go down, the – a health care system that is broken, energy policies that are not working, because, you know, 10 days ago, John said that the fundamentals of the economy are sound.”

You can look this up yourself if think I’m being dishonest on this. In short, the context involves a moderator and the turns are a bit longer. I cut to these bits as a I did in my thesis as these are the key bits. There’s a bit off going on a tangent by the candidates, here and there, in this context, so I went with this approach, condensing this part of the debate to the key points. Anyway, as you can see, Obama proposes regulation. McCain jumps on this, but rather than addressing the issue head on, on its own, he goes on (and on, I cut these bits out) about his own record on being a responsible politician. Obama acknowledges what his opponent just said and briefly concedes that McCain is right on this one, only to immediately shift to reprise his own argument. Sure, he probably does respect McCain for the work he has done, but as this is the presidential debate, he has only one goal, to become the president. So, instead merely tipping his hat, conceding a point, he makes a show concession, which is meant to undermine McCain. I reckon he cleverly works this point to his advantage, turning it on to its head in the reprise, to make mockery of it. At the same time, it still, sort of, seems like he is being respectful to his opponent, showing class, if you will.

Antaki and Wetherell (17) call this type of a move a Trojan Horse as it involves “smuggling in a caricature description of the other side’s case, by casting it in extreme-case formulation”. Note how Obama concedes by stating that not only that McCain is right, that, fair play to him, he makes a good point, but stating that McCain is “absolutely right”. In other words, McCain is extremely correct on this one. It doesn’t take long for Obama to reverse this. It basically happens mid-sentence as he notes that McCain is on to something here with regards to responsibility … but that we should behave responsible at all times, not only when it happens to be in our interests. Ouch! Ouch, ouch, ouch! He then continues to elaborate the reversal, that is to say reprise his own proposition after propping it up by using McCain’s remarks as a foil. What was particularly interesting for me with this example, as I was going through it, is that Obama was able to mobilize this move on the spot, not as something that he had planned ahead. He made such a good use of the opponents remarks as they were uttered.

This could also be labeled as what Antaki and Wetherell (17) call a Sting in the Tail, “which amplif[ies] the combative force of the concession by reprising the or[i]ginal proposition as a specific reversal of the conceded material.” Obama does this quite well. He has his own proposition, a negative portrayal of the economic situation, marked by the lack of regulation. He concedes that McCain is correct, no, sorry, absolutely correct that it needs to be addressed, only to turn the tables, reversing his concession by arguing that McCain was and thus is part of the problem.

Obama does this also in the third debate, held on October 15, 2008. The moderator of the debate prompts Obama to assess whether Sarah Palin is “qualified to be president?”, to which he answers:

“You know, I think it’s – that’s going to be up to the American people. I think that, obviously, she’s a capable politician who has, I think, excited the – a base in the Republican Party. And I think it’s very commendable the work she’s done on behalf of special needs. I agree with that, John.”

Again, notice how he starts with a proposition, that her qualifications should be assessed by the people, only to point out that she is not only a capable politician but that it’s obvious. That’s an extreme-case formulation. He then moves to the reprise:

“I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other special needs will require some additional funding, if we’re going to get serious in terms of research. That is something that every family that advocates on behalf of disabled children talk about. And if we have an across-the-board spending freeze, we’re not going to be able to do it. That’s an example of, I think, the kind of use of the scalpel that we want to make sure that we’re funding some of those programs.”

The reprise here, utilizing a Trojan Horse, albeit also classifiable as a Sting in the Tail, as well as a Cheapener, is not clear unless you know the context. What Obama does here is to demean the opposition by seemingly conceding that the McCain campaign has its merits in this regard, only to indicate that the opposition is actually campaigning in favor of cuts that would also affect special needs education. Again, ouch! As you can see, the concession is only seemingly sincere. It’s there just to amp up his own proposition, that it’s up to the people to decide what kind of president they want, someone who will make cuts in education because the budget needs balancing or someone who is going to make cuts but only here and there, proportionally and only after first assessing the situation. In the debate McCain actually refers to using a hatchet and scalpel, which Obama then turns against McCain, stating that only a scalpel is needed but McCain wants to go at it with a hatchet.

