[dev] [Fwd: Lazzarato: Bakhtins theory of the utterance]

xname root at xname.cc
Sat Jun 20 15:08:09 CEST 2009

you might be interested in the text of the presentation by
maurizio lazzarato http://imaginaryproperty.com/node/146
at the occasion of imaginary property intervention #3
(together with angela melitopoulos and translated by
arianna bove) http://imaginaryproperty.com/intervention3
additionally a video recording of the session is available...

Bakhtin's theory of the utterance

Bakhtin's theory of enunciation is a 'carnevalesque' integration of all
the elements that Hannah Arendt's theory of action and the word had
emptied out or subordinated to the totalising power of language. The
recognition of the multiplicity of the semiotic, the polyphony of
matters of expression (both verbal and non-verbal), the heterogeneity of
linguistic and non-linguistic elements, becomes on the one hand, the
basis of a 'strategic' theory of action between speakers whereby it is
possible to define meaning as an 'action on possible actions' (to use
Foucault's expression) [1], and on the other hand, it is the basis of a
theory of creativity and production of subjectivity.

Bakhtin's theory has no room for the concept of the performative beause
'all speech acts' are 'social acts, not just performative ones. All
utterances are 'speech acts' that engage a 'social obligation'. Despite
an homology of terms, there are remarkable differences between Austin's
and Bakhtin's theories of speech acts. To begin with, the latter affirms
a difference of nature between language and the utterance. In order for
words, propositions, and grammar rules to become complete utterances and
linguistic acts, there needs to be a 'supplementary element' that
remains 'inaccessible to all categorisations and linguistic
determinations, one that linguistics cannot grasp'.

The word, the grammatical form, propositions, and statements separated
from the utterance (from the speech act) are 'technical signs' at the
service of a signification that is only potential. The individuation,
singularisation, and actualisation of this potential of language
operated by the utterance (this 'achievement') allows us to enter an
other 'sphere of being': the 'dialogical sphere'. What makes us turn
words and linguistic propositions into complete utterances, into a
'totality', are pre-individual affective forces and social and
ethico-political forces that whilst being external to language are
actually inside the utterance.

'The enunciated, Bakhtin says, is completely traversed by these
extra-linguistic (dialogic) elements.'

In the theory of the speech act, speakers are not first and foremost
linguistic or psychological subjects, but 'possible worlds' -
(singularities or existential cristallisations - in the language of
Guattari). They occupy 'chronotopes' (blocs of space-time, 'existential
territories', in the language of Guattari), and these are absolutely
irreducible. The dialogic relationship between possible worlds and
processes of existential singularisation is constituted by affective,
ethical and political forces. Through the utterance, these express
friendships and enmities, agreements and disagreements, sympathies and
antipathies. They organise the relation of cooperation that opens to the
creation of possibilities or, on the contrary, establish relations of
domination that fix the same possibilities. The origin of all of these
forces is not linguistic, even though they express themselves through
language and signs. Rather, they are variables internal to the creation
and transformation of the utterance.

Affective and ethico-political forces are firstly expressed by the
voice. In an important article, Guattari notes that in the utterance one
finds both the 'pre-individual voice' that expresses a will based on
emotional evaluations (in his words, sensible affects) and 'social
voices', ethico-political voices that express 'universes of references
and values' (the beautiful, the just and the true), which are
problematic affects in Guattari's words.

Wherever linguistics wills structural and differential relations between
signs, Bakhtin, like the enlightened, the idiots and the mad, 'extends
the voices, their dialogic relation' and the existential territories
that support them.

This voice is deployed on this side of articulated language. According
to Bakhtin, the voice or intonation, not yet captured in the 'phonetic
abstraction' of language, is always produced 'on the threshold of the
verbal and the non-verbal, the said and the non-said' and it is through
it that it addresses itself to the other. This address is affective and
ethico-political rather than linguistic. It 'appropriates, travels,
avails itself of linguistic and semiotic elements, confirms and drifts
away, critiques and legitimates meanings and established intonations'.
Voices operate a singularisation of language that we might call
strategic because they distribute and 'name' speakers according to a
proto-political model that structures the space of the word along the
lines of power relations between speakers. The voice already engages a
specific mode of action of discourse that with Foucault we can call 'the
action on possible actions', because it expresses evaluation,
differences and values.

