Questioning the very notion of boundaries

I was looking forward to ‘Reterritorializing Linguistic Landscapes: Questioning Boundaries and Opening Spaces’ edited by David Malinowski and Stefania Tufi, to check if there’s some interesting book chapters. Anyway, I can’t recall exactly when that was, but I noticed that the book was slated to come out in early 2020. So it’s early 2020 now and it’s out. Let’s have a look at what the editors have in store for the reader. Now, this is a preliminary look at this, considering that I’ll be looking at only the introduction, not the book chapters, so there’s that to keep in mind (the editors may have left some stuff for the writers, as to not steal their thunder). I’ll see if I have the time to comment the book chapters later on.

Right, the introduction chapter of the book is about some eleven pages, nine pages plus two pages for the list of references, containing the usual segments on how the book came to be, how it is organized and who contributed to it, one way or another. Now, I won’t cover the usual stuff that one expects in an introduction in detail, because it’s sort of pointless to reiterate what the other parts of the books deal with (most introductions are, in fact pointless in this sense). What I’ll mention is, however, that according to the editors, this book came to being building on the themes of two linguistic landscape workshops, as mentioned on the first page by the two (1). They (1) note that the second part of the book title of the book refers to the theme of the first workshop and, as you might guess it just by looking at the title, questioning boundaries has to do with … the problems that come with boundaries, regardless of whether they are conceptual boundaries, like how one distinguishes this from that, or concrete boundaries, like borders between two states or physical barriers that separate people, such as walls. When it comes to academics, disciplinary boundaries are the ones you can run into, unless, somehow, you really keep to the supposed core of your discipline. They (1) add that the first part of the book title comes from the second workshop where the (Deleuzo-Guattarian) concept of reterritorialization was addressed, among other things.

What I find interesting, if not strange, is that there is this indication of questioning boundaries, that is to say of territoriality (considering that de- and reterritorialization deal with territoriality), what ‘linguistic landscape’ is and what its components ‘linguistic’ and ‘landscape’ are, yet, somehow I get the feeling that its boundaries are (to be) retained. In other words, one is to question boundaries, to challenge them, to be interdisciplinary, as mentioned by the two (1) in reference to the first of these two workshops, but not the notion of boundaries itself. For example, they (1-2) refer to linguistic landscape as a field (aka a discipline) that has continued to grow beyond its boundaries, as advanced by the workshops, among other things, of course, and indicate that there’s been much discussion pertaining to the theory and methods ever since people started to consider it a field (or a discipline), since people started calling whatever they were doing ‘linguistic landscape studies’ or ‘linguistic landscape research’.

The editors (2) address the issue pertaining to the core concept of the field (or discipline), noting that “it has been regularly scrutinized for the non-determinacy of its referent”, a fancy way of saying that people have criticized those who use the concept for not being able to explain what it is. They (2-3) move on to give some implication what it might pertain to, whether it’s something situated like a geographic place, “physically or symbolically built environment”, or a field of study (aka a discipline) that has been emerging ever since the early 2000s, as already mentioned, but they abstain from giving their own definition. They (3) only point out that this issue “remains unresolved.”

To me ‘linguistic landscape’ is, at its worst, a hollow abstraction, a buzzword that people like to throw around, to come across as if they are doing something novel, unheard of, something that others should be doing instead of doing whatever stuff they are doing. It’s remarkable how this conceptual issue has a rather famous parallel in geography, how Richard Hartshorne criticized other geographers for introducing ‘landscape’ as a geographic concept. In his article titled ‘The Nature of Geography: A Critical Survey of Current Thought in the Light of the Past’, he (327) called its introduction into the English speaking geography circles “little short of a scientific crime” and argued that the concept is simply too obscure, culminating in his (334) rant about the importance of explaining the concepts that one uses:

“The fundamental requirements of logical reasoning in any science demand that the basic terms of methodological discussion must be precisely defined and the definitions adhered to in the discussion.”

To be clear, I am not this pedantic. Anyway, he (334) continues:

“To presume that the reader will know what the word means, is, in the case of ‘landscape,’ to presume the impossible. If a writer is unable to state precisely what he means by the term, his use of it is a confession that he does not know just what he is talking about, but is using a more or less conventional word to hide that fact, if not to permit him to perform conjurer’s tricks with logic that would not be possible in straight English.”

