Ineeda, uneeda, weallneeda

In this essay I’ll be taking a look at an article first published in ‘Landscape’ in 1984. The article is not particularly long, only nine pages, as republished in ‘Figuring the Word: Essays on Books, Writing and Visual Poetics’ in 1998. The article in question is Johanna Drucker’s plainly titled ‘Language in the Landscape’. In this essay I’ll be referring to the republication, a larger compendium of works by Drucker, just so you know.

I chose to focus on the article because it could be seen as a(n unwitting) precursor to linguistic landscape research. It’s not that other landscape researchers have ignored language, but unless I’m mistaken, no one really took up language in landscape prior the boom in the unrelated or rather parallel strand of research that became known as linguistic landscape research. You can find authors mentioning the role of language in landscape in landscape research, but mainly in passing. It’s not really taken up as I see it.

Anyway, Drucker (90) starts provocatively:

“STOP. We respond to the red octagonal sign almost without thinking. We react partly because of its standard form: we might not halt in front of a post with graffiti or for a chalkboard, even if they carried the same message.”

The red octagon on a pole with the white text makes you stop. Why is that? Well, as covered in a previous essay, in Richard Schein’s terms the stop sign is part of regulatory discourse that has materialized in the landscape. Encountering it while driving disciplines the driver to stop. What compels the driver to stop then? Drucker (90) explains:

“We are aware that disobeying the sign might have unpleasant consequences – an expensive fine, imprisonment, or a traffic accident.”

I’m not too convinced by the second explanation, obeying the stop sign because it might lead to an accident. If the sign wasn’t there, or there was something else, such as a yield sign, I think the driver would still take it into account, perhaps not in equal measure, but to some measure nevertheless. I think the sign is telling the driver to stop, disciplining the driver, because the collective responsible for erecting and maintaining it knows better. Of course it’s not that it doesn’t, I mean stop signs are typically placed in intersections that have limited lines of sight and/or in places where traffic accidents have happened before. It’s rather that the driver is given no choice. As Bruno Latour (152) puts it in the previously discussed ‘Where Are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts’, the inanimate object is enforcing proper conduct on the driver. The difference here is, however, that, I think, Latour would probably argue that the stop sign is only compelling the driver to stop. The stop sign does not some fail safe mechanism in case the driver does not stop the car. The sign, the road or the intersection (whatever it is) would have to have some interaction with the vehicle in order to make sure the car stops, regardless of the driver. I wouldn’t be surprised if that will be the case in the future. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if driving was made unnecessary in the future, cars moving about without drivers. Then the signs wouldn’t even be needed as the vehicles would not need disciplining. Anyway, while clearly acting at a distance on the behalf of the collective, the sign is only disciplinary. The possible punishment makes the driver think twice, or well rather more accurately ideally not at all, before opting to ignore it.

The point Drucker is making in the opening lines is that landscape not only is, but also does. More specifically the things in landscapes, as encountered by the human landscape participants, not only are, but also do. Drucker (90) offers more examples:


Drucker is not offering any definite list here. The point is rather that landscape speaks, as she (90) explains:

“[W]ritten language represents an invisible conversation: someone is speaking, someone is being addressed, the message has a purpose, and the message is delivered in a particular way.”

Here, however, following Latour, I would argue that the thing with landscapes is, as with inanimate objects, that only the landscape and/or the things in it address you and speak to you. You can attempt to have a chat with it/them, but it/they will not answer you. It doesn’t make humans powerless though. Landscapes can be changed and they are changed all the time, but that’s not exactly how it is done. Yelling at a stop sign hardly makes it disappear or changes its function. Anyway I’ll let her (90) rephrase the point:

“We cannot dismiss language in the landscape as auxiliary or duplicative. The relationship between linguistic statement and physical object influences every encounter we have with our environment.”

Without getting stuck with discussing the infinite deferral meaning, I think it is best to understand her statement as that language affects our relationship with the environment and the physical objects in it, while the physical objects in the environment also affect us and language. How could I put this more neatly? Assemblage, as elaborated by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ comes to my mind from this. If there was no language, no system of signs, then the things we encounter would be unintelligible to us, or, well, I think that we would at least encounter them differently. In other words, the world would unfold differently, but I think it’s rather pointless to even attempt to explain how it would unfold. For me, that’s the being stuck in language thing, how to explain in language how one perceives things or, well, reality in general, without language. Anyway, that said, language would be nothing without the material bodies, the machinic assemblages, the non-discursive. In other words, both are needed. They are co-constitutive.

In general, the interesting thing about this article for linguistic landscape research is that it more or less covers a number of aspects present in contemporary linguistic landscape studies. Drucker (90-91) makes note of the visible features, the method (typography and calligraphy) and the medium (materials used). Materiality in particular is highlighted by her (91):

“Whether language is carved in stone or scratched with chalk, its message is influenced by its form.”

She (91) adds that the materials are connected to the origins, that hand made signs are rare and typically found decorating older establishments. I believe the charm of hand made signs is back in fashion though, so an old looking and/or uniquely hand made sign does not necessarily mean that the sign is old. Anyway, she (91) adds that the materials, rather obviously, differ in terms of their durability. She (91-92) also makes note of that digital carriers, such as LED displays, render the medium neutral, yet effective.

With regards to language by itself, she (91) makes note of the differences between the use of what is often referred to as standard language and the deviations from the standard, such as slang, jargon, unconventional spellings and neologisms. She (92) also notes that the unconventional forms of language used, for example by businesses, draw attention. To her (92), these do not serve as conversation, but as commerce. Among others, she (93) uses the example of ‘UNEDA WINDOW’, which itself is not what is typically attributed as correct, so it’s not “immediately readable” and takes a moment of staring at it to get the message, but that’s the point. My own example is a very similar sign, ‘uneeda Burger’ on a sign that I once encountered in Fremont in Seattle, Washington:

As evident from the photo taken by yours truly, the sign is not the most legible of signs with its stylized letters, yet I paid attention to it. The burger place itself was hard to notice, so it did a good job at making me a customer. As a backstory to this, I happened to be particularly hungry at the time. I was in Fremont to eat at a place a friend of mine, a Seattle local, had once recommended, but that place was closed at the time, so I had to find something else. I was not aware of the existence of a burger place there, but it sure made my hunger go away. As also pointed out by Drucker (93), I paid attention to the sign because the text on it was (and probably still is) not standard, nor easy to read. Staring at the sign, I was like, u, you, needa, you need a … burger. Thinking to myself, well, you know what, that’s exactly right, idoneeda burger. I have to say that not only did I need a burger, but it was a great burger, with great sides and a great beverage. If you are ever in Seattle, do yourself a favor and venture into Fremont, because uneeda burger. After all, ugotta eat, wealldo.

Moving on, Drucker (93-94) states that language is informative, a function of linguistic landscapes discussed in the often cited article by Rodrigue Landry and Richard Bourhis (25) titled ‘Linguistic Landscape and Ethnolinguistic Vitality: An Empirical Study’. Drucker (93) states that language in the landscape guides us and our behavior as it helps us to identify places, so we know where we are and what to do. While she uses the label or heading ‘informative’ or ‘information’, she (93-94) questions its neutrality. Is informative really merely informative, is it neutral? She (94) makes note of street names, usually understood as identifying a place:

“The name of the street reminds us that some political body supervises the existence of the street. that it has a legal as well as functional existence.”

She (94) then elaborates plant names in a botanical garden:

“The plant markers help justify the existence of the park. They enhance the open space with the trump card of education, a social value higher than mere recreation.”

In her third example she (94) argues that clocks are hardly neutral. They tell us what time it is, pushing us to organize our lives around the way time is segmented on the basis of the rotating of earth around its axis. After all, it’s important to be in the right place at the right time, which, if my memory serves me (I hope to find time for it in the future), is what Henri Lefebvre examines in ‘Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life’ published in 2004, originally published in French as ‘Éléments de rythmanalyse’ in 1992. Anyway, returning to the topic, the point here is that even naming of places or things is hardly neutral. It’s not that, for example, the street signs aren’t informative or useful, indeed they are, but rather that we typically have no saying over these things. No matter how much you yell or shake your fist at a street sign, its name won’t change. Sure you can repeatedly vandalize it and/or advocate to change a name in act of resistance, but that won’t make it any more neutral than what it previously was. As Michel Foucault (82) puts it in the first volume of the ‘History of Sexuality’:

“[T]here is no escaping from power, that it is always-already present, constituting that very thing which one attempts to counter it with.”

In other words (95):

“Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power. Should it be said that one is always ‘inside’ power, there is no ‘escaping’ it, there is no absolute outside where it is concerned[.]”

Relevantly to linguistic landscape studies, I would add or specify that it is not merely a matter of what something is called, but also the language or languages in question. Of course, it’s debatable whether one should speak of languages or linguistic resources here, but under the current regimes of truth, in various societies, it is fair to speak of languages as distinct entities, regardless of whether they are or aren’t as the general consensus in these collectives is that they are.

So far, as examined in this essay, Drucker has made it clear that language use is not a neutral phenomenon and I have tried to further explain how and why that is. She (94) aptly summarizes the role of language in landscape:

“Language provides leverage. It is the only element in the landscape that challenges us to reevaluate what we see according to the ideas not indicated by the physical setting. Only language tries to tell us what we see. Language does not simply, or even actually identify things. Rather, language itself raises the question of definition. To take language in the landscape at face value is naive.”

Provocative and straight to the point here. You don’t need language in landscape in order to evaluate the landscape, only the internalized way of seeing, as elaborated by, for example, Denis Cosgrove in ‘Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea’ published in 1985. It’s fascinating and puzzling how that comes to be. I cannot recollect how it came to be for me, to (ap)perceive or construct reality in this way. Yi-Fu Tuan (100) addresses how we come recognize landscapes in ‘Thought and Landscape: The Eye and the Mind’s Eye’ published in Donald Meinig’s edited volume ‘The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays’ in 1979:

“[Children] learn to recognize landscapes to construe worlds, while at the same time they submit – as all organisms must – to environment’s pervasive influence.”

I keep staring at this passage in the book. While I’m torn, going back and forth, trying to figure out conceptually whether it is the landscape or the environment that affects us, and/or the things in it, I’m struck by how perceptive the statement is, considering that it dates back to the late 1970s. In particular, the part about construing worlds strikes a chord in me due to my own understanding of landscape affected by Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari as a diagram or an abstract machine, constructing a type of reality, one that isn’t by any means somehow false. If it was merely false, it would take less of an effort to convince people otherwise. At times I’ve tried to elaborate this to some of my friends, how this way of seeing the world permeates them, more or less all day every day, but it just doesn’t seem to cut it for them. The aesthetic component emerges rapidly as I poke them to react to what is in front of them. Of course, I understand; it is tricky to try to imagine how it would be to perceive reality differently, as much as I am aware that it is possible. I would say that I’m particularly aware of how it is a type of reality which has certain implications, perhaps nearly hyper so, yet at times I lapse into it, finding myself admiring the spectacle. I think that’s the pervasive influence which is very hard to escape. I guess there’s just that much pleasure in it that you just end up finding yourself immersed in it. Troubling, deeply troubling, even if only a handful of people in the world probably agree with me on that. Perhaps that’s why.

Anyway, I got sidetracked there quite a bit. To return to the point Drucker (94) makes, it is not only landscape as a way of seeing that affects us. It is also the landscape itself, the physical manifestation that affects how we come to think and see it. In the same edited volume by Meinig, in ‘Age and the Artifact: Dilemmas of Appreciation’ David Lowenthal (109) elaborates how we come to identify a landscape as old, valuing its antiquity by marking it:

“Designation serves both to locate the antiquity on our mental map and to dissociate it from its own surroundings. It is no longer just old, but ‘olde.’ The marker emphasizes its special antiqueness by contrast with the unsignposted present-day environs, and diminishes the antique artifact’s continuity with its milieu. The antiquity becomes an exhibit; we stand before it like a painting. The signpost tells us that it is in some measure contrived for out attention.”

What Lowenthal is on about is that what is present in the landscape itself affects how we come to see it. The standing in front of it like a painting part resonates with me in particular. It hints towards why we take it as it is. Anyway, he explicitly refers to signposts, which, at least according to him (100), make a clear difference:

“[W]ithout signposts, few visitors would even be aware that they were on a historic site.”

Moreover, he (110) indicates that some lament that it’s in some cases harmful to historic landscapes:

“Instead of rescuing history from obscurity, such markers drown it in trivia.”

What is meant here is that the signs, all the information they ‘neutrally’ provide change the way people see the landscape, to the extent that they can’t escape being force-fed what they are supposed to appreciate in it. I find the photo on the following page, page 111, credited to Peirce Lewis particularly telling of this. In it there is a road sign containing an arrow and a text ‘Historical Area’. While I’m not familiar with the site, indicated as situated in Sacramento, California, the message of this still holds. When you encounter such sign, perhaps when traveling, the sign alters how you come to perceive the landscape. You might not be familiar with whatever supposedly makes the landscape worth your attention, say certain architectural features dating to certain point in time, so without the sign you might not make much of it. Of course that sign doesn’t tell you why there’s something to it, but it nevertheless steers you to pay attention to the landscape. It may be that once you pay attention to whatever is signposted or make your way closer to it, you may find another sign that then drowns you in information that shapes your understanding of what you might have otherwise simply ignored. Drucker (94-95) uses a more humorous example:

“PLEASANT VALLEY ROAD in Oakland could not be more aptly named in this regard. The street climbs from a complex traffic intersection between concrete condominiums and a plain of parking lots buffering a shopping center. … [W]e can never reconcile the name on the sign with the place. How could we? The identification is made by contrast. The inevitable reaction to those words while paused at the stoplight is to look around and ask, [w]here?”

Once again, I’m not familiar with the area, so I cannot confirm the accuracy of this passage, but I think it holds regardless of whether it is the case or not. Many of us, if not all of us, have ran into what she is characterizing here anyway. I for sure have come across such signs that are rather, let’s say, optimistic about the prospects. There irony of it. It’s hard not to smirk at that moment.

Drucker (95) advances the argument that language in landscape is hardly neutral by stating that not only does it steer us, but also steers us away from other options:

“In some sense, instructive language always cheats us out of the experience we might have in exploring a situation. Instructive language often protects us (NO SWIMMING, DEADLY UNDERTOW), but it also can be restrictive and can limit not only our activity but our perception.”

Indeed, as already argued, at least in part, language in landscape can be seen as restricting us. Like with the stop sign, it might well be in our best interest in general, no doubt about it. However, the point is that the choice is not supposed to be yours to make. You can ignore it, but that entails consequences not limited to the aforementioned drowning. It is arguably in our best interest not to drown, fair enough, and that probably pushes us to take the signs at face value, regardless of whether what is indicated holds or not. In other cases, like with the stop sign, there may be disciplinary consequences for not opting to adhere to the message, as already mentioned in this essay.

So far the focus has mainly been on signs that are typically put in place by the authorities, the collective, which tends to have the right of enforcement. In other words, those signs are not just empty threats posted on the side of the roads for no apparent reason. Drucker (95) moves on to examine language in advertising. She (95-96) uses the example of a building side with the text ‘FIREPROOF’ on it, used to mark that the old building in question, housing a hotel, alleges that the company running the hotel is conscientious of fire hazards and up to the task. You can trust this hotel, it takes its responsibilities seriously. She (96) argues that this is a form of virtue signaling. Now, it’s unclear whether this holds or not, but that’s not really important. What matters is that they are telling you, in big block letters on the side of the building that they hold your life dear, or so you are told.

Also of particular interest in the article, especially more contemporarily, is the role large corporate entities. Drucker (96) argues that large conglomerates fit well in any landscape due to their uniform appearance. This, I believe, is not a sign of approval on her behalf, rather that unlike smaller companies, such as local newspapers, as she (96) indicates, the conglomerates fit the picture because they surface at multiple points in space, making them seem like they belong, wherever you come across them. In other words, they seem like they come with the territory.

Drucker’s following point might not be of great relevance to many, but as I’ve come across this myself in my own research and it has to do with who is the intended audience, I think it’s worth including. She (96-97) makes note of odd markings, such as chalk marks on pavement. She (97) argues that it’s not always evident what such markings mean. In her example, either a utility company or a municipal maintenance crew has scribbled something on a street surface. The message is obscure to anyone but the people who know what’s it all about. It may be that it’s a trade specific thing, so anyone with the required knowledge can understand it. Her interpretation is that it’s specific to a certain crew, which is likely the case. It’s not that uncommon to come across such markings, often technical designations that contain text and/or images for some specific purpose. You can obviously see them, no doubt, and you may even pay attention to them, considering they deviate from what we are used to, but unless that’s in your area of expertise or you are willing to find out, they’ll likely remain obscure.