'Intonation seems to indicate that the world that surrounds the speakers
is full of animated forces: it is menacig, indignant, loves or flatters
objects and phenomena'. In the voice, we find again the 'animism'
rivendicated by Guattari, that is to say, the taking sides in an
ethico-political way in relation to others and the world.

The voice expresses itself, vibrates in a dialogical space that is a sui
generis 'public space'. The voice can produce itself on the basis of
'different fundamental tones' (Bakhtin) that depend on the power
relations in the 'public space' where it evolves. These are power
relations (of domination or of cooperation) that modulate and influence
its modes of expression. The voice can be deployed and differenciate
between an 'athmosphere of sympathy', of 'complicity' or of 'defiance'
and 'embarassment'.

In each voice there is a double address. the voice addresses not only
the addressee but also the 'object of the utterance' in so far as the
object is called into being both as 'judge and witness' and therefore,
as its 'ally or enemy'.

According to Bakhtin, one must radically distinguish between the
'evaluative expression', which can be affective and axiological, and
'semantic expression', because  - contrary to what Wittgenstein claims -
  the latter can never replace or substitute the former. There will
always be a iatus, an irreducible disjunction between desire and
affective expressions, on the one hand, and language (its words and
statements) on the other. Linguistic exclamations that we learn can
never replace or substitute the cry of pain of the body.

Here lies the difference between linguistics and the philosophy of
language: pre-signifying corporeal semiotics (gestures, postures, moves,
attitudes), the 'universe of values' and existential territories, are
part and parcel of the components of the utterance. They are, notably in
Guattari, an autonomous power of the production of speech.

'Intonation and gesture are linked by a close relation that finds its
origin in bodies - the 'primary and ancient matter of evaluative
expression'. In each gesture, as in each intonation, always lingers and
sleeps in waiting an embryo of attack and defence, menace and
tenderness. For this reason every utterance always puts the speaker in a
position of 'ally or witness', friend or enemy. Even the poet, says
Bakhtin, 'always works with the sympathy or antipathy, consensus or
dissent' of the listener. It is only when the voice penetrates and
appropriates words and statements that the latter loose their linguistic
potentiality and turn into actualised expression. It is only at that
moment that words and statements are encumbered with the a unique and
non reproducible role in verbal exchange.

2. The active and creative dimension of dialogic relations, their
character as strategic games of 'possible worlds', and the existential
singularities and spaces that support them, is evident when one compares
them with the linguistic elements of the statement. Whilst the latter
are 'reproducible' components, dialogic relations represent the 'non
reproducible', always renewed elements of the utterance, whereby
singularity arises from the evenemential nature of the utterance. These
two dimensions (reproducible and non reproducible) are clearly
distinguishable both in the address and in the response that the
utterance calls for.

All speech acts are addressed to someone or something, respond to
someone or something and through this addressing or this response they
express values, points of view, emotions, affects, sympathy and
antipathy, agreement and disagreement in relation to the situation, in
relation to the other and to one's own utterance, in relation to other
utterances and also in relation to the utterances that circulate in the
public space (notably those that refer to 'the true, the just and the
beautiful', as Bakhtin remarks). All these speech acts aim to an
agreement or a disagreement, refer back to an enemy or a friend.

All speech acts are questions that interrogate others, oneself and the
world. Bakthin's theory of enunciation implicates the world as a
problem, as an event and as something that is never accomplished, unlike
Austin's theory of performativity and speakers, which entails the world
as convention, institution, and something to reproduce.

In his last years Guattari refers to a 1924 text by Bakhtin that talks
about poetic creation, from which he draws lessons for a theory of the
utterance and of the production of subjectivity in general. Even in the
case of poetry, it works not only on the signifier, but always refers
back to the existential point of view. Bakthin underlines how if one
wanted to account for the address it would be insufficient to stay at
the level of the mere material of language. One needs to refer to
material languages that are non discursive.

In the speech acts (here poetic speech acts), it is affect, the
existential function, that uses and appropriates different semiotic
elements to compose them and keep them together, to accomplish them and
achieve them.

