Lacan’t or won’t?

So, I went through H.P. Grice’s text ‘Logic and Conversation’ in the previous essay, covering his take on pragmatics. I left it at that, not really getting into it deeper, so its shortcomings weren’t really covered. Sure, I did make note of what Grice concedes here and there, namely that people, in general, don’t actually follow the Cooperative Principle (CP). There are plenty of cases where people are rather uncooperative. That said, I also noted that while people may be cooperative or uncooperative, they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. This just to reiterate some key points from the previous essay.

Jean-Jacques Lecercle addresses Grice’s pragmatics in ‘The Misprision of Pragmatics: Conceptions of Language in Contemporary French Philosophy’. He (26) lists the four categories, or, to simplify things here, maxims: Quantity, Quality, Relation and Modality (instead of Manner). He (27) goes on to challenge the notion of cooperation, noting the importance of purpose, why it is that one does, for example, fulfill the maxim of quality, that is to say speak the truth (what you hold as true and have the proof for it). The key thing here, for him (27), is one’s strategy and what tactics are used. Now, this may seem rather contradictory to the CP, but, as acknowledged by Lecercle (27), this is not the case as the CP and its maxims are rather ideals, not what happens in real life at all times. You may remember me explaining about the cases where the maxims are not fulfilled, for example, when they are exploited.

Lecercle (27) characterizes the Gricean theory of conversation, his pragmatics, as irenic. In ‘Deleuze and Language’, he (162-163) lists four limitations in Anglo-Saxon pragmatics, namely those of Grice, Austin and Searle. Firstly, they rely on what he (162) calls methodological individualism, that a speaker is fully conscious and intentional at all times. A speaker means this and/or that and it is then recognized by another person. He (163) finds this lacking in the sense that it is very much subjective because meaning is tied to what someone means by saying this and/or that and considers it “a philosophical regression, when compared with the achievements of structuralism.” Secondly, tied to the first limitation, he (163) notes that methodological individualism results in speech-acts that are always individual, having little or simply nothing to do with the society and its institutions. In other words, it lacks any theory of practice, of habits. Thirdly, he (163) states that while they build on principles and maxims, arguably a clear improvement over as language having laws of nature, as is the case with Grice, they are ahistorical, which then end up assuming that there is something universal, an eternally valid human nature. For example, for the Cooperative Principle to hold, which, I think, even Grice is, actually, somewhat doubtful, it must be assumed that it is human nature to cooperate, to exchange knowledge, to communicate information. It is this presupposition of language being irenic that is the problem. If that is the case, that we want to cooperate, why is it that we engage in arguments? Fourthly, he (163) finds Anglo-Saxon pragmatics lacking because while they insist on performativity, action and force, the effects of language are left undiscussed. He (164) characterizes it as moving from considering language as representation, that is to say a naïvely representing the world, to interpretation. Now, I think it’s worth noting that I consider that progress. That said, as discussed by Lecercle (163-164), it ignores the effects language has on all things material. For me, it sort of stops where things gets interesting. This is something that I addressed in some of my previous essays that focus on meaning and sense, as discussed in Gilles Deleuze’s ‘The Logic of Sense’ and in his collaboration with Félix Guattari, ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’.

In the article, Lecercle (27-30) contrasts the Gricean theory of conversation with something that he calls anti-Gricean, an agonistic theory of conversation, in which the Gricean maxims are replaced by five Lacanian maxims: Reception, Recognition, Imposition, Evocation and Inversion. Those monikers are what I came up with in summary of the relevant parts of Lecercle’s article. I reckon one could also reformulate these, by replacing Imposition with Interpellation and Evocation with Impelling (Impellation?).

In more detail, drawing from Jacques Lacan, namely from his book ‘Écrits’ with particular emphasis on a text called ‘The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis’, Lecercle (28) explains the first maxim (Reception):

“‘No speech remains without an answer, even if it is only met with silence, provided there is a listener’.”