The second last part of the article examines language as edification, that is as moral instruction. I consider this part particularly relevant to the importance of the medium, the materiality of the language use. She (98) makes note of formal inscriptions on the sides of buildings that contain moral assumptions and warns that inscriptions, put in place at a time of great expectations, may indeed “turn into an oddly mocking travesty of its original intention.” In other words, they are rich in faith into something, such as humanity, yet, often paradoxically such faith has had grave consequences to many. This makes me think of what Foucault once said about intentions and consequences, but as I’ve quoted that a number of times already, so I won’t go there again. While it is not evident in the text itself, merely hinted as something worth further discussing (99), what I take from this is that the grandeur of it, the landscape, supported by the durable materials, can make us believe in such, excuse the pun, edifices. I especially like this point she is making, highly related to the pun, because, for example, somehow there is just that something that compels us and at the same time impresses us in landscapes that are marked by durable old structures, be they, say, buildings or statues, even if any virtuous inscriptions on them may run contrary to what may have occurred later on or the hard labor put into the manifestation of that expression. It makes you think, for example, of the inscription at the main building of my own university, loosely translating as ‘gift from the free people to free science’ (people could be translated as nation, free as liberal, but you get the point). The first part might hold, people are free and their intentions are good, but when you immerse yourself in the academics, the second part comes across as a naive. To think it exists in a vacuum, the irony of it, what a barrel of laughs.

Think of this essay and the article what you will, but I think it is worth reading, at least the article that is. Things haven’t changed that much since it’s original publication in 1984, so it’s still relevant. Sure, it’s only nine or so pages, including the photos, but it includes a lot of what was to come decades later. It’s for sure ahead of its time if it is seen as an article pertaining to linguistic landscapes, which I think it clearly is. It challenges the use of language in landscape as neutral, as unconnected to its uses and its users. It reminds me of Louis Althusser, in the form of interpellation, as well as Deleuze and Guattari, who incorporate language into assemblages and argue for understanding language first and foremost as pragmatic (you’ll have to look what they mean by that yourself).

The Missing Mass Effect

The second part of my previous essay did not venture into things, rather remaining on a more general level of discussion. I’ll see to this in this essay, covering Bruno Latour’s somewhat provocatively titled text ‘Where Are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts’, first published in 1992 in ‘Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change’ edited by Wiebe Bijker and John Law. The text was republished in 2005 in ‘Technology and Society: Building our Sociotechnical Future’ edited by Deborah Johnson and Jameson Wetmore. This essay refers to republished text, in case you want to look things up yourself.

The title of Latour’s text hints at what he thinks is missing in social studies. What is missing is the mass of items, this and that, all the stuff that we interact (or don’t interact) with on a daily basis. The editors, Johnson and Wetmore (151), summarize Latour’s approach and align it with the actor network approach, or actor network theory (ANT), in which artifacts (things) are taken into account alongside people, institutions and organizations. I didn’t intend to include their comments in this essay, but I think it’s helpful to get the cat out of the bag, that is that his approach is also known as the ANT, even if it’s probably overly simplistic to call it a single theory, as if he alone dictates it.

I believe this is the first text written by Latour that I read. It’s certainly unorthodox in style. As I hinted at the end of the previous essay, he takes a lot of liberties and might upset the reader, being intentionally provocative. It will induce plenty of those ‘oh, too bad’ moments if you are not willing step down from any pedestal you may have set yourself up on. You just have live with the naughtiness or stop reading. Is it a bad thing? Well, it is if you think it is, but it isn’t if you think it isn’t. He is just trying to get you to dismount from your high horse, in case you are on one that is, which I take a lot of academic people in his readership are on. Of course they probably won’t present themselves as such (I mean who does?), but that’s sort of the point here, making fun of the immobility of people who take their position for granted. Once again I start to think that taking things for granted is often at the heart of the issue. In my opinion the text is actually quite lighthearted, even if the topic isn’t. Well worth reading.

To get somewhere with this essay, throughout the text Latour discusses artifacts, such veritable inventions such as seat belts, door closer devices, meat roasters and locks. Starting from the beginning, Latour (151-152) examines seat belts and offers his own narrative on them:

“Early this morning, I was in a bad mood and decided to break a law and start my car without buckling my seat belt. My car usually does not want to start before I buckle the belt. It first flashes a red light ‘FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELT!,’ then an alarm sounds; it is so high pitched, so relentless, so repetitive, that I cannot stand it. After ten seconds I swear and put on the belt.”

The narrative goes on and on about his irritation aimed at the seat belt, so I curtailed his example. Anyway, what is interesting here is that he, a person, a human, is interacting with an artifact, a thing, and getting upset in the process. I can only confirm this phenomenon. I believe I’m a calm person, but then again for sure I have had my temper flare at inanimate objects. Hockey sticks and bicycles come to my mind for starters. Anyway, he (52) laments this relationship with an artifact:

“Where is the morality? In me, a human driver, dominated by the mindless power of an artifact?”

Indeed, it’s actually quite funny to find yourself swearing at a thing, feeling dominated by its mindless power. Of course, it’s worth noting that, as I previously covered in the work of Michel Serres, the things are nothing by themselves, or rather, they are nothing more than what they are by themselves. Latour (152) does not fail to take this into account as he continues:

“Or in the artifact forcing me, a mindless human, to obey the law that I freely accepted when I get my driver’s license? Of course, I could have put on my seat belt before the light flashed and the alarm sounded, incorporating in my own self the good behavior that everyone – the car, the law, the police – expected of me.”

There’s a difference here already. After juxtaposing the mindlessness from the thing, the seat belt, to the human, himself, it seems as if the thing is mediating the will of other humans. Now, he (152) goes on to point out that the car ignition could be engineered to take all this into account, necessitating that the driver put the seat belt on before the engine can be started. The driver would just be turning the key and nothing happens until the seat belt is put on. This then forces the driver obey the law, well, unless the driver opts to manipulate the mechanism, as he (152) does point out:

“I feel so irritated to be forced to behave well that I instruct my garage mechanics to unlink the switch and the sensor.”

Countering his own clever solution to this moral imposition he (152) adds that he failed to take into account that the engineers saw this coming:

“They now invent a seat belt that politely makes way for me when I open the door and then straps me as politely but very tightly when I close the door. Now there is no escape. … It has become logically – no, it has become sociologically – impossible to drive without wearing the belt. I cannot be bad anymore. I, plus the car, plus the dozens of patented engineers, plus the police are making me be moral[.]”

With some clever wordplay in the mix he is making the case that the seat belt or the car that are not just the things they are or that they have the intended utility, saving your life in case of a crash and helping you to get from point a to point b. They not only are, but they do. In the seat belt example, the thing is designed to have an effect on the driver. In Foucault’s parlance one could say it’s disciplining the driver. Yes, the inanimate object is disciplining the driver. Of course, this does not mean that the thing has a will or intention to do so, it just does, it has that effect on a human if the human wishes to be a driver. The humorous part of this is the human reaction to things, treating them as if they were out to get you, to mistreat you, to fail you, to mock you and the like. Sure, taking a close look at whether something is broken is not out of the ordinary, but then there is this, for example, blaming things for your own shortcomings, even getting verbal with it. I for one have never blamed an inanimate object for my own shortcomings, not to mention voiced it.

His second example focuses on doors or rather their highly important role in filling the holes in walls. The example may seem hilariously trivial, but as he (154) points out:

“Walls are a nice invention, but if there were no holes in them there would be no way to get in or out—they would be mausoleums or tombs. The problem is that if you make holes in the walls, anything and anyone can get in and out (cows, visitors, dust, rats, noise[).] … So architects invented this hybrid: a wall hole, often called a door, which although common enough has always struck me as a miracle of technology. The cleverness of the invention hinges upon the hingepin: instead of driving a hole through walls with a sledgehammer or a pick, you simply gently push the door.”

Indeed, having walls without the holes that we take for granted would be rather awkward, to say the least. You’d have to choose between being entombed inside, which is hardly practical, or having little to claim there to be an inside differentiated from the outside, which would also be rather impractical. He (154) points out that, sure, yes, you could always fix the gaping hole in the wall once in or out, but it would still be very impractical and wasteful, having to do that all the time. I’m not going to explain his argument in more detail than necessary here, so do yourself a favor and read it yourself. It’s quite entertaining. Anyway, the point is that you should appreciate doors. That said, a door is merely a thing. He (155) reminds us that the problem with doors is that while they can fill the gap when needed, sealing or opening the wall when it fits us, yet people tend to forget to do something as simple as to close the door behind them, failing to seal the gap, leaving the inside exposed to the outside. He (155) emphasizes that this should not be much of a problem, simply close the door behind you, yet it keeps happening, despite all the effort going into making sure it doesn’t happen, including sign-posting reminding people to close the door behind them. He (155-156) adds that you can either discipline people, which takes quite a bit of effort and people still forget, or position someone by the door to make sure the door gets closed. He (156) then points out that the problem still persists if someone is positioned by the door as people can be unreliable, especially if the pay is not good for that monotonous task. In other words, a porter is a solution, but it’s not a fool proof solution. It’s also costly, so in terms of the money involved it’s inefficient. While discipline is a solution, it’s costly to make it work for this purpose. I think even Foucault would agree on this, considering the efficiency angle that more or less pervades everything these days. Surely, as noted by Latour (155-156) not every door is equal, so, for example, hotels may have the resources to have someone by the door, say a concierge, who’s going to be there anyway. Then again, even concierge may end up distracted, so discipline is not the ideal solution here.

To solve the issue caused by eventual lapse in discipline, Latour (157) turns to non-humans, replacing the person closing the door, the porter, with a mechanic door closer device:

“A nonhuman (hinges) plus another nonhuman (groom) have solved the wall-hole dilemma.”

This makes sure that even in a hotel the staff can be left “to their erratic behavior”, as characterized by Latour (157). That said, he objects once more. This time he (157) argues that the mechanic door closing device that relies on a spring is rather crude solution, one that emphasizes the door being shut. At first this part seemed odd to me, but it’s because I’m not that familiar with mechanic door closers. I had to look up what he is on about. So, if it is not clear, the door closer is the metal arm often found at the top of doors, where the upper part of the door meets the wall. The problem with these is that the spring mechanism leads to bloody noses as the doors slam shut, as Latour (157-158) puts it. Adding a hydraulic piston to the mix alleviates this, but again he (158-159) finds it lacking as it requires a degree of physical strength, something that, for example, children and the elderly might be lacking. In addition, he (159) finds them problematic when there is nothing preventing them from closing when an open door is required, which then leads to all kinds of makeshift solutions.

What is peculiar in this development? Latour (159) first praises the combination of hinges springs and hydraulic pistons for its close to as perfect as you can hope efficiency, but then points out that oddly enough, if out of operation, people treat the non-human as human:

“The hinge plus the groom is the technologist’s dream of efficient action, at least until the sad day when I saw the note posted on [a] door with which I started this meditation: ‘The groom is on strike.’”

He (159) then ponders this:

“On strike… Fancy that! Nonhumans stopping work and claiming what? Pension payments? Time off? Landscaped offices?”

Fancy that indeed! Oddly enough, as already hinted, we, or at least I confess that I do (or have done), treat non-humans as humans. Come on, how does an inanimate object go a strike? Since when? Does it have agency, not to mention intentionality? I think not, yet these strange things keep happening. Latour (159) doesn’t consider himself beyond this either:

“I constantly talk with my computer, who answers back; I am sure you swear at your old car; we are constantly granting mysterious faculties to gremlins inside every conceivable home appliance, not to mention cracks in the concrete belt of our nuclear plants.”

More importantly, however, he (159) adds that:

“Yet, this behavior is considered by sociologists as a scandalous breach of natural barriers. When you write that a groom is ‘on strike,’ this is only seen as a ‘projection,’ as they say, of a human behavior onto a nonhuman, cold, technical object, one by nature impervious to any feeling. This is anthropomorphism, which for them is a sin akin to zoophily but much worse.”

Ah, yes, that’s the word. I could have thrown that in earlier on, but that would have spoiled this segment a bit. To be more specific, he (160) further clarifies this view:

“[A]nthropos and morphos together mean either that which has human shape or that which gives shape to humans. The [door closer device] is indeed anthropomorphic, in three senses: first, it has been made by humans; second, it substitutes for the actions of people and is a delegate that permanently occupies the position of a human; and third, it shapes human action by prescribing back what sort of people should pass through the door.”

Importantly, it is pointed out that it means not only something that has human shape, but also something that shapes humans. So it works both ways, not only as a static substitute. He (160) then continues with an objection:

“And yet some would forbid us to ascribe feelings to this thoroughly anthropomorphic creature, to delegate labor relations, to ‘project’ – that is, to translate – other human properties to the [device].”

This objection continues with further examples that support his claims. He (160) points out that more recent innovations, such as motion sensors and scanners, even sense you and request identification, as well as possibly prevent access in case of danger. He (160) can’t help but to poke the social scientists:

“But anyway, who are sociologists to decide the real and final shape (morphos) of humans (anthropos)?”

Skipping over a bit here, he (160) then bluntly asks an important question:

“Are we not shaped by nonhuman [devices], although I admit only a very little bit?”

Without going into further detail here, yet, it’s worth emphasizing that he is not simply stating that non-humans are as important as humans, at least to humans, or that they have a great influence over humans. What he is stating here is that they do have an effect and it should be taken into account, not simply ignored or rejected, as he (160) points out as he continues:

“Are they not our brethren? Do they not deserve consideration?”

Again, he points out that they deserve to be considered in the equation. He (160) then advances the case against sociologists for being biased against non-humans:

“With your self-serving and self-righteous social studies of technology, you always plead against machines and for deskilled workers – are you aware of your discriminatory biases? You discriminate between the human and the inhuman.”

It’s not hard to grasp how he ruffles feathers among the academics. The last time I found such explicit criticism against others was the time I read Richard Hartshorne criticize early landscape studies, namely Carl Sauer and the Berkeley School. Anyway, to be fair, I’ll let Latour (160) finish his arguments:

“I do not hold this bias (this one at least) and see only actors – some human, some nonhuman, some skilled, some unskilled – that exchange their properties. So the note posted on the door is accurate; it gives with humor an exact rendering of the [device’s] behavior: it is not working, it is on strike (notice, that the word ‘‘strike’’ is a rationalization carried from the nonhuman repertoire to the human one, which proves again that the divide is untenable).”

Anyway, to summarize his arguments, I don’t think he is attempting to devalue humans, but rather to give value to the non-humans. I don’t find it at all strange that humans are fascinated by humans, what it is to be human, how does the human body function, how do humans (and their bodies) function in relation to one another etc., but that’s not the point in any of this. It’s really rather obvious to me that humans are fascinated by all things human. It does, however, involve a sort of a self-elevation, which itself isn’t that hard to understand. I mean to the best our knowledge humans are on the top, or I guess at least so we like to think, so it only makes sense to focus on the ones on the top, us humans. That’s very relevant to us, fair game, to be honest. That said, it may involve undue attention to ourselves, neglecting all things considered non-human, which in turn may prevent or hinder us from understanding ourselves.

Moving on, after elaborating his views further in clear a metatext (including how some of it is in jest) in a couple of pages, he (162) offers a lucid characterization of what he is on about in general:

“We deal with characters, delegates, representatives, lieutenants (from the French ‘lieu’ plus ‘tenant,’ i.e., holding the place of, for, someone else) – some figurative, others nonfigurative; some human, others nonhuman; some competent, others incompetent.”

I have to admit, once again, my admiration of clever wordplay. Explaining the role of non-humans by the use of lieutenants is just brilliant. This is probably improper conduct in serious scientific research, simply out of question (it makes me think of discipline, and I don’t mean in the field of study sense), but, at least to me, he couldn’t have said it any better. There are other points in the text that are very fitting, yet also comedy gold, but I’d rather people encounter them on their own. I fail to see how one cannot be humorous and serious at the same time, but then again perhaps I’m missing something that only those superior to me are aware of. Anyway, he (162) continues:

“Do you want to cut through this rich diversity of delegates and artificially create two heaps of refuse, ‘society’ on one side and ‘technology’ on the other? That is your privilege, but I have a less bungled task in mind.”

Once again, one must wonder whether it makes sense to think in binaries: nature/society or natural/human. Is it not humans that consider themselves humans, as in excluding themselves from what remains after the exclusion, nature? This was, at least in part, the point about self-elevation and how it may be counter-productive to humans.

I’m not covering the whole text by Latour as I believe this should suffice. If it doesn’t, then … too bad. From the start, the purpose of this essay was to address the role of artifacts, the non-human entities, in relation to humans. I think Latour does a good job at pointing out their importance, not only for what they are, or what they represent, but also for what they do. I think explaining why, excuse the pun(s), things matter is an important matter in landscape studies, especially in linguistic landscape studies as they tend to focus on various objects, that is things. I believe that even if one opts not to elaborate what landscape is, which I prefer people not do (for reasons already explained in detail in previous essays), one should nevertheless be able to explain why studying the artifacts in the landscape matters. Why should anyone take the claim that things matter seriously if their role in the mix is not explained? Latour offers clear explanations (with examples), so his work might be of interest and value to researchers. His style might be off putting to many, but then again, when did form become more important than content anyway?

The ‘I’ of the Tiger

In this essay I’ll be covering something similar to what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari elaborate in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. The focus still very much on things, or rather, objects, as discussed by Michel Serres and Bruno Latour. Anyway, I’ll start by examining quasi-objects, as defined by Michel Serres in ‘The Parasite’ published in English in 1982, originally published in French as ‘Le parasite’ in 1980.

