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Tag Archives: Language Game

“The Bit That Never Really Worked”: Davidson’s Concept Dualism

All Language Games are The Same?

 Tim Thorton has found the discussion we were having over his (over a beer) interesting thoughts on Davidson’s Conceptual Dualism. Is it true that Davidson held there to be only two conceptual frameworks, two kinds of causal explanations, the physical and the mental? In his recent post “Davidson, McDowell and Conceptual Dualism”  he quotes Rorty against any notional reduction of the realm of reasons to a sui generis, “forms of intelligibility” or even a “space”. Or course Rorty’s game is that he wants to deprive philosophers of any authoritative position in relation to other discourses. Philosophers have no privileged access to something which is affirmatively “meta” to all else. Therefore for Rorty,

“All language games are sui generis. That is, they are irreducible to one another… But this sense of ‘sui generis’… is philosophically sterile.
If we are trying to give philosophy Wittgensteinian peace, we should do what Dewey did: try to make all the philosophical ‘dichotomies’ look like over dramatizations of the banal fact that different tools serve different purposes.”

Wittgenstein of course  is rather fast and loose with the concept of “language game,” which seems to serve as too much mortor with very little brick, so much so Rorty’s claim that all language games are sui generis amounts to little more than any sub-set of human communications is its own kind, certainly not a very helpful claim.

The question is not whether they are all irreducible to each other, but in what specific way this is so for the concepts of the natural and the reasoned (or the physical and the mental). Tim Thornton questions whether Davidson should be called into this debate, mostly it seems because that in Tim’s view, though there is a homology between Davidson’s Anomalous Monism and McDowell’s position, Davidson’s Conceptual Dualism never really worked:

But there is an important distinction between the McDowellian distinction Rorty criticises and the Davidsonian one that Floris and I used to think about. The Davidson of anomalous monism seems to focus on the mental versus the physical whilst McDowell thinks that reason versus nature is the uber distinction what makes mind versus the natural world seem so problematic. So there’s already a sense that the McDowellian distinction is supposed to be more general than the one in play in Davidson’s (perhaps misleading of his own thoughts) writing about the metaphysics of mind.

It’s supposed to capture something general in the way that reasons connect together, distinct from nomological or statistical subsumption: something that might be common to political discussion and appreciation (if that’s what we’re about) of soccer and carpentry. This general logical difference (a difference in the kind of explanation they support) might form the basis of a reply to Rorty’s challenge. Whether one would want to recruit Davidson to this response seems to me to depend on whether one is focusing on his (it’s the same but different) account of the mind (the bit that first prompts a comparison with Spinoza), or whether one thinks that that bit never really worked but that his account of the role of rationality in content ascription was first rate and floats free. (I took this line in my book on Wittgenstein.)

Rationality Without Triangulation?

I am a bit unclear about this idea that the Conceptual Dualism part of Davidson didn’t ever work. Work to do what? I am even more perplexed that Tim seems to ask that we do away with this deadend “bit” of Davidson (only a bit?), the part that puts him in affinity with Spinoza, and to take hold of his theory of rational ascription. The problem is, I cannot imagine how his theory of rational content ascription gets off the ground without his conceptual dualism firmly in place, since for Davidson our ascriptions of mental content stem directly from our triangulation of Knowledges (“Three Varieties of Knowledge”). The Conceptual Dualism is built right into the structure/fabric of our ability to causally interpret events in the world via an interconnection with events read as behaviors (caused by beliefs). And in subversion of a non-Naturalized approach to these questions, Davidson traces this capacity, perhaps somewhat problematically, below the threshold of the linguistic, something that animals regularly do.

I have not read Tim Thornton’s book (too academically expensive), so I cannot comment in depth upon the line of thinking that he follows there, Wittgenstein on Language and Thought : The Philosophy of Content, but I have to say that given Davidson’s commitment to a Triangulation of Knowledges, its principles of coherence and charity, and a categorical intersubjective leg, I cannot see how the rationality of content ascription “floats free” from the entire view. In fact it is precisely in the ascription of mental content that Wittgenstein and Davidson most greatly diverge, in the famed reasons vs. cause dispute; and it is in ascription itself that I find Wittgenstein inconsistently categorical and rhetorical, as I discuss in “The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation”. I have my Spinozist stripes, so perhaps Tim’s dismissal of the Davidson/Spinoza comparision out of hand is something I cannot easily abide, but it seems to me that it is not awayfrom Spinoza, but towards him, if we are to make the most out of the groundwork of Davidson’s Triangulation. That is, human beings do not only triangulate knowledge of mental content in terms of propositional sentence ascription, but clearly such ascriptions depend upon a very rich triangulation of affects, the way in which we feel the world as sensical through the assumption that others are the same as us, and the value of events in the world is based upon how others must be experiencing them. And more than this, it is within Spinoza’s “imitation of the affects” that we best understand what Wittgenstein had to say about knowing and pain.

The “moral” Attribute

As Van der Burg points out, Davidson’s difficulty comes from an apparent reduction of the metaphysics of Substance to the phsyical, understanding that scientific materialism itself is a metaphysical position. And as SOH-Dan pointed out in the citation of Davidson in interview, he did not mean to restrict possible Concepts of causation to merely Two. Tim Thornton’s excellent, having-a-beer-inspired suggestion that there may even be a “moral” conceptual causal chain actually points us toward the possibility that Spinoza suppressed the traditional Augustine trinity of ontological attributes, condensing “love” into the conatus and a theory of the affects. What is important about this is that far from the general collapse of all “language games” into family resemblance sui generis  pockets of discussion wherein there is no substantive difference between “talk about soccer or carpentry” and “talk about agreement” is that while talk about the former indeed may exhibit local rules of engagement, talking about the latter actually directs our attention to how agreements between local “language games” can be found, in our experiences and presumptions that others are like us. This does not give philosophers a privileged place above other discourses, but rather gives them a role in the imagination of our solutions, providing architectures that may or may not be built, just as poets write poems that may or may not be sung.

Subjects Created in Truth Procedures at Prague’s Franz Kafka International Airport

Pursuing the Generic

Not only does this “news report” play upon our well-worn picture of Eastern Block Communism, it does so fused with the addictive Fox News/CNN mode of Breaking News anticipation, perhaps revealing the degree to which we are already pure Ideological subjects. What is striking is that we recognize ourselves here, not in some sci-fi sense of an alternate parallel universe, but rather this is the REAL (not to mention the relief of joyful distance that comes through as we idenitfy the literary references and can chuckle about it all like some highly literate Russian in our minds).

Of course the properly identified Subject has no such difficulty within an Airport, (along with the implicit experienced subject who is simply able to finesse the quirks of the system with a certain tacit knowledge). One moves seamlessly along the generic paths of processes with great, if somewhat banal, glee. It is the supposedly resistant Western capitalist “individual” (buisness traveler) who becomes confused, marked, externalized to their own internal.

Who/what is the Subject? The resistant kernel that cannot be processed, or the perfectly generisized lipidity of movements and identifications? False dichotomy. “Properly followed, proper protocols” and Wittgenstein’s Language Game sign-followings met with delicious irony. 

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The Sprache of Achilles: The Panoply of Speech

The Man that Does Not Think by Oneself

I want this post to both grow out of a comment Carl from Dead Voles made on the thread Heidegger “Never says…” and Harman says… and also to be an expansion upon the thoughts I began on my recent post Human Competence: Achilles On the Mend. There is a certain compatibility between Wittgensteinian language game approaches and the speaking strategies of Achilles, the hero of Homer’s Iliad, and it is my hope to use the figure of Achilles to point forward toward a way that is neither tragic, nor alienated in the world of objects, a post-human world of forces and coherent assemblage.

Carl was responding to a line from the neo-Marxist/Spinozist Etienne Balibar, that reflects something of Wittgenstein’s well-known Private Language Argument: “If no man ever thinks alone, then we might say that to know really is to think ever less by oneself”

This is making me think of Wittgenstein’s private language problem. Perhaps we’ve come full circle and back to your original post. In with the not-said is all of the rules and tools that any particular language game makes available to take for granted. These are the conditions for any intelligible and communicative statement. In practice they arise out of discourse communities, which are associated with ways of life, which are conditioned by all sorts of things starting with food and up through durable institutions. I trust I can wave my hands like this and convey a gist.

