Pascal Michon

Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari and the Rhuthmoi of Language – Part 5

Article publié le 2 September 2020

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Minor Uses of Language vs Major Language System

The fourth “postulate of linguistics” discussed by Deleuze and Guattari affirmed that “language [la langue] can be scientifically studied only under the conditions of a standard or major language [une langue majeure ou standard]” (pp. 100-110).


This section, which once again joined with Benveniste and especially Meschonnic, must be understood in relation with the historical constitution of the French language as a basis for the political construction of the French nation and colonial empire since the Renaissance, but also with the idea advocated by Chomsky, and related this time with the more recent American nation building and imperialism, that a single language, in this instance standard English, could be a sufficient basis for a theory of language supposed to be interested only in universal characteristics. It benefited from the typical movement of the 1970s for the rehabilitation of so-called “minor languages” and “dialects,” against the hegemony of “major” or “standard languages.” But it developed the premises of this movement into a radical view of language.


Linguistics, Deleuze and Guattari contended, in fact translated sheer political concerns into science. Contrary to its self-proclaimed neutrality and objectivity, it was directly motivated by “power” considerations. The main features of linguistic models, homogeneity, centralization, standardization, only reflected political agenda and domination processes. “Grammaticality” was a mere introduction to “submission to social laws.”

The scientific model taking language [la langue] as an object of study is one with the political model by which language [la langue] is homogenized, centralized, standardized, becoming a language [langue] of power, a major or dominant language [langue]. Linguistics can claim all it wants to be science, nothing but pure science—it wouldn’t be the first time that the order of pure science was used to secure the requirements of another order. What is grammaticality, and the sign S, the categorical symbol that dominates statements? It is a power marker before it is a syntactical marker, and Chomsky’s trees establish constant relations between power variables. Forming grammatically correct sentences is for the normal individual the prerequisite for any submission to social laws. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, p. 101)

However, Deleuze and Guattari’s intention was not only to rehabilitate minor languages against major ones. They did acknowledge the “political role of writers who assert the rights of a minor language” (p. 102) but they insisted that, if the same normative approach was applied to the former as to the latter, we would miss the point: the “variation” itself of “dialects” or “minor languages.”

We do not simply wish to make an opposition between the unity of a major language [une langue majeure] and the multiplicity of dialects. Rather, each dialect has a zone of transition and variation; or better, each minor language has a properly dialectical zone of variation. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, p. 101)

Similarly, the “major” languages themselves were not free from variation. The linguistic and grammatical descriptions tended to obfuscate their internal dynamics. The previous discussion about literature had already shown that writers and poets could introduce deep variations into their own language, but any dominating one—as British and American English nowadays—was “necessarily worked upon by all the minorities of the world, using very diverse procedures of variation.”

The more a language [une langue] has or acquires the characteristics of a major language [une langue majeure], the more it is affected by continuous variations that transpose it into [“minor” mode] [en “mineur”]. It is futile to criticize the worldwide imperialism of a language [une langue] by denouncing the corruptions it introduces into other languages [d’autres langues] (for example, the purists’ criticisms of English influences in French, the petit-bourgeois or academic denunciation of “Franglais”). For if a language [une langue] such as British English or American English is major on a world scale, it is necessarily worked upon by all the minorities of the world, using very diverse procedures of variation. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, p. 102, my mod.)

Therefore, Deleuze and Guattari called for a radical methodological shift. Ideally, linguists should do exactly as writers: they should “treat” or “use” their language in a “minor way,” that is, consider any language, be it major or minor, from a perspective of “continuous variation.”

You will never find a homogeneous system that is not still or already affected by a regulated, continuous, immanent process of variation (why does Chomsky pretend not to understand this?). There are not, therefore, two kinds of languages [deux sortes de langues] but two possible treatments of the same language [d’une même langue]. Either the variables are treated in such a way as to extract from them constants and constant relations or in such a way as to place them in continuous variation. [...] “Major” and “minor” do not qualify two different languages [deux langues] but rather two usages or functions of language [de la langue]. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, pp. 103-104)

Strikingly, to support their view, Deleuze and Guattari did not mention any linguist. They gave instead the example of Kafka, who wrote in German, that is, one of the dominant languages of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but used it in a “minor way” by making it “stammer” and “wail,” drawing from it “cries, shouts, pitches, durations, timbres, accents, intensities.”