In a chapter titled as ‘Theory of the Quasi-Object’, Serres (224) begins with a question:

“What living together is. What is the collective? This question fascinates us now.”

Indeed, that is an important question, yet he (224-225) laments that it’s beyond him, always a bit of a mystery that keeps eluding him despite the occasional moments of clarity. Anyway, moving on to the topic at hand, Serres (225) explains what is a quasi-object:

“This quasi-object is not an object, but it is one nevertheless, since it is not a subject, since it is in the world; it is also a quasi-subject, since it marks or designates a subject who, without it, would not be a subject. He who is not discovered with the [slipper] in his hand is anonymous, part of a monotonous chain where he remains undistinguished. He is not an individual; he is not recognized, discovered, cut; he is of the chain and in the chain. He runs, like the [slipper], in the collective. The thread in his hands is our simple relation, the absence of the [slipper]; its path makes our indivision. Who are we? Those who pass the [slipper]; those who don’t have it. This quasi-object, when being passed, makes the collective, if it stops, it makes the individual. If he is discovered, he is ‘it’ [mort]. Who is the subject, who is an ‘I,’ or who am I? The moving [slipper] weaves the ‘we,’ the collective; if it stops, it marks the ‘I’.”

Here Serres (225) is actually elaborating the game of hunt the slipper. In summary, it’s a game in which a slipper is passed from participant to participant with one player trying to touch the player who is in possession of the slipper. In the quote the [mort] is in the original, the rest are my edits done for the sake of clarity. Serres (225) offers another example, the ball:

“A ball is not an ordinary object, for it is what it is only if a subject holds it. Over there, on the ground, it is nothing; it is stupid; it has no meaning, no function, and no value. Ball isn’t played alone.”

Yes, a ball is an ordinary object, one among others if it merely exists. We could say it’s something spherical. That said, ball is much more than an ordinary object when it is in the possession of someone. Now, of course, here is the distinction between a ball as just a ball and a ball as in a ball in game, you know, like in football, basketball, baseball and the like. Anyway, I’ll let Serres (226) continue:

“Let us consider the one who holds it. … The ball isn’t there for the body; the exact contrary is true: the body is the object of the ball; the subject moves around this sun. Skill with the ball is recognized in the player who follows the ball and serves it instead of making it follow him and using it. It is the subject of the body, subject of bodies, and like a subject of subjects. Playing is nothing else but making oneself the attribute of the ball as a substance.”

In other words, Serres is making the point that in a game the ball is not the object, but rather the subject. It may seem preposterous but then again players do orient around the ball and move in relation to it, following it and anticipating its movements. If you think of it, it’s actually rather obvious, the ball does not follow the player, the player follows the ball. Serres (226) is very clear on this:

“The ball is the subject of circulation; the players are only the stations and relays. … In most games, the man with the ball is on offense; the whole defense is organized relative to him and his position. The ball is the center of the referential, for the moving game. With few exceptions like American football, for example-the only one who can be tackled is the one who has the ball. This quasi-object, designates him. He is marked with the sign of the ball. Let him beware.”

Simply put, in the game you are ‘it’ when you are in the possession of the ball. You are ‘it’ to the extent that it’s on your peril. You are the witness, which, according to Serres (226), stands for martyr in Greek. Beware indeed. Serres (226) further clarifies this:

“The member of the offense, the one carrying the ball, is marked as the victim. He holds the witness, and he is the martyr. Here and now, precisely on him, everything occurs. The sky falls on his head. The set of speeds, forces, angles, shocks, and strategic thoughts is woven here and now. But, suddenly, it is no longer true; what was supposed to be decided isn’t; the knot comes undone.”

He (227) continues:

“Thus, with the ball, we are all possible victims; we all expose ourselves to this danger and we escape it; the more the ball is passed, the more the vicariance changes, the more the crowd waits breathlessly. The ball shuttles back and forth like the [slipper], weaving the collective, virtually putting to death each individual. The reason that the victim appeases the crisis is that uncapturable knowledge that we all bear, under the voice that says ‘I’; we know that this victim can be ‘I’ as well. The ball is the quasi-object and quasi-subject by which I am a subject, that is to say, sub-mitted.”

So, in other words, what Serres is on about here is that the subject is not what is commonly understood as the grammatical subject, the ‘I’, the one that does something. Instead, while the ‘I’ is the subject, it is subject to, subjected, in relation to others. When a player is in possession of the ball, the player is not the subject and the ball is not the object. So, for example, in ‘the player kicked the ball’ it is assumed that it is as simple as that, subject, verb, object. We can, of course, look it that way, but it’s ignoring what the ball does to the player, subjecting the player to all kinds of potential calamity, or as Serres (227) puts it:

“Fallen, put beneath, trampled, tackled, thrown about, subjugated, exposed, then substituted, suddenly, by that vicariance. The list is that of the meanings of subjicere, subjectus.”

What Serres is arguing here and in this chapter in general is that the subject/object division is overly simplistic, one that emphasizes the capability of the assumed rational subject, the ‘I’. He (227) is quite clear on this:

“Philosophy is not always where it is usually foreseen. I learn more on the subject of the subject by playing ball than in Descartes’ little room.”

In summary, it would be silly to assert that the slipper or the ball do something, as if acting on their own. They don’t. That said, whatever the player (typically assumed as the subject) does with the ball (typically assumed as the object) is affected by the ball. The possession of the ball grants the player certain options, say kicking the ball in order to pass it to someone else or moving about with it. At the same time, however, being in possession of the ball makes the player open to various actions by other players, which may have an effect on what the player does. So, upon receiving the ball, the player may have to avoid a tackle from an opposing player or to dribble past a member of the opposition before being able to make the pass. In other words, as the game unfolds, what is done is not as simple as passing the ball in a linear sequence as each action is affected by other actions unfolding simultaneously. Now, one should also note that so far I’ve only pointed out what one player does in relation to the ball and those coming for the ball once the player is about to receive the ball. At the same time all the other players move about and orient themselves in relation to what unfolds in the proximity of the ball and others who do the same. It’s hard to even elaborate how it all unfolds, because you can only write in linear succession, one thing at a time, which, fails to capture the complexity of the game as it unfolds. Anyway, I think the point is, as I hinted in the previous essay title, that things matter, not necessarily by themselves, but in relation to other things and people. I can’t help but to think of assemblages here, how the heterogeneous elements affect one another, in as much as they do, if they do.

Following Serres, Bruno Latour addresses quasi-objects (and quasi-subjects) in his 1993 publication titled ‘We Have Never Been Modern’, originally published in French as ‘Nous n ‘avons jamais ete modernes: Essais d’anthropologie symmetrique’ in 1991. In chapter three, in a segment titled ‘What Is a Quasi-Object’ he discusses “these strange new hybrids[.]”

Hybridity is a the core of the issue for Latour who (51-52) objects to the division of nature and society, arguing against understanding them as separate. Unsurprisingly sociology, namely in explicit reference to Pierre Bourdieu and Émile Durkheim, is criticized by Latour (51-52) for ignoring the properties items (objects) in favor of their symbolic properties. The crux of the issue for Latour (51-52) is that social scientists “denounce the belief system of ordinary people”, that something is considered naturalized, that things have intrinsic symbolic properties, say “the power of gods, the objectivity of money, the attraction of fashion” or “the beauty of art.” Anyway, I guess one could also phrase this as criticism of representation in general, as if that’s all there is. He (52-53) adds that, in reverse, social scientists also denounce the sense of freedom and rationality of ordinary people as naive beliefs. This time, however, Latour (53) states that these beliefs are debunked on the basis of “nature of things”, how things are, determining the thinking and actions of people. In summary, he (51-53) argues that in sociology people are seen as mere puppets, (mis)understanding the natural as social and the social as natural. His (53) statement “'[n]aturalization’ is no longer a bad word but the shibboleth that allows the social scientists to ally themselves with the natural sciences” is rather telling of how he views this.

Latour (53) continues his argument and indicates that in this duality the nature pole and the society pole are both spit to harder and softer sides. Latour (53) first characterizes the split in the nature pole:

“[T]he first list will include its ‘softer’ parts – screens for projecting social categories – while the second list will include all its ‘harder’ parts – causes for determining the fate of human categories: that is, the sciences and the technologies.”

He (53) then does the same for the society pole:

“[T]here will be its ‘harder’ components – the sui generis social factors – and its ‘softer’ components – determined by the forces discovered by sciences and technologies.”

Then to exemplify this, he (53) argues that:

“Social scientists will happily alternate from one to the other showing without any trouble that for instance gods are mere idols shaped by the requirements of social order, while the rules of society are determined by biology.”

So, in other words, he finds this, well, rather convenient, yet not very convincing. He (53) further exemplifies the dualism and the partitions by arguing that the social scientists place the things they oppose into the soft side of the nature pole, including “religion, consumption, popular culture and politics” while taking the ones placed on the hard side for granted, namely “economics, genetics, biology, linguistics, or brain sciences.” To dial it down a notch, I mean Latour can be a bit hyperbolic here and there, he (53-54) is puzzled by the insistence to treat objects as mere reflections of the society, as if that’s all they are, yet, at least as he sees it, they are, in fact, its co-producers. In his (54) words, the issue is that:

“Maybe social scientists have simply forgotten that before projecting itself on to things society has to be made, built, constructed? And out of what material could it be built if not out of nonsocial, non-human resources? But social theory is forbidden to draw this conclusion because it has no conception of objects except the one handed down to it by the alternative ‘hard’ sciences which are so strong that they simply determine social order which in turn becomes flimsy and immaterial.”

He (54-55) then moves on to summarize how science studies awkwardly went on to disturb this symmetry, upsetting both sides of the argument, the ones on the nature side and the ones on the social side, albeit I see this more of a clear criticism of the social side. He (55) then adds that solving what then resulted, the bankruptcy of “the whole enterprise” (54), is not as simple as going for dialectics, as it “literally beats around the bush.” So, for him (55) this leads to the topic at hand, quasi-objects:

“Quasi-objects are much more social, much more fabricated, much more collective than the ‘hard’ parts of nature, but they are in no way the arbitrary receptacles of a full-fledged society. On the other hand they are much more real, nonhuman and objective than those shapeless screens on which society – for unknown reasons – needed to be ‘projected’.”

In other words, what we have is quasi-objects, things that are not only this or that, but of this and that, not here or there, but somewhere in between. In philosophy, he (56) finds that in Kantianism quasi-objects, or hybrids, are allowed and present, but as merely mediated, as intermediaries, “solely as mixtures of pure forms in equal proportion.” Similarly, he (57) states that Hegelian dialectics does little to alleviate the separation, rather making it worse, further separating the subject and the object. Phenomenology is not the answer either for Latour as for him (57-58) phenomenologists only offer a retreat which ignores the issue rather than solving it. Up to this point, he (59) humorously summarizes the attempts to address the issue as looking “like a tightrope walker doing the splits.” Moving on to the modern, or rather what he calls the pre-postmodern, he (59-60) argues that, for example, Jürgen Habermas only further widens the gap between the poles. He (59) summarizes this grouping of philosophy as “truly belie[ving] that speaking subjects are incommensurable with natural objects[.]” Following this, he (61) refers to what follows, the postmodern, namely in reference to Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard, as ‘hyper-incommensurability’. So, in summary, Latour is arguing that attempts to bridge gap have only made it wider, quite paradoxically.

Now, what about the some other philosophies that so far haven’t been mentioned. Well, taking a detour, Latour (62-65) addresses what he refers to the semiotic or linguistic turn, namely the work of Roland Barthes, but also a host of others. Here the emphasis is on language as a mediator, having (63) “become a law unto itself, a law governing itself and its own world.” He (63) finds greatness in these textual or discursive philosophies as they avoid the pitfalls of the modernist philosophies, being situated in language and not grappling to the poles. That said, he (63-64) finds that by abandoning the adherence to a referent they become distant. The way I understand this is that once the text becomes essentially all there is, then that’s all there is. Even the author of text becomes the product of text, as he (63) points out. Here (64), the only one I can decipher as implicitly referred to and criticized is Jacques Derrida:

“Others retained the original impetus of the Empire and set about deconstructing themselves, autonomous glosses on autonomous glosses, to the point of autodissolution.”

Of course I may be wrong, but I assume people are supposed to make the connection between Derrida and deconstruction. The other characterizations remain too vague for me to make the connections. Taking up Michel Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari would have been welcome here. Anyway, back to the topic, Latour (64) nevertheless nods approvingly at this line of thought for showing that it is possible “escape from the parallel traps of naturalization and sociologization” by “granting language its autonomy.” That said, he (64) argues that it’s only a valuable starting point if everything is merely discursive, if text is all there is. Having covered Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari quite a bit in some of my previous essays, I think that at least for them there is not only the discursive or the enunciative, but also the non-discursive or the machinic. Of course it might just be my generous reading into this, but I’d say they are not merely stuck in language, although it may seem that Foucault tends to emphasize the discursive over the non-discursive.

Moving on to something different (and among all things unrelated, making me think of biopower once more), Latour (65-66) briefly takes up the issue of Being and beings, as exemplified by Martin Heidegger. Here the emphasis is on that (65) “Being cannot reside in ordinary beings.” He (65-66) elaborates that it cannot reside in, for example, technology, science, politics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, history or economics. That said, he (66) does not agree with this, arguing that this is what the moderns want people think, thinking only in purities. In line with the title of the publication, he (66-67) is arguing that modernity has never existed, considering that Being never ceased to exist nor was it forgotten. Now I think I know why I thought of biopower. It has to do with how life is understood and this sort of relates to that, but I’ll reserve that for a later discussion (if I venture there more). This also makes me think of Deleuze and Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ elaborating how steel swords may have emergent life like properties.

To broaden the horizons, I opted to write on something different, yet sort of related to my previous essays. I like the way Serres takes up the question of who plays who in something as simple as a game of football, turning the subject and the object on their heads. There are also certain similarities between Serres, Latour, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, which put further emphasis on objects, or things as I like to call them. I glossed over a lot in this essay and never got far enough to address Latour’s fascination in items, but I guess I’ll address that at another time. I quite enjoy his style of writing, even if I disagree here and there. He doesn’t mind ruffling feathers, that’s fore sure.

Things matter

This essay may seem a bit, well, unrelated to my own research, but I think it’s highly important when it comes to understanding why I focus on things instead of people. I mean studying language in the absence of people may seem odd and I hope that this in part clarifies the rationale to it. Anyway, I’ll start with something that may seem particularly unrelated, but it should make sense eventually.

In ‘Logic of Sense’, first published in English in 1990 and originally published in French as ‘Logique du Sense’ in 1969, Deleuze (52) states that an ideal event is “a singularity – or rather a set of singularities or of singular points[.]” He (52) elaborates:

“Singularities are turning points and points of inflection; bottlenecks, knots, foyers, and centers; points of fusion, condensation and boiling; points of tears and joy, sickness and health, hope and anxiety, ‘sensitive’ points. Such singularities, however, should not be confused either with the personality of the one expressing herself in discourse, or with the individuality of a state of affairs designated by a proposition, or even with the generality or universality of a concept signified by a figure or a curve. The singularity belongs to another dimension that of denotation, manifestation, or signification. It is essentially pre-individual, non-personal, and a-conceptual. It is quite indifferent to the individual and the collective, the personal and the impersonal, the particular and the general – and to their oppositions. Singularity is neutral. On the other hand, it is not ‘ordinary’: the singular point is opposed to the ordinary.”

While he gives a number of examples what singularities are, the concept may remain somewhat murky. In ‘L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze’, a compilation of interviews conducted in 1988 and 1989 by Claire Parnet and published in 1995, when addressing the letter U, ‘U comme Un’, Deleuze argues against the popular opinion that philosophy and science have to do with universals, roughly translating to:

“But even if you take a formula like all bodies fall. What is important is not that all bodies fall. What’s important is the fall and the singularities of the fall. Even if scientific singularities – for example, mathematical singularities in functions, or physical singularities, or chemical singularities, points of congealing, etc. – were all reproducible, well fine, and then what? These are secondary phenomena, processes of universalization, but what science addresses is not universals, but singularities, points of congealing: when does a body change its state, from the liquid state to the solid state, etc. … [O]ne always finds oneself in multiplicities. Multiplicities are aggregates of singularities. The formula for multiplicities and for an aggregate of singularities is n – 1, that is, the One is what must always be subtracted. … Hence, the formula is n – 1, suppress the unity, suppress the universal.”

While what’s presented in the ‘Logic of Sense’ is in part reiterated in the interview, I find the clarification helpful. The lengthy interview is helpful in clarifying other concepts as well, so it’s well worth the watch, especially if his writing comes across as obscure and/or convoluted. Deleuze is at times even quite candid, so it also has entertainment value to it. Similarly, following Pierre Rosenstiehl and Jean Petitot, in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ Deleuze and Guattari (17) state that “n is in fact always n – 1.” They (21) further elaborate the concept of rhizome:

“The rhizome is reducible neither to the One nor the multiple. It is not the One that becomes Two or even directly three, four, five, etc. It is not a multiple derived from the One, or to which One is added (n + 1). It is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object, which can be laid out on a plane of consistency, and from which the One is always subtracted (n – 1).”

