Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The Human Use of Human Beings, Chapter 10

Summary of Chapter 10: Some Communication Machines and Their Future

Whereas the last chapter was about automata replacing workers, this one will address “a variety of problems concerning automata,” more specifically, automata of three categories: 1) some which “serve either to illustrate and throw light on the possibilities of communicative mechanisms in gen­eral,” 2) a few which serve as “the prosthesis and replacement of human functions which have been lost or weakened in certain unfortunate individuals,” and finally 3) those with a more sinister potential (163).

He discusses his tropism machine, called alternately the Moth or the Bedbug depending on whether it has been programmed to seek or avoid light; this has been developed to illustrate the role of competing types of feedback in the tremors of people with Parkinson’s. [There is a website with photos and discussion.]

Such machines may appear to be “exercises in virtuosity” (167) but they have been actually useful to a degree; there is another class of machines which provide more direct health benefits: better prostheses, readers for the blind, etc. He discusses his idea for a machine to communicate language using touch, as better than visible speech; (the so-called “hearing glove” which was apparently later tried with Helen Keller, but did not meet with much success).

Wiener gives a cybernetic three-stage description of “language,” by which he means speech (168-9; cf. Chapter 4). He notes that “deaf-mutes” can easily learn lip reading, but speak harshly and this is “inefficient.”

The difficulties lie in the fact that for these people the act of conversation has been broken into two entirely separate parts. (170)

He discusses this in relation to the “sidetone” feedback of hearing one’s own voice in telephony, and also to the Vocoder speech synthesizer by Bell, which greatly reduces the information in human speech but is still understandable and recognizable, leading to a distinction between “used and unused information in speech:”

When we distinguish between used and unused in­formation in speech, we distinguish between the maximum coding capacity of speech as received by the ear, and the maximum capacity that penetrates through the cascade network of successive stages con­sisting of the ear followed by the brain. (172)

The reduction of information in the message is necessary to be able to transfer the information from the medium of speech through “an inferior sense like touch.”

From this point on, the chief direction of investigation must be that of the more thorough training of deaf-mutes in the recogni­tion and the reproduction of sounds. (173)

[In other words, his focus is on getting “deaf-mutes” to be able to speak more clearly; basically to invent a device to assimilate them to the speaking population, rather than using sign language (which he has not mentioned as a fascinating alternative medium, which loses certain capacities of speech but opens up many more).]

He gives the example of an artificial lung which uses “the nor­mal feedback in the medulla and brain stem of the healthy person will be used even in the paralytic to supply the control of his breathing. Thus it is hoped, that the so-called iron lung may no longer be a prison in which the patient forgets how to breathe, but will be an exerciser for keeping his residual faculties of breathing active, and even possibly of building them up to a point where he can breathe for himself and emerge from the machinery enclosing him.” (174)

He now turns to more sinister machines, beginning with his own idea for a chess machine, and discusses the limited possibilities of chess machines in his day: one that could plan two steps ahead was thought of as optimal, the idea of creating an actually perfect or good player was “hopeless.”

The number of combinations increases roughly in geometrical pro­gression. Thus the difference between playing out all possibilities for two moves and for three moves is enor­mous. To play out a game—something like fifty moves— is hopeless in any reasonable time. (175)

The problem is the slowness; Shannon has an idea to take the game further than two moves, but it would probably get slower and slower (and not make the time limits in the rules). Its play would be “stiff and uninteresting” but possibly good, and chance could be introduced to prevent humans from beating it methodically.

Though we have seen that machines can be built to learn, the technique of building and employing these machines is still very imperfect. (177)

He makes a comment that now seems prescient in regard to various recent chat AIs which turned racist, etc.:

A chess-playing machine which learns might show a great range of performance, dependent on the quality of the players against whom it had been pitted. The best way to make a master machine would probably be to pit it against a wide variety of good chess players. On the other hand, a well-contrived machine might be more or less ruined by the injudicious choice of its opponents. A horse is also ruined if the wrong riders are allowed to spoil it. (177)

[Though on stating this it occurs to me that I am treating racism the same way as I have accused Wiener of doing, as an irrational anomaly rather than as a central part of the functioning of social inequality.]

He notes two kinds of learning machines, those characterized by preference (“a statistical preference for a certain sort of behavior, which nevertheless admits the possibility of other behavior”) or by constraint (“certain features of its behavior may be rigidly and unalterably deter­mined”). [And the chess playing machine he mentions would be a hybrid of these, with the rules programmed in as constraints, but still learning “tactics and policies” through preference.]

Shannon has already pointed out the potential military applications of such learning machines, as has a Dominican priest Dubarle, in a review of Wiener’s Cybernetics. Wiener quotes Dubarle at length regarding the possible misuse of a machine à gouverner. Dubarle makes a point that machines can only understand human behavior through probability:

At all events, human realities do not admit a sharp and certain determination, as numerical data of computa­tion do. They only admit the determination of their prob­able values. A machine to treat these processes, and the problems which they put, must therefore undertake the sort of probabilistic, rather than deterministic thought, such as is exhibited for example in modern computing machines. (179)

The machines à gouv­erner will define the State as the best-informed player at each particular level; and the State is the only su­preme co-ordinator of all partial decisions. These are enormous privileges; if they are acquired scientifically, they will permit the State under all circumstances to beat every player of a human game other than itself by offering this dilemma : either immediate ruin, or planned co-operation.

[This is] the adventure of our century: hesitation between an indefinite turbulence of human affairs and the rise of a prodigious Leviathan. In comparison with this, Hobbes’ Leviathan was nothing but a pleasant joke. We are run­ning the risk nowadays of a great World State, where deliberate and conscious primitive injustice may be the only possible condition for the statistical happiness of the masses: a world worse than hell for every clear mind. (180)

Dubarle’s somewhat weak proposal in response:

Perhaps it would not be a bad idea for the teams at present creating cybernetics to add to their cadre of technicians, who have come from all horizons of science, some serious anthropologists, and perhaps a philosopher who has some curiosity as to world matters.