We make our own worlds, but not in conditions of our own choosing, as Marx said. So I couldn’t agree more when you say “I find it more valuable to see how we can invest the tradition itself with new possibilities, to change the tradition from within. And whether it is the tradition that is doing the thinking, or us as originals, really doesn’t matter.” Except I’d say it’s both, always both…

We had been discussing Graham Harman’s appropriation of Heidegger’s notion of Dasein and implied objecthood, coupled with his stout refusal to grant that Heidegger held such an idea, as it is originally his own: that objects other than human beings could have their own Dasein determination. The idea is meant to be both implicitly found within Heidegger, but also excluded from Heidegger. In a sense, it partakes in the authority of Heidegger, but aims to be immune to critiques of the same. In this regard, Carl suggests (at least it seems to me) that within a Wittgensteinian terminology, the language game of Heidegger’s description of the world might be seen to have within its possibilities Graham Harman’s assertions regarding forever hidden, real objects, although these possibilities were not developed by Heidegger.

Achillean Immanence vs. Odysseus’s Instrumentality

In my previous post on the difference between the heroic figures of fierce and woeful Achilles and the table-turning, wandering Odysseus, I pointed out that Western Philosophy, particularly in its modern manifestations, took on the wrong Greek hero. Instead of the radiating Achilles who defines himself by his bonds and presents himself as a pure man of action (or inaction), of which speech was a considerable means, philosophy concerned itself with the No-man traveler of endless turns, the serial human being whose only defining characteristic is his mind’s capacity to dexterously articulate itself amid the contingencies of Being, all the while largely homeless, spread across the earth.

There is an important factor in the story of Achilles though that narrows the point and brings us directly back to the comparison to language games that Carl draws. And this is Achilles’s linguistic strategies as found in his speech of the Ninth Book of the Iliad. For those who are unfamiliar, or need to be refreshed, Achilles the greatest warrior of the Greeks has withdrawn from the Trojan War because his rightfully awarded prize Briseis was taken from him by Agamemnon who is nominally the chief of the Hellenic contingent, as some sort of recompense for his own war-prize (a daughter of a priest of Apollo) having to be returned. The Hellenic warriors now are loosing the battle without their most powerful ally, and Agamemnon is faced with the shame of having acted unrightfully. Achilles has been convinced to come to a great hall meeting where he is to make a plea articulating his being wronged. As it has been put, “Achilles needs to be paid, but he cannot be bought off”.

Now this is the interesting thing. Achilles in our collective memory is largely thought of as some kind of glorious and blood splattered athlete, a kind of brute beauty perhaps, a pure articulation of body. But this is not at all the case in the minds of the listeners of Homer. He is a master of the lute and song, learned in the secrets of medical arts, and adroitly mesmerizing in speech (muthos). In his speech to the hall, in rebuttal to Odysseus’s finely constructed argument, he combines personal expression and ethical character argumentation (I am this way, Agamemnon is that way) to present a plea which strains the very form of the heroic hexameter verse in which it is to appear.

The Book 9 Speech: The New and the Old

There has been debate about the unique language forms used by Achilles, ever since Adam Parry’s 1956 article “The Language of Achilles” which claimed that Achilles’ abuse of the heroic form actually indicated his pure and existential alienation from the rigidity of human ordination. He was in a sense, cut off from history, and in the end performs some sort of transcendental and divine reconsilation through speech. David Claus in his 1975 “Aidös and the Language of Achilles” denied Parry’s conclusions, rather arguing that Achilles in speech only melded the heroic code to its new possibilities, bending and transforming its rules. The context of these interpretations can be seen in the informative essay, “The Language of Achilles: Reconstrution vs. Representation,” Steve Nimis (1986)[click here]. There Nimis sums Claus’s understanding of Achilles’ maneuver as the following,

Achilles, Claus argues, does not simply negate the heroic “code” (taking this term to mean a pattern of meaningful behavior and speech), but rather stretches and bends it in order to articulate his own ideal view of that code. Hence despite the formality and rhetorical predictability of his overt statements, [Achilles] manages to suggest a division of the heroic world into men who feel and love, who can fight, who have proper joy in their possessions, and those who rely on “things” to defend themselves against heroic sthenos, who seek to be kinglier than others, whose possessions are nothing good to them, who do not even know what a life is worth. Again, while this rejects Agamemnon and all his ways, it leaves the heroic code, at least as Achilles idealizes it, intact.

It is this I would like to focus on, the way in which an Achillean ideal type, through the force of his Being, his ideational and bodily capacity to act, takes hold of the existing “language game” and torques it to express what cannot otherwise be expressed within it. And in so doing, idealizes it by living out the expression he/she has formed. And it is specifically at the nexus of valuation that Achilles draws his distinction within the heroic realm. There are two kinds of men:

1. Men who feel and love, who can fight, who have proper joy of their possessions.

2. Those who rely on “things” to defend themselves against heroic strength [sthenos], who seek to be kinglier than others, whose possessions are nothing good to them, who do not even know what a life is worth.

Beneath this division is really the instrumentality of valuation, the unbodied, placeholder conception of “things” (objects and situations) as separable units of deploy vs. the lived and built bonds of enfleshed alliance. It is the difference between instrument and prosthetic grafting. Achilles forms his words out of his very fleshed circumstance, fully committed to what he can do. Agamemnon (and Odysseus) has politically weighed and buried self-interest against the possibilities of advance.

Nimis, taking both interpretive positions of relative alienation in hand, then qualifies Achilles’s speech act within the linguistic distinction of rule-governed creativity, and rule-changing creativity:

Both Claus’ analyses of Achilles’ speeches and Parry’s notion of Achilles’ alienation can be rethought in these terms, taking our cue from the distinction linguists make between rule-changing creativity and rule-governed creativity. All communication occurs in terms of conventions, but such conventions are constantly being used to “say” new things by various creative strategies. Rule-governed creativity is defined as the production of a new phrase or message which is a combination of conventional units in a way governed by prior conventions. Thus the sentence “there is a golden mountain on the moon” would be a “new” expression, but able to be understood given the existing conventions of English. Wallace Stevens’ famous line, however, “green colorless ideas sleep furiously,” is an example of rule-changing creativity, since the production and interpretation of this phrase require the establishment of a new convention which does not yet exist. Achilles’ speeches can be said to be examples of such rule-changing creativity. Like Wallace Stevens, he is a sign-producer who wishes to change the “code”, to articulate a meaning for whose communication and accurate reception no adequate conventions exist as yet. The situation seems to be paradoxical: if communication is based on conventions, how can it occur where no conventions exist? Yet unless we assume that language is “natural” in the strict sense (i.e., that it is immanent), all language must have become conventional by some form of rule-changing creativity (4)

Aside from the fact that philosopher Donald Davidson does have an idea of how language can occur without shared conventions, we can glimpse at the way in which Achilles’s speech act is to be idealized as the exemplar of almost all creative artistic activity. It is the attempt to creatively change the rules of a game that refuses your articulation, rather than play by the rules (and break them secretly when you can). And in so doing attempt to isolate and express the purpose of the language game in the first place.

Now there is something a bit Hegelian about this take of Nimis’s, and it really shows up in his conclusion, but I would like to focus on Achilles’s alienation. He is not alienated from human beings as a class, for he gets along well with his Myrmidons whom he leads, and Protroclus whom he loves, and Briseis, and Phoenix his old mentor (despite disagreements), and his mother the goddess Thetis. He alienated from his moment in history, the condition he has found himself in, as an injustice has been suffered. And he experiences this not as a personal injustice, which it is, but as a crisis in leadership itself, in the unkingliness of the said King who does not fight nor act equal to his position. This is shown much later in the Hellenic games Achilles presides over, after Agamemnon has left the narrative, showing the correct form of generous rule. Fair is not a calculation. So Achilles’s is not an ontological alienation under which he is somehow removed from his very Being, but a contingent insufficiency of expression, wherein his constitutional bonds are stretched. In this way, Achilles creatively stretches the heroic form, and with great expense steps away from the game so to affect it with his absence. A great portion of the tale is told with his absence as the main actor until finally it is only his armor that arrives. Achilles is the full inhuman and divine breadth that is in what’s human.

Achilles as Actor

When I suggest that the Achillean answer to the traditional Odysseus problems of philosophy is available, it is this that I emphasize (to select a few).

1. A substanced capacity to live through your bonds and attachments, and not simply use or deploy them.

2. The capacity to realize that speech acts are fully material acts, and that we can readily use rule-changing creativity to express what is within a rule-governed game.

3.The rhetor and the gnostic become the same person because the difference between the political and performance is collapsed.

4. Maintaining the hyper-human (divine) and trans-human (inanimate, elemental forces) spectrum of action, drawing on all our capacities to manifest (Solar Achilles).

5. Employ the immanence of one’s power as necessarily a limit reachable by mercy, the affirmation of custom renewed (Priam).

6. The value of things is fate.

7. Don the Achillean armor of immanence carefully, prudently (Patroclus); you are already wearing it.

8. When you make the corpse (Hector), turning the living into surface through the inscription of your desire, you must release it.