This may seem a bit odd, but, as he (28) points out, even silence is an answer, assuming that, of course, the person who is the intended recipient does hear what is said to that person. He (28) clarifies this in linguistic terms as what is known as the zero sign. Not replying is a choice among others, a sign among others. He (28) also points out that this is what’s missing in the Gricean theory, “that meaning cannot be reduced to intention” as it is not tied to the individual participants but “the overall situation of conversation”. This reminds me of what Gilles Deleuze (13-15) has to say about the primacy of manifestation in ‘The Logic of Sense’, that while it tends to seem like language has its source in the speaker, that manifestation is primary, it is, nonetheless, merely secondary as language does not emerge from the speaker on its own, but we’ll get to this later on.

Lecercle (28) summarizes the second maxim (Recognition):

“‘Man’s desire finds its meaning in the desire of the other, not so much because the other has the key to the desired object, as because his main object is to be recognized by the other’.”

He (28) clarifies this maxim by stating that one desires not only what one desires, for example, the other person, whoever it is, but also what that other person desires, hence my point about recognition, what he calls “a kind of mimetic desire.” Not that this is, by any means, a new development, but to exemplify this here better, you must have noticed this if you’ve kept your eyes open with regards to social media. I’m not going to go on and on about this or give you lecture about the vanity of it, but that’s sort of the point, not posting a message about something simply because you desire something, because you want to express something, perhaps even impress someone, but because you wish to be acknowledged by others. Simply put, you not only desire but you also desire the desires of others, hence the talk over people obsessing over likes, shares, favorites and the like. This is also works in reverse, as explained by Lecercle (28). You wish to draw the attention of others, for the recognition, and if that fails, you feel dissatisfied.

Lecercle (28) provides an explanation for the third maxim (Imposition):

“‘If I address (or call) the person to whom I speak by whatever name I give him, I impose upon him a subject position, from which he will have to answer me, even if he rejects it.’”

He (28) notes that it’s in this case, with this maxim, that makes it clear that the object of a conversation is not to cooperate but to “gain linguistic ground, to occupy a place – to be recognized by the opponent as occupying this place.” I think it’s worth pointing out that it’s not, strictly speaking, about being uncooperative, but about the conversation having a specific object or a goal that the speaker sets. This is, of course, clearly adversarial as one seeks to to gain ground, to have the upper hand, to elevate oneself. He (28) also notes this works not only by promoting oneself but also by demoting the other, relegating the other person into a certain undesirable position, that of the scapegoat. He (28) uses the example of insulting people, calling them names, situating them as, for example, “madmen, criminals, perverts, foreigners, country bumpkins” as well as “trade unionists and women”.

He (29) goes on to explain how one may counter the third maxim. For example, without going into detail here, he (29) argues that silence may the best strategy when insulted or accused of something. This, of course, depends on the circumstances. He (29) points out that if others ignore this or stand up for the accused or the insulted, then the accusation or insult will fail. Then again, if the accuser or the one insulting the person has the support of others, then the accused or the insulted must answer “from a position of presumed guilt.” This is why he (29) argues that “[t]he law of ordinary conversation is a lynching law, where there is no smoke without fire” and adds that “conversation is an unfair trial”, “a battle where the stronger party, not the innocent one, wins the day.” Going back to the earlier point, this is why he emphasizes the role of others, what he (29) calls “the question of alliances”.

This can also be exemplified by how people behave on social media, even if, again, this is hardly a new thing. The difference is, I guess, more about how it is probably easier to gain the support of others, to make allies, on social media, than it is in a face-to-face conversation as there are more obvious time and space constrains on the latter than on the former. I don’t know about others, nor do I recommend accusing or insulting (in the sense that it is taken as such) others, except, perhaps, in a court of law if there are grounds for it (as otherwise it may well be defamation, which may take you to court), but something tells me that it’s hard to succeed in face-to-face accusations or insults as others may react to it simply as belligerent behavior, as uncalled hostility, and ally themselves with the person who is accused or insulted.