Now, as I pointed out, I don’t agree with this 100 percent. That said, he does have a point, which is exactly why landscape studies faded into obscurity in the English speaking circles of geography for decades. The thing is that while this may seem like Olympic level pedantry (which I think it is; he’s being a … here), this became not just an issue, among others, something that you can happily ignore as pedantry, but the issue in landscape research. If you look at subsequent landscape research, you’ll find it that it didn’t really exist until the late 1970s and only became a thing in the 1980s. Before that landscape was just something rather obscure. On top of that, landscape research only became a thing at that time for that very reason, for seeking to understand what landscape is and, more importantly, what it does, as well as how it came to be and why it came to be, why it came to function the way it does.

This is most certainly not the first time I’ve brought this up in my essays, but I’ll happily do it again, to point out why Hartshorne’s criticism still matters eighty years later. So, in summary, Hartshorne’s criticism was really directed at one guy, Carl Sauer. He (25-26) defined the concept in ‘The Morphology of Landscape’ as derived from visual observation and stated that (25):

“The term ‘landscape’ is proposed to denote the unit concept of geography, to characterize the peculiarly geographic association of facts. Equivalent terms in a sense are ‘area’ or ‘region.’”

He (25-26) further specified it as:

“It may be defined, therefore, as an area made up of a distinct association of forms, both natural and cultural.”

Right, it’s time to compare these definitions with the definitions of linguistic landscape, as introduced by Rodrigue Landry and Richard Bourhis in their article titled ‘Linguistic Landscape and Ethnolinguistic Vitality: An Empirical Study’. They (23) state that:

“Linguistic landscape refers to the visibility and salience of languages on public and commercial signs in a given territory or region.”

They (25) further specify the concept:

“The language of public road signs, advertising billboards, street names, place names, commercial shop signs, and public signs on government buildings combines to form the linguistic landscape of a given territory, region or urban agglomeration.”

Now, you have to be willfully ignorant to not see the striking similarity between the definition of landscape by Sauer and the definition of linguistic landscape by Landry and Bourhis. Both definitions equate landscape to region (we could add area, as well as territory, any bounded entity really, but to be precise, only region appears in both here) and deal with its visual forms. The only real difference is that Sauer’s definition of landscape is that it includes all visible forms, not only visible forms of language.

Oh, and yes, I am fully aware that the Landry and Bourhis definition is no longer used that much in linguistic landscape studies, but I’d say it still haunts it. I reckon that ghost will keep haunting linguistic landscape studies until the concept is addressed. The problem with not addressing the issue has to do with how successful Hartshorne was in his criticism, like eighty years ago, mind you. To be clear, Hartshorne (344) is open to using the word ‘landscape’ but he just isn’t buying it:

“Non-geographic readers will not therefore find our usage strained – as they certainly do if one tells them that a ‘landscape’ is an area – but may be expected to acknowledge the usage as justified.”

So, the problem is not that one uses the word ‘landscape’ but that it is used as a mere synonym to something else which it clearly isn’t. This is the obscurity that he finds problematic. He (344) goes on to further elaborate this issue:

“It is both unnecessary and confusing to use the word as synonymous with ‘area’ or ‘region’ since each of those terms is far clearer. To use ‘landscape’ as a label for the material objects of an area is to ascribe to such a selection of phenomena out of a larger total an attribute that it does not possess namely, of constituting in itself a single reality. The same would be true if we should arbitrarily apply the word to the total of all visible objects in an area, including that is, all objects that man can see by looking under other objects. The actual single and concrete reality which, we believe, underlies the thought of many who have used this term without attempting to define it, is the external visible surface of the earth.”

Note how he is not objecting to addressing the visual forms, what can be seen or observed. He is, in fact, objecting to treating landscape as a bounded entity, you know, like an area, a region or a territory. He (344-345) continues:

“This is the reality which produces visual landscape sensations in us. It is a continuous reality, constituting, for the whole world, a single unit whole. It is however literally a surface; it includes only that which we can see or feel from the outside.”

