sixteenth part, called “a way in XVI,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

What is meant by subject? When we speak of the staging of the subject, are we saying nothing more than the subject takes the stage? That is, the actor? And then when we align that with consciousness, aren’t we confusing it with the subject, with the human subject, specifically, as the subject of speech, the linguistic subject? Or is consciousness the cogito? the I think who fractalises, fracturing, as it descends the en abîme, into an I think I think, I think I think I think, I think I think I think I think I think: or is this the it thinks? The it thinks of the empty stage, not waiting, but already a subject of expression, and … nonlinguistic expression. And ought this to anchor us in our anti-human-exceptionalism viewpoint? Because, as soon as language enters the picture, so does human exceptionalism.

And animals are notorious enemies of the stage. But then, so are children. Our nonlinguistic subjects par excellence. Or are they? the unpredictability of animals onstage, or that of children, such that we say, Never act with them! isn’t this rather to do with a lack of training and the training not having taken? The kids not being educated in the way of, Please don’t stand in front of me when I am delivering my line?

After all, we have animal trainers. And acting coaches for children. What really is the difference? Why coaches for one. Trainers for the other? Well, of course, the animals can’t act, exactly can’t act, because animals act out of instinct. So with animals we deploy various strategies to lead them to do what we want, on film, or stage. Whereas children, with children, above a certain age, we can explain it to them. They are capable of understanding what is expected.

Isn’t it however nonsense that animals don’t act, can’t, that is, perform, except by instinct? The dog show, or show-jumping horses, would seem to go against this: the horses are certainly conscious of a rider’s expectation, exert themselves to win races, often beyond the point that would serve instinct, or instinctive behaviour serve to explain.

Do dogs feel shame, having shat on the floor? Having ripped the head off a doll? And what about chimpanzees at the tea party? Cruel, so cruel. They were doing it for the peanuts.

Birds on stage, they seem not to take direction. Lay down some seed. And we’ll scoop up the chickens directly after their scene with the nuns. Before they embarrass themselves. The chickens.

The children: if you keep out of my way next time I deliver that line, I’ll buy you a drink after the show. You’re too young to drink? How about icecream?

Isn’t the word of praise to the kid the same as the icecream? its symbolic surrogate. You did great. Do it again, just like that. Well, this is the whole reason for rehearsals, isn’t it? same for children as it is for adults: Yes, that was better. Says the director. Or, no matter how many times we do it, I just can’t get it. Well, speak your lines and stay out of my way!

Consciousness of performing: it’s not enough to dispense entirely with a stage given over to trained monkeys who are trained humans. Sorry, highly trained. And the charming children who are coached. And the charming coaches who are well paid. That is, to rid us of the idea that we can only speak of linguistic subjects as being subjects, and open the stage up to animal consciousness.

How to proceed, then, if we want to move beyond what we may see as a political position on subjectivity, such that making the stage the line supporting the subject limits the subjectivity in question to the subject as it is formed by social and political systems and by the system of language? Because language is never innocent. Always a matter of subject formation according to the discursive conditions of an embedded, as we might say it of journalists in the military, subject. No leverage exists in language, making possible a viewpoint outside of it, to shift the world from being as it is formed in and by language.

Sure, languages: each a different viewpoint on the language problem. Different differences providing points of articulation, so that different distinctions are made. Still, the problem remains, of the specificity of language to human being.

And when we consider political subjection, we are even worse off: it looks like we can undo subjection to systematicity, the systems of government, or governmentality, tout coup, by changing the system, doing away with the principles on which it is founded. But the fact of subjection persists, the fact of being a political subject. Even when an anarchist, and rejecting the principles of any system of government, on which it is founded, and outright refusing to be its obedient subject.

We might ask, of linguistic as of political representation, does the system of representation come before its systematisation? What works to separate off governmentality or English so that it can be systematised, become a system, generating subjects? And insistently human subjects?

We can examine a grammar of governmentality, as did Foucault, as others have done of language all the way to Chomsky’s universal grammar with a biological basis in a grammar organ, that humans have, but is missing in chimpanzees, for example. Preventing their acquisition of language. We can look to the great systems makers, like Hegel, or the encyclopaedists, and go back to the practices giving rise to systems, such as monastic rule.

As Saussure shows, the separation writ large reflects that at the smallest scale, between signifier and signified. In other words, the causalities and the genealogies are, as Deleuze says, quasi. Not that they are not real, because events of linguistic expression differ in nature from those of the bodies in which they are expressed, having then causes produced in language. Their reality is not quasi when it comes to language; their causes are. Still, when it comes to the speaking subject it seems we cannot make the leap from human to animal, or plant, or mycology (itself a quasi-logical entity). And we say of these they are subjects because in communication. Whereas we are always within language.