Wiener notes that the machine itself would not be all-powerful (because “too crude and imperfect”) but would enable those who control it to become so:

or that political leaders may attempt to control their populations by means not of machines themselves but through political techniques as narrow and in­different to human possibility as if they had, in fact, been conceived mechanically. (181)

[or as it turns out so far, corporations focused only on manipulating partial identities for profit.]

The great weakness of the machine—the weakness that saves us so far from being dominated by it—is that it cannot yet take into account the vast range of probability that character­izes the human situation. The dominance of the ma­chine presupposes a society in the last stages of increasing entropy, where probability is negligible and where the statistical differences among individuals are nil. Fortunately we have not yet reached such a state.

He provides an interesting reflection on how this sort of philosophical possibility becomes the foundation of a non-technological (per se) way of thinking in the context of the cold war:

A sort of machine à gouverner is thus now essentially in operation on both sides of the world con­flict, although it does not consist in either case of a single machine which makes policy, but rather of a mechanistic technique which is adapted to the exigen­cies of a machine-like group of men devoted to the formation of policy. (182)

Wiener echoes Dubarle’s call for getting some kinder, gentler experts in on the decision-making:

In order to avoid the manifold dangers of this, both external and internal, he is quite right in his emphasis on the need for the anthropologist and the philosopher. In other words, we must know as scientists what man’s nature is and what his built-in purposes are, even when we must wield this knowledge as soldiers and as statesmen; and we must know why we wish to control him.

[And so, the Macy conferences. But isn’t it this very, Dewey-esque or Kerr-esque view of the university/scholarly world that is currently dissolving, the idea that somehow the humanists and social scientists (and Dubarle perhaps hoped, the theologians) would temper the excesses of the technocrats?]

He emphasizes that “the machine’s danger to society is not from the machine itself but from what man makes of it,” and distinguishes between “know-how” and “know-what:”

Our papers have been making a great deal of Amer­ican “know-how” ever since we had the misfortune to discover the atomic bomb. There is one quality more important than “know-how” and we cannot accuse the United States of any undue amount of it. This is “know­-what” by which we determine not only how to accom­plish our purposes, but what our purposes are to be. (183)

Again, the problem is not actual exploitation or capitalism or anything like that per se, but a lack of sense of direction in where we want to develop technology, or thoughts on how it will actually affect the world (and this appears today in the “Oops, our bad” discourse on the accidental side effects of ChatGPT, art generators, etc.). Wiener turns to the lessons of fairy tales (e.g., you find a bottle with a genie in it, leave the genie in the bottle and don’t make wishes) as illustrations of “the tragic view of life which the Greeks and many modern Europeans possess” and which Americans need to learn (183-4). The myth of Prometheus serves as an example of the ambivalent attitude of the ancient Greeks toward technology, which we moderns could learn from.

The sense of tragedy is that the world is not a pleasant little nest made for our protection, but a vast and largely hostile environment, in which we can achieve great things only by defying the gods; and that this defiance inevitably brings its own punishment. It is a dangerous world, in which there is no security, save the somewhat negative one of humility and restrained ambitions. (184)

If a man with this tragic sense approaches, not fire, but another manifestation of original power, like the splitting of the atom, he will do so with fear and trembling. He will not leap in where angels fear to tread, unless he is prepared to accept the punishment of the fallen angels. Neither will he calmly transfer to the machine made in his own image the responsi­bility for his choice of good and evil, without con­tinuing to accept a full responsibility for that choice.

Modern Americans, lacking a sense of “know-what,” continually get trapped by their blind faith in technology. He compares intelligent machines to two kinds of fairy-tale device, the magical monkey’s paw (which is always very literal-minded), and the genie in the bottle (which is mercurial and disinterested in human happiness). The former is the more constrained and thus literal device; the latter the kind which learns through preference. “For the man who is not aware of this, to throw the problem of his responsibility on the machine, whether it can learn or not, is to cast his responsibility to the winds, and to find it coming back seated on the whirlwind” (185).

Moving beyond literal machines, he returns to the point he had made earlier about the dangerous rise of machine-like organization and thinking in the Twentieth Century:

When human atoms are knit into an organization in which they are used, not in their full right as responsible human be­ings, but as cogs and levers and rods, it matters little that their raw material is flesh and blood. What is used as an element in a machine, is in fact an element in the machine. Whether we entrust our decisions to ma­chines of metal, or to those machines of flesh and blood which are bureaus and vast laboratories and armies and corporations, we shall never receive the right an­swers to our questions unless we ask the right questions. (185-6)

He ends with another reference to evil, perhaps meant to help accustom American readers to a “tragic” mindset:

The hour is very late, and the choice of good and evil knocks at our door. (186)


Monday, March 6, 2023

Limits of Critique, Chapter 5

 Summary of Chapter 5: “Context Stinks!”

This chapter could well have been the first chapter of a much more convincing and inspiring book, with, for example, some case studies illustrating her ideas in this chapter (and indeed, Felski’s 2020 book, Hooked: Art and Attachment, appears to follow the program laid out here). Felski now tones down, for the most part, the polemic against “critique” to offer some suggestions of how reparative or eudaimonic reading can be done, in a way that is “postcritical – as distinct from uncritical” (151), with “a language of addition rather than subtraction” (182).

The name of the chapter derives from a Latour quote, and refers to the misuse (as Felski makes clear at several points) of context to “contain” texts within a bounded field of explanation. This is tied to the old debates between internalism/formalism versus externalist/historically contextualizing approaches to art, and the dominance of the latter since the late twentieth century is what makes it Felski’s primary target. However, she is not calling for a reversion to the older formalist approach, but to a new way of reading and critiquing (or “post-critiquing” I suppose) that gets beyond that old [shell game], and beyond the related old shell game of agency versus structure.

