Back to Grammar
I’m probably one of maybe a few dozen people who remembers Louis Althusser’s critique of “historicism” in Marxism—what Althusser was targeting (as a way, probably, of gaining some distance from Stalinism) was literary and cultural theorists like, for example, Lucian Goldman, who lined up specific historical periods or classes with specific historical forms as in, for example, “the rise of the bourgeoisie lead to the emergence of the novel as the dominant literary form.” Althusser was opposing the notion that an element of the “superstructure” was a direct “expression” of some element of the “infrastructure” for a few reasons, one of them being that this approach generated the illusion of uniform progress toward pre-determined and predictable ends. Althusser was right, because there is no direct “transmission” of the “content” of one level to the “form” of another, but his critique also led to years of convoluted debates about how, then, to make the Marxist terminology suited to the “late capitalist” reality. I’m reminding and warning myself in particular here, because I’m going to do some layering myself here by introducing the “originary grammar” I developed (not to perfection by any means) in Anthropomorphics into the programming language I’ve been working on in some recent posts and I want this to be thought of more as a stack (an “accidental megastructure,” as Benjamin Bratton calls it) that the “emanation” of one layer from another.
So, in a kind of rough way, the ternary structure of ritual-juridical-disciplinary does map on top of the grammatical structure of ostensive-imperative-declarative but if we leave it at that we will confuse more than we clarify. What we could say is that ritual is primarily ostensive, with imperative derived from the center and declaratives serving to determine which imperative to obey in particular cases; while the juridical ends up with a imperative, something someone is commanded to do or refrain from doing, and gathers ostensives (“evidence”), the relevance of which to the arrival at an imperative is determined by declaratives; while the disciplinary is the production of new ostensive-imperative orders by attempts to bring previous ostensive imperative events within the domain of the declarative. Unlike the Marxists of the 60s, who didn’t know where they were within the “mode of production,” we can always situate ourselves within institutions with a particular grammatical stack and particular interfaces between the ritual (problems of succession and commemoration), the juridical and the disciplinary. These interfaces, in turn, are built so as to register imperatives that cross from one institutional space to another, demanding a reconfiguration of the grammatical stack in the receiving institution. So, a shift in the respective options on succession generates an imperative that will find its way into the juridical, simply in the sense that it creates the possibility of new complainants, even qualitatively new kinds of complainants. Who can act under a given title is perhaps the most fundamental juridical question (who is the “owner” of this item?), and this the question then emerges when succession options are reshuffled. The disciplinary, then, we can see as always already commissioned by either the ritual or juridical, but as a contractor on a field of competing contractors in a market that reaches its perfection but also its closure when all parties concerned want an honest broker and therefore don’t need one. In fact, let’s think about the market as subsumed within the juridical such that conflicts over pricing would always be submittable to adjudication; i.e, the “right price” would be a juridical question. And a juridical question necessarily informed by disciplinary inquiries into the originary nomos and existing conditions of production and circulation. The more both sides gained an understanding of how price disputes would be settled, the more readily they could agree in advance, and hence we’d have the appearance of a “free market” precisely as a result of it being thoroughly embedded in the juridical and disciplinary.