I’ve actually been in such situation, being threatened on my way to home by a stranger, a foreign party crasher who got kicked out from a birthday party I attended. It nearly escalated to an assault, me dodging swings and attempting to calm down the person. Well, that technically makes it an attempted assault, as well as deprivation of personal liberty and/or menacing, all offenses worth up to two years behind bars. Anyway, the person accused me, and others at the party (not present when that went down), for mistreatment, that we didn’t like the person because of the person’s foreign background and that we, me, plus a couple of other foreigners, were laughing at the person’s expense. What the person failed to recognize was the irony and the sarcasm in a conversation that the person was not part of, that we were saying the exact opposite of what the person accused us as having said and that it had nothing to do with the person as we were hardly aware of a party crasher at an invitation only birthday party. It was very absurd, being being accused and threatened with violence for something that you didn’t state. The person actually struggled with it, how I calmly agreed on this and that, because it was not outright assault, just jumping on me. It was more like the person wished to project me as someone else, in order to justify the desire for violence. The person only got physical when I expressed my wish to move along. That was when I drew in passers-by, who allied with me, not because they had more reason to believe me over the other person based on our stories but because of the evident hostility and threatening language expressed against me. Thanks to those guys, I was able to carry on and get home safe. I’ll gladly offer them a beverage of their choice, if I ever run into them.

Before you go stating that I should have handled it better and that it teaches me not to run my mouth, when I brought this up with friends who where at the party, they told me that, as I pointed out already, the person was a party crasher, who apparently came in as someone’s plus one (or that was the story given anyway), drank other people’s drinks and got kicked out of the party for getting caught doing that, as well as getting confrontational with others. Strange how people don’t like you if you are revealed to be a party crasher! Long story short, unbeknownst to me, the person wanted to get drunk, got drunk, at the expense of others, and when others complained to the hosts, the person got ejected from the party, which then aggrieved the person to look for fights with anyone who was at the party. Had I known all this, I would not have wasted a moment with the person.

Anyway, I reckon that’ll do for an example of how it makes a clear difference to have allies. Getting back on topic here, getting allies is, I reckon, a bit easier online than it is on a street corner. One can prepare, rally people to one’s cause, in order support the accusations and impose certain subject positions upon others. Now, sure, that can be done offline as well. One can gather a group of people and then confront the people who are to be accused of this and/or that. That’s what they call an angry mob, the people who swoop in carrying torches and pitchforks. This is why Lecercle (29) states that “[t]he law of ordinary conversation is a lynching law[.]” Things happening online, it’s just that the torches and pitchforks are no longer needed. What’s needed is enough allies who believe in the accusation, that angry mob. Now, of course, the accusation may well be correct, but that’s beside the point as “conversation is an unfair trial”, “a battle where the stronger party, not the innocent one, wins the day”, as expressed by Lecercle (29).

Lecercle (29) explains the fourth maxim (Evocation):

“‘In speech, the function of language is not to inform, but to evoke. What I seek when I speak is the other’s answer. My question makes me a subject.’”

He (29) clarifies this by stating that, for example, if you asks a question, the other person is pushed to recognize your subject position. He (29) offers a humorous, to the point, example of how in cop shows the detectives say something like “‘I’m asking the questions here!’” to assert their position. Of course, as he (29) explains, this requires the person being questioned to answer the questions as non-compliance undermines the subject position of the detective. The detective can keep going, as long as needed, but as long as the person remains silent, the detective’s position remains undermined and unrecognized. That’s also why the detective has to keep asking questions. Stopping will result in conceding a defeat. Then again, going on and on, without an answer, also makes it apparent that it will end in defeat.

He (29) introduces the fifth and last maxim (Inversion):

“‘The speaker receives his own message from the hearer, in an inverted form’.”