Her very reasonable proposal is to treat works of art as actants, with their own unique capacities and need to work through attachments, networks, etc. Much of the chapter is taken up with laying out this idea, and there are several great, and very quotable definitions spelling out ANT concepts with a clarity and directness typically lacking in Latour. She also discusses more reparative and joyful modes of reading, replacing the hermeneutics of suspicion with concepts of “wonder” and attachment. This is all very promising, though it would have been more interesting to see it applied, instead of just raved about.

There are several points in the chapter which lead me again to question to what extent “critique” is the right name for what she is arguing against, and also for whether that thing she is arguing against (the rhetoric or hermeneutic of suspicion) is in fact the right antagonist. For instance, she reiterates her [critique] of the endlessness of critique, in which the practitioners of the new, more critical critique pity the poor, past practitioners of the old, benighted forms of critique, only themselves to be replaced down the road; yet she is essentially doing the same thing, by situating her ANT approach as the end of this series. This seems to be a matter, not of critique per se, but of the role of critique [as re-articulation or reterritorialization] in relation to the legitimation of academic and scientific authority within modernity; simply pointing out that there is always more going on (a la We Have Never Been Modern) does not, in itself, dissolve the power of such a historicizing frame, which is, after all, why Felski herself, without any apparent sense of irony, engages in it even as she criticizes it. And in general it seems like that construction of academic and scientific authority, or bases of/modes of performance of authority, is the bigger fish that is simply not being fried here.

(Perhaps “critique” could be seen as synecdoche here, but there is a danger in taking synecdoche too seriously, for instance we could might focus on getting rid of the crown, or for that matter the king, when it is the institution of royalty that is the problem.)

Saturday, February 25, 2023

On the Proper Spelling of "Nietzsche"


Way back around 1990 or so, a debate on the philosophy of Nietzsche was held on the wall of the second stall in the men’s room, in the Cafe Roma on E Street, in Davis, California. Initially the discussion covered several topics, such as the precise meaning of the eternal return, whether Nietsche was indeed ripping off Stirner, and so on, but the argument quickly came to focus on the more urgent question of just how to spell “Nietszche.”

A vote was proposed: several of the expected variations were posted, each gaining between five and twenty votes in the form of tally-marks; some less common forms were also suggested (I voted for Nie Tzu). In the end, one entry far exceeded the others by at least fifty tally marks. And this is why, as a signatory of the E Street Roma Convention of 1990, I make occasional reference in this blog to the philosopher known as Nkee-chee, or Inky for short.

Fortunately, no one reads this blog, so confusion is minimal.

Note: The definitive discussion of the spelling of Nietzsche in bathroom graffiti is of course that included by Walter Kaufmann with his translation of the Gay Science (1974: 365n102), to which he adds that, if you ever come across that so-very-hackneyed graffito:

God is dead – Neitsche
Neitschze is dead – God

We Philosophers should of course append:

Some are born posthumously – Nkee-chee

Addendum: After the manner of Diogenes Laërtius, I have composed my own epitaph on Dead Fred, as follows:

Übermensch! Übermensch!
Denkt darüber sein Existenz.
Mann ist frei! Gott ist todt!
Übermensch lacht, denn er ist froh.
Pass auf! Hier kommt der Übermensch!

Übermensch! Übermensch!
Thinks about his own existence.
God is dead! Man is free!
Übermensch laughs happily.
Look out! Here comes the Übermensch!

Friday, February 10, 2023

Cunning Intelligence, Chapter 8

Review of Chapter 8: The Sea Crow

Continuing the investigation of Athena’s powers re metis, this chapter further contrasts the powers of Athena and Poseidon, this time in relation to the sea. They discuss the idea of an “Athena of the sea,” which may seem contradictory as this is Poseidon’s realm, yet Athena appears at important points in several myths being involved with the sea, and she also invents the first ship [in a similar relation of craftiness controlling the horse as in the previous chapter].

They discuss an Athena-linked sea bird, aithuia (215). The Tomb of Pandion, king of Athens, on promontory at Megara, has a link to Athena aithuia. There is a question of just what species was called the aithuia in ancient times, they settle on the sea-crow for convenience, it is both a land and sea animal, hence ambiguous.

“The sea-crow has a semantic value as an intermediary at the centre of a triangle of elements—the earth, the water, and the air. It is thus perculiarly well qualified to symblise various aspects of the world of navigation.” (217)

They discuss links between Athena and the sea-goddess Ino Leucothea from the odyssey; in the Odyssey Athena arranges the voyage of Telemachus; she did the same with Jason and the Argonauts, and further assisted them in getting past the Clashing Rocks with the help of a sea bird. They discuss the use of birds in navigation more generally.

They now feel ready to ask on context, “How did the Greeks view the art of navigation in the light of their religious experience of the sea?” (221) This is explored through two pairs of powers: Pontos and Poros, and Tuche and Kairos. Pontos, the Salty Deep, is the center of the ocean, with no land or other markers to tell the way, “the most mobile, changeable, and polymorphic space,” (222) described with metaphors of chaotic motion. Poros, in contrast, is a navigable ford, or a sea route; another name for pontos is thus aporia.

Tuche, sea goddess and sister of Metis, has both positive and negative sides. The negative: “Tuche stands for one entire aspect of the human condition in a series of representations of the individual buffeted by the waves, whirling with the winds, rolling helplessly hither and thither without respite” (223). But she also stands for success or a goal attained, she takes over the tiller for the pilot and guides the ship safely to port, or grants foresight (prometheia). According to D&T, these two aspects are inseparable, as the chaos and motion of the waves are the necessary context for steering with the tiller, etc.

In opposition/linkage to Tuche is Kairos, the propitious opportunity, which has been discussed in earlier chapters. They quote (250-1n45) from Plato’s Laws, in which the Athenian Stranger says that “Tuche and Kairos govern all human affairs, and that these two collaborators with God must be followed by a third which is our own, Techne...”