So, going from singularities to multiplicities, the point is that in order to address the one, it must be subtracted from the multiplicity, which isn’t a mere collection of ones, one times times more than one. A multiplicity is not a sum of parts. Multiplicity is not the same as multiple. Following Gilbert Simondon and rejecting hylomorphism (form-matter), Deleuze and Guattari (408) provide an example:

“On the one hand, to the formed or formable matter we must add an entire energetic materiality in movement, carrying singularities or haecceities that are already like implicit forms that are topological, rather than geometrical, and that combine with processes of deformation: for example, the variable undulations and torsions of the fibers guiding the operation of splitting wood. On the other hand, to the essential properties of the matter deriving from the formal essence we must add variable intensive affects, now resulting from the operation, now on the contrary making it possible: for example, wood that is more or less porous, more or less elastic and resistant. At any rate, it is a question of surrendering to the wood, then following where it leads by connecting operations to a materiality, instead of imposing a form upon a matter: what one addresses is less a matter submitted to laws than a materiality possessing a nomos. One addresses less a form capable of imposing properties upon a matter than material traits of expression constituting affects.”

To summarize Simondon’s criticism of hylomorphism, Deleuze and Guattari (409) add that for Simondon the issue is that form and matter are seen as separate from one another, defined separately, form imposing itself on matter. They (408-409) refer woodworking, an example also found in Simondon’s ‘L’individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information’ published in complete form in 2005. In it, Simondon (53) addresses the differences between working with and against the grain. I can’t say I’m a carpenter, but I do remember being told this a number of times when working on wood during industrial arts classes in school. It had to do with using a hand plane tool, not going against the grain. It’s not specifically what Simondon addresses, he (53) discusses sawing beams, but in general we’re discussing the same thing, working with the wood, not against it, taking the imbued tensions of the wood into account. I guess you could also say the same about chopping firewood. A log is no good as firewood, so you need to chop it up. Typically firewood is split with a maul (axe) along its grain, not against it. Of course in order to do that, you need to go against the grain, to cut the wood, a log, into smaller segments. Fair enough, nowadays you have all kinds of machines that split logs, but that’s not the point here. This only gets more complex if we move from simply splitting wood to carpentry where the haecceity of the raw material, the wood, is of even greater importance. The trees themselves are of high importance, as noted by Deleuze and Guattari (409):

“Doubtless, the operation that consists in following can be carried out in one place: an artisan who planes follows the wood, the fibers of the wood, without changing location. But this way of following is only one particular sequence in a more general process. For artisans are obliged to follow in another way as well, in other words, to go find the wood where it lies, and to find the wood with the right kind of fibers.”

In other words, not all wood is alike. While essentially anything goes for firewood, processing wood starts from inspecting and selecting the trees based on the purposes. Deleuze and Guattari (404-406) also discuss metallurgy and indicate (406) how steel working involves singularities:

“Let us return to the example of the saber, or rather of crucible steel. It implies the actualization of a first singularity, namely, the melting of the iron at high temperature; then a second singularity, the successive decarbonations; corresponding to these singularities are traits of expression – not only the hardness, sharpness, and finish, but also the undulations or designs traced by the crystallization and resulting from the internal structure of the cast steel.”

They (406) immediately contrast it to another weapon:

“The iron sword is associated with entirely different singularities because it is forged and not cast or molded, quenched and not air cooled, produced by the piece and not in number; its traits of expression are necessarily very different because it pierces rather than hews, attacks from the front rather than from the side; even the expressive designs are obtained in an entirely different way, by inlay.”

In summary, the steel sword and the iron sword are different not only by their traits of expression, but also by the singularities involved. Deleuze and Guattari (406) add:

“We may speak of a machinic phylum, or technological lineage, wherever we find a constellation of singularities, prolongable by certain operations, which converge, and make the operations converge, upon one or several assignable traits of expression.

So the steel sword, or more specifically the saber, and the iron sword are not the same machinic phylum, but different phyla as they diverge, as Deleuze and Guattari (406) elaborate:

“If the singularities or operations diverge, in different materials or in the same material, we must distinguish two different phyla: this is precisely the case for the iron sword, descended from the dagger, and the steel saber, descended from the knife.”

Descending from the dagger, the iron sword is a piercing weapon whereas the saber is a hewing weapon. Now, it’s worth pointing out that the saber is, of course, not synonymous with the steel sword, as there are plenty of other blade designs that change its traits of expression. I guess the saber is just a good example as not only is the process of making it different, but it also puts emphasis on the hewing, typical of sabers. The focus on crucible steel is also of particular interest, considering that it seems to have humble origins, but at least in the case of Indian crucible steel (wootz steel), i.e. (true) Damascus, not to be confused with pattern welded (false) Damascus, not only did it look special but it was also particularly hard (due to certain impurities in the ore), giving the blades their enduring cutting edge. The point here being that the wootz blades are known for their traits of expression, hardness and sharpness, which are the result of actualizations of certain singularities.

So, Deleuze and Guattari (406) state:

“Each phylum has its own singularities and operations, its own qualities and traits, which determine the relation of desire to the technical element (the affects the saber “has” are not the same as those of the sword).”

Moving on from phyla to assemblages, Deleuze and Guattari (407) state that:

“There is indeed a machinic phylum in variation that creates the technical assemblages, whereas the assemblages invent the various phyla. A technological lineage changes significantly according to whether one draws it upon the phylum or inscribes it in the assemblages; but the two are inseparable.”

I already covered assemblages to some extent in previous essays, but here it is noted that assemblages and phyla are distinct, yet inseparable. In relation to singularities, they (406) define an assemblage as:

“[E]very constellation of singularities and traits deducted from the flow—selected, organized, stratified—in such a way as to converge (consistency) artificially and naturally; an assemblage, in this sense, is a veritable invention.”

They (406) add:

“Assemblages may group themselves into extremely vast constellations constituting “cultures,” or even “ages”; within these constellations, the assemblages still differentiate the phyla or the flow, dividing it into so many different phylas, of a given order, on a given level, and introducing selective discontinuities in the ideal continuity of matter-movement. The assemblages cut the phylum up into distinct, differentiated lineages, at the same time as the machinic phylum cuts across them all, taking leave of one to pick up again in another, or making them coexist.”

In summary, assemblages may constitute cultures or ages. They (407) clarify that there are phylogenic lines, for example from “the blowgun to the cannon”, and ontogenic lines, for example the horseshoe which moves from one assemblage to another and so on.

How does is the discussion of singularities and phyla related to assemblages? Well, that’s a good question. The thing is that for Deleuze and Guattari (22) all they “know are assemblages”, (22) “machinic assemblages of desire and collective assemblages of enunciation” which are (23) “one inside the other and both plugged into an immense outside that is a multiplicity in any case.” They (36) specify that:

“[A]ssemblages have elements (or multiplicities) of several kinds: human, social, and technical machines, organized molar machines; molecular machines with their particles of becoming-inhuman[.]

From here it can be gathered that assemblages are heterogeneous, including bits of this and that, be they whatever, and not only of this, but also of that. So, to be heterogeneous, they contain, for example, not only humans, but also animals and items. Obviously categorizing them that way is not what they are after, but I use those words to point out the heterogeneity here.

To illustrate the connection between the machinic assemblages and the collective assemblages of enunciation, they (88) state:

“We may draw some general conclusions on the nature of Assemblages[.] … On a first, horizontal, axis, an assemblage comprises two segments, one of content, the other of expression. On the one hand it is a machinic assemblage of bodies, of actions and passions, an intermingling of bodies reacting to one another; on the other hand it is a collective assemblage of enunciation, of acts and statements, of incorporeal transformations attributed to bodies. Then on a vertical axis, the assemblage has both territorial sides, or reterritorialized sides, which stabilize it, and cutting edges of deterritorialization, which carry it away.”

They (89) provide an example:

“Taking the feudal assemblage as an example, we would have to consider the interminglings of bodies defining feudalism: the body of the earth and the social body; the body of the overlord, vassal, and serf; the body of the knight and the horse and their new relation to the stirrup; the weapons and tools assuring a symbiosis of bodies – a whole machinic assemblage. We would also have to consider statements, expressions, the juridical regime of heraldry, all of the incorporeal transformations, in particular, oaths and their variables (the oath of obedience, but also the oath of love, etc.): the collective assemblage of enunciation. On the other axis, we would have to consider the feudal territorialities and reterritorializations, and at the same time the line of deterritorialization that carries away both the knight and his mount, statements and acts. We would have to consider how all this combines in the Crusades.”

I guess the example above is only fitting as I keep running into feudalism in my essays. Anyway, the era is marked by all kinds of bodies, including but not limited to people (of varying social status), animals (namely horses) and items (namely machinic phyla – weapons), which function in relation to one another. In itself, the knight, the horse, the stirrup and the weapon are a machinic assemblage. Someone on a horse is merely someone on a horse, a bit of this on a bit of that, but the stirrup allows the rider to gain better control of the mount, seating the rider for a better or more comfortable use of weapons. I think one should add the saddle in the mix as well. I’m hardly an expert on this (and I have never been on a horse, that I remember anyway), but I believe the saddle and the stirrup do not simply transfer into more force rather than add up to a better balance, helping the rider not fall from the mount and the like. I guess there’s also the added benefit of being able to carry or wear more if it is harder to become dismounted. Anyway, the point about the mounted warrior is that it is not a mere sum of its parts, but rather how they function in relation to one another, enabling something emergent in the assemblage.

The previous example also includes the collective assemblage of enunciation, stating that the feudal assemblage is not explained only by the presence of bits of this and that. It also includes various statements and expressions. To open up the concept a bit, enunciation has to do with those statements and expressions, but it’s also collective, i.e. social, as Deleuze and Guattari (79-80) point out. They (80) indicate that:

“We can no doubt define the collective assemblage as the redundant complex of the act and the statement that necessarily accomplishes it.”

After expressing this, they (80) add that this hardly cuts it as a definition, so they clarify that:

“If we wish to move to a real definition of the collective assemblage, we must ask of what consist these acts immanent to language that are in redundancy with statements or constitute order-words.”

So, what are these acts they speak of? They (80) immediately clarify that:

“These acts seem to be defined as the set of all incorporeal transformations current in a given society and attributed to the bodies of that society.”

First differentiating that an act is not the same thing as a passion, a noncorporeal attribute or a mere expression of a statement, they (80-81) use a court room example:

“[T]aking the example of the judge’s sentence that transforms the accused into a convict. In effect, what takes place beforehand (the crime of which someone is accused), and what takes place after (the carrying out of the penalty), are actions-passions affecting bodies (the body of the property, the body ofthe victim, the body of the convict, the body of the prison); but the transformation of the accused into a convict is a pure instantaneous act or incorporeal attribute that is the expressed of the judge’s sentence.”

In this example they follow Oswald Ducrot in his 1980 published ‘Dire et ne pas dire: principes de sémantique linguistique’. Simply put, following Ducrot, they argue that judge transforms the accused into a convict by an incorporeal attribute. Their (81) next example involves the difference between war and peace, how people are instantaneously transformed into soldiers. Stating that we are now at war is sufficient to do that. Skipping a bit here, their fourth example (81) involves hijacking a plane, a situation that typically involves someone a firearm, possible leading to someone being executed, but what is important is “the transformation of the passengers into hostages, and of the plane-body into a prison-body[.]” No one has to get hurt for people to become hostages, be it a highjacking or a bank robbery. The mere expression, along the lines of a this is a highjacking or this is a robbery, is sufficient to instantaneously transform people into hostages. I think it’s worth adding that the mechanic side of the assemblage is, of course, also important. People may indeed be affected by the ununciation alone and thus be incorporeally transformed, but the transformation may prove to be short-lived if there isn’t enough firepower to back it up. Related to the other examples (some not covered in this essay), Deleuze and Guattari (82) make note of this:

“The assemblages are in constant variation, are themselves constantly subject to transformations. First, the circumstances must be taken into account: [Émile] Benveniste clearly demonstrates that a performative statement is nothing outside of the circumstances that make it performative. Anybody can shout, ‘I declare a general mobilization,’ but in the absence of an effectuated variable giving that person the right to make such a statement it is an act of peurility or insanity, not an act of enunciation. This is also true of ‘I love you,’ which has neither meaning nor subject nor addressee outside of circumstances that not only give it credibility but make it a veritable assemblage, a power marker, even in the case of an unhappy love (it is still by a will to power that one obeys…).”

So, indeed the circumstances, the relations of the situation relevant bodies are also important. My words have little effect when it comes to a general mobilization. Confessing one’s love is similarly off if not directed to the right person. To further clarify, they (82) add that:

“The general term ‘circumstances’ should not leave the impression that it is a question only of external circumstances. ‘I swear’ is not the same when said in the family, at school, in a love affair, in a secret society, or in court: it is not the same thing, and neither is it the same statement; it is not the same bodily situation, and neither is it the same incorporeal transformation.”

In other words, to summarize things here, it’s not just about what is said by someone to someone else, but it also has to do with spatio-temporal qualities, when and where. So, one has to take the machinic side of things into account as well.

I hope this clarifies the importance of things, alongside language. I hope to expand on this view later on when addressing certain landscape publications, as well as my own work in general.

Monsters and monster slayers

I couldn’t even remember who it was that stated it, despite at times loosely using it to get the message across, but yes, it was indeed Friedrich Nietzsche who (69) states in ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ that:

“Whoever fights with monsters should see to it that he does not become one himself. And when you stare for a long time into an abyss, the abyss stares back into you.”

This usually helps me to explain that the world isn’t black and white, which leads me to another aphorism, supposedly originating to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and translating to:

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Now, what was it that Michel Foucault once stated to Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow (187), as indicated in ‘Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics’ published in the second edition in late 1983:

“People know what they do; they frequently know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does[.]”

Ah, yes, indeed, so, when fighting monsters, you are aware that you are fighting monsters and why you are fighting them, but not what fighting monsters may lead to. That said, it seems to me that people rarely take this into account when they oppose something. There’s only good and evil, as if the world was simply black and white with no shades of gray in between. In contemporary terms, there’s only oppressors and the oppressed, as if they are mutually exclusive.

To get back to the monster theme and the simplistic portrayals of life, it’s perhaps interesting to discuss realities that have actual monsters in them. If you play games, be they board games or computer games, you may run into games where you face all kinds of monsters. In my experience you typically play a human or a humanoid character that ends up taking part in quests which involve facing monsters. While some games do make it possible to play an evil character or a neutral character, a mercenary type if you will, you often find yourself playing a good character. It’s not just that you’ve been taught to behave in that way in real life (you probably have been though), but rather that games reward the gamer for making choices that are deemed good (because the developers were probably taught to behave that way). The plot tends to push you that way as well, so you end up playing a goody-two-shoes. You end up being the light in darkness. That’s actually just fine, feel free to play that way, I mean I tend to do so (usually in hopes of a better reward though), but it assumes that there is a clear distinction between good and evil and that there’s no going beyond it. Fair enough, not all games are like that, so blaming all of them is hardly fair, yet at the same time, it is rare to play a game where things aren’t that simple.

I’ll take one game, or rather series of games, as an example. Based on the novel series written by Andrzej Sapkowski, the Witcher game series, consisting of three successive games with the same protagonist, makes you confront the question of good and evil. You play the protagonist, a Witcher named Geralt, a monster hunter for hire. I’ve played all of the games, but I’m not going into detail here on any of them. Why I chose to even mention them has all to do with monsters and monster slaying. It is expected of you to slay monsters as that’s literally in your job description and thus more or less your duty to do so. You end up protecting villagers from monsters as you are the one capable of doing so. That said, at times the game forces you to make choices. What do you do when you face a sentient monster, one that confronts you on your actions? Do you simply slay the monster for being one or do you reconsider your job description? Is the creature really a monster that plagues the local villagers or is it that the villagers want to get rid of the creature for some other reason? Is the sentient creature lying to you or are the villagers up to no good? It may be that slaying is the right path to take, but it might not be. The thing is that whatever you choose to do, what you do may end up haunting you later. Okay, now one might object that it’s monsters vs. humans in this case. If only it were that simple. I remember an encounter in the third game. You come across a man tied up and left to die in a place swarmed by monsters. The man has been left there for deserting, or so he claims. There seems to be more to this, but you can’t be sure. Now, I suppose the good thing to do is to free the man. I mean you are the monster slayer. It would be out of character to do otherwise, considering there are monsters in the area. If you do free the man, one day you’ll meet him again, in a small camp, alongside what appears to be bandits who’ve forcefully taken the camp from the people who left the man to die. Now, he may have been a deserter tied up by the people he later on killed, a group war refugees, or not. What matters is that your intervention was all about good intentions, which then made the retaliation possible. It may well be that the man was a known bandit after all, judging by what subsequently happened. So, when you opt to save the man, you do know what you are doing and why you are doing it. There’s no doubt about it. It’s only later on that you realize that what you did actually did. Now, the game does give you a choice to do the opposite, but then that death is on you, considering that you can’t be sure of the situation when you make the choice. The exceptional thing is that the consequences are not immediate, which makes you want to reconsider when it’s already too late. You only get to realize what you did did when the blood is already spattered everywhere.