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In introducing originary grammar into the programming equation I want to bring to our attention what I take to be the extremely novel and radical understanding of “agency” in Gans’s derivation of the speech forms in The Origin of Language. I work through this in my introduction to the new edition, but am glad to repeat it here. Gans had the problem of showing how a fully fledged language could emerge from an ostensive gesture toward a central object of desire and repulsion. He had to show how the imperative would emerge without someone “wanting” to command someone (because such a desire could not be formulated within an ostensive language), how the interrogative could emerge without someone already “having a question” and how the declarative would emerge without someone having “something to say.” Here is where the utter subversion of metaphysics, as the assumption that the declarative is the primary linguistic form, lies. For Gans this proceeds through “inappropriateness” followed by a kind of scene-saving extension of “linguistic presence” by a novel enactment of the existing sign. So, an inappropriate ostensive, in which one member of the group “refers” to an object that isn’t there, and which might therefore initiate the very conflict the ostensive gesture has been created to defer, is responded to by a member to whom the ostensive has been directed by retrieving the object. So, the first person issued a command without wanting to or knowing it, and the second person obeyed a command, also without quite wanting to or knowing it, but nevertheless the “command” now exists as a form that can be repeated, in the future by those who know they are doing it. It is the desire to maintain the scene, or the terror at having it collapse, that creates meaning here, and metaphysics is (to gesture toward Heidegger) the forgetting that meaning relies on the scenic. Think about the mixture of pain and humiliation, but also excitement and ecstasy, that would suffuse us if we could remember every single learning experience we ever had, and you can imagine what metaphysics protects us from. Without metaphysics, we’d have to remember our learning by creating new scenes that can ritualize them in shared forms. We could say that once we have made our way to the declarative (as a species we wrapped that up 100,000 years ago or so) that form of emergent agency is replaced by a more declarative willing, but I think our thinking will be more penetrating if we think of all agency in these terms, as a kind of stumbling into scenes in which we are rescued by those we simultaneously rescue only to “declare” once we have landed that that was our destination all along. Treating that declaration as deconstructable then makes the difference.
So let’s say there is always some margin of inappropriateness (or, as I called it a while back in an essay, “mistakenness”) in all of our signs. The mistakenness can be on either side, giver or receiver. And any utterance or sample at a higher layer in the stack is an attempt to remedy while commemorating that mistakenness. Ostensives are always generating imperatives, imperatives are always prolonging themselves into interrogatives and interrogatives are always calling forth what @scenictechnics recently suggested we call the “bidirectional imperative” that issues in the declarative. (The bidirectional imperative follows my own addition to Gans’s derivation of the speech forms—Gans hypothesizes the declarative as in the first instance a “negative ostensive” [noun] articulated with an “operator of interdiction” [verb]. But the operation of interdiction operates only on the other speaker, the one making a demand prolonging itself into a question, whereas the verb has to be attached to the object referenced in its absence. I thought the ambiguity of the interdiction—the origin of which is unaccounted for in Gans’s analysis—suggested that two imperatives are issued at once, one to the interlocutor to refrain from demanding the object and one to the object itself from, let’s say, the center, channeled through the speaker, to have absented itself from the scene. So, the declarative is then “saying” something like “stop asking for this object which has been removed by powers beyond us from present availability.” The declarative thereby creates “reality” as a space of imperatives beyond our control.)
If, as I always insist, we are still on the originary scene, which has never formally closed (who could close it?), then we are also still continually (re) assembling declaratives out of ostensives, imperatives and interrogatives—the entire stack of mistakenness. Indeed, the Big Man would have seized the center in just such a “mistaken” manner, in response to a demand for distribution that the existing ritual model was unable to transcend some conflict in order to enact—while the congregants quibbled over some ritual rule, the Big Man just burst onto the scene and told someone to “take it, already,” sensing a potential breakdown the group members were too busy squabbling to notice. And the juridical would emerge along with an imperial extension of chiefdom or sacral kingship, as brokering an arrangement between parties was both more economical than trying to suppress them both—rather than joining one to suppress the other, which just makes one a party to the conflict, an intuition that more power can be gained by making oneself indispensable to both sides would perhaps resolve some confused oscillation between the two sides. And the disciplinary is always pointing to new ostensives to close imperative gaps, situated both within the space of objects and the space of the scene within which the objects must be arranged. The earliest sciences were records of what the gods told us about how objects beyond our control work precisely so that we can arrange ourselves in such a way that the gods will keep those objects in their places. Which is to say, showing how kings came in the line of succession from the “metapersons” ruling over us. What might look accidental or arbitrary was really purposefully and willfully done.