“The excellence of a navigator cannot be measured by the scope of his knowledge but rather by his ability to foresee and uncover in advance the traps the sea sets for him which are at the same time the opportunities it offers to his intelligence as a pilot.” (224) (this is paraphrase of Aristotle, they cite the Eudemian ethics, and Nicomachean ethics]

The relationship between Tuche and Kairos, and between the pilot, and the sea, is referred to as complicity:

"But whether they do indeed form a pair or not, Tuche and Kairos both emphasise one essential feature of the art of navigation: the necessary complicity between the pilot and the element of the sea.” (224-5)

Metis is one of the primary characteristics of the pilot (225). Athena is also associated with race runners; in the Iliad, she helps polymetic Odysseus win a race against fleet-footed Ajax, by getting Ajax to slip on some dung; although this is not a matter of Odysseus showing foresight, D&T argue it is basically the same, because Ajax, relying on speed instead of wit, has failed to foresee the dung:

“These circumstances are an expression, in the context of the epic, of the unpredictable nature of any competitive situation and of the advantages that metis cannot fail to derive from such unpredictability” (228).

They reiterate the three danger points of a race: the start, the turning point, and the finish line; however, through metis, Athena in fact dominates the entire track. “The victor is always the one who has more tricks up his sleeves than his rivals imagine” (231).

They develop the concept of “Agonistic area:”

“Although the athletic contest appears to take place within a closed area whose boundaries are fixed by arbiters and where the race is subject to certain specific rules, the fact is that any agonistic activity—whether it be running or the chariot race—takes place within an area that is, in a sense, similar to the area of the sea. The agonistic area, with its dangerous points and critical moments, is a place in which any kind of reversal is possible and where the path prescribed by the rules of the games is paralleled by any way that is open to and negotiable by metis. It is a shifting and polymorphic area in which the intervention of Athena necessarily takes the same form as in navigation where metis is at grips with the fluctuations of the sea and the blowing of the winds.”

Poseidon is Athena’s most formidable rival as a power over navigation, because he also saves ships; but does this differently. Athena appears and opens a path; Poseidon does not appear, but acts to control or tame the waves. They link this back to their differing control over horse driving, from the previous chapter.

Athena does not just cover the driving and navigation of chariots and ships, but their design and  manufacture: woodcutters, shipbuilders, and carpenters are all traditionally favored and protected by Athena (235), as is woodworking in general. Odysseus, as Athena’s protege, is good at all these things: he builds his own ship as carpenter, ship-builder, then pilots it.

“Among the expressions in the Greek language used to convey the idea of plotting, planning, or meditating, there is a group which employs imagery taken either from hunting or from fishing” (237). Weaving, like making a net, or constructing a ploy; the example of the Trojan Horse. They reiterate that Athena in these contexts is doubly active (instigator of movement, and resolver of difficulties), whereas Poseidon is passive as a sovereign (does not appear, but simply embodies control over the waters).

Finally, they bring up three myths which could challenge this interpretation, because Poseidon is portrayed more actively as a protector or patron of pilots: that of the Phaeacians, from the Odyssey; of Phrontis the pilot of Menelaus, and of cape Sounion, with temples to both Poseidon and Athena. They determine that “no pilot can exercise a craft which princiopally comes from Athena unless he simultaneously recognizes the role of the sovereignty of Poseidon” (243) (which essentially reiterates the concept of “complicity,” from earlier in the chapter).

The different roles of Poseidon and Athena vis-a-vis navigation are finally illustrated by the contrast between, the two helmsmen of the Argos: first there was Tiphys, favored by Athena; then after his death Ankaios, son of Poseidon (244). They are very different: Tiphys is masterly, Athena stands at his side. Ankaios, in contrast, never foresees anything, never decides anything; he always needs help and eventually quits in tears.

“... Athena manifests herself by exercising her intelligence as a navigator who is able to plot a straight course over the sea by taking cunning account of the unpredictability and instability of the waves...” (248)

Thursday, January 26, 2023

A Thousand Plateaus, Chapter 4

Chapter 4: November 20, 1923—Postulates of Linguistics

In this chapter, somewhat less imposing than the previous one, but nevertheless very dense, D&G tackle four “postulates of linguistics,” which are more accurately strawman arguments representing postulates of linguistics-as-a-major-science which D&G will argue against. The date refers to an announcement of the German government re-valuing the Deutschmark to end hyperinflation, and thus stands for the power of the order-word. Because of all the detail in this chapter I went with a paragraph-by-paragraph outline instead of a regular summary.

First postulate: “Language is Informational and Communicational.”

1. Language is not communicational; rather it commands. The teacher orders the students, she does not inform them. The fundamental unit of language is the order-word, a pun on mot d’ordre, meaning slogan or password, and here treated also as “word of order.” “Language is made not to be believed but to be obeyed” (76). “Language is not life; it gives orders.” There is an opposition made between language and life, and language, the order word, becomes a sequence of death sentences, or “Judgments.”

2. They then turn to the “status and scope of the order-word,” arguing that it “is only a language-function, a function coextensive with language.” Language, in other words, is not informational; it is not about transmitting information, for instance about something seen or experienced; instead it is a repetition of the already heard, hearsay. The authors here draw heavily on the language theory of Volosinov: all language is indirect discourse. They draw on a distinction made by Benveniste in arguing that bees do not have true language: bees, according to Benveniste, can describe a food source they have seen, but cannot repeat such a description that they have witnessed.

3. They underline this with a turn to Austin’s theory of speech acts, arguing that his concepts of performative utterances, and illocutionary acts, are internal to language and thus distinct from any idea of reference or information external to [that is, excludable from an analysis of] language. The theory of performance and illocution has, they argue, three effects: 1) language can no longer be thought of as a code (like dna is a code: the mere transmission of information) [recall also their discussion in the previous chapter of coding, defined by B&P as “the process of ordering matter as it is drawn into a body;” language, as in that chapter, is something much more]; 2) pragmatics becomes the most important aspect of language, and no other aspect (“semantics, syntactics, or even phonematics”) can be thought independently of pragmatics (77); and 3) the distinction between speech and language, so important to diverse thinkers as Saussure and Chomsky, becomes unworkable (they here reference Labov, but their position owes much to Volosinov’s theory of the utterance).

