Things and Their Words
Are we being duped by language, by the circulation it permits of words and things? Perhaps words and things might be other than they are, and we might dream not, perhaps of a new logos, of a way of naming everything anew all at once, but (following Sinthome) of logoi of different levels and different conjunctions with which language (different languages, different idioms) might intersect.
Think, as an example, of the narrator of Handke's Repetition, rereading the study books of his disappeared brother. The brother had grown up speaking German, but learned to write in Slovenian at agricultural school. Until he came across his brother's notebooks, the narrator had been repelled by Slovenian, since it sounded to him menacing and associated with authority, sounding like an ungainly hybrid, full of borrowed words.
But the words in the Slovenian-German dictionary the narrator consults tell the narrator of a tender and peaceable people who still have names for the humblest of things - for the space under the windowsill, or the shiny trace of a braked wagon wheel on a stone flagstone. A people who had names for the intimate and small, for places of hiding and places of safety. And the narrator finds himself weeping for 'things and their words' - for can be named in Slovenian and seem to call in him to look towards a similar kind of naming, a new circulation of words and things in his German.
He finds the word Kindschaft, literally childscape, but which also has the meaning of filiation of adoption. For what is the narrator looking? To rediscover a relation with a people through the notebooks left by his brother, to be sure. But also - since the novel is narrated twenty years after the narrator started reading those notebooks, and has begun his only journey into Slovenia and into Slovenian - to rediscover his relation to German, his filiation.
It is by placing one sentence after another the narrator says at one point that he discovers his forebears (he is named after a Slovenian hero). One German sentence after another, as Slovenian - his brother's Slovenian - awakens in him a new logoi within language, not simply an idiom, but a way of drawing things into that new baptism he discovers in the wind blowing over the Karst region on his remembered journey.
A New Circulation
But how might a new circulation occur for us? Not simply through the agency of particular individuals, by individual agency. In another post, Sinthome argues that the individual must be thought in the context of more complex networks, through whom local connections harden themselves into what is taken for granted in the social world through those feedback loops that reinforce and replicate particular forms of social relation. Does this mean what the individual agent does does not matter? Rather that to think the individual without the structure is to forget the interdependency, the relation of inter-determination between these terms; the same, of course, if one privileges structure, treating it as invariable and eternal, forgetting thereby the fluid dynamism of social relations.
Neither structure nor individual exist in their own right; in the case of language, it cannot be thought either in terms of the exclusivity of the structure - of language in itself, considered at the level of a linguistic structure, that is, as a set of differential oppositions that define phonemic relations, as opposed to speech, in which a particular subset of relations are selected from the system. This means language is never entirely in possession of the individual; it is not 'in' the agent at all. We might say the agent is in language, and that language is a trans-subjective phenomenon.
For Deleuze and Guattari, to whom Sinthome directs us when thinking of structures and individuals, language is not representational, whether this is understood literally, that is, in terms of its exactitude or truth, or figuratively, that is, indirectly (and without the hierarchy between the literal and the figural) ... Language, rather, is in the world acting within it and mixing with it; as such, it does not simply facilitate communication by means of referring to the shared world of a given society, but is itself a structuring process that constructs that world.
Yes, language lends itself to the production of a stable plane of meaning and subjects who communicate that meaning that gives rise to the account of the representational theory of language, but there is also the chance that it introduces an instability into that plane, distributing the relationship between word and world anew. For this relationship is one of circulation rather than representation, according to Lecercle's formulation; words do not signify things, but are themselves things. But how is this circulation to be thought?
Deleuze and Guattari do not take interlocution as it involves a sender, who uses language to convey what is to be said, and a receiver, who listens and might therefore understand as the paradigm case of language. Meaning is not only what is meant; speaker and listener are part of an unstable relation of forces that means the relation between the represented and what would be represented is never simply given.
Language does not represent, but enacts - this is familiar from speech-act theory. But Deleuze and Guattari are reaching beyond the individualism with which, traditionally, this theory has been associated, focusing on the formation of order words or slogans [mots d'ordre] as part of what they call 'a collective assemblage of enunciation' - 'that mixture of bodies, instruments, institutions and utterances, which speaks the speaker'.
As such, their concern is not with meaning, intention or interpretation but with those relations of power [rapports de force] that are ascribed and inscribed by utterances. The origin of language is neither author nor speaker; it is not 'je parle' that matters, but 'on parle', or 'il y a du langage'. It is from the anonymous position of the 'on' that language must be thought.
This is what they mean by claiming that all language is spoken first of all in an indirect style, which brings us to the section of A Thousand Plateaus quoted by Sinthome:
If language always seems to presuppose itself, if we cannot assign it a nonlinguistic point of departure, it is because language does not operate between something seen (or felt) and something said, but always goes from saying to saying.
The point of departure is not the individual who attempts to represent the world, but other narrative, as it forms part of a more complex assemblage. The utterance [énonce], for Deleuze and Guattari the basic unit of their analysis is a social act; it is not first of all declarative, an assertion about a state of affairs, but an order word as it is produced in that mixture that speaks the speaker.
We believe that narrative consists not in communicating what one has seen but in transmitting what one has heard, what someone else said to you. Hearsay[....] The 'first' language, or rather the first determination of language, is not the trope or metaphor but indirect discourse[....] Language is not content to go from a first party to a second part, from one who has seen to one who has not, but necessarily goes from a second party to a third party, neither of whom has seen.