I’ve proposed the translation of the ritual/juridical/disciplinary ternary, before and after are the same/the part of the whole is the same/doing and happening are the same as the basis of a transfer idiom that could be worked up (retranslated) into search terms that would enable us to identify the operations of these categories in all “samples.” Each of these sentences in the transfer idiom would be made to represent a particular grammatical stacking, and the ranking of operational imperatives out of a swarm produced by an ostensive field, the ranking of operational interrogatives out of an imperative swarm and the ordering of things within an ordering of the scene (the declarative as bidirectional imperative) are all programming problems. The more we think in terms of algorithmic articulations of these virtual linguistic fields the more prepared we will be to “treat” samples from the “wild” in terms of the transfer idiom. If we discard our interiors in exchange for a more rapid and legible exchange with the center as central intelligence, we will be approximating the originary configuration far more closely than if we remain within Axial Age imaginaries. This is how we can recompose ourselves as data of the highest worth capable of attracting equally high value data in return. This fluency across layers in the stack is technoscenic literacy.
For the transfer idiom to work as search terms we would have to be able to replace the natural semantic prime words in the sentences with words informed by the metalanguage of literacy to extract useful results from searches. So, “before is the same as after” could be replaced by, e.g., “the administration of James Polk shares X data points with the administration of Dwight Eisenhower.” The events or institutions must have juridical designations in common (not necessarily as close as two different presidential administrations from the same country, under the same constitution) and the “data points” in question concern not a more or less arbitrary choice of characteristics but what we would determine to be succession practices of the former that make the latter a successor, however tenuous and distant (determining these things is the very point of the exercise), of the former. This might be the starting point of a search, because we take the origin sought by any inquiry to be the origin of the inquiry and some investigator might have good reasons for seeing the origin of the Eisenhower administration in the Polk administration, but the results of one search will lead to a refinement of the search terms and in the end we’d find an origin to our inquiry which might turn out to concern something other than the Eisenhower administration. Think in terms of transdisciplinary scientific practices interested in the nexus of hypotheses and practices, but also in terms of scribal and archival practices and wisdom literature, traditionally written in the form of advice from a father to a son, or possessor of some title to his successor—wisdom literature would transform the vocabularies and linguistic forms of shaping institutions into the vocabulary of the self-command and control inculcated into the successor. The vocabularies, phrases, idioms and grammars must be rich in attested references and response to juridical norms of testimony and disciplinary inquiries into the paradoxes of testimony but are ultimately the materials for pedagogies of the imperative gaps, directing attention to where mistakenness becomes technoscene.
So, how to feed the grammatical terms themselves into the program? To say “before and after will have been the same” is to issue imperatives to install the practices that will have turned the center of before into the center of after; and, then,to generate ostensives that will serve to verify or authenticate the completion of those imperatives. The entire space of inquiry is saturated with the imperatives that would follow and the ostensives that would confirm, with the ostensives providing the data contributing to a ranking and articulation of the imperatives, keeping as many in play as possible. The “part of the whole is the same” is a derivative of that prior field of ostensive-imperative-ostensive articulations, intervening where the ranking of imperatives with an upcoming expiration date requiring that inquiry be cut off in order to determine that the imperative must be routed through an occupant of such and such position. So, we could generate the juridical out of the field of imperatives by identifying those imperatives the difference between whose respective rankings are not statistically significant while requiring decision before they are likely to become so. Doing and happening are the same maximizes the results and residue of the juridical by recording and analyzing (bringing into declaratives) all the ostensives that haven’t registered juridically and can be sorted out along an agential continuum that has been generated by the juridical and can now be returned to the ritual. The ritual order receives this data and deploys it to issue debt that, to the extent possible, calls for repayment into the form of the doable (assemblable in circulatory data), while forgiving what has merely happened. This, in turn, informs the juridical by securing the necessary agents, occupants of a local center of (data) distribution. The ranking of imperatives can therefore focus on sorting out what can be done from what happens, a ranking partly explicit and partly implicit in each command set in circulation by the center, and then clarified at each point along the way.
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