4. They next clarify another theory of language which they are arguing about under the name “communicational,” namely Benveniste’s appeal to intersubjectivity. Performance is “that which one does by saying it,” and illocution is “that which one does by speaking” (78); there is a temptation to start with performance and derive illocution from it, but this is not correct, as the performative is too easily dismissed, by Benveniste, as a “self-referentiality” in language, which is ultimately founded on communication between pre-existing subjects. Naturally, supposing pre-existing subjects begs the question of where these subjects come from; both Volosinov and Foucault, key interlocutors here, have had much to say about this; in any event “subjectifications are not primary but result from a complex assemblage” (79), and it is this complex assemblage which has to be examined. D&G will approach this by instead deriving performance (corresponding to subjectification) from illocution, which itself is “explained by collective assemblages of enunciation” (78) and by juridical acts or their equivalents (cf. Volosinov on language permeating into, or rather composing, the entire consciousness of the speaker), and they will further explore this through the discussion of indirect discourse in the Bakhtinian/Volosovinovan tradition.

5. To set up order-words as having a function co-extensive with language, they define them as “the relation of every word or statement to implicit presuppositions” and to the speech acts that can be accomplished in these statements; Language, in turn, is defined as “the set of all order-words, implicit presuppositions, or speech acts current in a language at a given moment” (79).

6. Instead of being informational and/or communicational, language is “the transmission of order-words, either from one statement to another or within each statement, insofar as each statement accomplishes an act and the act is accomplished in the statement” (79). Thus performativity, not to mention power in the Foucauldian sense, is what characterizes language. Their meaning can be taken as a somewhat more subtle and felicitous version of what Foucault actually meant when he said there was nothing outside of the text: the subjects who speak or use language, and the world of information and references they speak about, and even the criteria of truth or falsehood by which the relation between the statements of the subjects and what they are talking about is evaluated, cannot be presumed or treated as some pre-existing entities within and among which language takes place, as some kind of add-on. The relationship between statement and act is not one of identity, but rather of redundancy, which has two forms: frequency, corresponding to signifiance/information, and resonance, corresponding to subjectification/communication.

7. This next paragraph largely translates Volosinov into Deleuzian terms: “There is no individual enunciation. There is not even a subject of enunciation.” Rather, the assignation and distribution of individuality takes place according to the requirements of the collective assemblage of enunciation. They provisionally define this collective assemblage as “the redundant complex of the act and the statement that necessarily accomplishes it” (80); but they immediately admit (and correctly so), that this is unsatisfying. “If we wish to move to a real definition of the collective assemblage, we must ask of what consist these acts immanent to language that are in redundancy with statements or constitute order-words.”

8. They now go into more detail clarifying just what will be meant by an act, which is something much less than “action” or “acts” in general (this presumably is less forced with the French acte than with English act; their examples are pretty much all literal speech acts, “media acts,” etc.). Acts are incorporeal transformations which are attributed to bodies; “body” is here meant “in its broadest sense” to include pretty much anything, including souls and other “mental bodies.” Bodies interact with each other through actions and passions; “acts” are distinct from these in being incorporeal. Acts are also simultaneous with their effects (and thus datable): “I declare war,” makes war happen that instant; “I now pronounce you husband and bride,” etc. They refer to this as “the illocutionary.” As all of their examples involve speech or writing, it is not quite clear where they would put an action such as kneeling before a king (and thus submitting); presumably the illocutionary effect of this would be considered an act, in their sense (since kneeling in different contexts has different meanings: we are back to the relevance of the assemblage).

9. They discuss history, or the telling of history, as recounting the actions and passions of bodies, but more especially as being about order-words. The simultaneity/instantaneity of order words is reflected in their datability; they give their example of November 20, 1923, the day the German Reichsmark was replaced with a new currency, to bring about an end to inflation.

10. They explore further the (social, etc.) assemblage or range thereof within which language has meaning, including the circumstances in which “I love you,” “I declare a general mobilization,” etc., are meaningful or nonsensical. They echo Volosinov’s arguments against a linguistics that excludes consideration of all this as “exterior,” in order to focus only on internal “constants” of language; the pragmatics they are for, in contrast, is about both the exterior and what is internal, immanent, to language (this “incorporeal”); the order-word is the “something else” beyond language itself which establishes this relation between the interiority of language and the bodies, passions etc. upon which it acts.

11. They discuss Lenin’s text “On Slogans,” focusing on examples in which order-words create their subjects: “Workers of the world, unite!” “invents” the working class; Lenin’s announcement transferring power from the soviets to the Party predates the existence of the Party to which it is attributed. Against the objection that this is “politics” (and thus merely external to language) they respond that “it must be observed how thoroughly politics works language from within” (83), and give a summary of their pragmatics:

A type of statement can be evaluated only as a function of its pragmatic implications, in other words, in relation to the implicit presuppositions, immanent acts, or incorporeal transformations it expresses and which introduce new configurations of bodies. (83)

12. They propose two new names for the collective assemblage of enunciation: “regime of signs,” and “semiotic machine;” they add the very Bakhtinian observation that “society is plied by several semiotics, ... its regimes are in fact mixed” (83-4). They then discuss the primacy of indirect speech over direct speech and tie this to schizophrenia and the hearing of voices. There is a very interesting footnote on Elias Canetti’s concept of the command as a “sting on the soul, which forms a cyst” (525n17); [in contrast to the “shocks” experienced by the Baudelarian hero] this sting is enabling, the one who follows orders feels like a victim of the orders, and thus feels innocent of their consequences, which further situates them to follow future orders. According to D&G, Canetti tries to limit the consequences of this insight by attributing it to a particular psychological disposition in the minds of those who succumb to it, rather than to the regular functioning of the order-word itself; “rational,” “common-sensical” individuals [aka abstract subjects] are thus immune. D&G observe:

The whole classical rationalist theory—of “common sense,” of universally shared good sense based on information and communication—is a way to cover up or hide, and to justify in advance, a much more disturbing faculty, that of order-words. This singularly irrational faculty is best safeguarded by gracing it with the name of pure reason, by saying that it is nothing but pure reason... (525n17)

[To which could be added that, once again, the “universal” qualities of the rational abstract subject are invoked precisely when some population (in this case those who are prone to fascism) is being excluded.]