On this model, communication is not the transmission of sign as information about the world, but the 'transmission of the word as order-word'; 'language is a map, not a tracing'. A map - then at issue is a philosophy of language that does without the grammatical subject [sujet de l'énoncé] or even the utterer [sujet de l'énonciation]; it is outside the subject that we find the utterance as it circulates in an assemblage. And likewise, Deleuze and Guattari think the psyche not as enclosed domain, an interiority, but as an exteriority; likewise, the unconscious is not to be found inside but outside us.
Then language is not simply that system of signs that would facilitate communication through reference to a shared world, but is itself a structuring process that constructs a world. A process that can be frozen into the representative conception of language, as it depends upon a stable plane of speaker and spoken, word and world, but that can also take an axe to break up the frozen sea inside us, as Kafka said.
For what kind of utterance is the narrator of Handke's novel searching? For a people, perhaps - a people in whose rough-hewn features he might discover kinship and beauty. 'Each man of us the next man's hero', he dreams; each alive 'in an immanent word obedient to the laws of weather, of sowing, repeating, and animal diseases, a world apart from, before or alongside history'. For a people - no: for another distribution of words and things in his own language.
And as it occurs, I think, in the story he narrates, even as he speaks of the things and words that call out from him in Slovenian from the heart of his childhood. And this is what makes the narrator (and Handke, too) more than a nostalgist, and the people (the Slovenes) more than those who might be celebrated in a simpleminded nationalism. The people of the Karst through which the narrator travelled became insurrectionaries (the Tolmin uprising); but in the brother's time, they dispersed (taking the brother with them). And in their withdrawal the narrative, the act of narrating (Repetition itself) opens his German to another kind of Kindschaft.
'My purpose had not been to find my brother but to tell a story about him'. To repeat the journey of his brother, retracing it, does not necessitate a literal reduplication. For it is the journey into a language that is being repeated, and the Bildungsroman of his brother's treatise on husbandry. Living this repetition as an encounter with things and their language, letting them dance in that roundplay in which the world us held back for a moment before being baptised anew.
The narrator calls his brother his forebear. It is this forebear who still watches in kindness over him, and over his own starting-out into Slovenia to strengthen his peace and the peace of writing. 'The only effective forebear, this much I know, is the sentence preceding the one I am writing now'.
Who speaks in Handke's novel? What speaks? A Slovenia to come, followers of the one who said 'that the Emperor was a mere servant and that people had better take matters into their own hands'? A Slovenian, giving words to things anew? Or this language as a gap within the narrator's German, between language as it represents and as it acts, and as the novel Repetition is an act, letting words mix with the world? And finally, perhaps, it is writing that speaks as it lets resound the outside of language as it belongs to no one. Who speaks? It speaks; on, one.
I think that this is how the assemblage of which Deleuze and Guattari write quivers into being. Writing is the path that follows itself, and that does so through the books of the world, of which Handke's novel is one. And that writes of itself and sings of itself by way of what is told, and springs up above them like a rainbow. As Mark comments, 'all writing is writing about writing even if it doesn't refer to itself as such' ... About writing, which is to say, itself, its own act, as words become things, as language ranges out into the world, acts ...
And now I imagine writing as the river that has cut itself a valley through that mixture of bodies, instruments, institutions and utterances that form, for Deleuze and Guattari, the collective assemblage of enunciation. Or, better, it is writing that turns each component of this mixture into a line, a river in each and a river as whole. One speaks; language speaks: so speaks the unconscious, outside. So it speaks as writing.
The Writing on the Walls
Can an order word become a word of disorder? Perhaps that is what flashed up on the walls during the Events of May 1968. We might remember the handbills and pamphlets distributed in those weeks from the Committee of Writers which were subsequently published as 'mots de désordre' and identified as the work of Blanchot. As his work - but Blanchot was not alone - there were the other members of the Committee, who worked together to formulate ideas to which they could all sign their names, and of course the participants of the Events themselves.
Tracts, posters, bulletins; street words, infinite words; it is not some concern for effectiveness that makes them necessary. Whether effective or not, they belong to the decision of the moment. They appear, they disappear. They do not say everything, on the contrary they ruin everything, they are outside everything.
There will still be books, and worse still, fine books. But the writing on the walls, a mode that is neither inscriptional not elocutionary, the tracts hastily distributed in the street that are a manifestation of the haste of the street, the posters that do not need to be read but are there as a challenge to all law, the disorderly words, the words, free of discourse, that accompany the rhythm of our steps, the political shouts - and bulletins by the dozen like this bulletin, everything that unsettles, appeals, threatens and finally questions without waiting for a reply, without coming to rest in certainty, will never be confined by us in a book, for a book, even when open, tends towards closure, which is a refined form of repression.
A complex assemblage: the man Blanchot, 'pale but real' as Hollier remembers, the writer part of the Committee (with Duras and others); the stop [arrêt] put to the book, of the liberal-capitalist world with which the Events were a break; what Blanchot calls Communism, intolerable, intractable, as it is excluded from any already constituted community - that foreign party [le parti de l'étranger] that points the way outside - 'out from religion, the family and the State', as Marx said when he called for the end of alienation (of what constitutes the human being as interiority, comments the author of these lines ('Blanchot', an effect of this fragmentary discourse, of language outside ...).
And isn't this what Deleuze and Guattari seek with their philosophy of language: not only to show that language is already outside, but to point a way that we might live in accordance with what falls outside us?
A community is not a people, says Blanchot. Communism leads us outside all interiorities. Is it possible to read the narrator's Slovenia (and perhaps Handke's) as more than a nationalism, as a celebration of a people (this is something Steve has been discussing for a long time)? And Repetition as being more than a book (what Blanchot names as a book)?