Before further explaining this, he (29-30) reminds that we must remember that for there to be a conversation, we not only have to have at least two people, two parties, but that one of them must function as the one saying something, while other must function as the recipient, the one who hears what is said to that person. In other words, this is him reiterating the earlier point about how meaning is not reducible to the intention of the speaker as the speaker also intends for the recipient to recognize this intention. He (30) calls this immediacy. However, he (30) points out that it’s not as simple as that as one’s intention or meaning is not simply mirrored in the other person. He (30) clarifies that this has to do with first and second person pronouns, what in linguistics are known as shifters. He (30) provides a basic example:

“‘I want you to do this’”

Followed by the inversion, the shift, the reply from the recipient, the hearer, which is required for the meaning to stay the same (30):

“‘[Y]ou want me to do this’”

So, as he (30) points out, if you don’t do the inversion, the shift, you’ll just parrot what was just said, thus also inverting and shifting the meaning. In that case the reply would be identical to the initial request, thus both stating that they want the other person to do this, whatever it is that they are talking about, whatever that is. He (30) calls this the echo. The thing here is that the play of shifters, inversion and echo, allows what he (30) calls projection, which allows a person express something, as if it originated from the other person. I’ve changed the example a bit, but, so, the formula he (30) uses is something like statement-inversion-echo: I like you. – You like me? You like me! In this example, the statement is a wish, that one wishes to express one’s interest in another person to that person, but as that’s too in your face, this is turned into a question by shifting the positions, by inverting them, followed by the echo. In other words, as saying the first thing just won’t work, you can attempt to do the same by projecting your intention to the other, in hope of it works. If it doesn’t work, then it works as an accusation, that the other person can be blamed for, as if they said it, not you.

So, to explain this better, going back a bit, remember how you can put others on a spot, to impose a subject position on them? Now this is how it works. If I say I like you, that’s on me and you get to react on that. I’ve expressed my interest in you and now you get to react to that. I’ve put myself on the spot, boldly, bravely. It may work. Generally people like to be liked, which ties back to another point on how we desire to be desired. In that light, it may work. Then again, it may be that the other person doesn’t desire to be desired by me. So, then, to play it safe, instead of putting myself on the spot, I invert the setting, I shift the positions, and put the other person on the spot. If the other person says no, one way or another, it’s on that person, not on me. If the answer is yes, then I get express your interest, your desire. It’s a win-win for me, or so to speak. I either get what I want or, if not, I scapegoat the other person for that. Well ain’t that just clever!

If we go back to my real life example, the one with the drunk party crasher, it involved the same move with the shifters. What the person wanted was to pick a fight, to quarrel. Of course, as it takes two to tango, as otherwise it’s just one sided, an assault, you need to provoke the other person. I vaguely remember the person expressing a desire to fight, but as that didn’t work, as there was no reason for such, the person asked me if I wanted to fight. So, in short, following Lecercle, it works like this: I want to fight you. – You want to fight me? – You want to fight me! The person was ready to fight but my unwillingness to fight, my perplexed silence, didn’t work out that great for that person. As I drew passers-by to intervene, this move finally failed. Others saw right through it. It wasn’t about resolving any disagreement (as there actually was none, as I agreed) but just a desire to punch. This isn’t actually the first time this type of a thing has happened to me. When I was living abroad in Ireland, me and others, on our way to our accommodation, got into trouble, as some locals in Dublin took offense as we walked by them. It was about disrespecting: I disrespect you. You disrespect me? You disrespect me! I had to dodge swings that time as well, until a friend of mine somehow managed to bamboozle one of the locals into thinking we had something in common, that he had some street cred or something, after which everyone was shaking hands and hugging. That was so bizarre!

Back to Lecercle. He (30) notes in summary that what he is after with the fifth maxim, and I reckon in general with this Lacanian take on pragmatics, is that meaning emerges not directly but indirectly, even if this take still holds certain primacy of the manifestation. In other words, as he (30) adds, the position of the subject, i.e. the speaker, is put into question, albeit it is still retained. This leads us to another take on take on pragmatics in which the meaning does not originate in the subject. That’s why he (30) calls its thesis “‘all speech is indirect speech’”.

