Talk Idiot Talk: Trump Cards and Asylums of Ignorance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, in short, they both miss what’s crucial. This is followed by an explanation of what I keep explaining every now and then in my essays, the chain of signification (11):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are not familiar with this, asylum ignorantiae, the refuge of ignorance, it can be found mentioned in Baruch Spinoza’s first book of ‘Ethics’ (78):

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

Now, of course, while Spinoza focuses on God here or rather attributing a cause to the will of God, this applies to any attribution of cause to this or that when you run out of gas and just simply don’t know, hence it being a refuge, an asylum or a sanctuary of ignorance. This is why I went on a tangent on culture, nature and ideology. They end up being used as a refuge of ignorance, along the lines of ‘it’s in my culture that …’, ‘nature seeks revenge’, ‘it’s ideological’, ‘it’s against human nature’. Spinoza (78) summarizes what’s in common with these in the following sentence:

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

To be fair, I’m not surprised if and when people head for the refuge of ignorance. The other option is to concede that you are ignorant, that you really haven’t put much thought into whatever it is that is at stake. I’m just fine with that, but something tells me that people, albeit not all people, aren’t into that, conceding that they may be wrong. I reckon it’s not even about being right or wrong, knowing or not knowing. Instead, it’s about the who, who gets to be right and who doesn’t, hence my gripes on the issue in some my previous essays. Spinoza /78-79) summarizes this well:

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

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

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

In other words, this is not limited to religious contexts. Later on, in case you still find it nonsensical, relating only to groups of people in which abuse is possible, Deleuze and Guattari (130) address the absence of a despot-god:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a previous essay I mentioned the lopsided, if not actually one sided, criticism of one of my manuscripts. One of the gripes was that the approach, if not the whole subfield in linguistics, best known as the study of linguistic landscapes, should now no longer be offered to academic audiences as it has expired (the wording makes it ambiguous as to whether it’s the approach or whole the subfield). It’s amusing really, implying that someone’s work will potentially give you food poisoning. It’s not even just potentially dodgy, as would be the case with a best by date, but simply to be chucked to a nearby bin as hazardous waste. Gotta love it, someone basing their judgment on that. Of course, not all of that went to waste, as waste as my writing may be to these commentators, for the comments proved to be great material for laughter, for me and to some others, for the piety of the comments is hard not to notice. Others shared similar stories, even those in hard sciences, how, for example, someone’s manuscript was commented as, well, how to put it in an amusing way, road apples, only to be accepted by another journal with comments that praised it as not just worth publishing but a must publication in the field. What was it again that people say about opinions and hoops?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adding that (28), people do this by:

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

The fundamental issue being that (28):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Socrates constantly made all discussion impossible[.]”

So, no. How so? They (29) do explain:

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

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

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

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

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

I believe I sort of addressed this already in the essay on Marx, but I think Louis Althusser does a better, a more convincing job at explaining how this route ends up contradicting itself. In ‘Marxism and Humanism’, as included in ‘For Marx’, Althusser (227) makes note of this very issue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For this reason, the problem of individual consciousness as the inner word (as an inner sign in general) becomes one of the most vital problems in philosophy of language.”

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

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


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