Doubtless, in the Austrian empire Czech was a minor language [langue mineure] in relation to German; but the German of Prague already functioned as a potentially minor language [langue potentiellement mineure] in relation to the German of Vienna or Berlin; and Kafka, a Czechoslovakian Jew writing in German, submits German to creative treatment as a minor language [de langue mineure], constructing a continuum of variation, negotiating all of the variables both to constrict the constants and to expand the variables: make language [la langue] stammer, or make it “wail,” stretch tensors through all of language [dans toute la langue], even written language [même écrite], and draw from it cries, shouts, pitches, durations, timbres, accents, intensities. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, p. 101)

Literature was basically about making one’s language become “minor” by placing it “in a state of continuous variation” and by “stretching tensors through it.” It was like becoming a “foreigner” in one’s own tongue.

One must find the minor language [la langue mineure], the dialect or rather idiolect, on the basis of which one can make one’s own major language minor [sa propre langue majeure]. That is the strength of authors termed “minor,” who are in fact the greatest, the only greats: having to conquer one’s own language [leur propre langue], in other words, to attain that sobriety in the use of a major language [la langue majeure], in order to place it in a state of continuous variation (the opposite of regionalism). [...] Minor authors are foreigners in their own tongue [sa propre langue]. If they are bastards, if they experience themselves as bastards, it is due not to a mixing or intermingling of languages [mélange de langues] but rather to a subtraction and variation of their own language [de la sienne] achieved by stretching tensors through it. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, p. 105)

These analyses drove Deleuze and Guattari towards a theory of language based on “prosodic, stylistic, or pragmatic features” that extended some descriptions presented in the previous section. Once again, they came very close to Meschonnic’s theory of rhythm—without mentioning him though. “All elements of language” were placed “in a state of continuous variation—for example, the impact of tone on phonemes, accent on morphemes, or intonation on syntax.”

For nondistinctive features, whether prosodic, stylistic, or pragmatic, are not only omnipresent variables, in contrast to the presence or absence of a constant; they are not only superlinear and “suprasegmental” elements, in contrast to linear segmental elements; their very characteristics give them the power to place all the elements of language [de la langue] in a state of continuous variation—for example, the impact of tone on phonemes, accent on morphemes, or intonation on syntax. These are not secondary features but another treatment of language [de la langue] that no longer operates according to the preceding categories. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, pp. 103-104)

However, once again, the musical model replaced, unfortunately, the absent theory of rhythm.

From both sides [the conjoined tendencies to impoverishment and overload or proliferation in so-called minor languages] we see a rejection of reference points, a dissolution of constant form in favor of differences in dynamic. The closer a language [une langue] gets to this state, the closer it comes not only to a system of musical notation, but also to music itself. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, p. 104)

The end of the section was devoted to ethical and political considerations. Based on the previous theory of language, the promotion of the “minority” principle should not be confused with “regionalism” or even with the defense and illustration of existing “minorities.” It meant to implement, more broadly, “a potential, creative and created, becoming.”

We must distinguish between: the majoritarian as a constant and homogeneous system; minorities as subsystems; and the minoritarian as a potential, creative and created, becoming. The problem is never to acquire the majority, even in order to install a new constant. There is no becoming-majoritarian; majority is never becoming. All becoming is minoritarian. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, pp. 105-106)

Women, for instance, made possible for everybody, including men, a becoming “over which they [did] not have ownership” and “into which they themselves must enter.”

Women, regardless of their numbers, are a minority, definable as a state or subset; but they create only by making possible a becoming over which they do not have ownership, into which they themselves must enter; this is a becoming-woman affecting all of humankind, men and women both. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, p. 106)

Similarly, “minor languages” should not be viewed as bases for developing territorialized communities but first as potential agents of transformation of any language.

The same goes for minor languages [les langues mineures]: they are not simply sublanguages [sous-langues], idiolects or dialects, but potential agents of the major language’s entering [faire entrer la langue majeure] into a becoming-minoritarian of all of its dimensions and elements. We should distinguish between minor languages [[des langues mineures], the major language [la langue majeure], and the becoming-minor of the major language [de la langue majeure]. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, p. 106)

Paradoxically, the minority principle was not reducible to minorities but was “universally” involved in any real becoming or creative process, whether in major or minor groups. It was the criterion for developing “powers of becoming” alien to Power and Domination.