But before I move to discuss the third reading, it’s worth comparing the Gricean and Lacanian takes on pragmatics. Lecercle (31) argues that the Gricean category of Quantity is marked by symmetry and cooperative exchange of information, whereas the Lacanian take on it is marked by dissymmetry, excess and lack of cooperation. The point here is that it may be beneficial to talk too much, to engage in what Lecercle (31) humorously calls logorrhea, or to be very sparse with one’s words, even to the point of silence. He (31) addresses the category of Quality, noting that in the agonistic view the object is to gain status and recognition so it matters not what you state. It’s fine if it stings and it’s also perfectly fine if you believe that it’s not true or that you lack evidence for your statement. That said, it’s not an either or case either. As he (31) emphasizes it, if you get the results you want by stating what you believe to be true and have the proof for it, then go for it. It’s just that if that’s not the case, you may still wish to simply lie or make claims that you can’t properly back up. Why not? With regards to the category of Relation, he (31) states that the only thing relevant in this view is the efficacy of speech as a verbal weapon. So, whatever is relevant is tied to your strategy, what it is that you desire to accomplish. He (31) adds that the category of Modality (Manner) is altered to cater for the interest of the speaker, making it fine to be digressive as opposed to being brief, if it fits the context. In addition, he (31) notes that it’s generally better to be ambiguous, and I would add, to fully address the Gricean maxims here, to be as obscure and disorderly as necessary, depending on the situation and your interests. In general, if Grice’s pragmatics is marked by the principle of cooperation between people, this take is marked by struggle between people, to get what you desire, by exploiting the maxims, as explained by Lecercle (31). In summary, as expressed by him (31):

“This principle of struggle – do not expose your position; adapt your verbal weapons to your strategy and to the context (tactics is also important), never forget that your goal is to achieve recognition, to place yourself – is as commonsensical as its opposite.”

In short, this take is, more or less, a mirror-image of the Cooperative Principle, as noted by Lecercle. It’s flipped. Moving towards the third reading, he (32) points out that both Gricean and Lacanian pragmatics are marked by the centrality of the subject, albeit its conception is quite different between the two. In his (31) words:

“Grice’s subject is a centre of consciousness, of intentional meaning, whereas the Lacanian subject is decentred, dependent on the symbolic law of language, determined by his relation with the other, with or without the capital O, and certainly not always conscious of his meaning[.]”

In other words, Gricean pragmatics takes it for granted that the subject is autonomous and intentional, always in control and aware of what’s what, whereas in the Lacanian version, as examined in this essay, the subject still remains but its autonomy (not reliant on others) is clearly undermined. This leads us, as well as Lecercle (32), to a take where the concept of an autonomous, intentional, individual subject is rejected, which also eradicates the calculation involved in both the Gricean and Lacanian pragmatics, no matter whether it is to cooperate or to further your own interests. So far I’ve used the word desire alongside the word interest. This is because desire is typically understood as something that is subjective, tied to the subject. This is exactly what the third take on pragmatics rejects. This is the pragmatics of Deleuze and Guattari. In their works desire is not something subjective. It’s also not about conscious vs. unconscious desire. It’s rather, how to put it, how … for the lack of a better word here … things come to be drawn together. It’s not just about you. It’s rather beyond you. The centrality and primacy of the subject is replaced by what they call the collective assemblage of enunciation in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. In Lecercle’s (32) words:

“At a deeper level, there is no individual subject – and therefore no individual strategy – only what they call an ‘agencement collectif d’énonciation’ (collective arrangement of utterance).”

He uses a bit different translation there, but that’s because, well, it’s his translation and because the English translation came out in 1987, the same year his article was published. On top of that, he is entitled to his translation, as he has read the book in French. It’s fairly hard to explain how this take works in reference to Lecercle’s article as it works through a number of readings of a short play (what’s why you should always read the original), so I’ll have to just try my best to summarize the key points on this.

