AND + NOT some marginal notes

By Anja Büchele, 13 July 2004

Anja Büchele on Jean-Jacques Lecercle's Deleuze and Language

Deleuze and Language, Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002

‘mythical people are realistic and realistic people are mythical’1

No, the problem of ‘Deleuze’s hostility to language’, which J.-J. Lecercle attempts to formulate in his book Deleuze and Language, is not a well-posed problem. Rather than ‘denying’ the importance of language, Deleuze2 puts it in its place, setting it in relation to the body, to thought, and historicising its practice as well as its theorisations. For him, language is utterly material and its effects are real. A better posed problem might be the function of the noun in Deleuze’s theory: where verbs are markers of becoming, of process, inscribing the pure event, the noun is the representational instance, a static marker of ‘common sense’, a word standing in for an object, apparently immune to its own object-status.

Institutional discourse ‘about’ language is pervaded with this function and Deleuze sets out to undermine it. The scientific linguist presumes that language could be frozen, in order to extract rules from it; Deleuze insists that such static modeling cannot comprehend the irreducibly temporal ‘sense-events’ expressed by verbs. Technical language about language is still part of language – there is no escape from immanence. He lashes out against liberal ethics of ‘communication’ (i.e. against getting opinions together in order to fabricate some ‘common sense’ – democracy for example).

But whilst the problem is a problem in Lecercle’s book, he does create a formidable machine in his marginal notes and delirious interludes, an assemblage of Deleuze, Freud, Bakhtin and Peirce with which to attack ethics of communication and the post-Deleuzians’ anti-dialectical pretensions. Lecercle experiments with Deleuze’s concept of ‘assemblage’: an ‘ontological mixture of bodies, utterances and practices.’ This social and historical concept makes possible a materialist analysis of the workings of language. Freud’s discovery that language is production – in which thought and utterance occur on a single material plane – joins forces with Bakhtin’s location of individual consciousness outside the subject.3 For Deleuze also, subjectivity is the end-point of a process comprising ‘institutional forces, concrete practices and historical context’.4 In this sense, an ‘assemblage’ is strictly historical, just as, in Peirce’s semiosis, each sign carries within it the whole history of the signs preceding it. The subject is nothing other than the habit of saying ‘I’.

With good reason, Lecercle criticises Deleuze and Guattari’s image of the political struggle between ‘majority’ and subversive, multiple ‘minority’ (as in ‘major language’ threatened by ‘minor’ stuttering). Neither in language nor in the wider political field is it clear that ‘minority’ tends towards destruction of ‘majority’: rather, the latter survives thanks to continuous ‘absorption’ of the former. Both (inasmuch as the terms remain meaningful at all) are necessary moments of capital.

However the specific instance of stuttering might be more forceful if it were understood as the work of negation on language. Whereas Freud interpreted negation as the manifestation ‘of’ something else (a ‘repressed’), in Deleuze it is an activity.5 Not manifesting anything other than itself, it does not mean, it does. Negation is not just another defence-mechanism (against the right interpretation): instead the ‘patient’ becomes ‘agent’, sabotaging the logical possibility of interpretation, and leading the analyst further on into the realms of nonsense. Here, as a means without end, a process that doesn’t stop at ‘its product’, negation becomes ‘pure’ non/sense. Lecercle’s prime example for the stuttering of language, the incipit to Beckett's Murphy, might be just one such: ‘The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.’

And Lecercle: ‘a king in incipitdom, a paragon of incipithood, the climax of a progression in incipitity.’

1. Medea, P.P.Pasolini2. Remarks applied here to Deleuze apply to all texts signed with that name including collaborations with Guattari and others. References to Deleuze and Guattari refer only to writing signed with both names.3. Whilst for Bakhtin subject-formation as effect of the other implied an inescapable, terrifying ethical burden, most latter-day Bakhtinians happily theorise an ‘ethics of communication’ as a guideline(!) for it4. Deleuze’s emphasis on this process, rather than an end-product, continues to be mis-read as ‘anti-subjectivist’ stance. At least Deleuze and Guattari aren’t historically alone in having spastics for disciples; see for example footnote 35. Both, negation and denial, are contained in the German ‘Verneinung’

Anja Büchele is a truant, no-good-dee-doer and pragmatist engineer