Minorities, of course, are objectively definable states, states of language [états de langue], ethnicity, or sex with their own ghetto territorialities, but they must also be thought of as seeds, crystals of becoming whose value is to trigger uncontrollable movements and deterritorializations of the mean or majority. [...] There is a universal figure of minoritarian consciousness as the becoming of everybody, and that becoming is creation. One does not attain it by acquiring the majority. The figure to which we are referring is continuous variation, as an amplitude that continually oversteps the representative threshold of the majoritarian standard, by excess or default. In erecting the figure of a universal minoritarian consciousness, one addresses powers of becoming [des puissances de devenir] that belong to a different realm from that of Power and Domination [du Pouvoir et de la Domination]. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, p. 106)

To become at least “autonomous” and at best “revolutionary,” it was necessary to avoid any easy “reterritorialization,” such as “regionalization or ghettoization,” as well as to reject the “idealistic” belief that using exclusively a minor language could change by itself a relation of domination (note 42, p. 527). It meant, instead, going a harder way by connecting and combining heterogeneous minority elements in order to trigger a genuine autonomous becoming.

Becoming-minoritarian as the universal figure of consciousness is called autonomy. It is certainly not by using a minor language [une langue mineure] as a dialect, by regionalizing or ghettoizing, that one becomes revolutionary; rather, by using a number of minority elements, by connecting, conjugating them, one invents a specific, unforeseen, autonomous becoming. (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. B. Massumi, 1987, p. 106)


*


Chapter 4 was clearly meant as a new significant step in the construction of a large rhuthmic philosophy. After the “rhizomatic” theory of thought flow presented in Chapter 1, and the main lines of the intrinsically dynamic cosmo-ontology introduced in Chapter 3, it was designed to provide the reader with a theory of language which had fully recovered its temporality. However, our detailed analysis has left us with some vexing questions. Deleuze and Guattari’s contribution on the issue was much more elaborate than that of Morin, they were rightly interested in the pragmatic side of language, and they provided surprising insights into literature. On the other hand, they advocated, in the end, a hyperpragmatist perspective, which clearly capitalized on the progress of the physical rhuthmic paradigm but was, at the same time, incapable to really integrate those of the poetic rhuthmic paradigm.


On the one hand, they justly criticized the structuralist imperialism that had developed in the 1950s and 1960s in Europe as well as in America and rightly substituted it with a pragmatist perspective which reintroduced temporality into language. By so doing, they partly benefited from the revolution that had occurred in linguistics in the 1960s and 1970s that had emphasized uses and contexts against rules and structures. They rightly argued against the strict separation entailed by structuralism—whether under its mainstream-Saussurean or its generative guises—between language and world, language and society, language and time. But on the other hand, the means they used to reach this legitimate target were quite debatable.


1. Deleuze and Guattari’s began by discussing one of the most popular “postulates” of the linguistics of their time, which asserted that “language is informational and communicational,” in other words, that language is primarily used as a means of communication between interacting human beings.


1.1 To oppose this view, they elaborated first a reductive theory of statements as sheer repetition of others’ discourse and expression of power. According to them, language was not, as “linguists” used to say, a neutral medium employed by human beings to exchange information concerning the world, their feelings or their thoughts. It had above all the function of repeating other’s words and asserting one’s power. It was firstly a means of passion and action. Instead of “signs,” it was composed of “statements” which were, according to them, always “order-words,” that is, both reported speech and command. Consequently, the referential, informational and communicational functions were reduced to a minimum, if not to nothing. But this was not all: although they did not mention them, it was obvious that the phatic, metalingual and poetic functions also disappeared altogether. Language, stripped of any other function, was only a means of action and passion supposed to be entirely opposed to life. In short, except that they were less fond of structuralism than Barthes, they were not far from his delirious description of the tongue as “fascist.”