Lecercle (33) notes that there is an emphasis of subjects in the previous takes. It always starts with what this or that person is saying to the other person or persons. In other words, it always starts from the point of view of a person, even if what we are interested in is actually the conversation between people. So, if I focus on a conversation, I’m focusing on what this person, ‘A’, is saying to the other person, ‘B’. I’m examining them in turns. I’m not interested in what is said, as such, but what ‘A’ is doing, the function, regardless of whether I suppose that ‘A’ is abiding to the principle of cooperation or struggle. It’s always first attributed to someone. That’s the starting point. As summarized by Lecercle (34), the question is always “‘who speaks in the text?’” As listed by Lecercle (34), the answer to that by Deleuze and Guattari is, firstly:

“[A]ll speech is indirect speech[.]”

Secondly (34):

“[A]ll speech has its origin in a collective arrangement of utterance.”

He (34) adds that what results from this is that language does not originate in the person who utters it; the utterer is only a mere mouthpiece, spoken by language. In other words, as expressed by him (34):

“[S]peech is always an instance of indirect speech, uttered by an absent – and here collective and impersonal – arrangement.”

I think he (34-35) manages to explain this better as he runs the example through his text, but to get to the gist of his examples, people tend to make use of what already exists, for example, various clichés and slogans. So, in a way, you don’t speak or write, this or that, by choosing the words and the expressions. Instead they choose you. You slip into speech. Assuming you know the origins of this, where Deleuze and Guattari draw their views on indirect speech, I think it’s only fitting to formulate it that way, in a cheeky reference to the ‘In Soviet Russia’ reversal here. The best example he (34) provides that I can make use of here (without explaining the play) is that of the erasure of the performative clause:

“‘[T]his ball is red’ comes from ‘I state that this ball is red’.”

This is the ‘I’ always saying the ‘I’, even in the absence of the ‘I’. He (34-35) further exemplifies this with “what linguists call pragmatic adverbs:”

“‘Frankly, what you just said was a lie’[.]”

He (35) clarifies that if this is taken as containing an introductory pragmatic adverb, ‘frankly’, then it’s, again, the ‘I’ saying the ‘I’. It’s just not visible on the surface. Lecercle (35) emphasizes that for Deleuze and Guattari this is not about “a subject, but an arrangement, impersonal and collective”, “social forces that speak”, doing that “in mots d’ordre, passwords, slogans and injunctions”, “not communicat[ing] a message” but “transmit[ting] an impulse, a force.” He (35) provides some examples, which are going to be somewhat out of context but I reckon they should work nonetheless. He notes how a woman in the play he is discussing typically starts with the ‘I’, followed by a verb and a complement, often an introductory clause. For example, the woman says (35):

“‘All I asked you if I could get a bus …’”

And (35):

“‘Anyone can tell you’re a foreigner’”

He (35) adds that in the play the woman often starts by stating ‘I know’, not because of locutionary reasons. She isn’t the type of person whose speech is marked by such peculiarity. It’s rather the opposite as she relies on clichés and slogans, ready made expressions, because they pack a punch, they carry illocutionary force. Moreover, he (35) notes that she is in the habit of using a wide variety of person pronouns to refer to herself, not just the first person singular, the ‘I’, in order to avoid personal responsibility. So, instead of saying ‘I’ think, you can say ‘we’ think or, I’m making this up here on the spot, ‘they say that’ and ‘it goes without saying that’ to distance yourself from what you are saying or writing, as well as to make it appear that it’s not you or at least not only you who thinks this way. It appears more credible if it’s not just you but others as well. It’s even better if you can avoid such, like I just did there with the second last one, to make it appear that some smart people, not just us normies, think that way. It’s even better than that if you can make it appear that everyone agrees on it, universally, as a given, as I did with the last one. Of course the thing is that it can be just fluff, making it appear as if there is no ‘I’ even though there still is.