So, to be clear, he (344-345) is keenly aware that landscape is something that has to do with land but it is not land itself, something that appears to be capable of producing visual sensations in us. In short, landscape is always continuous, a surface effect, if you will. You do not move from one landscape to another. Instead, you always see landscape, because, well, that’s the way it works, as I’ve pointed out numerous times in my essays and in my published work. We can, of course, reify landscape into a landscape and that’s fine, inasmuch as it is done for the sake of argument. I don’t mind speaking of this and/or that landscape as long as it is not understood as referring to some actual entity that has these or those qualities can be recognized by an observer and then taken as if that was the case, that we’ve now uncovered some hidden truth. This is the same with anything really, me, you, this keyboard that I’m writing on, this table that it rests on, this floor that supports it etc. That’s how ‘things’ work, you know, like discursively, as well as non-discursively, between the two. Strictly speaking everything is just flow and we are just capable of treating it all as list of separate entities, as this and/or that, which, of course, has its pros (I mean it’s pretty convenient, even thought it’s strictly speaking inaccurate) and cons (people really think that you just have these things, these objects, as recognized by the subjects, which leads to all kinds of problems that follow from that way of thinking).

Anyway, now that I’ve established that landscape isn’t strictly speaking a material entity, this or that landscape, nor a mere list of items in an area (to me they do, however, inform landscape or landscapity, but let’s not get tangled up in that at this stage), why would anyone use the word ‘landscape’ if it is so imprecise? Okay, fair enough, you could still call it that, think of it as a bounded entity, but then you have to deal with Hartshorne’s criticism, which is exactly what landscape scholars eventually did, as I already pointed out. So, right, why would you ignore the issue and still use ‘landscape’?

Well, there’s another reason for using that word. As pointed out by Hartshorne (331), ‘landscape’ just comes across as “more impressive, more imposing” than the alternatives. I mean, it has buzz value to it. It’s way sexier than ‘land’, ‘area’, ‘region’ or ‘territory’. Landscape is so elusive that you can just throw it out there and not get called for using it. I mean people use it all the time and typically it’s not exactly clear what is meant by it, like, at all. I roll my eyes every time someone uses it because it’s just an empty abstraction that is used for its supposedly given explanatory value, just like God, culture, nature, ideology and structure (there are others, but I can’t remember all of the ones that are on my growing list of words not to be used to explain anything, without explaining them first).

As a side note, to my knowledge, taking pot shots at the Landry and Bourhis article is something of a rite of passage in (the inner circles of) linguistic landscape studies. Oddly enough, it used to be the case among landscape scholars to make fun of Sauer’s work, to mention it only in a negative fashion, as a token of being one of the guys, or so to speak. As far as I know, this no longer the case in geography. I think there’s a lot of good to say about Sauer’s work, despite its shortcomings. James and Nancy Duncan (227) seem to agree with me, as they point out in ‘Doing Landscape Interpretation’:

“A strength of such an approach is that it takes data seriously. This is in contrast to much of cultural geography during the past three decades which has been theory-driven, with too little research yielding only thin empirical examples, and much of the theoretical apparatus underutilized.”

So, yeah, at least Sauer used to take data seriously. They (227) also note that:

“Although Sauer was inductive in his approach, he nevertheless formulated testable hypotheses and took contradictory evidence seriously.”

In other words, despite its flaws, namely how landscape is, supposedly, just given to the observer, on an as is basis, without any mediation, whatsoever, so that its characteristics can be identified and contrasted with observations made elsewhere to constitute a general system of landscapes, to create a definite set of landscapes that match certain bounded areas, as explained by Sauer (20, 26-27), the Duncans actually commend his approach for being rigorous when it comes to data. Of course, that does not mean that they recommend conducting research like Sauer did. They (227) point this out:

“Having said this, we believe … that all interpretations are necessarily theory-laden, and that to be unaware or uncritical of one’s theoretical borrowings is highly problematic.”

Now, to be fair, I could counter this by stating that, strictly speaking, all theory is abstracted from data and therefore everything is actually data-driven. Then again, that’s not entirely accurate either because the observations are always influenced by prior observations, by prior experience. We are always in the middle of things, so our practices, whatever they may be, are always based on prior practice (which informs theory that in turn informs practice, theory and practice being thus the same thing, really, at least if we accept Michel Foucault’s take on it in ‘Intellectuals and Power’). This is also why and how landscape functions the way it does on people (as I’ve discussed this in my past essays and in my published work), so, yeah, I can only agree with the Duncans on this one. That said, I do appreciate how seriously data was taken by Sauer (and the emphasis on interdependence and relationality, but that’s another story). To provide yet another parallel, I think this is something that got lost in linguistic landscape research when it shifted from quantitative to qualitative. Interesting developments were made, sure, but I reckon the empirical side to took a massive hit. I mean some of the stuff I’ve read is borderline anecdotal. It’s like, okay, right, interesting but where’s the work that was done? And then some of it is just uncritical, of its own foundations, as well as of its social and political implications (actually these tend to go hand in hand). I don’t actually mind it that much, that there’s been shifts or developments, whatever you want to call them. What bothers me is that the underlying issues, what is landscape and what it does, not to mention how and why it came to being, haven’t been addressed in linguistic landscape research.