The problem of language has two parts: an overall systematisation, that is as it were external; and an internal slippage, of difference, the symbolic shifting of an individual difference. This individual difference is however the foundation. It grounds the system, and Derrida makes great anarchic play of this, as a system of differences. Destabilising sociopolitical and lingophilosophical certainties.

And we have to ask if we recognise ourselves in language as system of differences, in a particular grammar comprising, Chomsky says, universal elements. Do we recognise ourselves in this universal system of systems? of systematicity? Our obedience to its rules and principles has to be pointed out to us. We have to be trained, coached in subjection. To become subjects, willing or unwilling.

As for the idea that language and consciousness are coextensive, even before we give to either its biological basis in the brain, doesn’t this extend subjection indefinitely? Enslaving humanity to… what? Man is of most use to man, writes Spinoza, man having a gender specificity difficult to eradicate; because, is woman of most use to man before man is? And of most use to woman is … man? woman? child? sub- or super-man? …or some representative of a nonequal minority, a minority that is by the same, shall we say, token, nonnumerical, not reflected in the actual numbers? Or those nonhuman species… who are superior in numbers… like the dinosaurs in The Flintstones?

When I look at you and speak to you, or is it when I command you that we see the primary function of language? beyond that of communication. When we are in communication we are like fungus, as we say now, networking.

Commanding you, I am extracting from you some use-value, that Spinoza never intended. I am extracting human capital. Like the data which so readily is flowing in the way financial capital did once. Value a function of magnitude as much as speed of flow. Yes, of course this has yet to be done, to free us, in the anarchic spirit, to become useless to the data miners. What such uselessness is is not to drop out of society but out of language, in a very technical sense: to eschew the symbolisation that makes the systematisation of language possible in technical networks through monetising communication. And makes the monetising of communication possible through its systematic embodiment in technical networks.

Give to the great apes data flows! To the trees of the Amazon, make them data rich! To the viruses of our new pandemics, data! …Oh, in effect this has already happened.

What makes the technicity of data-capital possible, isn’t it what makes the systematisation of language possible? And isn’t it at the heart of human separateness? Isn’t it symbolic representation? Doesn’t symbolisation—and the subsequent displacement, condensation, projection onto the symbolic field that is entailed precisely in investment—make possible the systematisation of language? Isn’t this and not language itself its humanity? as separate, as exceptional, leading to the anthropocentrism Spinoza could not have imagined, of man being most useful to man through the monetisation of the data of communication, or communication-production, and the reification of the data network? Wherefrom everything that is not communication-production is excluded for having no value.

So we might ask of language, as we ask of data, does the system of representation come before its systematisation? And is not this systematisation made possible by symbolisation? We might ask, what language is before its systematisation. And this would be to ask what it is before or outside writing.

Or, otherwise, what if writing, as Blanchot seems to say, is the outside of language? Far from Derrida’s il n’y a pas d’hors texte, there is no outside the text, we would find ourselves saying, there is no text outside. Before we can go back to the notion of the stage constituting an outside and take it further by saying, for nonhuman performance, we must stay with the symbol.

The symbol is of human construction, yes. And it is a tool, enabling new forms of exploitation, through the discourse of technology as through technical implementations of symbolisation, sure. But what we might call its first function, on which all further use, usage and usefulness is founded, is to separate the word, the utterance, from the air.

And, by so doing, make distinct a general quality of what we may call meaning, and a particular quality which we can call difference. The second is a positive phonetic difference, that between two phonemes, as much as a symbolic one, that represented by symbols, of which the phoneme already is representative, allowing the general quality of meaning to … circulate, surely, and invaluably, but on the condition of its separability, on the condition giving the difference its distinction. Making it this general quality for an economy of signs, an economy of differences, able to be read.

I am not intending to draw attention to the difference between the spoken word and the written word, but the difference that the latter makes possible, in turn making possible its circulation in a system. That is, its systematisation. A rule-based function that extends over the whole system with which language as a system is coextensive.

Making it, language attest to its own separateness from things, bodies, subjects. And bringing it, language, in to bear witness for the separation of humans from those who are not subject to this system, which includes animals, because they can’t read, and children, before they can. This separation of the word from the air I breathe and share with others gives onto human exceptionalism, leading to anthropocentrism.

The so-called anthropocentric worldview can be grounded in humanity in general because of the claims made for language. The claims made for language can only be made on the back of language as a system. Human consciousness is upheld to be a realm separate from others on the basis of these claims and the subjection of humanity to symbolic means, which means are newly embodied, or embrained, in the technical apparati of data networks.

And from this is drawn our image of the brain. The human brain. A neural network. Or neuronal apparatus of information processing. We can say that the anthropocentric worldview reaches apotheosis in the ejection of humanity from its centrism, of the anthropos from the magic circle of its enchanted symbolic garden.

note: source references available on request–these will be part of the book, if it should come to pass.

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