This is far from the self-negating existentialism of Odysseus (at least before he comes home to Ithica, as he becomes qualified by later Attic Tragedy). The human being takes its place within a panoply of historical objects, each fighting to bring forth its full expression. And bonds formed between living an inanimate things are as solid as atomic bonds, the forceful living through, and by the others around us. Man does not travel on his own temporal river, sequestered from the world, blessed/cursed only with the negating power of his consciousness. Man does not travel cloaked with the negating power of his own mortality. In the figure of Achilles it is not the illusion that man is both angel and animal, and therefore neither, the gap between them, but rather as all things are so constituted, man is a spectrum of forces brought to bear in their moment of history, finding the articulation that is best possible for them, those voices and those continuities.

Wittgenstein’s Silence

It is Wittgenstein’s last sentence of his Tractatus  that is perhaps his most problematic, and therefore engaging: “Whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent”. The silence though appears not to have stopped here. There seems to be a hidden silence that carries through to Wittgenstein’s much embraced latter work, despite the arguable radical break with what preceded it. The “silence” with which the Tractatus  ends, is the silence imposed when speaking under a picture-sentence view of language, “A sentence is a picture of reality” (TLP 1, 4.021). How much of this need, this must of “silence” remains in Wittgenstein’s new thinking?. It strikes me that at least in the followers of Wittgenstein a great deal more of this silence lingers than is often acknowledged. There is the feeling that Wittgenstein wants to say “Whereof one cannot speak under a Language-game picture of language, one must, or should remain silent”. It is this implicit continuation of a sense of completion, that the adequate framework of sense as been now supplied, and that all that falls outside of it is simply by definition “nonsense”, which is somehow sublated in the Philosophical Investigations and other texts. (One can see this most explicitly in Wittgenstein’s treatment of “nonsense” and metaphysics under a normalized concept of health vs. illness.) To be sure, Wittgenstein’s loose, often playful approach to language through an analogy of rules and games lacks the rigid latticework of the Tractatus, but it seems that the prescription of silence remains.

If though we take Wittgenstein’s two projects in composite, his picture-sentence theory of language, and his language-game theory (understanding “theory” in its Greek sense), we might take away something more than a final resting place which fixedly allows us to parse sense from nonsense, and the coherently spoken from requisite quiet. Perhaps we can see that while a silence halos all our approaches of a descriptive cohesion, our pictures of language can and indeed necessarily do change. A Language-game approach is not a final framework for our divisions of the spoken and unspoken. Other circumscriptions exist, and will exist, prospectively, creatively, usefully. If anything is taught by Wittgenstein’s progression, it would be that silence is always qualified. And the “must”, the imperative of normative discourse about discourse, is itself contingent to the metaphors and analogies we fashion. Wittgenstein’s Language Game itself imposes its unique urge to silence in the implicit assumption of its descriptive powers. The Language Game also is a “picture [that] held us captive” (PI §115).

“Mr. Wittgenstein manages to say a good deal about what could not be said” – Bertrand Russell


The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation, Part I of IV

[Part II here]

Intentions: Deceiving Dogs, and Pretentious Infants

…and so it seems that, even though they themselves cannot know, they nonetheless wish to be known.

 Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans, Book XI, chapter 27







The purposeof this study is to investigate the possible connections between Wittgenstein’s approach to mind and language, and that taken by fellow philosopher Donald Davidson. Both men have been and can be read as “anti-representational,” that is, as finding that the meaning of language is not reducible to its ability to represent how reality really is, such that accuracy is derived from sheer correspondence. And both philosophers make the “horizontal move” away from reference, word/object thinking, expanding laterally, into the systems and relations which comprise, or one might say, underwrite reference itself. The ground upon which I will first train my eye will be the exact treatment Wittgenstein gives to the possibility of ascriptivesentience to non-linguistic beings, as he considers how and why we talk about things behaving in a way capable of simulating a state of mind. A close examination of sections 249 and 250 in Philosophical Investigations, a concentration their exact wording and subtle implications will be used to cantilever to a wider view of his position, an understanding of the kinds of delineations he is making, resulting in a question as to whether such distinctions, implied or otherwise stated, are necessary. The second portion of this paper will attempt to bring out the natural aporias in Wittgenstein’s thinking, by shining the light of Davidson’s thought back onto Wittgenstein’s approach. The point of contention will be the causal nature of mental predicate attributions, that is, the necessarily etiological way we talk about and conceive of the beliefs, thoughts and desires of others, such as Davidson affirms it and Wittgenstein appear to deny it. This is not meant to place Davidson against Wittgenstein, and suggest that one thinker is right and another wrong, but more to use the entire armature of their thoughts, in relationship to conceptual causation, to highlight was is possible in both. In so doing it is hoped that a bridge in thinking may be opened, a space for thoughts perhaps neither thinker would directly entertain: that is, a view towards an epistemic and panpsychic understanding of the world. In the final portion of this paper in this vein the prospective avenues of affective-thought are explored, modeled on Davidson’s conception of triangulation, opened up from his more strict analysis of truth and translation. It is suggested that beneath his conception lies a more fundamental perceptival experience of the world, that is, though experiencing others as like ourselves, and their causal relations with the world. Such a more primary triangulation, will be set, by example, into an aesthetic theory of interpretation, such that perhaps what is “revealed” is ever commenting on either an inter-subjective space of affective communicability, or an objective space of causal interactions. And while such a conclusion is not necessary, it is meant for the possibilities of thought, as both Wittgenstein and Davidson have presented them, a nexus for future understandings of how the world, our world, is both experienced and constructed as revealed and seen. 

◦                   ◦                   ◦

 How Wittgenstein Got Augustine “Wrong”


 249. Are we perhaps over-hasty in our assumption that the smile of an unweaned infant is not a pretense?-And on what experience is our assumption based? (Lying is a language-game that needs to be learned like any other one).

250. Why can’t a dog simulate pain? Is he too honest? Could one teach a dog to simulate pain? Perhaps it is possible to teach him to howl on particular occasions as if he were in pain, even when he is not. But the surroundings which are necessary for this behaviour to be real simulation are missing.

In these two sections Wittgenstein seems to return to his textual roots, that is, to the Augustinian question with which he begins his Investigation (what he calls “a particular picture of the essence of language”); for in the Confessions Augustine (re)tells of his behaviors as an infant, from the perspectiveof what he has learned as an adult, just preceding his ostensive description of language acquisition upon which Wittgenstein took his initial aim (α). Now that Wittgenstein brings up the smile of an infant, it is good to return to Augustine’s passage to see exactly the kind of line that Wittgenstein is attempting to draw. Augustine writes of his initial awakening of consciousness:


Afterwards I began to smile; first in sleep, then waking: for so it was told me of myself, and I believed it; for we see the like in other infants, though of myself I remember it not.  Thus, little by little, I became conscious where I was; and to have a wish to express my wishes to those who could content them, and I could not; for the wishes were within me, and they without; nor could they by any sense of theirs enter within my spirit.  So I flung about at random limbs and voice, making the few signs I could, and such as I could, like, though in truth very little like, what I wished.  And when I was not presently obeyed (my wishes being hurtful or unintelligible), then I was indignant with my elders for not submitting to me, with those owing me no service, for not serving me; and avenged myself on them by tears.  Such have I learnt infants to be from observing them; and that I was myself such, they, all unconscious, have shown me better than my nurses who knew it… (Confessions, 1.6.8).

In the figure of the “pretentious” infant (section 249, above), Wittgenstein causes us to encounter the nether-place where we, as linguistic beings, attribute seemingly linguistic capabilities and motivations to non-linguistic beings (be they infants, or later, dogs). He brings to light the curious ambiguity that such attributions involve, the way that we are prone to project onto the behaviors of other things, capacities they cannot justifiably be said to have. And while Augustine is satisfied with relegating these to an “unconscious,” though still willful and burgeoning state in the caseof his own infancy, Wittgenstein calls into question the very basis of such projections, asking upon what do they hang? He wants us to see that the projections themselves are completely contextual, and confined to a specific linguistic domain. That is, the criteria which comprise our justifiable attributions, for Wittgenstein, fall within our practiced useof language, the actual employ of words and nowhere else.

In section 249, he momentarily allows us to question whether smiles of unweaned infants can actually be “pretenses,” are they tricking us with their smile, but he is quick to close the door, for such an idea seems to lack footing. Instead, in investigating his own assumption that they cannot have pretension, he suggests that we may turn to any “experience” we have had that might work as evidence to deny pretension. In one sense, the appeal to experience proves empty, and that is because he wants us to see that such an assumption about the lack of deceptive capacities in infants, is not empirically based, something that one can point to, but rather is related to the way that the term “pretense” is used by us in language. There is no “experience” of the world, or infants in particular, in the sense of evidence, which supports this assumption. Yet alternately-and this is an unacknowledged aspect of experiencethat Wittgenstein draws on-there is the experience of language use itself. Each of us have used the word “pretense” in varying conditions, and that experience of use allows us to see, (or as a Wittgensteinian might wish us to see), that “pretenses” are language-game bound; that is, they are situationally governed by sense, by the way that we can informationally use words, like a game, in context. There are times it is appropriate to say something is so, and times not. This is what he means by the parenthetical conclusion: “(Lying is a language-game that needs to be learned like any other one),” as it stands in relation to the question asked above it, “And on what experience is our assumption based?”