1.2 Following this rather dubious introduction, they summoned up Austin’s speech act theory to show that language was not always used to denote things or ideas, since, in some contexts, it could, on its own, produce pragmatic effects, change given situation, introduce novelty. The recourse to Austin, who shared the discovery of the concept of performative with Benveniste, allowed to reintroduce a concern for the flow of language. It showed that language was intrinsically an activity.


1.3 However, at the same time, it prevented a full understanding of this very activity. Since it allowed, through the extension of performative to illocutionary acts, to plug language directly into the pragmatic context, it was responsible for the erasure of the specificity of the former to the benefit of the latter. Language was reduced to a mere element of a more general hyperpragmatist view. The universality of language was negated to the benefit of the universality of force and action. A sheer naturalism was substituted to culturalism and language theory—which, as a matter of fact, would be a much better designation for what Benveniste himself called “general linguistics.”


1.4 Deleuze and Guattari reproached Benveniste for “avoiding any recourse to a generalized pragmatics” (p. 78), which indicated exactly what was at stake. In order to develop their own “generalized pragmatics,” they had to tear down the one solid scientific and philosophical position, presented only a few year before (1966 and 1974), which could efficiently oppose their view. In his essays, Benveniste anticipated many positions later defended by Deleuze and Guattari. He developed a critique of the reduction of language to reference, representation, or information. He severely attacked the structuralist reduction of language to its formal and semiotic part. And he introduced a new perspective oriented towards activity and empirical context. But, at the same time, he did not abandon reference, communication, poetics and form altogether and firmly opposed all naturalism by developing a pragmatics whose anthropological dimension did not imply any essence of humanity but, on the contrary, postulated its radical historicity. In a beautiful and crystal clear prose, Benveniste suggested a full theory of man and human culture, and more remotely of ethics, politics and art, based on the primacy of “language activity” and the principle of a “radical historicity” of man drawn from Saussure’s “radical arbitrariness of the sign.”


The difficulties raised by Benveniste’s contribution to the theory of language most probably explain its rather approximate discussion by Deleuze and Guattari, to say the least.


1.5 They completely misrepresented his concept of “sui-referentiality” which did not refer to the structuralist closure of language upon itself but to an ever new activity of language through which the human beings can relate to the world, to other human beings, act, interact, organize societies, produce sciences, worldviews, religions and arts, that is, produce themselves in ever new fashions.


1.6 They caricatured him as a naive subjectivist, despite the fact that he made it clear that the subject is constantly building through the activity of language, as they themselves were actually forced to finally recognize when they tried to figure out the nature of their own endeavor and of their own writing.


By contrast, Benveniste’s language theory threw a vivid light on the weaknesses and inconsistencies of Deleuze and Guattari’s hyperpragmatism.


1.7 Due to their bracketing of the activity of énonciation and discours, their argumentation was affected by periodic re-emergences of the traditional perspective of la langue, which cryptically persisted underneath their well-publicized ontology of force.


1.8 Since enunciation and discourse were not considered as activities, they were reduced to mere collections of discrete statements, what Deleuze and Guattari called “regimes of signs,” whose main types were to be described in Chapter 5, referring to each other in an endless chain of indirect reports making the meaning utterly ambiguous and fleeting. But this amounted to endorse, under the appearance of a concept akin to the Foucauldian flat and inert concept of “discursive formation,” the concept of an endless report from sign to sign, the concept of différance, drawn by Derrida from his belief in the differential structure of la langue.


1.9 Since language was not defined as an activity per se, the meaning was deemed to be entirely socially-determined. Statements combined into superior “assemblages of enunciation” then into “regime of signs” which framed the enunciation and the subjectivity involved in them, exactly like, in the Marxist view, “superstructure” and “ideology” determined the discourse of the individuals.


1.10 Without the concept of activity of language, they were unable to recognize the phenomenon of subjectivation that developed at equal distance between individual and group, and they misrepresented it as a sheer effect of subjugation.


1.11 Lacking dynamic concepts of enunciation and discourse, they finally advocated two utterly inconsistent views: on the one hand, language was viewed as a series of powerful but un-generated statements; on the other hand, human beings were considered as interacting but mute bodies. In the first case, a certain power was exercised but this power could not be attributed to any one. Since wild energies carried by statements only passed through the bodies, no subject was ever responsible for any domination, which just “happened” by itself, nor, as a matter of fact, for emancipation which “occurred” just as mysteriously. In the second case, bodies interacted, collaborated or fought each other, but they only did so only by repeating and imposing statements strangely devoid of any specific corporality.