The existential function that Guattari calls the refrain relies on
certain 'discursive chains', on certain linguistic elements, and it
detaches them from their meaning and normal signification and denotation
to confer to them their own movement, ultimately another meaning. In
this way it plays the role of an ontological existential affirmation.

Bakhtin distinguishes between five elements of enunciation: 1) the sound
side of the word, its musical aspect; 2) the material meanings of all
its nuances and its variants; 3) its aspect of verbal relations and
interrelations; 4) the intonation aspect that expresses its emotional
and volitional orientation at the psychological level and its direction
in relation to ethico-political and more specifically social values
(pre-individual and social voices); 5) the sentiment of verbal activity,
of the active engendering of its meaning (the feeling or affect in which
one needs to include all moving elements of articulation, gesture,
mimicry and others, all the inner drive of the person) - Affect
expresses the existential apprehension of the world and the self that
presides over the dispositions of elements of enunciation, their
selection and modes of composition.

The first three components of the utterance that constitute the
linguistic and semiotic elements of the utterance represent their
'reproducible' parts that can be reiterated, whereas the last two
elements cannot be reproduced, they are absolutely singular, and created
for the first time and in the speech act. The fourth element is
specifically dialogic and expresses both affective (emotional and
volitional) evaluations and social (axiological) ones. The last element,
that represents the sentiment of activity in the creation of the word,
expresses the existential and ontological force of affect. It
constitutes the non-discursive element that generates not only the
psychic reality of the word, but also 'meaning and appreciation'. By
means of the utterance, the speaker inhabits an 'active position' (she
operates in an existential self-positing as Guattari will say) in
relation to the world and others: 'in other words, the sentiment and
feeling of taking up a role that concerns man as a whole, of a movement
that involves both the organism and semantic activity, because what it
generates is the soul of the word in its concrete unity'.

Guattari draws general conclusions. With Bakhtin, he says, 'we can learn
to read the utterance, its multiple voices and its multiple centres' (p.
40). The utterance and the process of production of subjectivity are 'a
composition of heterogeneous modes of semiotisation (production of
meaning)'. An always partial (non totalising) composition of a
multiplicity of elements (both linguistic and non-linguistic) and an
heterogeneity of semiotics (signifying and corporeal, iconic,
pre-signifying and machinic). But it is this affect, the refrain that
operates the 'enunciative crystallisation', that produces at the same
time a 'relative feeling of unity' and of singularity, specific each
time, to the disparate multiplicity of these linguistic elements,
corporeal and axiological, that traverse the speaker. The affect is a
process of existential appropriation which, on the one hand, selects the
semiotic components by detaching them from their meanings and ordinary
denotations, and on the other hand operates as a 'catalyst', as an
attractor that keeps them together as in a musical 'motif', as in the
refrain by giving coherence to these heterogeneous elements through
repetition. It is always affect that has the ability to 'transversalise'
this heterogeneity of elements, to give them colour, a tone that makes
them converge, in time, towards the singularity of the utterance. Affect
represents an opening of non discursivity that is at the heart of
discursivity and makes it crystallise and works on it, organises it and
valorises it. Like in Bakhtin, in Guattari too, the affects that provide
the utterance with the character of an existential singularity are both
'affects of sensibility' (pre-individual, volitional and emotional) and
'affects of problematics' that activate references that are
'sentimental, mythical, historical and social', universes of values and
references. This active power of the affect, despite being non
discursive, is no less complex, and Guattari defines it as 'hyper
complex to mark the fact that it is an example of the engendering of the
complex, a processuality that is in a nascient state, a place of
proliferation of becomings'. The human sciences and in particular
psychoanalysis have for too long been used to think of affect in terms
of the elementary entity of pulsion and instinct. But, according to
Guattari, there are also 'complex affects', highly differentiated, that
inaugurate irreversible diachronic ruptures and should be called
'christic, debussyst, leninist (and as will happen, Sarkosyst). It is
thus that throughout the decades a whole constellaton of existential
refrains, of enunciative ruptures, has given access to a
'Lenin-language' that engages specific procedures belonging to the order
of rhetorics and lexicons belonging to the order of phonology, prose and
images'. One should go back more specifically to the novelty introduced
by the theory of Guattari and Deleuze, that is to say, to the role
played by the existential function of affects in speech and the
production of subjectivity. For the time being I just want to underline
the creative elements, the forces of affirmation and transformation of
the relationship to the self, others and the world, that are
non-linguistic forces, because they are affective, social and political.
They are exterior to language, but inside the utterance.