Right, back to Malinowski and Tufi (3), who summarize this issue in reference to Bernard Spolsky’s (25) question in his contribution to ‘Linguistic Landscape: Expanding the Scenery’, titled ‘Prolegomena to a Sociolinguistic Theory of Public Signage’:

“Whatever we call it, is linguistic landscape a phenomenon calling for a theory, or simply a collection of somewhat disparate methodologies studying the nature of public written signs?”

This question was posed back in 2009 when the book was published, over ten years ago, and, despite all the developments in between, somehow this question is yet to be answered. I mean, come on! I started my doctoral studies in, what, 2015 and quickly figured out that this was an issue and sought to address the issue, crawling through book after book, article after article, until I was able to explain to myself what I’m dealing with when I use the word landscape, what it is, what it does, how and why it came to be. Sure, it took a lot of time and effort, going through all that material to be where I am now, to be able to conceptualize and problematize landscape, as well as to come up with a solution to how one might overcome the problems that come with landscape. Yeah, it took years of dedication, reading all kinds of stuff, much of which for sure wasn’t directly relevant to landscape, but, hey, at least I did it.

Moving on, there’s a bit that I don’t fully agree with. Malinowski and Tufi (5) indicate that, following Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari’s definition of assemblages, as defined in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, we should not think of reality as consisting of discrete entities that have fixed qualities. I agree. For Deleuze and Guattari (2), there are only assemblages. However, Malinowski and Tufi (5) state that “an assemblage is a semiotic system or regime of signs, a set of conditions that turn possibilities into realizations”. I also agree with this statement, but only in part. Firstly, this is only one side of assemblages. Assemblages have two sides, the machinic side (machinic assemblages of bodies or desire, pertaining to regimes of bodies) and the enunciative side (collective assemblages of enunciation or semiotization, pertaining to regimes of signs). In Foucauldian terms, the former is the non-discursive side (pertaining to non-discursive formations or visibilities) and the latter is the discursive side (pertaining to discursive formations or statements). While I can see why one would reduce it only to linguistic or semiotic side, it goes against what Deleuze and Guattari set out to do with assemblages, to counter mainstream linguistics that relies on signification (Saussurean linguistics). Secondly, to my understanding, the sets of conditions pertain to actualization of the virtual, not the realization of the possible. The former is open ended, whereas the latter is a closed set. For example, when something is virtually so, it means that it might as well be the case but isn’t the case actually. It’s a matter of function. It’s also rather ingenious because it allows us to speak of something without knowing what it is, because what matters is that it functions as if it was actually the case, but it isn’t.

I agree with Malinowski and Tufi (5) that “the discreteness and countability of entities is that this vision tends to universalize moments of stability, whereas reality is unpredictable because assemblages have the tendency to move toward change.” This is, pretty much, the definition of metastability, that nothing is, strictly speaking, ever stable because even what may be considered as stable is subject to change. As durable as this keyboard might be, for the purpose of typing at least, it’s evident that it is not the way it used to be. Now I won’t notice the change as I type, but it does change. It’s just imperceptible to me. Taken to its logical conclusion, this is the view of Cratylus, how you can’t enter a river even once, as mentioned in Aristotle’s ‘The Metaphysics’ (1010a). To me, this does not, however, negate that we are dealing with what appear to us as entities or bodies, whatever you want to call them. I’m still typing this on a keyboard, this thing that we’ve come understood as such, no matter how much I insist that, strictly speaking, it’s inaccurate to speak of it as such because it changes as I type and even in the absence of me typing on it. This is also the Heraclitian approach to this issue, how, you can only step in to the same river only once, as also mentioned in Aristotle’s ‘Metaphysics’ (1010a). That said, that’s not a problem for me. I reckon what he is dealing with, the river that is no longer the river that he stepped into, is still considered a river, and what I’m dealing with, the keyboard that is no longer the keyboard I just typed with, is still considered a keyboard.