1.12 All these difficulties amounted finally to the same problem: without a proper concept of language, pragmatics was transformed into a hyperpragmatism, that is a purely naturalistic perspective which relied solely on the concepts of force and action and provided no room for anthropology.


2. The same kind of combination between illuminating insights and regrettable limitations characterized Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of what they called the second “postulate of linguistics” according to which “there is an abstract machine of the tongue that does not appeal to any ‘extrinsic’ factor.” This discussion directly addressed the bracketing of the pragmatic context by the ordinary linguistics of the time. We saw that this view was based on the arbitrariness of the sign and on the systemic character of tongues, two principles that were advocated by mainstream-Saussurean as well as Chomskyan linguistics.


2.1 To challenge the first principle, Deleuze and Guattari quite innovatively cited the Stoic description of the shifting relationship between “corporeal modifications” and “series of statements,” which rendered impossible a point-to-point relationship between signified and signifier.


2.2 As for the self-sufficiency of the tongue system, they used the heterogeneous figure of “assemblage” as a tool to challenge both the views which exaggerated the role of “extrinsic factors” and reduced language to nothing, as in Marxism, or those, symmetrical, more common in linguistics, which suppressed those factors altogether and made language entirely autonomous.


2.3 In fact, the first argument matched what Saussure—I mean the real Saussure not the puppet that has been presented to us under his name for decades—tried to figure out when characterized the sign as “radically arbitrary.” Language and world are both constantly shifting vis-à-vis each other while remaining linked through a paradoxical moving association (see Michon, 2010, Chap. 5). And the second surprisingly joined Benveniste’s contribution. The pragmatic context, the actions and bodies which provide the framework of enunciation should be taken into consideration on the very account of the intrinsic activity of the language, what they themselves called “the internal pragmatics” of language.


2.4 However, because of their miscomprehension and distrust of both Saussure and Benveniste, they totally missed these obvious contact points. Mesmerized by the power of the arbitrariness-of-the-sign principle in linguistics, they did not realize that Saussure, whose thought, as soon as the 1920s, had been oversimplified by his followers, had actually opened another path with his concept of “radically arbitrary,” which did not imply any autarky or self-sufficiency making the context and the “extrinsic” factors inessential but, on the contrary, the radical historicity of the language. Likewise, maybe because of the reception—and much debatable appropriation—of Benveniste by some members of the phenomenological school like Jean-Claude Coquet (1928-), who also taught at the University of Paris-8 Vincennes, Deleuze and Guattari did not recognize in Benveniste’s concept of “activity” a critique of the traditional concept of subjectivity and of its total independence from “extrinsic factors.”


3. The third “postulate of linguistics” discussed by Deleuze and Guattari affirmed that “there are constants or universals of the tongue that enable us to define it as a homogeneous system.” According to them, these constants or universals were “distinctive phonemes,” “fundamental constituents of syntax,” and “minimal semantic elements,” linked to each other by “trees” and “binary relations between trees,” finally combining into closed wholes. Furthermore, all linguists claimed that the implementation of language implied that each speaker possess a “competence” which enables him or her to respect the grammatical rules of his or her tongue. Instead, they contended that “every [linguistic] system is in variation and is defined not by its constants and homogeneity but, on the contrary, by a variability whose characteristics are immanent, continuous, and regulated in a very specific mode.”


3.1 To support their view, Deleuze and Guattari cited Labov’s variationist sociolinguistics and its opposition to Noam Chomsky’s universal generative grammar. Admittedly “hardening” Labov’s position, they claimed that linguistic systems were not closed wholes, composed of distinctive elements organizing through grammatical rules, implemented by speakers endowed with “competence,” but open flows continuously varying through time, which required no particular competence to be spoken. Linguistics should be entirely freed from the notions of system or formal constants and replaced by “a chromatic linguistics according pragmatism its intensities and values.” Such a theory would consider each language as a pure flow composed of variable “molecular intensities,” and therefore the speakers as mere vectors of these “molecular intensities.”