Back to reality, of course we don’t face actual monsters like the ones in the computer games that I just mentioned, but the figurative ones work just as well. So, when one goes on a quest to oppose the figurative monsters, one should be wary of becoming one in the process. The world isn’t black and white and then there is that what they say about good intentions. That’s why I like the way Foucault (194) understands power in ‘Discipline and Punish’, first published in English in 1977:

“We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.”

So, there is no good and evil split at play. In reality, there is exercise of power, from one point to another and not external to “economic processes, knowledge relations, sexual relations”, to name some, as noted by Foucault (94) in the first volume of ‘The History of Sexuality’ published in English in 1978. More specifically and highly relevantly to this essay, he (94) adds that:

“Power comes from below; that is, there is no binary and all-encompassing opposition between rulers and ruled at the root of power relations, and serving as a general matrix-no such duality extending from the top down and reacting on more and more limited groups to the very depths of the social body.”

There you have it. Power is everywhere or, as Foucault (94) puts it, “exercised from innumerable points[.]” There is no simple duality between the one and the other. If only it was as black and white as good against evil. To clarify this, Foucault (94) continues:

“One must suppose rather that the manifold relationships of force that take shape and come into play in the machinery of production, in families, limited groups, and institutions, are the basis for wide-ranging effects of cleavage that run through the social body as a whole. These then form a general line of force that traverses the local oppositions and links them together; to be sure, they also bring about redistributions, realignments, homogenizations, serial arrangements, and convergences of the force relations. Major dominations are the hegemonic effects that are sustained by all these confrontations.”

Simply put, the way things work is far more complex than some good/evil or oppressor/oppressed binary. It may seem that the world is that simple, but there is more than meets the eye. What about resistance then? Well, Foucault (95) addresses that as well:

“Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power. Should it be said that one is always ‘inside’ power, there is no ‘escaping’ it, there is no absolute outside where it is concerned, because one is subject to the law in any case?”

Skipping a bit, he (95-96) adds:

“Hence there is no single locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, source of all rebellions, or pure law of the revolutionary. Instead there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case: resistances that are possible, necessary, improbable; others that are spontaneous, savage, solitary, concerted, rampant, or violent; still others that are quick to compromise, interested, or sacrificial; by definition, they can only exist in the strategic field of power relations.”

And skipping a bit more, he (96) states:

“They are the odd term in relations of power; they are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite. Hence they too are distributed in irregular fashion: the points, knots, or focuses of resistance are spread over time and space at varying densities, at times mobilizing groups or individuals in a definitive way, inflaming certain points of the body, certain moments in life, certain types of behavior.”

So, they way I see it, Foucault states that while there is resistance to where there is exercise of power, there is no exit to power. As he points out, resistance is not in a position of exteriority in relation to power. As there is no escaping power, one must come up with a sense of how to cope with it, what forms of exercises of power we want and what forms we don’t want. That might not be the greatest paraphrasing or summary of his thought, but, well, there you have it. I think I’d need the help of a physicist in order to better explain how this relates to force and resistance, how one requires the other, but, hence, I think, the point about the irreducible opposite. So, there is no total domination, just as there is no total liberation, only points of resistance, just as there are points of exercise of power. That might not sound all that great to those seeking a better world, but then again, to throw in another common expression, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

As an addendum (a day later), I forgot to mention that the second part of the Nietzsche quote reminds me of the ‘Black Mirror’, a television series created and mainly written by Charlie Brooker. The idea behind the name being that once one of the typically dystopian episodes (there’s like one that ends on a sort of a positive note) ends and eventually “when the screen cuts to black, [the viewers] see themselves reflected” on the screen, as explained by Brooker in a Channel 4 interview published on December 16, 2014. So, whatever just shocked or horrified you (that tends to happen) first puzzles you as the credits roll, how could that be and who’s responsible for this, then suddenly you see your mirror reflection, the black mirror. It’s in fact you! That reminds me of how Deleuze and Guattari (130) point out in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ about being slave to oneself once there are no despots around. What is reflected in the black mirror is of course not you specifically. It’s rather a general (dark) reflection on humanity, which, I reckon should make the viewer feel even less at ease than if it was only about you.

Back in the day the world was different

What is landscape? I’ve covered this quite a bit already, going through a number of articles which address what it is and what it does, but I haven’t really delved into its origins. So in this essay I’ll do just that. Now, the thing with landscape is that it’s an ordinary word and you’ll find it used far more often in everyday conversations than in academic texts. Much of the confusion of what it is has to do with its everyday use.

Starting from the nuts and bolts, landscape is a compound noun: land + scape. It is clear from that already that landscape does refer to land but it isn’t synonymous with it. If it did, it wouldn’t make much sense to be honest. That said, that’s just me talking. Taking a look at a dictionary is probably a better idea than just taking my word for it. It (OED, s.v. “landscape”, n.) is firstly defined as:

“A picture representing natural inland scenery, as distinguished from a sea picture, a portrait, etc.”

Secondly as:

“A view or prospect of natural inland scenery, such as can be taken in at a glance from one point of view; a piece of country scenery.”

Or as:

“A tract of land with its distinguishing characteristics and features, esp. considered as a product of modifying or shaping processes and agents (usually natural).”

Thirdly, building on the previous definitions, as:

“In generalized sense … : Inland natural scenery, or its representation in painting.”

Fourthly as:

“In various transf. and fig. uses.”

None the dictionary definitions of landscape (OED, s.v. “landscape”, n.) refer to the land itself, by itself. Instead landscape is defined as a visual representation or description of it, how it is characterized by its features or used figuratively. The closest definition referring to land is the third overall definition offered here. Judging by the examples provided, that sense of the word has to do with geology and geomorphology, as well as geography in general, emerging in the late 19th century. Those familiar with early landscape research should notice that one of the examples provided under that definition is actually from Carl Sauer’s ‘The Morphology of Landscape’ (37):

“The works of man express themselves in the cultural landscape. There may be a succession of these landscapes with a succession of cultures. They are derived in each case from the natural landscape, man expressing his place in nature as a distinct agent of modification.”

Dictionaries, such as the OED, give us an overview of how the word is generally understood. Kenneth Olwig is probably the most informative landscape researcher when it comes to the origins of the word, so, in addition to the dictionary, I’ll be relying on his work to further illustrate the word with emphasis on the origins. He examines the word in his 2005 article titled ‘Representation and Alienation in the Political Land-scape’ and published in Cultural Geographies. He (20) starts by breaking the word apart to its stem ‘land’ and the following suffix ‘-scape’. The stem ‘land’ (OED, s.v. “land”, n.) has a large number of definitions, but it primarily refers to a portion or tract of earth’s surface, ground or soil, territorial possession or property. In ‘The Word Itself’, itself a part of the ‘Discovering the Vernacular Landscape’ published in 1984, J.B. Jackson (6) states that in the medieval era ‘land’ was used to denote a delimited area, such as a plot of farmland. Turning attention to the suffix ‘-scape’ (-schap in Dutch) functions as the English suffix ‘-ship’ in the compound noun landscape (OED, s.v. “landscape”, n.). The definition of suffix ‘-ship’ (-scipe in Old English) denotes a state or a condition of being of something, such as hardship, friendship, fellowship and scholarship (OED, s.v. “-ship”, suffix). Olwig (20-21) states that the suffix creates abstraction of concrete beings. For example, hardship could be understood as the abstraction of something hard, such as a number of hard experiences. So, rather than saying that you’ve endured a number of hard experiences, you say you’ve endured hardship. Similarly, friendship could be stated as the abstraction of the collective condition of people who are friends with another. Those of you, or us, into sports might be able to grasp this through German. For example, ‘Die Mannschaft‘ does not merely refer to a number of players that represent a team. The team is more than that. If we take that to refer to the German national football team, it should be even clearer that the team does not merely consist of a number of players. There’s clearly more to it. Anyway, Olwig (19) emphasizes that the way it works does not indicate scale of things or beings it describes. Therefore, hardship is not simply a large number of hard experiences, nor is friendship a large number of friends. The actual number of things or beings is not relevant. You do need more than one, for sure, but it’s rather the essence of the state or condition that is relevant. Moving on, the suffix ‘-ship’ (OED, s.v. “-ship”, suffix) is derived from the verb ‘-shape’, meaning to appoint, create or ordain, and related to the nowadays in this sense obsolete English noun ‘-shaft’, meaning a creation, creature, constitution or condition. Olwig (21) argues that the abstraction of land makes it easier to comprehend it both socially and materially and to facilitate the process of shaping it. In summary, the word landscape does not merely refer to a mere delimited area, but rather an abstraction of it.

In another 2005 published article, titled ‘The Landscape of ‘Customary’ Law Versus That of ‘Natural’ Law’ and published in Landscape Research, Olwig argues in favor of understanding landscape as a concept of customary law, just as the title already suggests. As I’ve already stated a number of times in the previous essays, in the medieval era ownership of land was generally a privilege restricted to nobility and for others land was defined by use rights granted by a noble, determined by customs and feudal obligations to the noble, as also noted by Olwig (633) in his 1996 article titled ‘ Recovering the Substantive Nature of Landscape’ published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Olwig (633) states that customs, rooted in practice, were set in a legal system as deliberated in meetings then known in Germanic areas as ‘things’ or ‘moots’. In the ‘Representation and Alienation in the Political Land-scape’ article he (22) notes that gatherings of people abstracted the land as res publica, a matter of public deliberation, a polity, which was landscape in its various Germanic forms of the word, such as landschap in Dutch, Landschaft in German, landskap in Swedish and landscipe in Old English. So, the land was thus defined bottom-up by the people enfranchised to participate in the deliberations of customary law rather than top-down, demarcated by a liege based on his territorial holdings, as argued by Olwig (17-18) in ‘Landscape, Nature and the Body Politic: From Britain’s Renaissance to America’s New World’ published in 2002. That said, I think it should be noted that the bottom-up participation was hardly open to every commoner, but rather typically restricted to a number of representatives, a council of estates, as noted by Michael Bollig in ‘Visions of Landscape: An Introduction’, published in 2009 in ‘African Landscapes: Interdisciplinary Approaches’ edited by Bollig and Olaf Bubenzer. In summary, in modern terms, landscape was a political and legal concept in medieval Europe, not a mere delimited area.

In ‘Landscape, Nature and the Body Politic: From Britain’s Renaissance to America’s New World’ Olwig (43-61) states that in the English context the nouns ‘country’ and ‘county’, both originating from Old French (cuntree and cunté) with an Anglo-Norman connection (contré and conté) (OED s.v. “country”, “county” n.), function similarly as landscape did in the pre-Renaissance era continental Europe. He (45) indicates that the nouns were used interchangeably for a long period of time before country became associated with the representative system, the English Parliament and more specifically the House of Commons. He (46-48) clarifies that ‘country’ was a polysemous noun that could refer to the administrative unit of the county, a neighborhood, or the entire commonwealth, as represented by the members of the Parliament as serving both their county and their locale.

Moving on, in ‘Recovering the Substantive Nature of Landscape’ Olwig (637) traces the introduction of landscape as scenery into the English language to the early 17th century, during the reign of James VI and I. In ‘Landscape, Nature and the Body Politic: From Britain’s Renaissance to America’s New World’ Olwig (7) indicates that Queen Anne, the wife of James I and a known patroness of arts, was influential in introducing theater to the Stuart court. In ‘Recovering the substantive nature of landscape’ Olwig (637-638) notes that under her tutelage, Inigo Jones, a surveyor and an architect, was pivotal in staging masques, a spectacular form of courtly entertainment that combined acting, dancing and music, in which the stage functioned as the landscape, the scenery. He (638) states that the purpose was not to represent landscape as actual scenery, but rather an ideal scene that matched the king’s vision. That said, Olwig (639-640) adds that this did not come to being until after the 17th century, after the (Glorious) Revolution of 1688, and that, as a result, it did not end up being adopted to serve the king, nor the commons, but the gentry who sought to erase landscape as polity. This coincided with the enclosure movement, a process in which small landholdings were consolidated into large estates, that began in the 13th century and marked the 18th and 19th centuries, as elaborated by, for example, Christopher Dyer in his 2006 article ‘Conflict in the Landscape: The Enclosure Movement in England, 1220–1349’ published in Landscape History and Ann Bermingham in ‘Landscape and Ideology: the English Rustic Tradition, 1740-1860’ published in 1986. Olwig (640-641) argues that inspired by the Palladian villas and gardens of Renaissance Venice, the gentry transformed these once common lands into enclosed landscape parks under the rubric of ‘improvement’, as examined by Stephen Daniels and Susanne Seymour in ‘ Landscape Design and the Idea of Improvement’, published in ‘An Historical Geography of England and Wales’ in 1990 edited by Robert Dodgshon and Robin Butlin. As a result, the landscape, the landscape park is as real or as imaginary as the depictions of it, such as landscape paintings and poems, as argued by Stephen Daniels and Denis Cosgrove (1) in the introduction of the ‘Iconography of Landscape’ edited by them and published in 1988. In other words, the representations depicted on canvas influenced people to the extent that the land was shaped, or landscaped, to match the idealized depictions, blurring what’s real and what’s a mere depiction of real to the extent that it was no longer possible to see the difference. So, landscape art not only depicted landscapes, but landscapes depicted landscape art.

This essay is probably among the shorter ones I’ve written and, well, in practice not of great importance to my own research. That said, I think it’s important to understand what was before landscape became what it is people understand it as contemporarily. This should help people to understand that landscape is not what it was back in the day and what it is now understood as is a relatively new diagram or abstract machine, which should also help you realize that there is nothing inherently real, truthful or factual about it, beyond being a part of the regimes of truth. Landscape as understood now is indeed real, in the modern sense, but in the-premodern sense it isn’t. Back in the day it simply wasn’t. What was was a different sense of the world, a different type of reality. So, as I argued in the previous essay, landscape is not transcendent, superorganic, ideological etc. operating external to people, even if people take it as such. I think Olwig’s work helps to understand that. As always, I recommend reading his articles and books, even if they aren’t specifically relevant to your research. I for one found myself going off on a tangent while reading his works, ending up reading what King James VI and I wrote way back then and the correspondence with an, let’ say, rather uncooperative parliament that used arguably rather hilarious legalese in objection to His Majesty.


Some change could make a change

I’ve been writing long essays on Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. It has been quite the effort in thinking and even more so putting it all into words in a way that would help me and others understand what landscape is and what it does. I could just rely on what others have put forward in landscape research and linguistic landscape research, but somehow I felt and still feel that I should understand things myself rather than just take it for granted that more established people know what they are dealing with. It is not that they don’t know what they are dealing with. I believe that is apparent from the essays I’ve written so far. It is rather, as I’ve come to realize by reaching far and wide, that taking things for granted is at the heart of the issue. To most people it’s probably a waste of time, but I find taking the time to do so is not, rather the opposite.

It’s about time I write something more specifically related to landscapes. I will not be covering anything as eccentric as Deleuze and Guattari, but there’s no escaping Foucault in this essay. Anyway, this essay focuses on an article titled ‘The Place of Landscape: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting an American Scene’ by Richard Schein, published in 1997 in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers. The title already suggests that this essay is more hands on than my previous essays. I chose it because I find myself going back to the article.

Getting to point already in the opening line, Schein (660) defines “cultural landscape as a tangible, visible entity, one that is both reflective and constitutive of society, culture and identity.” I don’t see the necessity to use the word cultural when discussing landscape because I find the cultural/natural or human/natural divide unnecessary, as well as problematic. I addressed this when examining the article titled ‘La forêt loisir, un équipement de pouvoir: L’exemple de la forêt de Fontainebleau’ by Bernard Kalaora and Valentin Pelosse, published in Hérodote in 1977. I don’t want to get tangled into this, but those interested in this can go back and read more into that. Anyway, I find Schein’s definition is still very fitting. One word doesn’t change the rest of the sentence. It builds on the definition of landscape as the “tangible, visible scene” as presented in ‘Axioms for Reading the Landscape’ by Peirce Lewis, itself a part of the collection of essays under the title ‘The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays’ edited by Donald Meinig and published in 1979. Schein (661) makes note of this himself, as well as the empiricist bent in Lewis’ work.

For those unfamiliar with landscape research, Schein’s article is particularly helpful as it offers a broad overview of previous scholarship that broadly speaking follows the definition of landscape as the tangible, visible scene. He (661) includes Carl Sauer’s in what he refers to as his selective genealogy of landscape, yet reminds the reader of the pitfalls of the Sauerian claims:

“While the Sauerian claim that the cultural landscape stands as the impress of human activity is relatively undisputed, the fundamental question of landscape authorship within that claim is problematic.”