While there is no direct evidence that infants cannot pretend, there is our experience that lying is like a game, and thus too, we have the experience of learning games themselves, that these games have to be learned. That is, there was a point when we did not know them, in the way perhaps that we did not know chess, or poker, and then a point when we demonstrably did. In the end, Wittgenstein would like to place confirmation of the intent to deceive within such a demonstrative domain, and not within anything that is supposedly going on or not going on in the infant. One can see the nature of the experience that might support such an assumption, that of the experience of use. Wittgenstein in this turn, answers his rhetorical question two ways: there is no experience upon which such an assumption is based, that is, it is not an empirical understanding, but, more subtly, there is our experience of use as a game, which informs our understanding of how our idea of “lying” works, and thus the nature of the assumption. 

He thus implicitly asserts the domain that “pretense” would fall within. That is, in that “lying” is language game, something we, as linguistic beings learn to do , it is implied that properly one can only be deceptive within those game constructs (β). This would of course relegate Augustine’s retelling of his original “the wishes were within me” and “avenging tears” to the rather more broad category of fanciful descriptions offered by a language-endowed creature upon subjects that cannot bear them, for they are not part of a game that has been learned, the proper domain of “pretense”.  Infants cannot “avenge” or “express wishes” any more than they can deceive. They do not know these “games”. Augustine seems to be over-stepping his bounds.

But something seems to be missing here, for clearly the use of the term “pretense” has meaning at times in regards to infants, for a mother in the presence of others could say to her infant who was all smiles, “Thank you for being such a good boy, even though you were hungry” and we all would understand what she meant, we would see the possible intentionality of such behavior, without skipping a beat; and we could meaningfully ponder at this “good” and ask ourselves, was the infant only pretending to be happy.







Is it not so, by example, that the assumption that infants cannot have pretenses, is certainly incompletely, and in a very real way, wrong? Wittgenstein is looking to affirm a public grounds for the knowledge of the internal states of others, and so for him to do so he feels he must produce a somewhat firm delineation for what does and does not qualify for the “knowing” of those states. We only project pretense onto infants, but know of pretense in others (adults). What serves as this delineation is the horizon of language use, supposedly attested to by our experience that such use must be learned and even that it is stage-sensitive (that is, that there is a point when learning has been accomplished and acknowledged). What is implied is that only when a subject becomes a user of language, and can make all the corresponding behaviors of confirmed “use,” are they affirmed of having “real” mental states. That is, when capable of playing the rest of the language game of correcting mistakes, attesting to experiences, seeming to choose between options of expression, do such states become properly known, not only to others, but also to oneself in self-reflection, and not merely projections (γ). What is deficient in this analysis-though it not directly stated by Wittgenstein, it is implied by his rhetorical move from “pretense” to “lying” and an appeal to the distinction between having learned to lie and not-is that although our experience of having learned language games may indeed support such an understanding of “pretense,” in no way is it clear that public knowledge of internal states is reducibleto such a horizon, for public discourse on intentional behavior–though certainly by context is responsive to a subject’s languaged confirmation, that is, for instance the ability to play the game and say such things as “I feel ‘y’ ” or “I meant to say ‘x'”–all that really is necessary for a “knowledge” of intent is the meaningful use of terms between observers of that supposed intention (δ).

In section 250 Wittgenstein moves to cement the fact that public knowledge is game-player-dependent by pointing out that dogs simply cannot be “taught” to simulate pain. And in fact, there seems something in the grammar of “simulate” that defies such a possibility. Attendant to the word appears to be all kinds of other behaviours which dogs do not possess. He poses with typical Wittgenstein humor the idea of “dog honesty,” assuming the prima facie absurdity of the idea. And he points out that even if we were able to train a dog to howl out in certain pain-implied-contexts (for instance those that might cause us to readily infer that the dog is hurt, perhaps a circus act where a cap-gun would go off, as to which a dog would then cry in pain), we still would not regard such yelps as the dog “simulating pain” in the sense of, attempting to deceive an audience. Yet, the grammars of the words “simulate,” or “pretense” for that matter, that is all the situations in which we can, and indeed do effectively use such words in description, do not seem to absolutely coincide with the capacity of the subject “to be taught” how to do it. In this sense, Wittgenstein diverges from the grammar of “pretense” when he seeks to apply the grammar of “to be taught how to”, to illuminate and to some degree restrict it, for indeed we can usethe former concept where there latter is missing. The two are not the same, and it is for this reason there are questions about the thoroughness of this misleading comparison. Though Wittgenstein’s picture of training a dog to perform pain-like behavior in certain circumstances is very effective in disabusing us of attributing “intent” in more obvious non-simulative situations, that is those in which we would not be tempted to do so, the overall question of the section, Can a dog “simulate pain”?, and the larger question upon which it can be based, Can a dog act in such a way that our ascribing belief in her is our best description of the behavior?, does not seem entirely answered by such a stark example.

Instead of a dog in a circus act, I have in mind my own experience of a bright Australian Cattle Dog who had gotten her front paw caught in a bench, a paw which was possibly broken. I took this dog to the vet, and we placed her on the table. She would put no pressure on the paw, and seemed quite injured. The vet examined her closely, and then, gently squeezed her front foot, to which she let out a sharp yelp. We can agree that no one “taught her” how to yelp this yelp, in the same sense that Wittgenstein means when asking if a dog can be taught how to simulate pain. She was not simulating. The vet announced, “Yep, it is likely broken,” and was about to take the dog off to get X-rayed. Yet being a good examiner he decided to double check the “evidence”. He then squeezed the dog’s rather healthy back paw, and to our surprise she let out the same “painful” yelp. He then squeezed another healthy paw, and the same complaint again. Now Wittgenstein’s rather tidy, “teach him to howl on particular occasions as if he were in pain, even when he is not,” seems to fall apart here, for no one had “trained” the dog to emit a “pain expression” even when there is no “pain”, yet she seemed quite capable of using the yelp in occasions that don’t seem to suit them in any simplified yelp = pain expression interpretation. In fact, if we turn around Wittgenstein’s self-question, “And on what experience is our assumption based?”, and we assume instead the capacity to hold pretenses on the part of the dog, the experiences that supported our interpretation of the first yelp seem quite divergent from those that support any interpretation of the next three. In fact, as language users, we can draw upon our linguistic senseof intention as an interpretive tool in seeking to explain the “meaning” of the subsequent yelps. The first yelp seems in keeping with “pain and its expression” (PI, 245)(ε), a typical animal response which we too it may be said to share when we say “ouch” or grimace; yet the latter three fall within another order of occasions, many of which involve our intentional use of signs. By circumstance, the dog was able to usea pain expression somewhat uniquely. Were her three “false” yelps “pretense,” it is hard to say. But it is equally hard to deny, or classify them as “pain expression”. Instead we encounter the power of mental predicate attribution as a meaningful description beyond the participant language game among language users. And it is our experience that tells us that. The vet and I could meaningfully use the term “pretend” and say to each other something like, “she’s pretending to be in pain, she must want out”. We would be clear to each other without having to consider whether she was “taught” to yelp when examined, as a simulation, as Wittgenstein comparison implies. The status of this “knowledge” or  of her “simulation” really is no more than a running interpretation of events.

At section 250’s close, where Wittgenstein would like to sew up his point about the inability of the dog to simulate pain, he determines: “But the surroundings which are necessary for this behaviour to be real simulation are missing.” The status of this “real” is interesting. What purpose does it serve? Quite apart from our example of the perhaps “falsely” signifying dog, he is pointing out that in the occasions of deceptive training, (that is a trainer that is attempting to teach deception to the dog), all the linguistic surroundings are missing. What are not present are those that would go beyond the particular shooting of the dog with a blank-loaded gun, perhaps, and its crying out, those that would precede and follow such an event to give context to such an “expression” as intentional. The dog for instance could not confess later that he was just joking. The kinds of attributions that condition our explanation of lying, for instance those that would require the dog to intend us to hold specific beliefs, do not seem to stick. All this means though, is that in such instances, more readily causes and not reasons seem to offer explanation for the behaviour. There is no need to decide that the dog wished for us to believe he was in pain.