13. They note that “order-words, collective assemblages, and regimes of signs cannot be equated with language. But they effectuate its condition of possibility” (85, emphasis added), and this is the key point they are making. Without these, “language would remain a pure virtuality,” which is why all the attempts to define it as informational or communicational miss the point. They also tie in the concept of “superlinearity” from the previous chapter.

Second Postulate: “There is an abstract machine of language that does not appeal to any extrinsic factor.”

Their repudiation of this is naturally tied to their previous discussion of pragmatics and performativity. This is one of the points where their method of arguing against straw-man propositions is at its most ridiculous, because obviously anyone actually making the above claim would not use the distinctly Deleuzo-Guattarian term, “abstract machine.”

1. They discuss the relationship between content and expression, which, in the previous chapter, had correlated with the first and second articulation, respectively; here they refer to these as formalizations, emphasizing the independence of these two strata (content is not dependent on expression, nor vice versa). They trace their argument back to the ancient Stoic distinction between the actions and passions of bodies, body here defined as “any formed content” (86).

2. Following the usage of the Stoics, anything that can interact through actions and passions (i.e., in the [material]/corporeal world) is a body. What counts as a body for D&G thus immediately begins to proliferate in a manner reminiscent of what happened with “strata” in the previous chapter:

The purpose [of language, and of this chapter] is not to describe or represent bodies: bodies already have their proper qualities, actions and passions, souls, in short forms [emphasis added], which are themselves bodies. Representations are bodies too! (86)

The speech act being, as was previously stated, an incorporeal transformation, this is here distinguished again from representations, which are bodies with actions and passions. This is all related back to the independence of content and expression (as each having their own forms) from the previous chapter. Language-as-speech-act thus intervenes, rather than representing, and it does so in a non-corporeal way. The image of a loom or fabric is used to clarify these two forms: “The warp of the instantaneous transformations is always inserted into the woof of the continuous modifications.” But the relation between these two registers is at the same level: “An assemblage of enunciation does not speak ‘of’ things; it speaks on the same level as states of things and states of content” (87). Here, they appear to move beyond their examples of words to explicitly discuss signs in general (thus answering my earlier questioning about kneeling): “...the same x, the same particle, may function either as a body that acts and undergoes actions or as a sign constituting an act or order-word, depending on which form [content or expression] it is taken up by....” [They make a reference to the “causality of contents” which makes me wonder if their distinction between the incorporeal and the corporeal, while insisting also on their flatness and interdependence, is related to the ancient Stoic attempt at resolving the causality/free will relationship.]

3. They qualify their assertion that incorporeal speech acts “intervene” in the continuous modification of the corporeal world, by noting that this might imply a new idealism; instead, both modification and intervention are characterized by deterritorializations which make possible subsequent reterritorializations. The external circumstances, and the internal factors, of bodies, languages, etc. are variables of content and variables of expression. Again, this is all about denying a traditional understanding of language as representation: instead, “...forms of expression and forms of content communicate [with each other, not the communication between subjects which was dismissed earlier] through a conjunction of their quanta of relative deterritorialization, each intervening, operating in the other” (88).

4. From this, they draw “some general conclusions on the nature of Assemblages” (88). First, a horizontal axis including two segments, one of content (a machinic assemblage of bodies, actions, and passions) and one of expression (“a collective assemblage of enunciation”); as we have already seen, these two “segments” exist together on this axis interwoven, as warp and woof. The vertical axis gives the assemblage two sides, one resting on a process of re/territorialization, the second a “carrying away,” “cutting edge” of deterritorialization. Kafka’s writings are discussed as providing insight.

5. This is then re-expressed as the four qualities (or “tetravalence”) of assemblages: 1) “interminglings of bodies,” 2) incorporeal transformations, 3) “territorialities and reterritorializations,” and 4) deterritorialization (89). This is illustrated with the example of the feudal order.

6. They then revisit their argument against a base/superstructure model in which content (as economic base) is seen as determining expression (as ideology). Their key argument against this is again that there is a form of content and a form of expression, and these two forms are thus independent rather than one being dependent on the other. Furthermore, they argue that ideological models of language ignore these two forms, or separate them out as somehow abstract and eternal, rather than seeing them also as affected by historical struggle. They suggest that “expressions and statements intervene directly in productivity, in the form of a production of meaning or sign-value.” Production, then, as a way of understanding language, avoids the problems already pointed out, with seeing language as representation, information, or communication; however, it has its own problems, in that it “appeals to an ongoing dialectical miracle of the transformation of matter into meaning, content into expression, the social process into a signifying system” (90).

7. Thus, they move beyond the concept of production to a general intermingling of bodies, “including all the attractions and repulsions, sympathies and antipathies, alterations, amalgamations, penetrations, and expansions that affect bodies of all kinds in their relations to one another.” This is governed by alimentary and sexual regimes. They reiterate their understanding of tools as necessarily part of assemblages, a la Leroi-Gourhan, and show how their understanding of language is parallel to this, again showing the flatness of the machinic assemblage of bodies (which has a “primacy” over individual tools and goods) with the collective assemblage of enunciation (which has a primacy over language and words). Having moved beyond the production process as the engine of meaning, they supercede dialectics as well, stating that “the social field is defined less by its conflicts and contradictions than by the lines of flight running through it.”