He (661) explains that the issue has to do with “a superorganic, or reified conception of culture”, one that, according to James Duncan in his article titled ‘The Superorganic in American Cultural Geography’ published in the same journal in 1980, assigns “it ontological status and causative power.” As Schein (661) points out, it’s not that Sauer is wrong in attributing landscape to human activity, but rather that it’s a wholesale approach that effectively denies individual human agency. In other words, there is good in Sauer, attributing landscapes to humanity and, I would add, making note of it’s changing nature. That said, both agency and change appear external to the individual, as if just occurring. Schein (661-662) argues that Lewis improves upon this and I think he does, quite considerably actually, but the question of authorship remains rather murky. It is a tricky question alright. On one hand the role of agency should not be overlooked, that’s for sure, as advocated by Marwyn Samuels in ‘The Biography of Landscape’, another 1979 essay part of the collection edited by Meinig. On the other hand, emphasizing on the role of individual agency may lead to overemphasis of the autonomy of the individual and the capacity to change,

It’s been established that landscape not only is, but also does, as I’ve discussed in previous articles. This can be grasped in Henri Lefebvre’s work on space, Foucault’s work on diagram and Deleuze’s and Guattari’s work on abstract machines. Schein (662) points this out explicitly in his article in reference to his own previous work, as well as Denis Cosgrove’s work, the article that I already covered:

“We must also interrogate our embeddedness in and interaction with the cultural landscape. Corollary to this interrogation is the requirement to see the cultural landscape as not only a “thing” built by human hands – a material palimpsest – but also as a theoretical construct, with certain ontological and epistemological assumptions and ramifications[.]”

Schein (662) then addresses how landscape functions both as a material entity and as a theoretical construct:

“The cultural landscape, as both a material presence and conceptual framing, serves to discipline interpreting subjects alongside their objectification of landscape’s form and meaning. This can be illustrated through the spatial and visual components of the cultural landscape. Like ‘space’, the cultural landscape is produced and is ultimately implicated in the ongoing reproduction of social and cultural life[.] As part of that production, spatial relationships – distributions, partitioning, enclosures, circulation, division – serve as part of the dispersed disciplinary mechanisms of modernity, what Foucault … calls ‘capillaries of power.’”

While the third sentence explicitly refers to Foucault, namely his 1980 published “Power/knowledge”, his influence is clearly present already in the first sentence. The second sentence is influenced by Henri Lefebvre, whose ‘The Production of Space’ he explicitly refers to among others. Schein (662) adds that:

“As a material object, the cultural landscape is seen. As an epistemology, vision also has a set of hidden rules, such as reliance upon linear perspective, pretension to mimesis, and the claim to the objective view. Landscape observers are disciplined by time-honored rules about what constitutes valid evidence and the legitimate object of inquiry[.]”

The influence of Cosgrove’s work is clear here, as he clearly indicates in the article. Here it should be emphasized that it is the visual observation that already disciplines the observer. Just as Cosgrove (46) argues in the referenced article that I’ve already covered, titled ‘Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea’, the reliance on geometry, especially the linear perspective disciplines people to honor landscape as an objective view as Schein (662) puts it. However, that’s not all for Schein. He (663) makes note of Meinig’s essay titled ‘The Beholding Eye: Ten Versions of the Same Scene’, also present in the same 1979 landscape essay publication, in which, as already hinted by the title, Meinig suggests that landscape can be seen as different scenes based on the varied backgrounds of observers. He lists ten possible views, including but not limited to (47), nature, habitat, artifact, system, problem, wealth, ideology, history, place and aesthetic. For linguistic and semiotic landscape researchers, one could add language and semiotics here. So, as Meinig (43) argues, if you are, say, historian, you likely can and will perceive various historical aspects in the landscape. Of course that doesn’t mean that only the ones well versed in, for example, history can achieve that. It’s rather that one’s background influences what one can see in the landscape, just as Schein (663) points out. It’s worth noting that in the notes Schein (677) questions the autonomy of the observer as presented by Meinig (1979), which I think is rather important to point out. In other words, it is problematic to assert that people see landscape as different versions of the same if we take into account that to most people landscape just is, at best something beautiful or ugly, as argued by Peirce Lewis in his 1979 text ‘Axioms for reading the landscape: some guides to the American scene’, as well as by Ronai in his 1976 and 1977 landscape articles.

Regardless of the taken for granted nature of landscape, the insight provided by Meinig is still valuable and works as a springboard for Schein. He (663) remarks that:

“But the essay also presents the possibility that the cultural landscape can itself capture different, even competing, sets of meaning, or independent, thematic networks of knowledge – networks presenting the landscape as nature, habitat, or history – and that these really are inherent in each cultural landscape. We can position a particular landscape as a node at the intersection of any number of these knowledge networks.”

In other words, Schein (663) advances Meinig’s argument, but by turning it on its head. If there is something that can be seen in the landscape, then there must be something in the landscape that the different observers can see. What’s novel here is that Schein (663) points out that there has to be something in the landscape in order to see it there. So you need those buildings from a certain era to be able to perceive them as such, pending you happen to have the aptitude for it. In short, you need what it is that is manifested in the landscape, as well as the prior knowledge required to perceive what’s there.

Schein (663) rephrases his argument:

“To use a language linked to more contemporary interpretation and analysis, a particular landscape may articulate a series of relatively independent discourses.”

He continues by providing definitions for discourses. He relies on the definitions presented by James Duncan in ‘The City as Text: The Politics of Landscape Interpretation in the Kandyan Kingdom’ published in 1990. I could reiterate them, but I prefer Foucault’s concise definition instead. As presented in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’, published in English in 1972, he (49) defines discourse “as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.”

Schein (663) advances the argument further in the North American context:

“Each seemingly individual decision behind any particular U.S. landscape is embedded within a discourse. When the action results in a tangible landscape element, or total ensemble, the cultural landscape becomes the discourse materialized. Examples of such discourses might include zoning theory and practice, architectural design trends, economic consumption patterns, and others. As a material component of a particular discourse or set of intersecting discourses, ‘the cultural landscape’ at once captures the intent and ideology of the discourse as a whole and is a constitutive part of its ongoing development and reinforcement.”

Now, to unpack this, Schein first points out that the decisions behind any landscapes are tied to discourses. More importantly, when the actions result in changes in the landscape, the discourses are materialized. To use an example in linguistic landscape literature instead, Jan Blommaert’s discussion of pedestrian crossings is very fitting here. In ‘Ethnography, superdiversity and linguistic landscapes: chronicles of complexity’ published in 2013, he (34) states:

“We see someone on a zebra crossing in what looks like a relatively busy shopping street. The person (incidentally: this author) moves forward on the zebra crossing: he looks to the left and his left hand is raised in a gesture signalling ‘stop’, ‘careful’ or ‘thanks’. We notice also that a bus has just passed the zebra crossing, and from Blommaert’s gesture we can infer that another vehicle is approaching the zebra crossing.”

Here Blommaert illustrates how people position themselves in relation to the pedestrian crossing. There is nothing particularly surprising in this example, but that’s exactly why I think it’s very relevant. In other words, he (34) summarizes how what one could in the terminology of Ron Scollon and Suzanne Wong Scollon call a ‘municipal regulatory discourse’ makes a difference in everyday life. As indicated, one typically looks to the left before crossing a street. If the traffic flows the other way like in the UK, then this is reversed. I remember being taught to look to the left, then to the right, then left again, to be aware of the traffic before crossing with emphasis on the left for rather obvious reasons. Anyway, looking to the left is something that I assume people do habitually to be sure of what might be coming your way. I don’t really signal the cars with my hand unless the cars yield their right of way, for example, if I’m on a bike and should be the one yielding. The pedestrian crossing of course affects the people in vehicles as well, as they are obliged to stop if someone is crossing or about to cross the street in the marked area, as noted by Blommaert (34-35):

“The zebra crossing flags a particular set of rights and obligations in that particular place; it creates, so to speak, a historical micro-space with a particular order. A pedestrian on a zebra crossing has right of way, and it is mandatory for cars and other vehicles to halt in front of the zebra crossing.”

Now, obviously, the white blocky stripes on the street would have no function if there was not a relevant discourse to back them up. As Foucault (49) would have it, there needs to be “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” in order for the markings to have some effect on people. In Duncan’s (16) words, there needs to be a “social framework of intelligibility, within which all practices are communicated, negotiated, or challenged.” Crossing a street is serious business, a matter of life and death at times, as noted by Blommaert (34). That’s why people needed to agree on how to make it safe, coming up with what is now known as a zebra crossing, as typically materialized on dark road surfaces in white paint. So there is a shared understanding of road safety, but it is enacted in the landscape as discourse materialized. Blommaert (35) further elaborates how the crossing functions:

“The zebra crossing is thus a semiotic space, a ‘ discourse in place’ that imposes, within the small confines of that space, a particular interaction order – one into which all possible participants have been effectively enskilled. Car drivers know immediately that they should halt in front of a zebra crossing, they will scan the road ahead for such signs and will react almost instinctively when they see a pedestrian on a zebra crossing. Pedestrians, in turn, will walk towards the zebra crossing if they intend to cross the street. They know how to recognize it and they know that they should cross the street there if they intend to do it safely. The actual crossing, then, is another instance of enskillment, in which the pedestrian first looks left and right, ensuring that no danger is ahead, then moves across while keeping eye contact with approaching cars and, if necessary, communicating with them by means of gestures.”

What is important to emphasize here is that the ‘discourse in place’ or the ‘discourse materialized’ imposes it upon people and clearly affects their behavior. More importantly, as Blommaert aptly notes, this is essentially instinctive both to the drivers and the pedestrians. Similarly to Blommaert, Schein (663) states that:

“Through its material form as a cultural landscape, each discourse presents competing social and visual disciplines or strategies that combine to constrict or limit human action within and interpretation of any particular landscape.”

The wording is different but the message is more or less the same. Once materialized in the landscape, discourses discipline people human action in certain ways. The zebra crossing is a good, albeit rather simplistic example of how it all works. What I think is missing in Blommaert’s account is the connection to landscape, how people come to take the discourses in place for granted, how people come to react to them instinctively. Schein (663) asserts this clearly:

“Although we may ‘unpack’ or trace any individual discourse, it is the combined effect that creates the cultural landscape as Bo[u]rdieu’s (1977:82,79) habitus: history turned into nature through an amnesia of genesis. In our day-to-day lives, lived in ordinary vernacular landscapes, we take the tangible, visible scene for granted, especially as an ensemble. ‘For most Americans, cultural landscape just is’ (Lewis 1979:11). This naturalization makes the (seemingly unproblematic) vernacular landscape (of our suburb, our drive to work, our college campus) perhaps even more powerful in its disciplinary capabilities.”

The first sentence explains how it is indeed possible to unpack individual discourse, such as the ‘municipal regulatory discourse’ commonly referred to as the zebra crossing, as thoroughly elaborated by Blommaert. That said, what is important is the way landscape is understood as a totality, as pointed out by Schein (662) in reference to Cosgrove (46). When landscape just is, as Lewis puts it, people take it and everything in it for granted. While I appreciate Pierre Bourdieu’s work and think that he actually manages to get the message across often better than his contemporaries, I think it’s helpful to rephrase this a bit, to align it with Foucault’s parlance, considering that discipline is Foucault’s concept. Unless I’m mistaken, in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ Foucault (25) refers to what Schein elaborates as the ‘already-said’, yet ‘never-said’ and in ‘The History of Sexuality’ (95) as the ‘almost unspoken’. In other words, as I discussed in an earlier essay in further detail, discourses tend to become taken for granted. To use Bourdieu here, I would rather define landscape as doxic, as discussed by Tim Cresswell (277) in ‘Landscape and the Obliteration of Practice’, published in 2003 in the Handbook of Cultural Geography, edited by Kay Anderson, Mona Domosh, Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift. In the ‘Outline of a Theory of Practice’, published in 1977, Bourdieu (164) characterizes an experiences he calls doxa:

“Every established order tends to produce (to very different degrees and with very different means) the naturalization of its own arbitrariness. Of all the mechanisms tending to produce this effect, the most important and the best concealed is undoubtedly the dialectic of the objective chances and the agents’ aspirations, out of which arises the sense of limits, commonly called the sense of reality, i.e. the correspondence between the objective classes and the internalized classes, social structures and mental structures, which is the basis of the most ineradicable adherence to the established order. Systems of classification which reproduce, in their own specific logic, the objective classes, i.e. the divisions by sex, age, or position in the relations of production, make their specific contribution to the reproduction of the power relations of which they are the product, by securing the misrecognition, and hence the recognition, of the arbitrariness on which they are based: in the extreme case, that is to say, when there is a quasi-perfect correspondence between the objective order and the subjective principles of organization (as in ancient societies) the natural and social world appears as self-evident.”

So, to summarize this, doxa is an arbitrary established order of things which appears natural. It has its own logic that functions to explain itself. Bourdieu (164) adds that orthodoxy and heterodoxy implies “awareness and recognition of the possibility of different or antagonistic beliefs” whereas this is not the case with doxa. In other words, it’s possible to recognize and resist something held as right, true or correct order of things or alternative orders of things. Their arbitrariness is apparent. To be more specific Bourdieu (164) elaborates how doxa works:

“Schemes of thought and perception can produce the objectivity that they do produce only by producing misrecognition of the limits of the cognition that they make possible, thereby founding immediate adherence, in the doxic mode, to the world of tradition experienced as a ‘natural world’ and taken for granted. The instruments of knowledge of the social world are in this case (objectively) political instruments which contribute to the reproduction of the social world by producing immediate adherence to the world, seen as self-evident and undisputed, of which they are the product and of which they reproduce the structures in a transformed form.”

In other words, relevant to landscapes, the world is taken for granted or self-evident, as natural and objective, despite its arbitrary nature. It’s hard to go against doxa because it would be like going against nature. How does one question the unquestionable?

Nevertheless, at least the way I see it, Foucault would object here, probably pointing out that the is no mismatch between the natural and the social, the objective and the subjective, truth and belief, considering that there are only regimes of truth, or at least what is held as truth is not the same as what people consider to be the objective truth. That said, what counts is that people take landscapes for granted. As already covered in some of the previous essays, there is nothing natural or objective in landscapes, yet people would beg to differ. Schein (663) does not forget to mention this:

“Described thus far, any discourse materialized in the cultural landscape would seem to have superorganic qualities – it ‘appears’ out of no-where, to be captured in the local scene.”

He makes use of the superorganic here, but not in the way that implies that landscape is actually superorganic. Therefore landscape only appears as a fact. Schein (664) then wonders if there is something that can be done about it. In summary, not unlike Henri Lefebvre in ‘The Production of Space’, he (664) argues that not only can things be changed, but in fact change is inevitable. What I mean is that the world is not stuck in time. While that change may be imperceptible, it does not mean that it isn’t happening, as Doreen Massey explains in an article titled ‘Landscape as a Provocation: Reflections on Moving Mountains’ published in Journal of Material Culture in 2006. I don’t think I have to further explain this here. The title says it all. So what is needed then is a broader awareness of how landscape functions, as pointed out by Schein (664, 676). I think this applies in particular to landscape scholars, including linguistic landscape scholars, yet I would emphasize the awareness of the general public more. It doesn’t do much good in this regard if knowledge doesn’t circulate beyond academic conferences and university break rooms.

How does it work then, on an everyday level that is? Bearing similarity Lefebvre’s spatial triad, Schein (664-674) examines Ashland Park, a suburban residential neighborhood located in the urban area of Lexington, Kentucky. He states that the landscape in question is the result of human actions, ranging from countless small changes made to properties by individuals to large scale changes made by planners and property developers. The everyday human actions are influenced by discourses, in this case zoning and historic (heritage) regulations, in addition to consumption patterns. The large scale actions are also influenced by discourses, such as architecture, design and planning. The discourses then may be affected (changed) by human action that results in or alters the materialized discourses. He uses the example of fire insurance maps that need to be updated accordingly if changes are made to properties pending they have an effect on insurances. The materialized discourses (in place) may also influence discourses over time, which then influence human action and/or materialized discourses. He (672-673) uses the example of historic preservation, which arbitrarily designates certain landscapes as worth preserving (673):

“The discourse of historicity, especially as promoted by the historic preservation movement, is especially evident as it plays out through the Ashland Park landscape. … The Ashland Park “historic” landscape is truly one node in a far-ranging network that includes ideas, ideals, institutions, regulation, and preservation: a disciplining discourse encompassing the local landscape and its residents. … Among the first on the National Register, Ashland is now a museum that stands as the sociospatial focus of the neighborhood, a rallying point of invented tradition for the city and, especially, nearby resident.”

To further exemplify this, Schein (674) points out that the preservation discourse, or historicity, may lead to rather curious situations:

“[A] homeowner was thrust into the preservation network when he failed to replace his front porch pillars with similar, historically relevant support posts. His response was to paint the porch columns on his highly visible Main Street house as if draped in the American flag, symbolically challenging one set of ideals with another.”

While I’m not familiar with the specifics of the case, attention should be paid to the fact that a homeowner was not simply prevented from making changes to the property, but forced to make changes to his property in order to match the relevant discourse. In other words, it was not a question of preserving the landscape, but retroactively harmonizing it by removing the offending elements. The homeowner who was forced to comply then subverted the preservation discourse in order to point out that he is forced to live in a(n invented) museum.