3.2 In order to exemplify these claims, Deleuze and Guattari then borrowed from music. Western history of music had witnessed, they remarked, a progressive transformation from “tonal and diatonic music” to “generalized chromaticism.” Rousseau’s attempt at bridging language and music, as well as Berio’s and Schnebel’s contemporary works on “voice timbre,” were supposed to go in the same direction. All these examples showed that musical variations of sound could possibly be used to describe the generalized variations in both language and speech.


However, there was a lot of confusion in this argumentation.


3.3 Is it really possible to deny, one is tempted to ask, that all human languages, whatever linguistic family they belong to, use phonemes—as phonologists had demonstrated long ago—are organized according to syntactic rules, and convoy semantic elements? This line of argument goes against a lot of empirical evidence, to say the least. Moreover, if there are no common formal features in a particular language, how to explain that speakers and receivers understand each other. Is it not that they share some words, syntactic forms and meanings? If, now, different languages have no common basic characteristics, how to explain that it is always possible to translate a discourse from one language into another one? Is it not that they also share, at least, the very forms of word, syntax and meaning?


3.4 If language does not depend on any individual “competence” to articulate and perform it, how is it possible to give an account of the empirical fact that humans speak, articulate sounds and produce discourses, and that, thanks to that, they can understand each other—even if sometimes they don’t? As Benveniste put it: “Man is entirely in his will to speak, he is his capacity for speech” (1974, p. 19). By contrast, in Deleuze and Guattari’s account, everything suggested that language is only an anonymous production of heterogeneous statements that mysteriously enter and leave the bodies, without never being thought nor articulated, a kind of anarchist, apsychological and apoetic replica of the collective, apsychological and apoetic movements of die Sprache through die Überlieferung – the Tradition, that subject the speaking individuals according to Hans-Georg Gadamer (1960) (on Gadamer, see Michon, 2000).


3.5 Why, in fact, associate universality with constants? Why not with activity and creativity, as Humboldt, Saussure and Benveniste, each suggested in his own way? Universality of language, which is an empirical fact, does not have to be based on formal characteristics only, although the latter seem quite indubitable. It surely can be founded on the activity itself, that is, on its primarily pragmatic nature—which does not mean that all formal features are to be dismissed but that they are only secondary to the primacy of activity.


3.6 Even if Deleuze and Guattari were very cautious about it, “asking [only] that the issue be left open, that any presupposed distinction be rejected” (p. 96), the alternative to structural and hard systemic views on language was certainly not to be found in music. Language and music are two totally different medium and blurring their distinction does not bring any light into the discussion and tends, on the contrary, to obscure the matter to be explained. It, among other things, prevents any real reflection on the rhythm of language and always provides this difficult question with a solution as brilliant as it is easy and misguiding. While one can certainly support the critiques of Deleuze and Guattari against structuralism and hardened systemism, it is much more problematic to endorse their exhortation to abandon any contribution made by linguistics in the 19th and 20th centuries. In short, Deleuze and Guattari threw the baby out with the bath water. To make room for pragmatic and molecular preoccupations, they got rid of any formal dimension, as if the forms were totally foreign to action and to becoming. In this instance, they lacked, if I may say so, rhuthmic spirit, which is precisely to understand the form of becoming or the manner of flowing of something or of somebody.


3.7 Surprisingly, this obvious error was however accompanied by remarkable insights concerning literature, which was given as second example of “continuous variation” in language. By contrast with music, literature was indeed perfectly adequate to advocate an alternative to the structural and hardened systemic conceptions of language. It was based on language but entailed numerous phenomena that could not be described from the traditional formalist perspective. Indeed, literature as an art conveying values, imaginaries, emotions, memories, and entailing transsubjectivation, entirely escaped the formalist grid which could hardly distinguish between a newspaper article and a poem.


