discourse and affect

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
Wed Jul 19 22:38:42 MDT 1995


I'm jumping in this thread about discourse etc. a little late, I know,
but I've been reading through some of (at least) the most recent posts,
and find myself disagreeing with pretty much everyone.

Essentially, I remain surprised at the position (even from those who
defend its existence) that the "non-discursive" is somehow residual,
what's left over when you've catalogued and itemised the preponderance
that is the discursive.  Similarly, asking desperately "what is outside
language" assumes that one is already fully--and *only*--inside
language.  With this I disagree.

Equally, I find it bizarre that essentially knowledge, cognition and
sociality are all equated with discourse, and thus the non-discursive
somehow with the "non-human" or the *unheimlich* or somesuch.  The
non-discursive does indeed, but for *both* apparent sides in this
dispute, become the Kantian "thing in itself" or *Ding and Sich* or
whatever.  Again, I have a hard time with all this.

Moreover, I'll propose a positive term for what's so far been designated
the non-discursive: how about "affect"?  By this I mean something more
than emotion, but rather, along the lines of Spinozan *affectus*,
interactions between and among bodies.  We find ourselves situated as
much within this realm of affect, within our own materiality, as within
some kind of symbolic order of discourse.

I'll suggest that in discussing affect, one would also be discussing
intensity, community, power and what goes on "beneath ideology" and
despite it.  Moreover, discourse works along the lines of the abstraction
that permits and reproduces abstract, quantifiable labor measured by the
abstract, quantifiable time of the account book and the M-C-M' circuit of
production for its own sake (or rather, for the unaffective equivalent
that is capital).

I'll leave it pretty much at that for the moment except for a couple of
side-issues:

Part of the confusion about what is "postmodern" is excacerbated by the
suggestion that postmodern philosophers are also those who suggest the
universality and inextricability of discourse.  This seems clearly not to
be the case, and perhaps, indeed, this is the best marker of the
difference between poststructuralism and postmodernism, between Derrida
and Deleuze (say).

For what it's worth, that is.  Naming and taming either poststructuralism
or postmodernism in this way really does seem like counting the angels on
the head of a pin (though Chris is right to point to the seriousness of
that medieval discussion, which is precisely all about the nature of
materiality and corporeality: was there a pure (angelic) "spirit" or was
all of nature invested in a bodiliness, which would make for a finite
number of dancing angels).

[oh, and all the equivalences seem to go wrong, too: if Eagleton is now
the champion against postmodernism, when his debt to Althusser is so
strong; or when Althusser is compared to the young Hegelians, when
perhaps one of his major contributions was to attempt to differentiate
Marx from Feuerbach]

Scandalously (perhaps, for this list, at least), I'd like to recommend a
bit of Lyotard, specifically his _Political Writings_, which though
uneven, are interesting precisely on the question of discourse, and the
possiblitiy of a rupture in the spectacular and over-mediated,
over-representatinal society of MTV or Headline News.  These were mainly
written while he was a member of *socialisme ou barbarie*, a group that
also influenced Italian *autonomia*.  On May 68:

"*all verbalized transgressions can be absorbed by the system*; the
system incorporates a purely verbal critique within itself.  Any word can
be said around a committee table, can be made the object of a negotiona,
of an arbitration.  The transgression in deed can only scandalize; it
constitutes a nonrecuperable critique; it makes a hole in the system; it
installs, for an instant, a region in which relations are not *mediated*
by the Metro ticket, by the ideology of the newspaper, by the university
institution.  A potentiality arises in the field of social experience."  (55)

Now, I want to suggest the *everydayness* of such potentialities: rather
than the inability fully to get rid of language, but the impossibility of
language's cataloguing, describing everything or anything (for that
matter) very much.  For the dream of a language that it is truly
impossible to escape, of a discourse that really has no "outside" see
Borges' short story, "Funes el Memorioso" in which a boy has to be kept
in a darkened room, otherwise he would go made from the impossible task
of naming every sensation, every singularity, every occurence, every
repetition, which is never quite a return of the same, every leaf on the
treee, every leaf in all its aspects, in all the myriad of different
combinations of wind, eddies, and the uncategorizable, complex systems of
daily life.

Moreover, poor Funes is unable to meet anyone, to see anyone, as once the
possibility of an autonomous affective domain is withdrawn, so is all
chance of sociality, of unstated, understated, sociability and just
"getting on," let alone solidarity, trust, group activity towards aims
themselves unimaginable or undescribable (for, to jut into also the
"utopia" thread: who can describe an unseen future), but towards a new
combination and organization of being in collective strength.

Oh, pardon me for going on when I deal with a bit of literature--I gues
thinking of Borges got me in the mood.

Take care

Jon

Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/~spoons


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