To wrap this up, I’ll let Schein (664) summarize the way he defines landscape:

“The cultural landscape, as discourse materialized, is simultaneously disciplinary in its spatial and visual strategies and empowering in the possibilities inherent for individual human action upon the landscape. The cultural landscape thus is continually implicated in the ongoing reconstitution of a discourse, or set of discourses, about social life, and it is in this sense that it serves as both a disciplinary mechanism and a potentially liberating medium for social change.”

On the final page he (676) further clarifies:

“Understood as a material moment in a recurring flow of information/ideals/actions/power, the cultural landscape exists as a crucial point in and of power, as a place where action can contribute to, as well as be constricted by, the ideals that cohere the discursive network. Through the landscape, the human agent is both object and subject.”

Here I can’t help but keep thinking of Lefebvre in ‘The Production of Space’.

I chose to address this article because I think it offers a nuanced understanding of landscape, one in which landscape isn’t considered a fact or explained operating as external to people (i.e. superorganic, transcendent or ideological etc.), yet acknowledging that people tend to take it on an as is basis. While the adopted and adapted Foucauldian conceptions of power and discipline may come across as painting a bleak picture to those not familiar with Foucault’s work, Schein is actually rather positive about the possibilities of individual human agency, perhaps more than I am. Similar to Lefebvre, the Foucauldian understanding of power is actually positive, not negative, as clearly emphasized by Foucault (194) in ‘Discipline and Punish’:

“We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.”

Simply put, the way landscape works is productive. It is of course produced, but also productive and thus subject to change. It is, it does and it becomes. I also like Schein’s article because it illustrates how landscape works. It’s well worth reading and as there is no substitute to reading it yourself, you should do yourself a favor and read it yourself.

It is what it is

Truth. What is it? It is what it is. That is my answer, at least for the moment, although I’m sure that’s not going to cut it for most people. I can imagine serious scientists and scholars being up in arms about such ‘one liners’. I find nothing to get angry about that though. I tried my best to not to throw in a typo, so there shouldn’t be any of that to see red over either. That said, in a way, maybe it has something to do with seeing and the color red, but I’ll leave it up to the reader to decipher how that’s relevant to this essay. Anyway, to elaborate the question posed, I’ll be covering a short text by, once more, Michel Foucault, titled ‘The political function of the intellectual’ published in English in Radical Philosophy in 1977. Its preface is from ‘Truth and Power’, an interview (109-133) conducted by Alessandro Fontana, included in the 1980 published ‘Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977’ edited by Colin Gordon. I’ll be referring to the parts present in ‘Truth and Power’ as that text is more readily available. There are minor differences in the translation, but the message remains the same.

Foucault (126) begins by characterizing the universality of ‘the intellectual’:

“For a long period, the ‘left’ intellectual spoke and was acknowledged the right of speaking in the capacity of master of truth and justice. I He was heard, or purported to make himself heard, as the spokesman of the universal. To be an intellectual meant something like being the consciousness/conscience of us all. I think we have here an idea transposed from Marxism, from a faded Marxism indeed. Just as the proletariat, by the necessity of its historical situation, is the bearer of the universal (but its immediate, unreflected bearer, barely conscious of itself as such), so the intellectual, through his moral, theoretical and political choice, aspires to be the bearer of this universality in its conscious, elaborated form. The intellectual is thus taken as the clear, individual figure of a universality whose obscure, collective form is embodied in the proletariat.”

That said, Foucault (126) argues that the intellectual is no longer that:

“Some years have now passed since the intellectual was called upon to play this role. A new mode of the ‘connection between theory and practice’ has been established. Intellectuals have got used to working, not in the modality of the ‘universal’, the ‘exemplary’, the ‘just-and-true-for-all’,but within specific sectors, at the precise points where their own conditions of life or work situate them (housing, the hospital, the asylum, the laboratory, the university, family and sexual relations). Some years have now passed since the intellectual was called upon to play this role. A new mode of the ‘connection between theory and practice’ has been established. Intellectuals have got used to working, not in the modality of the ‘universal’, the ‘exemplary’, the ‘just-and-true-for-all’, but within specific sectors, at the precise points where their own conditions of life or work situate them (housing, the hospital, the asylum, the laboratory, the university, family and sexual relations).”

So, not unlike like Henri Lefebvre in ‘The Production of Space’, Foucault (126-128) argues that the intellectual, typically a genius writer, no longer knows it all nor speaks for the masses. Instead, now the intellectual is more of a savant or an expert, focusing on a specific field of knowledge. He (127-128) uses theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer as an example of this. He (126-127) argues that this has not been a development for the worse as the intellectuals are now less distant from the struggling masses. Clearly critical of universals, I guess namely structuralism, he (127) adds that it’s rather the opposite:

“And what is called the crisis of the universities should not be interpreted as a loss of power, but on the contrary as a multiplication and reinforcement of their power-effects as centres in a polymorphous ensemble of intellectuals who virtually all pass through and relate themselves to the academic system.”

Now, it would be all too quaint to think that this is all there is for Foucault. He (130) argues that unlike the universal intellectual the specific intellectual “encounters certain obstacles and faces certain dangers.” Summarizing these obstacles and dangers presented by Foucault (130), the specific intellectual, the scientist or the scholar, “risk[s] … letting himself [or herself] to be manipulated” as the narrow scope or local level makes it harder for the intellectual to see the big picture. As a response, he (130-131) does not suggest a return to the universal intellectual, but rather a reconsideration of the specific intellectual:

“One may even say that the role of the specific intellectual must become more and more important in proportion to the political responsibilities which he is obliged willy-nilly to accept, as a nuclear scientist, computer expert, pharmacologist, etc.”

He (131) specifies that this role does concern the masses regardless of how local and specialized the intellectual may seem, and that it functions in service of the interested of the state, capital or certain ideology. To put this in other words, he (131) rephrases:

“The important thing here, I believe, is that truth isn’t outside power, or lacking in power: contrary to a myth whose history and functions would repay further study, truth isn’t the reward of free spirits, the child of protracted solitude, nor the privilege of those who have succeeded in liberating themselves. Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.”

Simply put, and I’d say concerning any scientist and scholar, the truth isn’t simply out there. To clarify this, I’ll let Foucault (131) continue:

“In societies like ours, the ‘political economy’ of truth is characterised by five important traits. ‘Truth’ is centred on the form of scientific discourse and the institutions which produce it; it is subject to constant economic and political incitement (the demand for truth, as much for economic production as for political power); it is the object, under diverse forms, of immense diffusion and consumption (circulating through apparatuses of education and information whose extent is relatively broad in the social body, not withstanding certain strict limitations); it is produced and transmitted under the control, dominant if not exclusive, of a few great political and economic apparatuses (university, army, writing, media); lastly, it is the issue of a whole political debate and social confrontation (‘ideological’ struggles).”

So as I already stated, Foucault argues that truth is not something external, something that is simply revealed. Science is of this world and not unlike other entities it is caught in it all. In other words, intellectuals are people among people and like anyone else affected by other factors that steer their work, regardless of how much they claim to be objective. There’s too much at stake for that to be possible. Foucault (132) is explicit on this:

“It seems to me that what must now be taken into account in the intellectual is not the ‘bearer of universal values’. Rather, it’s the person occupying a specific position – but whose specificity is linked, in a society like ours, to the general functioning of an apparatus of truth.”

To specify this, he (132) adds:

“In other words, the intellectual has a three-fold specificity: that of his class position (whether as petty-bourgeois in the service of capitalism or ‘organic’ intellectual of the proletariat); that of his conditions of life and work, linked to his condition as an intellectual (his field of research, his place in a laboratory, the political and economic demands to which he submits or against which he rebels, in the university, the hospital, etc.); lastly, the specificity of the politics of truth in our societies.”

What is added here is that it’s not just that money talks. It does, but there’s more to it, including internal academic politics, as well as the societal factors. He (132) then clarifies that the last factor works both ways, being influenced by it, but also making it possible to influence it, going beyond the specific sector occupied by the intellectual. Therefore, he (132) adds that:

“The intellectual can operate and struggle at the general level of that regime of truth which is so essential to the structure and functioning of our society.”

The important concept here is the ‘regime of truth’. As already stated, the way Foucault sees it, there is no truth external to power, no knowledge external to power. Instead there are regimes of truth. To be extra clear, he (133) proposes that:

“’Truth’ is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements. ‘Truth’ is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it. A ‘regime’ of truth.”

Anyone familiar with Foucault’s work will find this unnecessary to state, but I’ll include it (133) anyway:

“This regime is not merely ideological or superstructural; it was a condition of the formation and development of capitalism. And it’s this same regime which, subject to certain modifications, operates in the socialist countries[.]”

So, in other words, what Foucault means by regime is not external to people, the individuals that make up the mass. Instead, as people familiar with Foucault know already, it’s all very convoluted, even truth.

What I wanted to state in this rather short essay is that claims to objectivity must be at least bracketed. So what is truth? Well, I think Foucault just gave you a very good definition, one that does not retreat to subjectivity. That’s why I say that it is what it is, until it isn’t. Then again, even when it no longer is, then what then is is. If something has been established as truth, then surely it is truth, well, at least until it isn’t. Simply put, truth, truth be told, it is what it is.

The Mass Effect

I recently wrote on biopower, an important concept alongside discipline. There’s a third concept created by Michel Foucault that I want to address. The primary text used in this essay is the aptly titled ‘Governmentality’, the chapter four of ‘The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality with two lectures by and an interview with Michel Foucault’ edited by Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon and Peter Miller, first published in 1991.

To align the concept with the two aforementioned concepts, like on a time line, Foucault (87) states:

“But a more striking fact is that, from the middle of the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth, there develops and flourishes a notable series of political treatises that are no longer exactly ‘advice to the prince’, and not yet treatises of political science, but are instead presented as works on the ‘art of government’.”

Not unlike with the other concepts, the shift occurs starting at the end of feudalism, running through a number of centuries leading up to the French Revolution. I have a habit doing so, but this essay is not intended to muddle in feudalism, so I’ll let Foucault (87) continue:

“Government as a general problem seems to me to explode in the sixteenth century, posed by discussions of quite diverse questions. One has, for example, the question of the government of oneself, that ritualization of the problem of personal conduct which is characteristic of the sixteenth century Stoic revival. There is the problem too of the government of souls and lives, the entire theme of Catholic and Protestant pastoral doctrine. There is a government of children and the great problematic of pedagogy which emerges and develops during the sixteenth century.”

It’s clear from this passage that what Foucault refers to as government is very broad, having to do with nearly everything that goes on in a state. He (87) does include the narrow sense of the word as well:

“And, perhaps only as the last of these questions to be taken up, there is the government of the state by the prince. How to govern oneself, how to be governed, how to govern others, by whom the people will accept being governed, how to become the best possible governor – all these problems, in their multiplicity and intensity, seem tome to be characteristic of the sixteenth century, which lies, to put it schematically, at the crossroads of two processes: the one which, shattering the structures of feudalism, leads to the establishment of the great territorial, administrative and colonial states; and that totallydifferent movement which, with the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, raises the issue of how one must be spiritually ruled and led on this earth in order to achieve eternal salvation.”

So, government does have to do with actual ruling, as embodied by the prince (see ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli), but unlike in the feudal system it’s not a mere matter of levying. Governing poses problems that Foucault emphasizes by indicating their “multiplicity and intensity”. In any case, as Foucault (88) puts it, “[t]here is a problematic of government in general.”

Without going into the details, Foucault (90) identifies the key aspect in Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ as “the prince’s ability to keep his principality.” As he (90) elaborates, the prince has no inherent link to the principality, having either inherited it or gained it through conquest, which makes it imperative for the prince to think how to remain in charge of the principality, warding off both external and internal threats. Foucault (90-91) notes that it’s this lack of connection to the land and its people that pops up in anti-Machiavellian literature. In other words, the prince is a ruler, not a governor. There is a lack of continuity, as Foucault (91) puts it.

As an alternative, Foucault (90-91) takes up Guillaume de La Perrière and François de La Mothe Le Vayer. He (90) states that in La Perrière’s ‘Miroir Politique’, as well as in other similar works, there is emphasis on the family:

“Like La Perrière, others who write on the art of government constantly recall that one speaks also of ‘governing’ a household, souls, children, a province, a convent, a religious order, a family.”

Addressing a text written by La Mothe Le Vayer, Foucault (91) summarizes its contents:

“[T]here are three fundamental types of government, each of which relates to a particular science or discipline: the art of self-government, connected with morality; the art of properly governing a family, which belongs to economy; and finally the science of ruling the state, which concerns politics.”

He (91) adds that:

“What matters, notwithstanding this typology, is that the art of government is always characterized by the essential continuity of one type with the other, and of a second type with a third.”

In addition, he (91-92) clarifies that this continuity then has to function in two directions: upwards and downwards. The upwards continuity has to do with taking good care of oneself and one’s possessions. In contrast, the downwards continuity means emitting good care to others, like a head of a family does to the other members of the family. Foucault (92) notes that the downwards continuity becomes known as police. He (92) also indicates that the continuity is marked by “the government of the family, termed economy.” I think here it is worth emphasizing that the word itself, ‘economy’, actually refers to household management even though it’s typically not understood as referring to a household. What people associate with household management is ‘home economics’, which, if you ask me, involves hilarious redundancy, considering that oikos (eco) itself refers to the household.

Having summarized the role of the family, Foucault (92) states how this relates to the state:

“The art of government, as becomes apparent in this literature, is essentially concerned with answering the question of how to introduce economy – that is to say, the correct manner of managing individuals, goods and wealth within the family (which a good father is expected to do in relation to his wife, children and servants) and of making the family fortunes prosper – how to introduce this meticulous attention of the father towards his family into the management of the state.”

Turning to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Foucault (92) adds:

“To govern a state will therefore mean to apply economy, to set up an economy at the level of the entire state, which means exercising towards its inhabitants, and the wealth and behaviour of each and all, a form of surveillance and control as attentive as that of the head of a family over his household and his goods.”

Going for a more object oriented approach, Foucault (93) turns to La Perrière, who, according to Foucault stated that:

“[G]overnment is the right disposition of things, arranged so as to lead to a convenient end.”

Foucault (93) elaborates that here things are not in opposition to people, but rather in addition and in relation to them. He (93) adds that what is distinct here is not territory, i.e. a delimited area of land, itself, but its qualities, including the things contained in it. He (94) clarifies this in relation to running a household:

“It means to reckon with all the possible events that may intervene, such as births and deaths, and with all the things that can be done, such as possible alliances with other families; it is this general form of management that is characteristic of government; by comparison, the question of landed property for the family, and the question of the acquisition of sovereignty over a territory for a prince, are only relatively secondary matters. What counts essentially is this complex of men and things; property and territory are merely one of its variables.”

So, in other words, government involves management of complexity unlike sovereignty, which revolves around remaining on the throne, holding on to certain property and territory. Foucault (95) states that:

“[Government] implies a plurality of specific aims, for instance, government will have to ensure that the greatest possible quantity of wealth is produced, that the people are provided with sufficient means of subsistence, that the population is enabled to multiply, etc.”

Simply put government is all about management in high detail, as Foucault keeps repeating. To add something new to the discussion, he (95) points out that law is only one thing among others in government, unlike in sovereignty in which law and the sovereign were “absolutely inseparable.” That’s hardly surprising, considering the body of the sovereign was also the social body. It’s all the same. Anyway, Foucault (95) reiterates:

“[T]he finality of government resides in the things it manages and in the pursuit of the perfection and intensification of the processes which it directs; and the instruments of government, instead of being laws, now come to be a range of multiform tactics. Within the perspective of government, law is not what is important[.] … [I]t is not through law that the aims of government are to be reached.”

Foucault (96) adds that it is not only the management and the multiform tactics that differentiate government from sovereignty in La Perrière’s account. Foucault (96) explains that La Perrière emphasizes the importance of having “patience rather than wrath”; the governor should be wise and diligent, having the knowledge to reach the set aims.

Foucault (96) summarizes that while the presented anti-Machiavellian characterization of government is strikingly different from the one found in Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’, it “is still very crude[.]” Instead, arguably partially linked to biopower, Foucault (96) emphasizes the importance of the development of statistics, which has to do with “the science of the state”. If you look at the etymology of the word, it is indeed the case. The state is clearly there. In a more general sense, he (96-97) adds that the art of government was grounded on “the theme of reason of state”, reason meaning non-transcendental principles of rationality, which, according to him, actually hindered the development of the art of government. That said, he (97) states that it was “a sort of obstacle”, by which he means that it could not properly develop and spread as long as the sovereigns reigned supreme. In other words, there was a conflict of interest. So while the system was no longer feudal, it was still in the interest of the absolute monarchs to remain on the throne, which entails that all development remains tied to the objectives of the sovereign, as discussed by Foucault (97-98).