“Style”—Deleuze and Guattari used this traditional concept without though endorsing the dubious stylistics’ presuppositions—was not “an individual psychological creation” but resulted from “an assemblage of enunciation” which was crossed by “a continuous variation” and produced “a language within a language.” They did not provide many descriptive examples to support this excellent view but they listed decisive poetic factors taken from their previous studies and readings. Whether it was Kafka, Beckett, Gherasim Luca, or Jean-Luc Godard, each had his own way of making German or French language flow; each made it vary by introducing particular “speeds and intervals”; each gave new “values and intensities” to “his own language.” Technically speaking, literary discourse was characterized by a particular “tension” which resulted from “tensors” which twisted or better yet re-motivated the usual ways of speaking, either by “agrammatical expressions,” or by more subtle ways, as the repetition of the conjunction AND in a tale. This kind of re-production of language, naturally, was not limited to “poets, children, and lunatics.” It was not a deviation from the language norm but, on the contrary, the normal form of language activity, even in the most ordinary speech. If seemed at first to transform language into a private game, but it was actually open to ever new uses, performances and interpretations.


3.8 This striking description clearly singled out a number of important features of language that had already been recognized by Benveniste’s general linguistics and Meschonnic’s poetics. “All men, Benveniste emphasized against Chomsky, invent their own tongue at the moment and each one in a distinctive way, and each time in a new way.” Similarly, Meschonnic described poetry and more generally literature as a particular form of “enunciation” which produced “values specific to one discourse and only one” through the global organization of its “prosodic and rhythmic system.” In literature, but it was also the case in ordinary speech, “rhythm”—which, as we will see in another chapter, was taken by Meschonnic explicitly in the sense of rhuthmos—gave language a specific quality that made it both entirely particular and shareable. It explained why literature could simultaneously express and convey the deepest feelings, emotions, imaginaries, memories, values of a particular individual and be received by readers from totally different social groups and in entirely different historical times. However, while in their previous discussion of linguistics Deleuze and Guattari had caricatured and misrepresented Benveniste, here in their discussion of poetics, they simple ignored Meschonnic whose name was not even mentioned once in the whole book.


4. Finally, Deleuze and Guattari provided very interesting insights on the “fourth postulate of linguistics” which affirmed that “language can be scientifically studied only under the conditions of a standard or major language.”


4.1 This section shed light, quite convincingly as a matter of fact, on the ethical and political content of the dominant linguistic definition of language. Homogeneity, centralization, standardization, grammaticality only reflected historical and political domination processes. The formalization and teaching of grammar and lexicon was directly inspired by and used in nation building and imperialism. Both cases of French and English languages bore witness to these political dimensions of linguistics.


4.2 However, Deleuze and Guattari did not intend only to rehabilitate minor languages against major ones but to introduce a more radical view that would generalize the “minority” principle to all tongues, included the so-called “minor” ones which could also, under certain historical conditions, be driven exactly by the same search for a stable normative form. Hence the promotion of “minority” should not be confused with “regionalism” or even with the sole defense of existing “minorities.” It meant to implement everywhere, in whatever language, “a potential, creative and created, becoming.”


5. In sum, Deleuze and Guattari’s fourfold discussion of mainstream linguistics demonstrated a much deeper reflection and knowledge on the issue of language than any other members of the rhythmic constellation we have studied hitherto. One is amazed by the number of revealing insights into the pragmatic and poetic sides of language they offered. A Thousand Plateaus was certainly instrumental in the philosophical shift that put a definitive end to the structural era dominated by linguistics and opened new paths based on pragmatism and theory of action and passion. Concerning general linguistics and poetics, they rightly insisted on discourse “singularity” and “continuous variation.” They outlined a theory of tensions, tensors, speeds, values, which render a discourse entirely specific to one author however entirely shareable by an open-ended series of readers in the future and in other social groups. They sketched a broad and efficient ethical and political conception of the various uses of language in modern world. They finally accurately criticized the link between the common linguistic conception of language and the modern nation buildings and imperialisms, and rightly promoted minor and emancipating uses against normative and dominating norms.


However, at the same time, due to their most unfortunate rejection of Benveniste and their strange ignorance of Meschonnic, they ventured into building a sheer naturalistic worldview based on a fragile theory of “sign regimes” composed of un-generated and un-articulated statements, a no less fragile theory of “interacting bodies,” always dominating and suffering but strangely unable to speak, and a global theory of cosmos composed of wandering energies and in which language was only a subordinate part. As already mentioned before, they encountered a difficulty which we have already documented a few times in these series of books and which prevented them from satisfactorily articulating the progress of the physical rhuthmic paradigm with that of the poetic rhuthmic paradigm.


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