What changes in this way of thinking is just that difference is primary to identity, that everything, whatever it is, is continuously differentiated and individuated. Therefore everything is individual, singular, unique, one of a kind, even though they might not appear to us as such because we’ve been taught think the exact opposite way, that identity is primary and difference is secondary, that difference is derived from comparing two instances. That’s actually what individual means, or rather used to mean, that something is not dividual, divisible. Compare individual (OED, s.v. “individual”, adj.) in its obsolete sense, its etymology being in classical Latin, as listed in the Oxford English Dictionary:

“One in substance or essence; forming an indivisible entity; indivisible.”

And dividual (OED, s.v. “dividual”, adj.):

“That is or may be divided or separated from something else; separate, distinct, particular.”

Following John Duns Scotus (d. 3, p. 1, q. 4, n. 76) in ‘Ordinatio II’, another way of explaining this would be in terms of haecceity (haecceitas, thisness) and quiddity (quidditas, whatness). Haecceity (OED, s.v. “haecceity”, n.) is:

“The quality that makes a person or thing describable as ‘this’; the property of being a unique and individual thing; particular character, individuality.”

Whereas quiddity (OED, s.v. “quiddity”, n.) is:

“The inherent nature or essence of a person or thing; what makes a thing what it is.”

So, in other words, haecceity has to do with whatever this is, let’s say this keyboard that I keep referring to (or is it the same keyboard in each instance?), what makes it individual (non-identical with anything else), which does not, however, negate quiddity, whatever it is deemed to share, to have in common with something else conceptually, whatever that is. I reckon this keyboard is, for sure, one of a kind, despite being mass produced. You could argue that it used to be the same as the other keyboards, when it was made, but is it really? It’s a Logitech K120 (I know, how cheap of me), a black keyboard featuring a ‘Nordic’ layout, three lights, a usb-cable and 16 screws that hold the bottom and top plastic frames together. I’m sure other K120s share those features, even if the layout might be different. When this was assembled, it must have looked ‘virtually’ identical (note how I’m calling it ‘virtually’ identical, not ‘actually’ identical, because it functions as if it was the case, but isn’t) with the other K120 keyboards. Let’s assume that the components used to make these keyboards were ‘actually’ identical in each case (which, of course, they weren’t), they might still have been assembled so that each keyboard was slightly different from the other keyboards because, for example the frames have certain tolerance to make it easier to assemble the keyboard, to put all the other component in place, or the person who put in the screws didn’t apply the same pressure in each case (yes, I’ve actually worked at an assembly line, doing just that). Now, as the components were only virtually identical to one another (and still are), it doesn’t even matter if there’s a bit of wobble caused by the frame tolerance or if the screws weren’t done properly in each case (yes, scratched paint on screw heads was an issue that had to be remedied!). Of course, none of that matters as they all function as if they were identical, despite being unique. And, yes, I just explained how assemblages work, how everything is merely a partial object of another partial object, which is a partial of object of another partial object, a machine within a machine, within a machine, and so on, and so on. They function in unison, as a specific unity of those specific parts, but never as a pre-existing whole or a totality. I mean it’s pretty obvious that this keyboard is not based on some pre-existing whole or a totality, a transcendent idea, that the company that made it used as its blueprint. Sure, they must have had some blueprints, but they were just historical.

The way I explained this is hardly how people tend to think of this. Nowadays, dividual is hardly used and individual is, ironically, a matter of division or dividuality, about defining this and/or that, including oneself, primarily in terms of identity, through shared qualities or properties, that is to say whatness or sameness. I know that it’s rather inconsequential to talk about how this affects this keyboard, but it’s another story when we speak of people defining themselves as this or that, having these or those qualities, as if they were built in a factory. To me, that’s really problematic.

To get back on track, I give primacy to difference over identity, but I have no qualms calling this thing that I type on, that I have used to type this essay, a keyboard. The sense of this is always immanent and emergent. No problem. To me, the problem is rather with the dominant way of thinking in which objects are appearances of things-in-themselves (in Kantian sense) or transcendent forms or ideas (in Platonic sense). So, when I do research, I’m interested in the order of things, how things are, the way they are, inasmuch as they are, as long as they are, historically and geographically, and, most importantly, why they might have become the way they are. I’m not seeking to explain some true reality, how things really are, or to uncover their true origin or foundation.