I could spend more time explaining the development of and the obstacles to the art of government, but instead it’s probably best to address how it developed and managed to overcome the obstacles. As already discussed in the essays dedicated to discipline and biopower, Foucault (98-99) states that due to the increase in wealth and property, with emphasis on population here, developing the science of government became ever more relevant. More specifically, he (99) notes that what was understood as ‘economy’ gained a new meaning, the meaning attributed to it contemporarily. Summarizing Foucault (99), the sharp increase in population pushed things into a grand scale, which required administration of the state that went beyond the familial model. Now, one could err to think that the familial model disappeared. That is, however, not the case. Foucault (99-100) argues that it while it became apparent that it could no longer function as a model, it remained a highly important segment, shifting from a model to an instrument. In his (100) own words:

“But the family becomes an instrument rather than a model: the privileged instrument for the government of the population and not the chimerical model of good government. This shift from the level of the model to that of an instrument is, I believe, absolutely fundamental, and it is from the middle of the eighteenth century that the family appears in this dimension of instrumentality relative to the population, with the institution of campaigns to reduce mortality, and to promote marriages, vaccinations, etc.”

Simply put, Foucault (100) states that population became “the ultimate end of government.” The connection to biopower is apparent, albeit not discussed by Foucault here. The population is arguably the mass of biopower. Anyway, returning to the topic, Foucault (101) states that the new model is no longer mere art of government, but political science. Importantly, like in the case of the family, he (101) argues that sovereignty was shaped into the characterization of the state. While Foucault doesn’t seem to be clear on this aspect, I guess you need to think of it in relation to security, as the sovereignty of the state, independent instead of dependent. Similarly, he (101-102) notes that while discipline could already be found in the monarchies, it became a highly important instrument in the management of population.

Having investigated the history of sovereignty and government, Foucault (102) creates the concept of ‘governmentality’, to which he gives a tripartite definition. Firstly, it is (102):

“The ensemble formed by the institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, the calculations and tactics that allow the exercise of this very specific albeit complex form of power, which has as its target population, as its principal form of knowledge political economy, and as its essential technical means apparatuses of security.”

Secondly, it is (102-103):

“The tendency which, over a long period and throughout the West, has steadily led towards the pre-eminence over all other forms (sovereignty, discipline, etc.) of this type of power which may be termed government, resulting, on the one hand, in the formation of a whole series of specific governmental apparatuses, and, on the other, in the development of a whole complex of savoirs.”

Thirdly, it is (103):

“The process, or rather the result of the process, through which the state of justice of the Middle Ages, transformed into the administrative state during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, gradually becomes ‘governmentalized’.”

The first part functions as a concise summary of governmentality. The second part elaborates how it makes use of knowledge and subsumes other forms of power and makes them instrumental in governmentality. The third part shortly explains how it all happened.

Following the definition, Foucault (103) argues that in general state is understood as an abusive cold monster, or a faceless monolithic entity that, for example, manages the (re)production of relations of production. The concept of governmentality as defined and elaborated by Foucault stands in clear opposition of this what I take is a Marxist view, in which it is absolutely essential to target, attack and occupy the state, as Foucault (103) characterizes it.

Similarly to biopower, governmentality is not a concept that I come across in landscape research or linguistic landscape research. You could point out that dedicating time to explain it is simply wasteful, if not useless. I think otherwise. I think it is essential to understand governmentality as it is not only related to the concepts of discipline and biopower but also helps to understand their importance and their instrumental role in contemporary societies.

A matter of life and death

I’ve already written an essay on discipline and explained how it functions, giving a more than usual personal account on it. This essay is dedicated to another concept created by Michel Foucault. It is a related concept and while it may not pop up in my own research or in the research of others, I think understanding it is important as it is in part tied to discipline. This essay will focus primarily on Foucault’s works: the volume one of ‘The History of Sexuality’ published in 1978, originally published in French as ‘La Volonté de savoir’ in 1976, and the ‘Society Must Be Defended’, lectures held at the Collège de France in 1975 and 1976.

In part five of the first volume of the ‘History of Sexuality’ titled ‘Right of Death and Power over Life’ Foucault (135) first characterizes sovereign power, how the head of the body in question has the absolute power over the subjects. In other words, the sovereign, typically a king held the absolute and exclusive right of life and death. Foucault (135) elaborates how the subjects were required to protect the sovereign from external threats, that is other sovereigns who seek to sit on the throne or rule over parts of the territory held by the sovereign. In a way the sovereign’s body is not only the physical body, but extends to the state, or rather the territory held by the sovereign, typically referred to as the empire, the kingdom, the duchy, the county or the barony to name a few. In other words, the sovereign represented not only himself (or rarely herself) but also the sovereignty in question. The people were not the body of the state, the sovereign was. Going against the sovereign was going against the sovereignty as the two were conflated. Therefore Foucault (135) adds:

“But if someone dared to rise up against him and transgress his laws, then he could exercise a direct power over the offender’s life: as punishment, the latter would be put to death. Viewed in this way, the power of life and death was not an absolute privilege: it was conditioned by the defense of the sovereign, and his own survival.”

What Foucault adds here is that while the sovereign did have the exclusive right to dish out a punishment, typically a capital punishment for the transgression against the sovereign, there was a rationale to it. The sovereign had no absolute right to do so, just because, even though I guess some sovereigns probably exercised that right arbitrarily (who’d be surprised if they did?). The right was rather, how to put it, a necessity. In any case, in the era of sovereigns individual life had little value. It could be taken away swiftly if you did not know your place and it was necessary for the sovereigns to do so in order to remain on the throne. What is important is, as Foucault (136) notes, that it was a mechanism of deduction or subtraction, taking away or levying goods and services as I’ve already discussed in earlier essays. Here it should be emphasized that this mechanism, the “right of seizure” as characterized by Foucault (136) culminated in life itself as “the right to take life or let live.”

Anyway, this essay is not dedicated to examining sovereign power but what came after. Foucault (136) states:

“Since the classical age the West has undergone a very profound transformation of these mechanisms of power. ‘Deduction’ has tended to be no longer the major form of power but merely one element among others, working to incite, reinforce, control, monitor, optimize, and organize the forces under it: a power bent on generating forces, making them grow, and ordering them, rather than one dedicated to impeding them, making them submit, or destroying them. There has been a parallel shift in the right of death, or at least a tendency to align itself with the exigencies of a life-administering power and to define itself accordingly. This death that was based on the right of the sovereign is now manifested as simply the reverse of the right of the social body to ensure, maintain, or develop its life.”

So what came after is not based on deduction or subtraction. As there is no sovereign, the body of the sovereign is no longer also the body of the state. Instead the body of the state is the people, the mass of individuals who used to be mere subjects to a sovereign and whose life could be taken away by the sovereign in order to protect that sovereign. It is in the interest of the individual not to be killed by the state. Therefore it’s hardly surprising that you won’t find that as a feature in the new system.

I think before moving on with the topic it’s worth going back to the ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ for a moment. In it, summarizing works of historian Pierre Chaunu, Foucault (75) states:

“From the end of the seventeenth century, in fact, one observes a considerable diminution in murders and, generally speaking, in physical acts of aggression; offences against property seem to take over from crimes of violence theft and swindling, from murder and assault[.]”

Relying on Chaunu, Foucault (76) adds:

“Crime became less violent long before punishment became less severe. But this transformation cannot be separated from several underlying processes. The first of these … was a change in the operation of economic pressures, a general rise in the standard of living, a large demographic expansion, an increase in wealth and property and ‘a consequent need for security'[.]”

Foucault (75) notes that while there was reform introduced, as advocated by ‘great reformers’, at the same time there was a shift in the type of crimes committed, from harm to body to harm to property, as elaborated by Chaunu. So, as there is increase in wealth and property, there is also an increase in crime related to wealth and property. Critical of the motivations of the reform movement, Foucault (80) adds:

“The true objective of the reform movement, even in its most general formulations, was not so much to establish a new right to punish based on more equitable principles, as to set up a new ‘economy’ of the power to punish, to assure its better distribution, so that it should be neither too concentrated at certain privileged points, nor too divided between opposing authorities; so that it should be distributed in homogeneous circuits capable of operating everywhere, in a continuous way, down to the finest grain of the social body.”

In other words, Foucault argues that the reform had less to do with rights of men than it did with productivity and efficiency. He (80) rephrases:

“The reform of criminal law must be read as a strategy for the rearrangement of the power to punish, according to modalities that, render it more regular, more effective, more constant and more detailed in its effects.”

What Foucault is on about here only makes sense. A better, or rather more fine tuned system with better coverage is needed to address the change in criminality, which coincided with the transition from feudal rights to absolute property, which resulted in what was considered a right in the feudal system to be understood as illegality, as noted by Foucault (85-86). In the feudal system, the superordinate extracted value from the subordinates, but in exchange they had certain rights that the superordinate had to respect. So, for example, peasants had rights to the land they cultivated, as long as they served their liege. In the new system, this was no longer the case as the land was deemed the absolute property of the owners who previously only held rights granted over the land, as acquired from yet another superordinate. Now, it may seem counterintuitive that this change warrants attenuated punishments against those who go against the property owners, but then again, if you think of it, someone has to work on the fields and in the factories and somehow I think it’s not going to be the property owners themselves. Foucault (92) calls this the “’economic’ rationality that must calculate the penalty and prescribe the appropriate techniques” (re)named as “humanity”. There is an apparent lack of utility in chopping of hands and heads. Those hands and heads are needed to work the fields and the factories. That said, you could not let things pass as if nothing happened either. The solution to this was and still is the prison, now also often referred to as ‘corrective services’. As the title suggests, Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ is good reading for those interested in how this came to be.

Returning to the topic at hand, in the first volume of the ‘History of Sexuality’ Foucault (139) summarizes power of life starting in the seventeenth century as having two basic forms with two poles of development. He (139) characterizes the first pole:

“One of these poles – the first to be formed, it seems – centered on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility, its integration into systems of efficient and economic controls, all this was ensured by the procedures of power that characterized the disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the human body.”

A detailed examination of this basic form can be found ‘Discipline and Punish’. I already wrote an essay on discipline, so I won’t repeat myself more here. He (139) elaborates the second pole:

“The second, formed somewhat later, focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes: propagation, births and mortality, the level of health, life expectancy and longevity, with all the conditions that can cause these to vary. Their supervision was effected through an entire series of interventions and regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population.”

This second pole is what this essay is intended to focus on. Now, it’s important to realize that, as Foucault (139) insists, the two poles were not antithetical and instead “linked together by a whole intermediary cluster of relations.” So, they affect one another. Focusing on the second pole, Foucault (140-141) calls it biopower and argues that it was “an indispensable element in the development of capitalism[.]” He (141) then adds that biopower itself was not a sufficient catalyst for capitalism and that it was discipline that was required to achieve development:

“[I]t had to have methods of power capable of optimizing forces, aptitudes, and life in general without at the same time making them more difficult to govern. If the development of the great instruments of the state, as institutions of power, ensured the maintenance of production relations, the rudiments of anatomo- and bio-politics, created in the eighteenth century as techniques of power present at every level of the social body and utilized by very diverse institutions (the family and the army, schools and the police, individual medicine and the administration of collective bodies), operated in the sphere of economic processes, their development, and the forces working to sustain them.”

In other words, biopower in itself isn’t much, but accompanied by discipline it is. For example, alcohol or rather the use of it has been a hot topic for centuries in Finland and remains so. Without making this a for or against discussion, it can nevertheless be said that people know what alcohol is and there is no shortage of knowledge about it. It’s evident that consumption of alcohol is detrimental to human health, at least in large quantities. It is in the interest of the social body, the state, to intervene as its task is to administer life. That said if it lacks the means to do so, it cannot achieve this. Abolition by declaration was tried between 1919 to 1932, but it failed as the state lacked the apparatuses curb the smuggling of alcohol into the country. There have been changes to the availability of alcohol since the end of the abolition and the latest proposal to change the legislation has been resting on various desks for some year now for whatever reasons that have cropped up. Anyway, as stated, it is in the interest of the social body to prevent people from harming themselves, so it regulates the consumption of alcohol by restricting its availability to certain outlets that open at certain times of the day on certain times of the week, setting taxes on the products containing alcohol to disincentive buying and constantly reminding people of its harms. Achieving this requires state institutions: the authorities that regulate access to alcohol, namely Valvira, the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, and the alcoholic beverage retailing monopoly known as Alko (for product over 4,7% ABV), as well as the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in general. The state also makes use of the educational institutions and the health care system at large. I would argue that the educational institutions are the most effective means of the state to grow and reinforce the sentiments against the consumption of alcohol as a harmful agent. While education is known for its transparency in Finland, there isn’t much the individual will do or can do alone to oppose what instilled in these institutions. In contrast, the alcohol retail monopoly of Alko is strikingly obvious and keeps infuriating people with its limited selection, limited opening times and high prices, not to mention its rather schizophrenic mission to curb the consumption of alcohol while functioning as its sole outlet (above 4,7% ABV).

This could also be applied to almost anything that pertains to health, for example the use of salt, fats, carbs, gluten or dairy to name a few. It is in the interest of the social body to steer their consumption, but it can only do it through institutions that discipline people to the desired outcomes. People who live longer can work longer. Similarly, people who are healthy can work more than those who aren’t. In addition, healthy people require less health services. It’s all win-win. What I mean here is that administering life makes it possible to optimize, to maximize efficiency by maximizing productivity and minimizing anything that affects productivity negatively. Quite charming really.

To summarize how discipline and biopower work together, Foucault (242) states in ‘Society Must Be Defended’, lectures held at the Collège de France in 1975 and 1976:

“This technology of power does not exclude the former, does not exclude disciplinary technology, but it does dovetail into it, integrate it, modify it to some extent, and above all, use it by sort of infiltrating it, embedding itself in existing disciplinary techniques.”

To differentiate them, he (242) adds:

“To be more specific, I would say that discipline tries to rule a multiplicity of men to the extent that their multiplicity can and must be dissolved into individual bodies that can be kept under surveillance, trained, used, and, if need be, punished. And that the new technology that is being established is addressed to a multiplicity of men, not to the extent that they are nothing more than their individual bodies, but to the extent that they form, on the contrary, a global mass[.]”

Simply put, discipline has to do with the shaping of the individual, the individuation. In contrast, biopower has to do with the mass of individuals, or as Foucault (243) puts it, man-as-species.

To get back to the topic in the first volume of the ‘History of Sexuality’, Foucault (144) aptly summarizes what he means by biopower:

“[A] power whose task is to take charge of life needs continuous regulatory and corrective mechanisms. It is no longer a matter of bringing death into play in the field of sovereignty, but of distributing the living in the domain of value and utility. Such a power has to qualify, measure, appraise, and hierarchize, rather than display itself in its murderous splendor; it does not have to draw the line that separates the enemies of the sovereign from his obedient subjects; it effects distributions around the norm.”

I want to draw the attention here to the second sentence and the last part of the third sentence. Life now revolves around value and utility. It functions through norms. I think it should be emphasized that the value and utility is in relation to the social body, not the individual. What the individual thinks is valuable or of utility to him- or herself is of little importance. The state knows better what’s good for the individual than the individual. It’s not that the state is simply wrong or that it is motivated by malice. That’s just irrelevant to it. All it cares is administration of life, efficiency and optimization, for itself, not you. If it is good for you, then, well, good for you!

Now, you might be fooled to think that it’s all good, especially if it is good for you. At least one doesn’t have to fear for one’s life. Foucault (136-137) goes on to state the opposite:

“This death that was based on the right of the sovereign is now manifested as simply the reverse of the right of the social body to ensure, maintain, or develop its life. Yet wars were never as bloody as they have been since the nineteenth century, and all things being equal, never before did regimes visit such holocausts on their own populations.”

One word stands out there, but I’ll let Foucault (137) continue:

“Wars are no longer waged in the name of a sovereign who must be defended; they are waged on behalf of the existence of everyone; entire populations are mobilized for the purpose of wholesale slaughter in the name of life necessity: massacres have become vital. It is as managers of life and survival, of bodies and the race, that so many regimes have been able to wage so many wars, causing so many men to be killed.”

Now you might be wondering how can that be. Wasn’t killing humans out of the question? It is but that’s not what is at stake here. It’s about what Gilles Deleuze (92) explains in ‘Foucault’:

“[T]he survival of a population that believes itself to be better than its enemy, which it now treats not as the juridical enemy of the old sovereign but as a toxic or infectious agent, a sort of ‘biological danger’.”

As the function of the social body is to keep itself healthy, it must assure that threats are taken care of. Like a body it must repel and exterminate them. Think not only of other creatures attacking the body, but also those imperceptible ones invading the body, for example parasites such as viruses. To remain healthy, the body will have to protect itself by all means necessary. It will go as far as to dismember itself to save the body. The contagion must not spread. Paradoxically upholding life can lead to death, not on the level of the individual, but on the level of the mass and with an unprecedented efficiency, as elaborated by Foucault.

As I pointed out in the introductory paragraph, this is not directly linked to my own research, yet I felt like it is a topic worth elaborating due to the links to discipline and individuation, as well as the underlying argument that it’s all about efficiency and productivity. The irony is as already discussed in a number of essays that there is no one specific to blame for all this. It is what it is. It’s of course not only ironic, but also quite unsettling that people are in fact only obeying themselves, as Deleuze and Guattari (130) point out in the ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. The broader topic of life is also an interesting subject, a worthy tangent to get lost in, but I did my best not to drift into that territory. Perhaps I’ll write more on that later, but I felt that it’s better to stay focused here.