But really Wittgenstein has grafted his concept of “real” simulation onto a narrowing of the complete grammar of pretense, that is, all the ways and circumstances in which the word can be used. What is not taken up by Wittgenstein’s example of training, but pointed out in the example of a dog’s “false yelp,” is the gradated way that we do, and in fact must, attribute mental states, those of both intent and belief, to linguistic and non-linguistic beings. And that the “real” status of such states relies only upon our relating to them as such. So when Wittgenstein asks for what experienceconfirms his assumption that dogs and infants cannot be deceptive, he is privileging one sort of experience, or evidence over another, our experience of game-like language uses, as definitive. In the caseof my dog who not only yelps when its injured paw is pressed, but also when its non-injured one is, only an imposed and mechanistic reduction of her behaviour would make of her “false” cry a completely non-intentional behavior, by definition. One is free of course to employ such a reduction, but only to the degree that it is able to cash out in meaningful discourse. More readily we can infer that she is using the same sign for two different internal experiences, both of which need not be reduced to “pain”. (It turns out she had indeed broken her foot). It is only because of Wittgenstein’s desire to confirm public knowledge of internal states, as something not just imagined, that he feels forced to deny them to a class of subjects, as unconfirmed, or as he puts it by implication “unreal” (ζ). There is a sensethat there must be a way to distinguish “real” from “unreal” simulation, if we are to affirm public knowledge of such states. I do not think that this is necessary. Buried beneath this ambiguity of interpretation of non-linguistic others is the fact of an ultimate indefiniteness of expressive behaviour itself, something that we glide over in our daily attributions and identifications. We regularly attribute, revise and reattribute both to ourselves and others, beliefs and intents that only have standing based on how well they work context by context, all of them as “real” as they can be.

And while we frequently attribute intent and belief to both infants and dogs, and it might even be argued that we do so only as a matter of habit, making them “like us” as a short-cut of explanation, and though we would like to accept Wittgenstein’s implied hard-line between the Language Game of Lying, and other non-intentional behavior, as a matter of knowledge, what this occludes is that the Language Game of Lying, among so many others, is based upon certain mental attributions (those of belief and intent) that are no more founded than the game itself. Affective attributions of belief, intent, experience and thought form the backdrop against which any particular game, such as “lying” can even take place. Such perceptual habits compose our knowledge. Attributions to dogs and infants must have as much public standing as those to full-fledged language users, insofar as they work, and the grammar of “intend” though certainly is related to, is not reducible to: “can one be taught to…”, a link that Wittgenstein tried to extend in his examples of dog simulation. It is rather the meaningful participation in a form of life called language that illumines the states of languaged and non-languaged subjects alike, as real.

Although, most correctly we would like to observe that the sentence, “That infant is smiling as a pretense” is only a fiction, we would be wrong to assume that within language games, there is any lessof a fiction occurring, for interpretations are only running descriptions. Wittgenstein is right that in most circumstances with dogs and infants the “surroundings which are necessary” are missing to meaningfully carry on with the attribution game in any over-arching narrative sense, beyond the particular context, but this does not mean that those attributions are unrightfully made, as interpretations, to their circumstances. Their status as “knowledge” remains. Indeed we commonly switch between a vocabulary of causes and a vocabulary of intents even when discussing the behavior of adults. Such vocabularies are worth only the degree to which they cash out in meaningful interaction. Wittgenstein would like us to see that mental predicate attributions of intent are the products of our language use, our experience of relating to others, and to privilege our experience of learning games as a threshold proof for public knowing of internal states, as if we could be so many chess players who are either playing chess, or not; but what is not questioned is the ultimate validity of those attributions beyond their simple use and efficacy. The question of validity floats up with use and efficacy itself, borne by that tide. For this reason it indeed makes sense that dogs can simulate pain, insofar was we can make such attributions meaningfully in real world conversations about dogs. There is no other standard. “Belief” and “intent” always bend back into use, behaviour, interpretation and experience.  In fact not only are shifting intent attributions and re-attributions part and parcel of all human interaction, but so is the ability to switch from a language of reasons to a language of causes. The explanations for behavior can involve alternately an intentionality or a causation: “He was wanting to murder me” can become “He was only drunk; it was the drink talking ” at a moment’s notice. The non-continuity of a description, the ability to switch from an intentional to a causal description, does not make the intentional description any less “real,” for an abandoned description can always be taken up again in new descriptions, as context allows. It is for this reason that the “status” of my dog’s “false yelp,” cannot definitivelybe confined to one category or another, intent or reaction, reason or cause, because the interpretation of “minds” where we seek to grant minds to be, however momentarily, is always a condition of use, and effect, and not solely the purview languaging status. The reason for this is not that dogs and infants trulypossess some hidden linguistic capacities that occasionally poke forth, but because our very own descriptions of linguistic capacities are underdetermined: the attribution of intent is always a provisional account, reliant upon subsequent events, even among speaking adults. Further, the intent-ful nature of linguistic interpretation, that is the way that we mustsee others as intending and choosing signs that “reveal” public facts about their internal states, points beyond the capacities of language itself. That is, language as it casts its light over the world, forming powerful, efficacious interpretations, cannot account for its own nature, but rather can only assume it. It is notable therefore that while Wittgenstein provides strong critique of philosophical explanations of language, he provides few or no explanations of his own, always pointing to context as a final arbiter of sense.

I think that this is what Augustine was trying to say when he describes his access to his own infant past, of which he was unconscious when he acted. From his observations as an adult, within the Language Game World as Wittgenstein would have it, he suddenly knew the intentions that infants had (η). As a languaged speaker he could come to say, by experience: “Such have I learnt infants to be from observing them; and that I was myself such, they, all unconscious, have shown me better than my nurses who knew it.”  His knowing nurses could tell him nothing of his infant states when he was an unspeaking infant, and it would be only after  they may have told him as a language speaker how he had been that unknowing infants could show  him how he once was. But for Wittgenstein, this is a kind of error, attributing game-playing capacities to non-game players. What Augustine puts forth, against Wittgenstein’s desire to draw a firmer line between languaged and non-languaged, is that language illumines the non-languaged, making clear through attributions of “sameness” what cannot be asserted by things in their own right, in their own sphere of expression. Rather than taking infants and dogs to be necessarily devoid of pretense as a fact of the matter, for us as language users, intent (and belief) become the light by which we see the linguistic and the non-linguistic world, as a matter of public knowledge. Augustine’s willing and wishing in infancy falls not to a point in logic, a “how can a non-language player language”-but expands upon the very linguistic capacities that inform them. And it is for this very reason that Augustine turns away from the sufficiency of the ostensive definition of language, that very thing that Wittgenstein critiques in his opening passage of Philosophical Investigations. Much as Wittgenstein turns to Language as a shared form of life, Augustine turns to God as the only thing that could make such capacities work: “I could seek for signs whereby to make known to others my sensations. Whence could such a being be, save from Thee, Lord?  Shall any be his own artificer? (1.6.10)”. In certain regard, “Shall any be his own artificer?” (θ) is Augustine’s own (anti-)Private Language argument (I do not know if Wittgenstein willfully, or blindly misses this).  Augustine speaks of his own capacities, but also the insufficiency of those capacities as an explanation. Only within an extra-linguistic framework, can Augustine account for the capacity to learn language in the first place. And it will be through the gradated extension of belief and intent to all things however dimly, through the light of language itself, that Augustine comes to comprehend the development of comprehension. The inter-subjective authority of others is combined with a will implicit in socialization itself, as Augustine’s God has formed it; and so we return to the original quotation that Wittgenstein opens up his Investigations:

And thus by constantly hearing words, as they occurred in various sentences, I collected gradually for what they stood; and having broken in my mouth to these signs, I thereby gave utterance to my will. Thus I exchanged with those about me these current signs of our wills, and so launched deeper into the stormy intercourse of human life, yet depending on parental authority and the beck of elders (1.8.13).

It does well to see the problematic nature of the last sentence, and why Wittgenstein does well to exclude it. While Wittgenstein would like to assign the capacity to have real intent and belief solely to the “stormy intercourse of human life,” that is the realm of Language Games, which we learn as specific capacities, Augustine sees in the capacity of language, the exchanging of signs, indication of a broader power to organize, which cannot be restricted to the capacity itself. It is rather in intent, that is even the intent that dogs and infants are said not to properly have, as “real” accept through the languaged attributions by human adults, that the widest conception of justification and experience is found; it is that intent, as it is a “really” epistemically, experientially and publicly known, which opens language use up to a domain necessarily larger than only participant games learned and played. The “will,” that is what Augustine calls the faciendi artifex, “the craftsman of making,” is both a product of language use, but also evidence for something more in terms of an explanation: for him a power not confined by the limits of language.

