Language as a marker of power

Comrade Oriol Arilla recently wrote to Psychology and the mind a very interesting article entitled “Language as a regulator of the social”. I will use the fact that the ice has already been broken with one of the most controversial topics and has been the subject of the most important philosophical and psychoanalytic theories of the last century to further reflect.

O Arilla’s article begins with a first and very important break with the most conventional analyzes of what language is. In other words, it is not just a means of conveying information.

Break with the classic paradigm

Writer and philosopher Walter Benjamin he warned us almost a century ago that we could not reduce the language analysis in the always limited Burgué schemes, utility, to be a means to an end. In this case, a way to convey information from one person to another. For Benjamin, and I subscribe to his thesis, the language is pure mediality. In other words, it does not enter the channels of being a means to an end but a means in itself and realized in itself. To defend this position, Benjamin argued that no one can refer to and think about the language without resorting to the language itself. If we wanted to apply a Cartesian scientific analysis to language, we should be able to isolate it as an object, the problem is that this operation is impossible. Under no circumstances can we separate the language from its own crawl as we have to use the language itself to do so.

This idea refers to the quote from Nietzsche which opens, inaugurates Oriol’s article: “There is nothing more or less innocent than words, the most deadly weapons that can exist.” It is not that words are only the deadliest weapon that can exist (it is not an innocent medium for a boss independent of them) but they are, moreover, the first marker of power and of the structure. Language is the first structure that will teach us to obey.

Deleuze and Guattari they write in A Thousand Highlands: “Language is not made even because it is created there, but to obey and make it obey. […] A grammar rule is a power marker before being a syntactic marker. The order is not linked to previous meanings, nor to an earlier organization of distinctive units “[1]. Language always presupposes language and configures through a hard structure a certain way of approaching the world, the seen, the meaning. It will generate, in this way, various effects of power, which include the construction of our subjectivity and our way of being in the world. Language always goes from something said to something being said, it does not go from something seen to something being said. Deleuze and Guattari then argue that if animals – in their example, bees – have no language, it is because they have the capacity to communicate something seen or perceived, but they do not have the ability to convey something invisible or invisible. other animals who have not seen or perceived it either.

Deleuze and Guattari explain this idea in depth: “The language does not content itself with passing from a first to a second, from someone who has seen someone who has not seen, but necessarily passes from a second to a third, none of which has seen“In this sense, language is a transmission of words that functions as a slogan and not as a communication of a sign as information. Language is a map and not a calculation.”

The reflections of Benjamin, Deleuze and Guattari open the way to the introduction of two ideas which seem fundamental to me in the face of our daily political and psychic realities. The first idea is that of the performativity of language, Introduced by philosopher John Langshaw Austin and perfected by Judith Butler at the end of the 20th century. The second idea is that of the primacy of signifiers over significations. This second idea was largely developed by Lacan and is the epicenter of contemporary psychoanalytic theory.

Performative language and politics

Austin said “to speak is always to act”. Language is often performative insofar as a statement can, rather than describe a reality, render the fact by the very fact of being expressed. So when I “swear”, I am performing the act of swearing to the extent that it expresses the oath. Swearing or marrying – which are the two examples Austin uses – only makes sense in the language itself. The statement generates a reality, independent of any act external to it, for the simple fact of expressing itself. By a symbolic authority like that of a chaplain, the declaration “I declare you husband and wife” is a declaration which comes into relation only with himself, it is a performative act insofar as the act , the fact, only makes sense for the degree of being within a given community and of following certain markers of linguistic power. When marriage is formed, the reality that existed until then changes.

Taking up this idea, Derrida he will emphasize that the performative cannot be intentional – so Austin will argue that the first thing in language will be the will of a subject – and that it is beyond the subject. Language, on its own, will then be able to transform reality without the intentionality of humans. I will take up Derrida’s reflections for the section on psychoanalysis..

Judith Butler he takes up many of the ideas presented here for his theory of gender. I will not go into this article in depth in your reflection for lack of space. What Butler asserts is that law is produced performatively through coercive repetitions of regulatory practices. But the law is not limited to the legal, to the formal, it also extends to other social practices.

