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A Thousand Plateaus / abstract machine / becoming / Deleuze / language / machine / ontology / Politics

The scientific enterprise of extracting constants and constant relations is always coupled with the political enterprise of imposing them on speakers and transmitting order-words.

Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 101

Deleuze and Guattari admit that the notion of “minority” is very complex, with references and correlations in all dimensions of human and non-human existence. The opposition is not simply quantitative: “Majority implies a constant, of expression or content, serving as a standard measure by which to evaluate [it].” (ATP 105) Thus the majority need not be in numerical majority; for majority supposes only the assumption of a “state of power and domination, not the other way around” — the standard measure, when it is assumed to be the standard, thereby becomes major. Minorities, on the other hand, are not determined by constants — they are not systems but subsystems, outsystems — seeds of potential, creative and created, crystals of becoming.

These considerations are deployed together in one of the most significant points in Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of linguistics, which is this: that grammar is a system of power primarily, not a prototype but a protocol, directly connected to an economy and a politics more primarily than to a network of syntagms and semantemes. Thus even though grammar cannot be presented as an invariant linguistic substructure, it nevertheless possesses singular structural features — political ones — namely, functioning as the medium of transmitting commands, “order-words.” Thus language is shaped directly by political and economic forces; it is a prerequisite for the individuals’ submission to social laws. “No one is supposed to be ignorant of grammaticality; those who are belong in special institutions.” (101)

A language is a war machine bursting with positive lines of flight, inherent lines of free variation. Grammar’s unifying and homogenizing function, far from being the result of purely philosophical or structural considerations, is rather an immediately political phenomena. We are never going to find — and ought to stop looking for — a homogeneous system still unaffected by regulated, immanent, continuous processes of variation: “The unity of language is fundamentally political.” (101) Deleuze and Guattari outline two general treatments of language corresponding to the major/minor distinction. We can (1) attempt to extract constant relations from variables, or we can (2) place the relationships themselves in constant variation. The point here is that certain linguistic categories only make sense when we are doing the first (extracting constants) — for example: speech/language, synchrony/diachrony, distinctive/non-distinctive. Only the second treatment offers a contrast to linearized segmentation and the presence of “constants” — style, prose, the pragmatic function of language — for “their very characteristics give them the power to place all the elements of language in a state of continuous variation…” (103-104). Minor languages “proliferate shifting effects,” possess a taste for “overload” — they restrict constants, extend variations, deploy continua which sweep away every component. This so-called “poverty” of minor languages, Deleuze and Guatarri write, “is not a lack but a void or ellipsis allowing one to sidestep a constant instead of tackling it head on, or to approach it from above or below instead of positioning oneself within it.” (104)

They emphasize several times that “major” and “minor” do not indicate two languages but rather two usages or functions of language. Language itself is a battleground without clear boundaries, but rather lines of variation, transitional zones, limitrophes. Deleuze and Guattari remind us that the notion of a dialect itself is entirely relative, since we would need to know with what major language it relates and exercises its function. Minor languages themselves define dialects, precisely through their own possibility for variation. “Should we identify major and minor languages on the basis of regional situations and bilingualism or multilingualism including at least one dominant language and one dominated language, or a world situation giving certain languages an imperial power over others (for example, the role of American English today)?” Let us consider several clear reasons it would be unthinking to do so. A minor language is not immune to the treatment of language which draws homogeneous systems. Furthermore, it is difficult — especially politically — to see how users of minor language can operate without giving it a constancy and homogeneity making it at least locally major. Yet Deleuze and Guattari remind us of the opposite, and perhaps much more compelling argument: that the more a language acquires the characteristics of a major language, the more it is affected by the continuous variations which transpose it into a minor language. If American English is dominant, a major language on the global scale, it is also by necessity worked over, intensified, amplified, and transmuted by every minority in the world. Again, the distinction between major and minor is not really between two kinds of language, but two kinds of use of language.

The Author

mostly noise and glare

1 Comment

  1. Hey buddy, this is a really strong post. I’m especially glad that you chose the topic of minority, because I think it’s especially important to their Kafka book between A-Oe and ATP. I at first was turned off by that book, but I’ve recently started re-reading it and think it’s especially good. It re-emphasizes and utilizes many concepts, including machinic/collective assemblages, rhizome, minority, etc. Deleuze talks about minority in “He Stuttered” as a variation of the major in dynamic disequilibrium. With the minor set the major language racing…

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