It is for this reason that the ultimate question of whether a dog can lie, is as profound as whether a human can. It is solely our relations with each other that determine it. The crux of intent attribution itself points not only to within language, but beyond it, to what language looks out upon, as it sheds a light over innumerable cognitive behaviors, for it is always conceivable that not even human adults can “lie” and it is only convenient to say so.

For if we were cattle, we should love the carnal and sensual life, and this would be our sufficient good; and when it was well with us in respect of it we should seek nothing else. Again, if we were trees, we could not, of course, be moved by the senses to love anything; but we would seem to desire, as it were, that by which we might become more abundantly and bountifully fruitful. If we were stones or waves or wind or flames or anything of that kind, we should indeed be without both sensation and life, but we should still not lack a kind of desire for our own proper place. For the weight of bodies is, as it were, their love, whether they are carried downwards by gravity or upwards by their lightness. For the body is carried by its weight wherever it is carried, just as the soul is carried by its love. (Augustine, The City of God, Book 11 chapter Twenty-eight)



α. To be clear, it is in the very first section of Philosophical Investigations that Wittgenstein cites Augustine’s Confessions, as he seeks to draw forth the inadequacy of any word-object account of linguistic origins or capacities. Notably though, as Wittgenstein frames his “Augustinian” picture of language, he leaves out that Augustine denies such a sufficiency of explanation, and also in quotation elides the final sentences of the paragraph which reads: “Thus I exchanged with those about me these current signs of our wills, and so launched deeper into the stormy intercourse of human. Life, yet depending on parental authority and the beck of elders”(1.8.13). Further, it is not at all clear that Augustine in this passage is holding that the essence of language is that “Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word” (PI, secton 1), for Augustine refers to wishes which may be unconscious, minimizing any strict meaning = object/sign relation.

β. There is a rhetorical slight-of-handequation of “pretense” (249) with “lying,” (250), from a host of non-linguistic behaviors to an entirely linguistic one, that goes unqualified here. And one should note that we will have inadvertently moved from the kind of question such as: Is it meaningful to speak of infants having pretenses, that is, is it sensical at all to usethe term “pretense” to describe infants, to the under-question: Do infants have pretenses? Or, more subtly, Are they “really” pretentious?, as will be shown in his use of “real” in the following section concerning dogs. The “reality” of pretenses comes into play, and not just our meaningful descriptive discourse. It is a quiet shift.

γ. By “know to oneself” I mean the capacity to reflect upon one’s own thoughts and make judgments about them as being of one quality or kind of another, and to linguistically express those differences, with authority, as relevant.

δ. Even if the two “observers” are oneself as an agent and an observer. In such a relation to oneself, an agent is an acting or experiencing person, and the observer is position of self-reflection upon those same actions.  Of course, and “observer” is also an agent, acting and experiencing, and can fall into that position within a higher order description, that is, by being described by another observer, whether it be oneself, or another.

ε. This phraseis a placeholder halfway housebetween cause and reason, one that pre-posits its own term. When Wittgenstein talks of pain and its expression he is negotiating a place that is neither entirely causal nor entirely reason based, where language, such as “pain language” can operate with right but no justification. In this way he uses the term “pain” without quotation marks, as if there is a pure speaking of pain, a sense of meaning that is grounded in experience. Such grafting points should be noted. As the example of this dog does show, the concept of “pain and its expression” is rather a convenient fusion of concepts, for ultimately, the only way to properly express this, is: “‘x’ and its expression” and not “pain and its expression”.

ζ. He does not use the word “unreal” but indeed does deny that they are “real”, a needless claim if he did not have some ontological stake in intentional behaviors.

η. Clearly the status of this “had” is complex, as descriptions waver between attributing intents or attributing causes of behavior, the ways in which we hold either infants and dogs liable for their actions. It would be wrong though to conclude that the liability of either falls on one side of the line or another. For Augustine, indeed, it is the comprehension of the intents that he had, as an infant, and which composes his knowledge of other infants now, which inscribes him in the order of God’s creation. The social order, that is the historical criteria of justifiable attribution, is secondary to the kinds of connections between beings which underwrites it.

θ. “an quisquam se faciendi erit artifex?” literally, “Will anyone be a craftsman of making himself?”

[Part II, here]

Wasps, Orchids, Beetles and Crickets: A Menagerie of Change in Transgender Identification

[written Fall of 2007]

Whatever so disposes the human Body that it can be affected in a great many ways, or renders it capable of affecting external Bodies in a great many ways, is useful to man;

-Spinoza, Ethics, Part IV, Proposition 38

This paper is going to be a bit of an experiment in description, as it borrows from the two poles of philosophical pursuit that have over the last century been reported to have grown apart, the Continental and the Analytic. Yet now the rumor is that they are coming together, again (α). So this paper starts where much leaves off, in between.

The under comparison is that of transgender and its successive, trans-sexuality. Much plagues those who take such a diverse category for their subject, attempting to gather so many in one conceptual net and to call them by one name; and then to pick each out by kind, as if we might through measurement and definition find a genealogy of desires and practices, a phylum, a taxonomy, and eventually an etiology which organize these behaviors so as to make them meaningful to ourselves and others. That is not the aim here. What is to be discovered, if anything, is how trans-practices manifest by their very nature across phyla, no matter their destination, but also how in doing so, they enrichly form new bodies, and new capacities for wholeness.

The starting point is the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, difficult thinkers to begin with because so much of what they write, even, or especially as they endeavor to be analytical, is defiant of our usual categories of intellectual organization. Hierarchies, categories, binaries, universals, systems, and tree-branching structures of thought are not spared. Or rather they are spared, but de-centralized, as they propose alternative ana-lysis to the way the world manifests itself. Yet undeterred we shall begin by plucking from them a single metaphor, an analogy, a homology, a model which is none of these things and possibly more (a map), and use it to unfold what may be happening when a person of one supposed gender begins his or her journey towards another.

We, following Deleuze and Guattari, take from biology as a starting point the remarkable phenomena widely called “sexual deception” or more pointedly, and technically: the conditions, structures and events surrounding “pseudocopulation” wherein an orchid sexually masquerades as a wasp. As biologist Manfred Ayasse describes,

Ophys flowers mimic virgin females of their pollinators, and male insects are lured to the orchid by volatile semiochemicals and visual cues. At close range, chemical signals from the flowers elicit sexual behavior in males, which try to copulate with the flower labellum and respond as if in the presence of female sex pheromones. Thereby the male touches the gynostemium, and the pollinia may become attached to his head or, in some species, to the tip of his abdomen. His copulatory attempts with another flower ensure that the pollinia are transferred to the flower’s stigmatic surface and pollination is ensured (Ayasse, 517)

Wasp, Orchid, Deleuze, Deterritorialization - transgender

In short, orchids particularly of the genus Chiloglottis, have evolved with the capacity to produce the sexual pheromones of a wasp that serves as its pollinator, Neozeleboria, and to visually present the appearance of the female wasp herself. What is advantageous about this example is this: just as scientists struggle to describe such imitation in a language of pure instrumentality, of surfaces, structures and behaviors, and are forced to slip into a language of intents, deceptions, lures, and rewards to make their description full, conversely, as we approach the wants and desires of trans-persons we might go beyond simply their volitions and aims, and see that even in examples of “copying” or “imitating” something more is going on, something bio-morphic. For while as striking as it may seem to a normative some that a biologically sexed woman may try in every regard within her means to become understood to be a man, that is, to be something that is not within her supposed historical capacity to be, it is perhaps even more revealing when we realize that an orchid can become indistinguishable by scent or sight from the sexual partner of a wasp (Wong, 1530). In fact, what Deleuze and Guattari want us to see is the insufficiency of a language of physical boundaries and a language of psychological aims when describing the powers of transformation, in particular, when mimicry or copying is involved. For what ultimately is in play when copies are read as authentic or inauthentic is the Platonic distinction between the good copy and the poor or deceptive imitation. In the stead of this, Deleuze and Guattari would like to use a conception of copy in which the copy is only as good as what it can do (β) , no longer being a “copy” (neither good nor bad), but an experimentation, making of both the orchid and the trans-sexual in kind, neither a deception, nor an approximation, but a real becoming, that is, a continual process a material assemblage.

Deleuze and Guattari imagine there to be a wasp-orchid assemblage, where the boundaries of the one cannot be thoroughly distinguished from the boundaries of the other. Rather it is in terms of code and traces that the stratum of a plant line intersects unexpectedly (there is nothing in the nature of a plant that would anticipate it becoming-animal in code), with the stratum of an animal line, where each becomes the function of the other. Using a vocabulary of “territory” to note the closed and open statuses of a body, as it pertains to function, Deleuze and Guattari offer a description of the wasp-orchid relation which exceeds the explanatory power of representational thinking:

The orchid deterritorializes (γ) by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid’s reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome. It could be said that the orchid imitates the wasp, reproducing the image in a signifying fashion (mimesis, mimicry, lure, etc.). But this is true only on the level of the strata — a parallelism between two strata such that a plant organization on one imitates an animal organization on the other. At the same time, something else entirely is going on: not imitation at all but a capture of code, surplus value of code, an increase in valence, a veritable becoming, a becoming-wasp of the orchid and a becoming-orchid of the wasp. (10).