Now, of course (haha, only fitting here), McCain does make use of only seemingly conceding a point. For example, in the second debate, held on October 7, 2008, he addresses military strategy abroad. He starts with a proposition:

“General Petraeus has just taken over a position of responsibility, where he has the command and will really set the tone for the strategy and tactics that are used. And I’ve had conversations with him. It is the same overall strategy.”

Followed by a concession:

Of course, we have to do some things tactically, some of which Senator Obama is correct on. We have to double the size of the Afghan army. We have to have a streamlined NATO command structure. We have to do a lot of things. We have to work much more closely with the Pakistanis.”

And the reprise of the proposition:

But most importantly, we have to have the same strategy, which Senator Obama said wouldn’t work, couldn’t work, still fails to admit that he was wrong about Iraq.”

As a context background here, Obama had questioned this in the first debate. Here McCain makes note of this after his proposition. He concedes that his opponent is right. Note the initial extreme-case marker ‘of course’. He then flips this on its head, noting that while there is some merits to the claims of his opponent, he is nonetheless right about this issue on military strategy. This qualifies as a slipping in a Trojan Horse.

These are just some examples that I plucked from my work done years ago. It doesn’t take much creativity to come with examples of your own. All it really takes is a proposition, an argument, which you want to propose. You then concede that those who oppose your proposition, your argument, may indeed have a point, fair play to them. This necessitates that you are aware of potential opposing views in advance. It doesn’t work well for you if you encounter opposing views on the spot, unless your opposition gives you the time and space to do just that (which they shouldn’t, if they are looking after their interests). You need to be able to present their case before they get to present it themselves in order to demean their proposition. In other words, you need to be aware of potential counter-arguments if you wish to sandwich them inside your own arguments. This is not about fair play. This is not about one party being in favor of something, presenting the case as this, and then another party being against something, in opposition of the first party, presenting the case as against that. This is about being in favor of something, presenting it as this, while simultaneously presenting the proposal of your opponent, formulating it in a way that will weaken it and reinforce your own proposal. This is weasel 101.

Is it fair to make use of this kind of strategies? Well, I don’t know about others but in my view language isn’t neutral, nor a mere medium, an afterthought of thinking used for communicating information. As I elaborated in my essays on pragmatics, you can position others through language. You can effectuate surface effects, what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari call incorporeal transformations. So, relevant to the strategies discussed in this essay, it only makes sense to force others, your opponents, to have to address an issue from the position that you put them into, as noted in the previous essays in reference to an argument made by Jean-Jacques Lecercle. You’d a bit thick not to include that in your repertoire. No, it is not fair to do that but it is effective. Instead of presenting the case on their own terms, as they’d obviously prefer, the opposition has to start from the premise you gave them, the position you placed them into.

Right, this was refreshing to write, something short and not as heavy a topic as last time. Anyway, if pragmatics is something that you are into, and I think you should be, even if you aren’t in politics, media, marketing or advertising, because it helps you grasp why it is and how it is that people in those sectors operate. I reckon I’ll keep writing a bit more on those areas, but I’ll leave that to another time, just so that, for once, sorry, for a change, I’ll keep it brief and to the point.

As the penultimate note, as I did note in my thesis back then, this is just one way of wooing your audience, so none of this should be taken as indicating that Obama won the elections because he made some swank moves during his turns to speak. McCain had his own way of doing things which worked for him, as well as for a large member of the voters, so I won’t go claiming that Obama > McCain.

As the ultimate note, it may seem odd, considering that I have no connection to the man, nor really did I keep up with his work in US politics, it was a bit sad to read of his death, probably because I spent countless hours going through the debates, watching them, over and over again. Also, while I pointed out that Obama maneuvers in ways that undermines his opponent, that could be taken as disrespect, I’m sure that Obama did actually respect McCain, despite any differences they had, just as McCain did the other way around. I know I’m whimsically stating this, basing it on, well, nothing, really, but I reckon showing respect is something you rarely come across these days. I guess it’s just way easier, not to mention practical or effective, to rely on judgment than it is to be combative. It’s harder for you to challenge others and work on issues than it is to simply disagree and bulldoze people, for the win, because, you know, you and your clique are, as far as you can tell, for sure, right.