Moving on, Malinowski and Tufi (5) indicate that linguistic landscape scholars struggle with “the uprootedness of causality” and “the continuous slippage of meaning”. Now, firstly, I cannot speak for others, only myself, but at least I don’t have issues with the displacement or removal of causality, which I take to be about cause and effect in this context, as it is typically understood. I mean, the way I understand how Deleuze and Guattari deal with it is that when it comes to bodies there’s just cause, no separate cause and effect, because that’s like saying that things happen one after another, rather than at the same time. This is what they (86) call “intermingling of bodies” in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. Just think of it. If you look at a video, frame by frame, it appears that things simply exist in relation to one another. For example, if two hockey players collide on ice, who is to blame? The one that moved or the other that moved? If you look at the footage, frame by frame, what changes between the frames is their position in relation to one another. One player is no more the cause for an effect than the other player. The bodies are just drawn together differently, that’s it. Secondly, again, I cannot speak for others, but, the slippage of meaning doesn’t really bother me. It’s actually something Deleuze and Guattari account for, as Malinowski and Tufi (5) point out. They not only account for this slippage, what is, perhaps, best known as the chain of signification, how signifier actually only leads to another signifier instead of a signified, but also move away from it, so that language is no longer considered autonomous, universal, transcendent or self-enclosed. It’s not actually even that radical a move, because what they do is to shift our attention to pragmatics. The question is no longer what something means, but whether it makes sense, hence the title of Deleuze’s book ‘The Logic of Sense’. In that book Deleuze (20) explains how a Möbius strip is irreducible to a meaning:

“It is difficult to respond to those who wish to be satisfied with words, things, image, and ideas. For we may not even say that sense exists either in things or in the mind; it has neither physical nor mental existence. Shall we at least say that it is useful, and that it is necessary to admit it for its utility? Not even this, since it is endowed with an inefficacious, impassive, and sterile splendor. This is why we said that in fact we can only infer it indirectly, on the basis of the circle where ordinary dimensions of the proposition lead us. It is only by breaking open the circle, as in the case of the Möbius strip, by unfolding and untwisting it, that the dimensions of sense appears for itself, in its irreducibility, and also in its genetic power as it animates an a priori internal model of the proposition.”

This is further explained in the notes, where Deleuze (337) clarifies that a Möbius strip has but one side, plane or surface, yet it appears to have two sides, planes or surfaces, as if it was twisted. If one cuts the strip, it now has two sides, planes or surfaces. If you connect its ends, you can create a loop that still has two sides, planes or surfaces. If you twist it and connect its ends, you have a Möbius strip and now it only has one side, plane or surface. It’s kind of hard to explain, which is exactly the point Deleuze (20) makes. You should be able to get it, intuitively, if you fiddle with a piece of paper. It can’t be put into words. When you fiddle with it, let it pass through your fingers, you are, quite literally, experiencing how words and things can only be separated from one another quite violently (cut the strip) as language functions on the surface of bodies, as surface effects, not separate from them, as indicated by Deleuze (7-8). These surface effects are events or incorporeal transformations of bodies that do not alter the body as such, corporeally, but nonetheless have an effect on it, as noted by Deleuze (4-5) in ‘The Logic of Sense’ and Deleuze and Guattari (86) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. That’s sense for you. To put it bluntly, either you get it or you don’t.

The upside of this, what Malinowski and Tufi (5) refer to as “[a] rhizomatic view of reality”, is that it indeed “uproots causality and accounts for the continuous slippage of meaning”. It does, however, make much of mainstream linguistics more or less pointless, which I reckon is going to upset a lot of people, namely linguists. I don’t mind, at all. I’m all for this. That said, something tells me that people are not going to be happy with the promotion of pragmatics from being considered “a ‘trash heap’” and, conversely, making everything else dependent on it, as pointed out by Deleuze and Guattari (86-87) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. A lot of people stand to lose in such a move. It would go against their immediate interests to have their work invalidated. I mean, duh! My own experience confirms this. I’ve already lost count how many times I’ve run into this issue. Good old dogmatism!

I think that Malinowski and Tufi (5) overemphasize the dynamism in Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy. As I’ve pointed out, I agree with how we deal with metastability, but I’m not sure that I completely agree with them (5) on the following:

“As a regime of signs developing in close interaction with other assemblages, elements of change, unpredictability, and inherent transformations of LL should not be seen as discrete entities, but as assemblages converging to create meaning continua which are slippery and unstable, therefore replicating the (non)pattern of human experience in start contrast to the discrete, the countable and the predictable.”