8. Finally, they directly address the postulate they are refuting, namely that “there is an abstract machine of language that does not appeal to any extrinsic factor;” they explicitly link this to Chomsky’s theory of language. The problem is that this is really not abstract enough, because, excluding “extrinsic factors,” language is only a part of the assemblage. “For a true abstract machine pertains to an assemblage in its entirety; it is defined by the diagram of that assemblage” (91). [Thus, the related question of just where an assemblage ends, in all this intermingling and so on, is related to the concept of the diagrammatic, which will be discussed at more length in the next chapter.] They reiterate one of the key points they have derived from Volosinov: “the interpenetration of language and the social field and political problems lies at the deepest level of the abstract machine, not at the surface.” They end with a reference to two “states of the diagram:” 1) relative deterritorialization, in which variables of content and expression are discernable and heterogeneous; and 2) “an absolute threshold of deterritorialization” in which they can no longer be distinguished.

Third Postulate: “There are constants or universals of language which allow us to define it as a homogeneous system.”

1. This is obviously related to the previous postulate regarding an “abstract machine,” though here they are intent on dismissing the idea of “constants or universals of language” which are part of the way that linguistics is posited as a science, a la Chomsky, etc.

2. They argue against a way of incorporating pragmatics into the scientific view of language, which nevertheless tries to recreate universal or constant aspects of these pragmatics. The Langue/parole distinction, or the competence/performance distinction in Chomsky, is criticized in this way, and also as being too arborescent.

3. They go deeper into this by contrasting the approaches of Chomsky and Labov. Chomsky argues, according to D&G, that a science of language must “carve out” a “homogeneous or standard system” from the “essentially heterogeneous reality” of language (93). Variations, from this perspective, just become deviations from this established norm. However, such an approach is arbitrary. Labov, in contrast, tries to grasp how such variation works at the core of language, rather than reducing it to some secondary phenomenon.

4. They expand on this critique, using the phenomenon of [codeswitching] to argue that language is best seen in terms of “continuous variation” (94).

5. They further explore the concept of continuous variation in relation to their theory of music, chromaticism, etc.

6. They dismiss the objection that music and language are separate phenomena, invoking Rousseau to indicate how the study of language and music together could have taken a different course; Labov’s variable language rules are discussed, along with Dahomeyan chants, and “chromatic” and secret languages.

7. They call for a “generalized chromaticism,” pointing to how music has advanced from the simplistic major/minor organization into more complex and varying chromaticism. They argue that linguistics is stuck in “a kind of major mode,” and has yet to make the chromaticist leap, to understand the “immanent continuous variation” that actually characterizes language (97).

8. In a move reminiscent of Bakhtin, they discuss style as a way that such chromaticism takes shape in the works of particular authors. They summarize the method they are advocating for:

when one submits linguistic elements to a treatment producing continuous variation, when one introduces an internal pragmatics into language, one is necessarily led to treat non-linguistic elements such as gestures and instruments in the same fashion, as if the two aspects of pragmatics joined on the same line of variation, in the same continuum. (98)

Drawing on the French pun, est and et, they contrast the logic of “is” and “and:”

the first acts in language as a constant and forms the diatonic scale of language, while the second places everything in variation constituting the lines of a general chromaticism.

In other words, the “and... and... and...” logic (which is elsewhere used to describe the workings of assemblages) is like chromaticism, adding in additional notes to a chord.

9. Per Hjelmslev, the unexploited possibilities of language (aka the virtuality of language) are part of the language; change and variation are part of the machine, not something that happens to it, or that it somehow produces externally. They use the examples of “atypical expression” from e. e. cummings’ poetry, e.g., “he danced his did” (99). Such an a typical expression is a tensor, which “constitutes a cutting edge or deterritorialization of language...”

10. They summarize their argument against the third postulate: the “abstract machine of language” is “not actual, but virtual-real” (100). Through the concept of virtuality applied to language they are arguing against, e.g., the langue/parole and competence/performance distinctions; the reality of the virtual means that all of this is on the same plane, part of the same process of de/re/te in which language is formed, operates, and is eventually dissolved or transformed. Instead of being organized around constants and invariable rules, language has “optional rules that ceaselessly vary with the variation itself, as in a game in which each move changes the rules.” [This description evokes calvinball; but if so, then this is calvinball as the very essence of game itself, such that baseball, or football, and so on, could be seen as particular instances of calvinball.] To an extent, they replace the old langue/parole (etc.) distinction with abstract machine of language and collective assemblage of enunciation, but the relationship between these two is quite different. There is no primacy or hierarchy of one over the other, they are part of the same process or phenomenon of de/re/te.

Fourth Postulate: “Language Can Be Scientifically Studied Only under the Conditions of a Standard or Major Language.”

1. The four postulates, particularly the last three, are in a way restatements of each other; this last links most directly to the politics of language, and provides D&G an opportunity to drive this aspect of their argument home. They point out the problematic link between the assumptions of the linguistics they are criticizing, and nationalist homogenization and centralization of languages, e.g., French as opposed to its regional dialects. (They add the Boasian insight that these processes of homogenization are distinct and need to be understood historically before they could be studied comparatively). Chomsky’s linguistics is singled out as giving the scientific cover for what is essentially an operation of the state (somewhat ironic, given Chomsky’s politics). “Forming grammatically correct sentences is for the normal individual the prerequisite for any submission to social laws” (101). Here, they re-emphasize the deep imbrication of politics and language, calling to mind not only Althusser’s interpellation, but Augustine on the evil character of babies, due in part to their inability to speak. They end with a quote from Michèle Lalonde’s poem, “Speak White,” which is well worth reading in full, not least because D&G’s selection is far from the most powerful part of the poem.

2. Drawing on Lalonde’s poem, they discuss the concepts of major and minor languages. They note that the concept of “dialect” is complicated and problematic, and note the complicated situations of Quebeçois, which is subordinated both to “proper” French and Canadian English, and Bantu dialects in South Africa, which stand in relation to Afrikaans and English as competing dominant major languages.