It is through this notion of desire working as a rhizome between strata—the unseen way that grass grows, branching out nodulely, diversely, without center, in contrast to the sciencific analogy of the tree—that they seek to uncover the very real trans-phyla communications and creations that lie not below, nor prior to, but adjacent to the hierarchies and arboreal structures of our more common molar descriptions of life and thought (Pearson, 153),. As Pearson describes the rhizome,

A rhizome is…a subterranean ‘network of multiple branching roots and shoots, with no central axis, with no unified point of origin, and no given direction of growth’. In effect the rhizome constitutes the surplus value of evolution, always coming into being without origin, and only conceivable when evolution is understood as functioning transversally, that is, as cutting across distinct lineages (157)

it is through the rhizome that the orchid reaches the wasp, and the wasp the orchid. And as it may be suggested, how the trans reaches the pronoun, and the pronoun the trans, through others. Despite the experiences of approximation and representation that occupy many trans-individual efforts, such a rhizomic approach allows that something more significant than “copying” poorly or perfectly may be involved in trans-becomings, something productive.

In order to understand Deleuze and Guattari’s approach which includes codes, intensities and traces, we need to address their idea of the “body without organs” (BwO). The term, taken from the end of schizophrenic poet, Antoine Artaud’s radio play, “To Have Done with the Judgment of God” (δ) , is a concept designed to describe the intensive nature of a body as it is both experienced and expressed in a specific yet unhierarchized form. It is in direct contrast to a supposed body-with-organs that is by society organ-ized, furnished with organs, to particular purposes and functions. Deleuze and Guattari see in the BwO the capacities of the body to become traversed with intensities and thus possibilities that cannot be contained within its heretofore organized history, or one could say, its phylum, or kind. It is the way that the BwO unhinges analysis of events of imitation and approximation, freeing descriptions from an etiology of specific psychic aims, wants or desires (to be more like “daddy,” or to attract “men”), that it brings its greatest fecundity. As imitative pursuits show themselves to be something more than simply making copies of copies, they begin to manifest a productive desire. But how is a body without organs, found, located or recognized?

Deleuze and Guattari want us to see a priority of affects, the way that our affects actually work to define what we are capable of doing, and thus what we are. In a telling, counter-intuitive example they suggest for instance that a racehorse has less in common with a workhorse than does an ox. Working within a cartographic measure of parts which undermines any descriptive speciation, they write:

Lattitude is made up of intensive parts falling under a capacity, and a longitude of extensive parts falling under a relation. In the same way that we avoid defining a body by its organs and functions, we will avoid defining it by Species or Genus characteristics; instead we will count its affects…A race horse is more different from a workhorse than a workhorse is from an ox (257).

For, the body of a racehorse goes beyond our classifications of kinds—though these too demarcate the kinds of experiences a racehorse can have, for instance the experience of mating with a workhorse. A racehorse will likely experience things in a manner no workhorse will come to, while the ox and workhorse will have a community of affects historically determined across species. The body without organs is this veritable capacity to be defined through intensities experienced in particular ways; and from these intensities be able to disorganize from one’s history (deterritorialize), and reorganize in a line of flight, “jumping the tracks” of code so to speak, into new possibilities of material assemblage (reterritorializing), just as the orchid becomes an orchid-wasp.

How this reflects upon trans-identities is of great interest, for much of what garners the attention of scientists, advocates and trans-persons themselves is the very seemingly imitative nature of their self-projects. How would such projects be seen if taken out of the representational milieu, and into the constructive arena of body without organs transformation? What would the trans-experience look like under such a view? Deleuze and Guattari provide us a key in their explanation of how one might go about actually making (and not just finding) a body without organs. They take up again an example of apparent imitation. This time instead of a flower becoming an insect, it is a masochist’s fantasy aim of becoming a horse: bridle and all. They want to question the Freudian-lead psychological framework of causes, wants and desires that tries to make heads or tails of why a masochist may want to “be a horse” (258), and instead picture the masochist’s project as one of establishing a program of thresholds and affect transformations (ε). After a series of ritualized conditionings where the part of the horse is organized upon the body of the masochist, the question of what is happening is opened up:

What is this masochist doing? He seems to be imitating a horse, Equus eroticus, but that’s not it. Nor are the horse and the master-trainer or mistress images of the mother or father. Something entirely different is going on: a becoming-animal essential to masochism. It is a question of forces. The masochist presents it this way: Training axiom—destroy the instinctive forces in order to replace them with transmitted forces. In fact, it is less a destruction than an exchange and circulation (“what happens to a horse can also happen to me”)  (ATP, 155) (ζ)

There are two things going in this description: first is that the masochist becomes a horse by undergoing the training axiom itself, as the horse does, and so becomes similar; but paramount is this very possibility, that instinctive forces are capable of being replaced with transmitted forces through the mechanism of a program, where the horse is not so much copied, but mapped onto a historic structure. That is, the body of the masochist is given new possibilities (other than its phylogenic and historical forms) through the mapping of new intensities, a transmitting of affects across species bounds. Imitation becomes an actualized line of flight.

It is through this Deleuzian concept, which Elizabeth Grosz calls “[one] of the body as a discontinuous, nontotalizable series of processes, organs, flows, energies, corporeal substances and incorporeal events, speeds and durations…” (164), that the trans-project takes its firmest grip, as trans-. This body becomes a map of intensities structured through a program of becomings as transmitted intensities deterritorialize the body only to reterritorialize it somewhere else through a sharing of affects, and thus possibilities. Might it be constitutive of the trans-identity that there is an informing project of affective and signifying becomings? As clothing, body language, verbalizations, thought processes, role-play, then possibly medicalizations such as rites of hormone intake, social organization of surgeries (appointments, testaments, visits, payments), then the construction of repeatable and perhaps increasingly scrutinized scenes of passing and not-passing become assembled into an entire machine of affect transmission, is not the trans-person the constructor of the body without organs par excellence? But if the trans-person is making a map of themselves, of their body as intensities, what is it they are mapping?

In her book Volatile Bodies, Elizabeth Grosz emphasizes the distinction between surface and depth which Deleuze and Guattari elucidates, one which can be thought of as characterizing the difference between “primitive” and “modern” inscriptions of the body. For Grosz, while the savage inscriptions upon the body, in general, mark relations, modern significations have become markers of interiorities. It is this tension between exterior relations so mapped and the interior wants, desires and aims of a subject’s psychology that seems to play between potential descriptions of trans-identity projects: what they are doing, and what they are wanting. Grosz hopes for us to see our inscribed bodies in a more savage way, as intensive surfaces so that “they create not a map of the body but the body precisely as a map” (139) (η) , in the way that the orchid can be said to map the wasp. The cartographic body of a trans-identity person, through its transmitted forces, becomes a map of relations, if we apply Grosz’ description of the savage:

The body and its privileged zones of sensation, reception, and projection are coded by objects, categories, affiliations, lineages, which engender and make real the subject’s social, sexual, familial, martial, or economic position or identity within a social hierarchy. Unlike messages to be deciphered, they are more like a map of correlating social positions with corporeal intensities (140).

And yet the trans-person, as he or she maps across biological and sociogenic branches through a program of rites of construction and occasions of “passing,” comes to be posited as having an interior by virtue of living these corporeal intensities. Occasions of surface folds and affective transfers between historical and biologically determined kinds become thus spaces for the projections of a modern psychology of depth:

What differentiates savage from civilized systems of inscription is the sign-ladeness of the latter, the creation of bodies as sign systems, texts, narratives, rendered meaningful and integrated into forms capable of being read in terms of personality, psychology, or submerged subjectivity […]

[…]The indefinite and ever-changing impetus and force of bodily sensations can now be attributed to an underlying psyche or consciousness. Corporeal fragmentation, the unity or disunity of the perceptual body, becomes organized in terms of the implied structure of an ego or consciousness, marked by and as a secret and private depth, a unique individual (141)

For Deleuze and Guattari, as they align themselves to such a description of surfaces counter to that signifying what is “interior”, what remains integral for any complete account of desire is that, apart from a psychology of aims and personhood, desire is best seen as rhizomic, especially when representational accounts offer the lure of their greatest explanatory potential. For it is across representational copies, and the moralizing tendency to regard some copies as good and some as mere imitations, that the productive values of desire are to be traced.