Lecercle (36) reiterates what is specific about this: when the woman speaks in slogans, “she speaks the language of domination and exclusion”, yet, at the same time, she projects being dominated and an outcast (as she is seen behaving oddly in the eyes of other people). He (36) notes that if we are to understand the woman’s behavior in the way Deleuze and Guattari would, we need to scrap those readings into her behavior. In his (36) words:

“[W]e must refrain from interpreting it as a strategy (as in our first reading), or reduce it to a symptom (a reduction implicit in a psychoanalytic reading – my second reading was an attempt at this).”

Now, it took me a moment or two to understand what he is referring to with the first and second readings, but unless I’m mistaken, he is referring to the woman using language to dominate and to exclude, as well as a projection. So, he is not speaking of the four (reduced to three, as I skipped the first one) readings of the same play. This just to clarify this as it threw me off.

What should we do instead then? Lecercle (36) argues that what we should do is “to listen to it, to the délire of history within it (‘la languae délire l’histoire as Anti-Oedipus says).” Okay, now you are probably wondering where délire came in, all the sudden? Well, I skipped a bit. The way Lecercle (36) characterizes the woman’s behavior is marked by her desire, split to, on one side domination and exclusion (délire), and, on the other side, projection of being dominated and excluded (désir). He (36) explains that the reason for using the French word ‘délire’ instead of the English equivalent ‘delirium’ has to do with how it captures what he is after with this better than the English one. He (36) refers to his own work published two years earlier, now accessible as a republication, titled ‘Philosophy Through the Looking-Glass: Language, Nonsense, Desire’. He (1-2) further explains this is in the introduction:

“Mere delirium is poor and repetitive: this other type, which I shall call, for reasons soon to be explained, délire, is rich and imaginative; it calls for the respect and attention of the man of science, of the psychologist and the philosopher.”

If you struggle with this, think of the borderline of madness and genius. That’s perhaps a bit simplistic, but, that’s sort of what he is after with this. Anyway, I reckon going on a tangent on this, beyond what I’ve elaborated so far, is better for another time (there’s always another day).

So, back to Deleuze and Guattari. Lecercle (36) notes in his article that there is something clearly paradoxical about this, claiming that speech works through you. To simplify this, it works like the ‘Russian Reversal’ to which I referred to earlier on already. So, it’s not that ‘you speak language’ but that ‘language speaks you’. In his (36) words:

“How can I say in the same breath that the collective voice of history speaks throughout the text, and that the piece is highly characteristic of [the writer’s] individual style?”

He (36) answers this question, noting how Deleuze and Guattari handle this contradiction:

“The object of their version of pragmatics is the study of style. … But for them style is not individual: it is the expression of a collective arrangement of utterance. [The writer’s] individual voice is not the voice of an individual, but the voice of such an arrangement, which we will call [by the name of the writer/author] for short.”

He (36) acknowledges that this may seem like a joke; how can style be collective, not individual if it is so clearly recognizable as this or that writer/author? His (36) answer is that “it is because it captures the essence of a discursive conjuncture”. I’ve explained what Deleuze and Guattari call a collective assemblage of enunciation in some of my earlier essays, so I won’t refer back to those or the definitions given in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. I’ll expand on the definition provided by Lecercle (36-37) instead:

“[A] conception of language as unstable and violent, with force overshadowing communicate content; the overwhelming use of clichés and ready-made sentences, with the consequent depersonalization of expression; a use of rhetoric which is the opposite of classical eloquence – where rhetoric is no longer the result of choice and the expression of subjectivity; the reduction of linguistic activity to the model provided by the patter of comedians, of radio-announcers, of disc-jockeys – which implies new relations between language, the public sphere and the private sphere.”

As I pointed out earlier on already, it is, in a way, that you don’t speak or write, this or that, by choosing the words and the expressions. Instead they choose you.