Firstly, I don’t think linguistic landscape is an assemblage, nor a regime of signs. As already mentioned, this definition of assemblages is missing the other side, the machinic assemblages of bodies or desire, and those regimes of bodies. In ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ Deleuze and Guattari (138) indicate that the contemporary mixed regime of signs combines signification (the signifying regime) and subjectification (the postsignifying regime), forming a sticky mixture (meaning that it is very tough to get outside it, to think otherwise). To give this mixed regime a name, it’s capitalism, as discussed by the two (33-34) in ‘Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’. This side of assemblages is, however, highly relevant to what is known as linguistic landscape studies. No doubt about it. I agree on that. I just don’t think linguistic landscape is its own assemblage or its own regime of signs. Secondly, while I agree that meanings are slippery and unstable, I think this risks ignoring how the mixed regime of signs works, how it offers an illusion of stability, a sense of security, rootedness and territoriality, and how it operates by capturing everything that escapes or resists (what deterritorializes) it in order to rework it into something tolerable, something that doesn’t change how the regime works (forcing what is deterritorialized into reterritorializing). In fact, it feeds on that. In ‘Anti-Oedipus’ Deleuze and Guattari (230) explain this as capitalism displacing its own limits, appropriating whatever it can and incorporating it to itself by reconstituting its own limits. This is how even anti-capitalist icons like Che Guevara become commodities. The mixed regime makes it so that everything appears to be highly stable, almost static, so that everything conforms to dominant social categories and that they appear as discrete entities, as this and/or that. What seeks to threaten it, it captures and reworks to fit the big picture (which is also why it is so hard to get outside it, to think otherwise).

Related to this, I’m puzzled by how landscape is not addressed in this introduction, like, at all (beside in passing to Denis Cosgrove’s work), despite the multiple references to ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. I mean, landscape is something that is explicitly discussed by Deleuze and Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ in plateau seven, ‘Year Zero: Faciality’, as part of the abstract machine of faciliaty/landscapity, also known as the “white wall/black hole system”, as they call it (167) in reference to the white wall of signification (key feature of the signifying regime) and the black hole of subjectivity (key feature of the postsignifying regime). To summarize this plateau (I’m not going to go into detail here as I’ve done that in the past, a number of times already), as an abstract machine it acts as an immanent cause to how people come to see the world and how they come identify themselves through landscape (or, to be more specific, landscapity, but let’s not get tangled up on their preferences, to call the abstract machine that instead of landscape). It creates a sense of normalcy, what is to be expected, and makes people desire what is deemed normal, which is why they end up taking it for granted. It results in a feedback loop. It reinforces itself and the mixed regime that made it possible in the first place. Faciality does not overrule landscapity nor vice versa. In fact, faciality, extending to basically everything we see, not only human faces, but also all the inanimate objects, this and/or that, is what informs landscapity. The same works the other way around, for example, if we take an extreme closeup of a human face, we end up seeing it as a landscape, populated by these features, these little faces that inform the landscape.

Of course, if one follows Deleuze and Guattari in their definition of landscape, linguistic landscape ends up subsumed by it. There’s no longer a need for a field or a discipline called linguistic landscape studies. This does not, however, mean that what’s been studied becomes pointless. Nothing changes really. In my opinion, it only makes more sense now, as the focus is on those elements that come to set the parameters of normalcy, what we come to expect and desire. It has been that way already. It also addresses how problematic landscape is as a mechanism of the mixed regime. I mean it’s a mechanism of conformity and, conversely, of exclusion. It should push people to reconsider whether they want to subscribe to the dominant image of thought that it builds on, which is what I’ve done. You’ll end up questioning not only boundaries but also the very notion of boundaries itself, hence my earlier gripe about how Malinowski and Tufi keep calling linguistic landscape studies a field. You’ll no longer care about disciplines or fields. You’ll end up embracing nomadism or transversality instead.

There’s also a minor error in the end, in the note(s) section where Malinowski and Tufi (9) indicate that ‘plane of immanence’ was developed by Deleuze and Guattari in ‘What is Philosophy’. They do discuss it in that book, but it was developed way before. It was already discussed in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. It also appeared in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ and in their other works, albeit it is called either plane of consistency or body without organs. The oldest instance that I’ve come across (since moving the references to the end in 2022) is in Deleuze’s ‘Spinoza: Practical Philosophy’ where he (122-125, 128) explictly refers to it as a plane of immanence or consistency. Sense is also yet another way of explaining it.


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