In this way and taking up an idea launched by Marx (“We think they’re subjects because he’s king”) will ensure that the genre is completely performative, in the sense that when you think of saying “man” or “woman” we describe a reality we actually create it. Thus, our bodies cease to be bodies to become techno-living fictions which, through repetitive coercive practices of the roles assigned to men and women, will adjust the mechanisms of power. Gender identity, whether male or female, does not exist autonomously in these same performative practices that adjust us to be what the social structure expects of us. Assigned roles –at birth with a bio-male body, we will be assigned the role of masculinity– that will have to be repeated to naturalize, to make them as if they were natural identities. This masks the social struggle behind it and avoids the performative character of being male or female.

Beatriz preciado underlines a very important question to understand the extent of this coercive practice on the body: at birth, the doctor never performs a chromosome analysis but nevertheless, and simply through the sight (see if there is a penis or a vagina) will determine our social role (being a man or a woman). In this way, politics becomes an aesthetic. For our aesthetics, we will be assigned a social role of masculinity or femininity. Preciado declares: “Science produces performative metaphors, that is to say, it produces what it seeks to describe through earlier political and cultural markers.”

With everything I have exposed here, I just wanted to get into the complexity and importance of the philosophy of language as well as its impact on our daily political struggles. The deconstruction of all the concepts imposed on us from birth must be a constant liberating practice. And we must never forget the ultra-political dimension of language as well as the performativity in the construction of our subjectivity, our resistance and our power.

Language in Lacan, a few brushstrokes

In contemporary psychoanalytic theory, and particularly in Lacan, language is a hard structure which almost entirely determines the production of our subjectivity. Lacan argues through the primacy of signifiers (S1) over meanings (s1). To demonstrate this operation, Lacan uses metaphor and metonymy. The two digits are the ones that fortify and show that the signifiers are always above the meanings, so in a metaphor a displacement of the signifier (of the word itself) occurs while the meaning is maintained. With several words, we can convey the same meaning. Hence Lacan -and psychoanalysis- pay attention and pay attention to the master signifiers and the chains of signifiers, More than in meanings. We could add here the reflections of Derrida, in which we say that the same sign can have several meanings (polysemy) in addition to the Lacanian theory.

Signifiers always refer us to other signifiers, they cannot exist by themselves. Therefore, classical psychoanalysis has also received a lot of criticism, because it is not necessary to look for the meaning behind the words we say. For Lacan, however, the narrative arises to resolve a fundamental antagonism, in Zizek’s words, “By rearranging its parts in a temporary succession.” There is a traumatic fact which is constitutive of being like that, a fact, a sphere, which is the Real which can never enter the channels of the Symbolic (the Lacanian triad is The Symbolic Real and the Imaginary, at the center of which is enjoyment). What in the object is perceived positively as more than the object itself and what is the force which animates my desire would be the small object a, which one can sometimes confuse with reality and the surplus of jouissance. I don’t want to have much fun with this theory in this short article. What must be remembered for what concerns us is the primacy of the signifier which could be added to that of the sign and the form, and which leads us to something in fetishism and contemporary communicative theory.

Sign, form and language in the construction of hegemonies and political frameworks

We are fascinated by the sign. The form is what determines, not the content. And here, to conclude, I would like to try to establish a connection with Marxist theory. Quoting Zizek MarxIt can be used to bind and clearly capture the relationship between fetish and shapes. Zizek writes: “Classical political economy is only interested in the secret content after the commodity-form, and this is the reason why it cannot explain the real mystery after the form, but the mystery in this way. even. […] So where does the enigmatic character that distinguishes the product from labor come from does not take the form of a commodity.

Obviously in the same way.“[2]. We have to evade meanings and contents a little in order to focus our thoughts on forms and signs. We live in a system of semi-capitalism (sign capitalism) that generates its own oppressive frameworks and creates reality through signs and languages.. To combat this, we need to be smart and create and generate our own signs as well as deconstruct our language, which is still our primary marker of power and authoritarian structure.

bibliographical references

  • [1] Deleuze and Guattari, Capitalism and Schizophrenia 2: A Thousand Highlands, 1990: 82
  • [2] Marx quoted by Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, 2010: 40

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