We find the same fundamental distinctions in the act of response to the
address ('comprehension'). All speech acts are a 'question' that
requires a response, but the response that the utterance awaits is an
'active responsive attitude', an 'active responsive comprehension' of
the other, unlike the performative, where the other is neither
autonomous nor free. For the utterance 'nothing is more terrible than
lack of response'. But the 'response-act' that operates in the word is
not primarily linguistic. If, as Bakhtin suggests, rather than the
'polyphony' and heterogeneity of the semiotic linguistic and non
linguistic elements of the address,  we consider those of
'comprehension', we find the same multiplicity of linguistic
(reproducible) and non linguistic (non-reproducible) elements. In
comprehension, there is an active response-reaction that we can

1) the psychophysiological perception of the physical sign (word,
colour, spatial form). 2) the recognition of the sign (as known or
unknown), the comprehension of the reproducible (general) signification
of language 3) the comprehension of its meaning withint the given
context (close and distant) 4) the 'active dialogic comprehension
(agreement and disagreement), the insertion in a dialogic context, the
value judgement, are degrees of depth and universality.

This last element, the properly dialogical element is the most important
because it is what singularises and gives existential coherence to the
response-reaction. It is what selects, orders and achieves the
multiplicity of the different matters of expression. Linguistic
comprehension is not the same thing as dialogic comprehension. The first
is made up of reproductible elements (the first two elements of
Bakthin's citation), the second, of non-reproducible components,
singular and created by the same act of comprehension. Comprehension is
always a taking up a position, a judgement, a response - an action
inside dialogical relations. The responses-reactions express a sympathy,
an antipathy', an 'agreement, a disagreement, an adherence, an
objection, an execution, a stimulus to action, etc'. All
responses-reactions 'refute, confirm, complete and stand upon the
questions to which they are addressed.' Unlike the recipient of the
utterance in Virno, who only contemplates, is witness to and judge of
the elocution ('I speak'), who, as in the classical performative, is
only subjected to an institutional effect, in Bakthin the interlocutor
fully participates to the accompishment of the action. Also as in the
later theory of Foucault of power relations the interlocutor is active
and 'free'. In the event of enunciation, one determines the dynamics and
orients the actualisation. The utterance is a co-production of a
polemical or cooperative co-actualisation of linguistic virtualities and
worlds of values or existential territories that support them. Similarly
to Foucault's power relations, the relations of power of the speech open
up an active field of comprehension, responses-reactions, and a field of
possibilities that cannot be determined or actualised outside the
'making' of the utterance. If we follow the 'making' of the utterance,
we can easily see that the nature of the utterance is not performative
but dialogical, strategic and evenemential. The speech act is an action
on the possible action of others that starts from the ethico-political
dimension and the affective dimension of the relation with the other.
Bakhtin has an 'agonistic' notion of the utterance that functions as a
struggle between speakers, or rather, as a form of government of others
that is expressed through a whole series of techniques and tactics of
which linguistic and semiotic techniques and tactics are part and
parcel. 'When I elaborate my speech, I tend to, on the one hand,
determine this response in an active fashion, on the other hand I tend
to presume that response and this presumed response acts itself on my
utterance (I mark restrictions). When I speak, I take into account the
a-perceptive foundation on which my word will be received by the
recepient: the degree of information that he has of the situation, his
specialised knowledge in the domain of the cultural exchange, his
prejudices (of my point of view) and sympathies and antipathies. Because
this will condition his responsive comprehesion of my utterance'. The
choice of kinds of utterance, the choice of compositional processes and
linguistic means will start from the power relation with the other,
because unlike Saussure's linguistics the utterance is not simply an
individual process. These choices can be determined only inside the
utterance in the process of their making where the other is integrated
as a living, dynamic and free element.

Written and presented by Maurizio Lazzarato
Translation by Arianna Bove

[1] 'To govern, in this sense, is to structure the possible field of
actions of others'. (Foucault, 'The subject and power' in Dreyfus and
Rabinow 1982: 221)


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