Now, I have to digress here, for a moment, to object a bit. Take comedians, for example. They are, in my opinion, among the people who are, or, well, at least can be very creative with language. That said, I reckon that by associating them with radio-announcers and disc-jockeys Lecercle is referring to comedians who rely on tropes, doing the same jokes over and over again. It’s also hard to grasp the type of comedians Lecercle is referring to here. I’m thinking more along the lines of stand-up comedians and the ones you see in panel shows. I think they are highly creative people, able to work and rework words and expressions on the spot, in reply to other people, even though, not unlike others, they rely on a host of pre-existing scripts. Taking this into account, perhaps Lecercle is referring to comedians in scripted shows and films. Then I’d agree with that. Of course, I do acknowledge that there are plenty of comedians, the stand-up and on the spot types, who are hardly creative, just using ready-made sentences, templates if you will.

Anyway, moving on, Lecercle (37) states that the way language is conceptualized by Deleuze and Guattari is not far from the way it is understood and utilized in advertising and in public relations.

This is, more or less, the end of his article and the end of this essay. It’s worth noting that Lecercle (37) does not see the pragmatics of Deleuze and Guattari as in contradiction with the two subject oriented takes on pragmatics, that of Grice and that of Lacan. Instead, he (37) argues that “it gives them a grounding, it shows their social and historical source.” Yes, as noted by him (37), it does, of course, undermine them because they are individual and ahistorical theories (37). Simply put, Gricean and Lacanian pragmatics consider the subject, the individual, as primary, whereas Deleuze and Guattari consider it as secondary. Yes, it is there, but it is secondary. That’s why their views are not actually in contradiction with that of Grice or Lacan but rather give them an actual grounding. You can’t simply start from the subject, the individual, because otherwise you skip the bits on how did we get here, how it is that this or that person is the way the person is, which, in turn, contributes to how the person speaks or writes. Lecercle (38) emphasizes this in the final paragraph, noting that his article is not to be seen “as a trajectory from error … to truth”, that there is common ground to be found in Anglo-Saxon and French pragmatics.

More broadly speaking, in summary of Lecercle (37-38), as you can gather from ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ and my essays on the parts that pertain to linguistics, the pragmatics of Deleuze and Guattari is marked by its opposition to understanding language as a closed system, ala Chomsky, in which a connection between syntax and semantics is established. They object to the conception of language as a neutral medium, as informative and communicative, transmitting information from one speaker to another directly or indirectly via intermediaries. They also object to linguistic universals, homogeneity and standards. This is because the standards and universals are drawn from heterogeneous particulars. In other words, they are artificial, derivative.

If we are to look for similarities between the different forms of pragmatics, it’s clear that they are all opposed to the mainstream understanding of language as neutral, as merely a medium for passing on information. Lecercle (38) uses his article to come up with a conception of language that builds up on the notion of force, power and violence. He (38) argues that:

“Literally, utterances are potentially violent because they have force. They are used for insulting, for attack, for hurting one’s opponent.”

I’m sure that many people will object to this. How can language be violent? How can it hurt? How can it do anything? Hurt feelings don’t count! I think it’s worth clarifying here that language is not violent in the sense that it causes physical injuries, what, after Deleuze and Guattari, we would call corporeal transformations. It does not breach the surface. In that sense it is correct to object to it being violent. However, what it is capable is creating surface effects, causing changes in surfaces, what Deleuze and Guattari call incorporeal transformations. This is all in connection to what I wrote in the opening paragraphs of my previous essay. I wouldn’t call language violent. That makes people think it’s about getting beaten up. I’d rather speak of it as connected to power relations, how one is positioned in relation to others and how language makes it possible to force others into this or that position. I’d only call it violent in the sense that language intervenes with the world, reducing the world into a never ending list of objects (not that I’m fully against that though, it has its uses). I’m with Michel Foucault on this, insisting that power is productive, not destructive. That doesn’t mean that it denies destruction but rather that it is seen as among others, in the sense that you can produce or create destruction. Simply put, it’s indifferent to what is produced. How power is exercised, that’s on me, that’s on you, that’s on us.


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