3. Having established a distinction between dominant major languages, and subordinated minor ones, they then introduce (of course) two reasons for calling this distinction into question. First, Even minor languages will tend to have the same process of centralization and local dominance that characterize major languages. Second, the very position of being a major language in relation to minor languages means that those minor languages start to deterritorialize and transform the major language; thus, “Chomsky’s and Labov’s positions are constantly passing and converting into each other” (103). In a way these are not even contrary processes, but can be described as “a regulated, continuous, immanent process of variation” (emphasis original).

4. Thus, there are not really two kinds of languages, but two “possible treatments of the same language.” You can either extract constants from the variables of language, or place those variables into continuous variation. The further implication is that “constants” are not opposed to variables (they apologize if they have given this impression “only for convenience of presentation”). Instead, “constants” are just one way of treating variables, the other being continuous variation.

5. “Major” and “minor,” thus, refers not to two different languages or kinds of languages, but “two usages or functions of language” (104). Two “conjoined tendencies” or aspects of minor languages are discussed: impoverishment (or rather, restriction or ellipsis), and proliferation or overload.

6. These aspects of “poverty” and “overload” should be better seen as ways of becoming, or reterritorialization. They discuss “minor authors” and their role in transforming major languages.

7. They begin this lengthy and dense paragraph by providing new definitions for minority and majority which are not necessarily, nor even primarily, about number. “Majority implies a constant, of expression or content, serving as a standard measure by which to evaluate it” (105) [“it” being the opposition or relationship between majority and minority]. Their argument runs along the same lines as markedness theory, in which “the average adult-white-heterosexual-European-male-speaking a standard language” serves as the constant or standard of “majority” against which any other identity, no matter how numerous, is judged:

It is obvious that “man” holds the majority, even if he is less numerous than mosquitoes, children, women, blacks, peasants, homosexuals, etc. This is because he appears twice, once in the constant and again in the variable from which the constant is extracted. Majority assumes a state of domination and power, not the other way around.

This is a powerful and clear iteration of the unmarked/marked distinction, and they bring in also some of the classic feminist criticisms of traditional marxism’s blindness to gender. [They also tie into a common reading of Ulysses as a representation of colonialism (because he wanders the world, tells the cyclops his name is “Nobody” (and thus stands here for the abstract, unmarked subject), which I have always felt is a bit unfair (particularly to such an incarnation as Poldy Bloom, which they reference); surely Odysseus, the iconic embodiment of metis, could as easily be anti-colonial? Isn’t it Penelope’s suitors who better resemble, for example, the European powers gathering to carve up Africa, or a meeting this year in Davos? But I digress.] In any event, majority is founded on an abstract standard that limits, categorizes, evaluates, and hierarchizes, and minority is a subsystem that places this in variation, such that becoming-minoritarian is about becoming and potentiality.

8. Having defined the major and minor modes, we must now return to discussion of the order-word, which is “the variable of enunciation that effectuates the condition of possibility of language and defines the usage of its elements according to one of the two [modes]” (106). The question thus becomes just what it is about the order word that makes possible its treatment through these two modes. D&G turn again to Canetti, from whom they had earlier derived the concept of the order-word as a “sting” that creates a “cyst;” they now refer to this aspect as a “little death sentence” (which it seems must be an even more charged term in French). But the order word is not only a death sentence or command, it is also “a warning cry or a message to flee” (107). It thus has “two tones,” or two potentials. [There are those who live out their lives in Omelas; others walk away.]

9. They explore the first aspect of the order-word, “death as the expressed of a statement,” as an incorporeal transformation that affects or is attributed to bodies. They link to Canetti’s concept of enantiomorphosis (the editors note that this is translated into English as “prohibitions of transformation” (528n44), which seems to be a very poor translation as the original evokes a doubling of crystalline structures which ties to a philosophical debate about identity going back to Kant]. A sentence later they state that “death is the Figure,” stepping into another deep-rooted concept and debate in art history, which Deleuze has also discussed elsewhere, e.g. in “Plato and the Simulacrum.” [I also find it particularly interesting as a link to how the figure in Latour identifies/circumscribes an agentive subject in an assemblage, the form of a person in a painting, etc.] Thus, the order-word, as death and as the Figure, links again to the abstraction of constants to form a measure by which variation is evaluated and hierarchized, subordinated; there is an uncanny aspect in death/order-word/figure confronting you as your double, limiting and ending you, sending you through an incorporeal transformation. [The uncanny aspect gives an interesting hauntological link between enantiomorphosis and the doppelgänger, Diderot’s phantom, etc.]

10. They reiterate the importance of seeing this as involving both content and expression: “the incorporeal transformation is the expressed of order-words [in the plane of expression], but also the attribute of bodies” [in the plane of content] (108). They emphasize again that these two planes are always presupposing each other, but also independent, to the extent that there is “no analytic resemblance, correspondence, or conformity between the two planes.”

11. Finally, they turn to the other aspect of the order-word, “flight rather than death.” This is not a simple opposition to death/order-word/constants and so on, but a placing into continuous variation: “that is the only way, not to eliminate death, but to reduce it or make a variation itself.” They bring up the distinction between major and minor sciences, which will be returned to in a future chapter. In light of the second aspect of the order-word as flight, the content/expression opposition is dissolved [as binaries always are when used by D&G]:

the synthesizer has replaced judgment, and matter has replaced the figure or formed substance. It is no longer even appropriate to group biological, physiochemical, and energetic intensities on the one hand [i.e., the regime of bodies], and mathematical, aesthetic, linguistic, informational, semiotic intensities, etc., on the other [i.e., the regime of signs]. (109)

The second aspect draws out the “revolutionary potentiality of the order-word,” (110) which they call a pass-word, which allows us to “answer the answer of death, not by fleeing, but by making flight act and create,” and thus “transform the compositions of order into compositions of passage.”