Language as a Command

Deleuzian study of Society and Power

Essay, 2015

6 Pages


Language as a Command – Deleuzian study of Society and Power

Sanjay Kaushal

Centre for Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. New Delhi

Abstract: The intended idea of this paper is to understand language as a command or the most powerful ideology through which the mechanism of power and subordination is put into practice. Therefore, language cannot be seen as something that can be used by people to ‘share’ or ‘communicate’ their thoughts coherently with the other, for the very idea of ‘sharing’ and ‘communication’ does not bring out the politics of two identical terms – I and you – which are prominent in everyday speech in which ‘being’ is expected to be identified with the features of imposed categories of ‘binary classificatory system’. Consequently, paper goes on to discuss the very inability to experience ‘communication’ in everyday speech, except in literature through writing.

Key terms: being, sharing, communication, everyday speech, binary classificatory system

As Saussure points out, linguistic sign is the signification resulted from the bilateral relationship between signifier and signified. Saussurian notion on linguistic sign was discarded by Jacques Lacan, a French scholar in the 1950s, rewriting the relation of signifier and signified as an ‘algorithm’ S/s. In his formulation through which he tried to give a scientific vein to Freudian psychoanalysis, the signifier lies over the signified, and the horizontal bar in the algorithm “‘resists’ the entry of a signifier into the signified preventing signification”. Therefore, the elements of language do not consist of signification. Instead of signification, what we can see is a chain of signifiers. “What occupies the place of the signified, according to Lacan, is the ‘symbolization of a law’, which is a law of sexual segregation, regarded as universal law, and forming part of the founding law of culture. The chain of signifiers refers, ultimately to an unconscious ‘Real’ that is characterized by an originary lack of the childhood trauma of forcible sexual segregation. Being inserted in a chain of signifiers, and being run by the engine of a primordial desire, a subject’s speech signifiers ‘something other than what it says’” (Manjali, 2000:187). It is the unconscious desire that is being expressed as language in which signified remains in the form of mark never fully manifested. Therefore, in Lacan’s view, “all language is desire”.

However, psychoanalysis of language brought by Freud and Lacan is limited to the family domain. It is all about a matter of infantile sexual desire for mother’s body which is repressed by father. It is a matter of repressed memories of childhood or even of phantasms. Therefore, language uttered by man at any age has to be understood as the very repressed desire of his childhood. Contrary to this notion, Deleuze and Guattari try to bring language into a wider domain writing Anti-Oedipus as a point of departure from the conventional psycho analysis. Accordingly, they discuss about language in relation to socio-political and economic domain. As Deleuze points out “You don’t reproduce childhood memories, you produce blocs of child-becoming with blocs of childhood which are always in the present” (Deleuze and Parnet; 1987: 78).

Deleuzian idea on language is not about how man is situated in the family under the pressure of his father which prevents his desire for mother’s body, but about the way man is situated under the political repression in socio- political and economic domain. As Deleuze explains, it is the very political repression that comes out as language and it is through this language social institutions practice its power to order, control, and maintain the society. Therefore, Deleuze considers language, not as “the desire for Other”, but as “a Command” through which world is ordered.

Considering Deleuzian idea, language cannot be understood either as the vehicle of thought or as the way to information. It is a command to which everybody should obey. “It is made not to be believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience” (Deleuze and Gauttari, 1987: 76). The order-word, the elementary unit of language, can appear as in the form of “the command, the expression of obedience, the assertion, the question, the affirmation or negation”. “When the schoolteacher explains an operation to the children, or when she teaches them grammar, she does not, strictly speaking, give them information, she communicates orders to them, she transmits ‘order-words’ to them, necessary conforming to dominant meanings” (Deleuze and Parnet, 1987: 22).

Our response to language is not just verbal but also physical. It commands us to behave controlling our bodies like a man, woman, child, an adult, a citizen, a subject and so on. But it does not try to explain what type of behaviour is required to behave like a child or adult assuming the fact that there is a “general way” that one should behave according to one’s “status”. No one should be ignorant of this “general way” or “everyday concepts” which confirms “the dominant meaning” with its “fixed image”. There cannot be any other way to define anything ‘beyond’ the way that has been already defined, because the possibility of having other definitions shows the existence of disagreement which can be a threat to the “order of discourse”. According to Deleuze, we are supposed to agree with the everyday concepts “so that we do not have to think...Everyday concepts, then, allow life to carry on in an orderly or functional manner” (Colebrook, 2002: 15). “Everyday concepts” that are dominant and fixed, through which the life is structured and to which our body is submitted, reduce differences in to “already known forms”. “Because it assumes that there simply is a common world, there to be shared through language as information and communication. (Colebrook, 2002: 23-24).

The order-words, through which we are reminded the order of life and thoughts to maintain the order of the society, fix us into a ‘binary classificatory system’, such as man/woman, black/white, left/right, good/evil and so on. According to Deleuze, binary system, which governs the distribution of roles, does not ‘exist only for reasons of convenience’ as “the base 2’ is the easiest’. It is also ‘an important component of apparatuses of power’ through which some “consistency” can be given to the “chaotic and infinite differences of experience and life”. In such a system, we have to be in one category at a time. As an example, one cannot be a man and woman at the same time; it has to be a ‘selection’ decided in terms of ‘either’ otherwise ‘or’. This is a ‘forced choice’ made by language. One’s selection to be in one category is considered as the negation of the other category. This can be understood through an everyday experience like filling an application. Application that we used to fill when we apply for an exam, a job, a grant and so on is always loaded with number of questions to which we should answer making a choice. Most of the questions are ‘Yes’/ ‘No’ type questions to which we do not have to say much except using the ‘given symbols’, ‘√’ / ‘×’. According to the choice we made filling the application, we are put into the category of ‘female’ or ‘male’, ‘married’ or ‘unmarried’ and so on. We cannot make a choice to be in “in-between”, as the word ‘either’ and ‘or’ are so ‘common and dominant’ making a choice.


Excerpt out of 6 pages


Language as a Command
Deleuzian study of Society and Power
Jawaharlal Nehru University
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ISBN (eBook)
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Linguistics, Langauge, Deleuze, Philosophy, Command, Literature, Continental, Oedipus, Lacan, Psychoanalysis, Being, Sharing, langauge and philosophy, language and power, language and soceity
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Sanjay Kaushal (Author), 2015, Language as a Command, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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