An effect of this approach is the way that a trans-experience of desire is to be assessed, both by engaged others, and the persons themselves. Pleasure is the coin with which morality trades most (ι). By Deleuze and Guattari’s telling, it is the collapse of desire into pleasure which constitutes the creation of the subject. “Pleasure is an affection of a person or a subject;” they write, “it is the only way for persons to ‘find themselves’ in the process of desire that exceeds them; pleasures even in the most artificial, are reterritorializations. But the question is precisely whether it is necessary to find oneself” (156). Because the narrative of “finding oneself” makes up a great deal of the subjective experience of many trans-persons, the status of this “self”, in particular the experience of “gender” as it relates to identity must be paid close attention to. If we are to view trans-experiences as so many willful constructions of folds and intensities, mappings of social forms onto the egg of the body, transversally, what are we to make of the very real contestations of selfhood, self-discovery and self-expression well attested to by trans-persons themselves? What is the status of gender, as it is self-conceived and experienced as real, and determinant? And can the rhizomic becomings of Deleuze and Guattari’s description, be re-contextualized into modes of being without becoming entirely hierarchialized into reified strata, strata which condense around a “self”? How does one find out what gender one is?

In some transsexual accounts there is a very real and persistent theme of having to correct one’s body so as to fit the gender one always was. Transsexual Jamison Green, in his book Becoming a Visible Man for instance makes a good example of this when he compares the process of transexuality to “planing the edge of a door so that it fits within its frame” (192). He sees himself as always having been a particular gender, male, and that his body has simply, over the previous parts of his life, mis-communicated to others what he is. Further, he grounds his authority over his gender in terms of an inalienable privacy of experience, invoking the famous “reality” of a tree that falls in the forest:
Gender is a private matter that we share with others; and when we share it, it becomes a social construction […] But to say that without this interaction there is no need for gender is like saying that if a tree fell in the forest and no ear is there to hear the sound, then there was no sound, or perhaps no tree actually fell (191)

There is a significant sense in which this incorrigibility of report serves to authenticate a trans-persons aims, both to others, and to oneself. It is as a person of an incontrovertible gender claim that many of the morally ambiguous acts of self-transformation gain their footing. While not to disparage either the need for such a justification, nor the experience of a surety of knowing one’s gender over time, it is perhaps helpful to examine the foundations of the self-knowing of gender, so as to at the very least gain a perspective of the kinds of terrain trans-persons have to cross—for not all trans-persons may make the claim that they are and have always been a particular gender. In this way we hope to avoid particular entrapping binaries, for instance those between an experiential “soul” and the signifying “body”, so as to inscribe even the most conservative projects of transsexuality—that is, becoming what one already always was—in a landscape of even greater freedom, communication and authority.

I propose that in view of Jamison Green’s notion of private authority, we tentatively treat “gender” in the manner in which Wittgenstein treated all things which we claim to “know only from our own case”. Through Wittgenstein we may provide an account of the solidity of gender, where it is experienced to be solid, and a fluidity where it is experienced to be fluid. And through Wittgenstein, as he takes on representational pictures of the mind wherein we are tempted to think that we directly experience meaning in some unmediated, internal form, we may find bridge to the Analytic tradition in the non-representationalism of Davidson. We may discover that we cannot know directly, in any unmediated way, what “gender” we are, and that to find out what gender we are, we must have “the rest of the mechanism.” (PI §6).

The quickest way to Wittgenstein’s “truth” is perhaps his obiter dictum: “How do I know this colour is red?—It would be an answer to say: ‘I have learnt English’” (PI §381). For what Wittgenstein would like us to see is that when we make judgments about the world (and ultimately about ourselves), it is laterally towards the mutuality of our exchanges that we must turn, if we are looking for the foundation of their truth. There is for Wittgenstein nothing anchoring in the nature of a patch of red paint, for example, that gives us the “how” of our knowing that it is red. Rather, there is a matrix of rules which govern how we talk about things, which allow us to know what is “red”, and what is not. This approach elucidates not only disagreements about “things in the world” but also disagreements over internal presentations and experiences. So, following Wittgenstein, one perhaps can answer, How do I know that I am male? An answer would be: Because I have learned English.

But what if even having learned English seems not to be enough to clear up the meaning of a perception? If way we use the words for specific colors is sunk in the way that we organize ourselves around our experiences of colors, in communication with others, what if our perceptions don’t match up with others? If there was a person who every time saw what supposedly was “red”, and everyone called “red”, instead saw the hypothetical color “ryd” in their Cartesian mind, what would result? One might suggest that the regularity of the use of the word, in concert with the regularity of the experience would work in one of two ways. Either this experience of “ryd” would become synonymous with “red” to the degree that it is for all purposes, it would be “red,” or such a person would come to realize over time that she or he just doesn’t experience “red” the way that other persons do; for instance, “I just don’t find ‘red’ to be a hot color, but it is much more like ‘blue’ or ‘green’ to me”. If gender can be seen as to be like color, the actual experience of being a gender would be one in which the way we use the words “male” and “female” orient us either to their proficiency to describe us, or the divergence of our experience from the norm, and perhaps a bit of both.

Wittgenstein Bettle in the Box - Gender

There is a well-known picture-game that Wittgenstein offers which helps us to see the place personal experience holds in justifying facts of a matter, his Beetle in a Box. Wittgenstein writes speaking of pain,

Now someone tells me that he knows what pain is only from his own case!—Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a “beetle”. No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says that he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle.—Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing.—But suppose the word “beetle” had a use in these people’s language?—If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something: for the box might even be empty.—No, one can ‘divide through’ by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is (PI §293)

The beauty of this example is that it takes relations between people in communication to be fluid and sure. The experience of beetle, becomes established in the regularity of the use of the word “beetle” so much so that the experience itself can be “divided through” in such a perfect, grammatical world. This beetle in the box example was designed for particular claims to know what one is experiencing, only from our own case, what a pain is, what a color is. And despite the idea sometimes forwarded that it is only philosophers who make these kind of “from my own case” claims, it seems entwined in the very nature of personal identity and social authenticity to have a private, unmediated authority of over what one experiences. Here though, Wittgenstein is helping to unseat the idea that we can just look into our own box and know what it is that we see, apart from what all others say and see. In his vision, what is inside the box is not a “something” that can be opened up and shown, or pointed to in any way.

But in order for us to make full use of Wittenstein’s beetle we have to take into account the binary grammar of gender, and thus the particular ways that the language of gender helps organize our experiences of ourselves as gendered. Diverging slightly from his model, let us imagine that not only does the word “beetle” have a use, but so does the word “cricket”. One sensically, in these people’s language, has either one or the other:

Under such a model one can see that through the regularity of the uses of these words “beetle” and “cricket” no matter what really is in the box, one would possibly come to understand that one has one or the other. And there may be cases whereby, even though your anatomy by the norms of designation and use tell you that you should have a beetle inside, it makes the most sense of your experience in the world to say that you had a cricket (just as a person who sees ryd might come to understand that she or he does not see “red” they way that others do, but sees something closer to “blue”). And you might even come to understand that, counter the grammar of such words, sometimes it seems that you have a beetle, and sometimes a cricket, or a strange thing that has a few characteristics of each, and even of something else unnamed. Yet in no case does one know what one has, solely by looking into the box.

We have come from Deleuze’s polyvalent world of affect-becoming, where bodies exist as intensive maps, pure surface values composed of transverse, affective states which allow phyla-genetic paths to cross over, from flower to wasp, from man to horse, and back again, a place where one can become what one historically is not, and we have arrived at a Wittgensteinian world where experience works as what may be described as a kind of center of gravity (κ) , not a “something” but organized by, and potentially organizing a mutuality of meanings, behaviors and concepts, as people come to agree upon the use of words in language-games played. What remains is to join up these two worlds, the Deleuzian one of two-dimensional, coded, affective bodies, and the Wittgensteinian one of horizontal mechanisms of rule-use, under a coherent description such that the powers of both are not diminished, each leading towards a picture of transgender authenticity. I propose the philosophy of Donald Davidson, as a nexus point of such mutuality.

Beginning from Wittgenstein figure of the Beetle in A Box, because we cannot look into anyone else’s box, we must make operative, perhaps hardwired, or even logical assumptions in order to communicate with others and make sense of the world. With such a capacity in mind, Davidson establishes principles charity (λ), guiding non-individuated assumptions about the nature of other persons’ beliefs. Beliefs, he attempts to show, must be of a veridical and coherent nature so as to ground our interpretation of intentional behaviors, and they do so within a necessarily causal picture of the world, a process he calls triangulation.

Triangulation exists at the most fundamental level of life: “All creatures” Davidson writes, “classify objects and aspects of the world in the sense that they treat some stimuli as more alike than others. The criterion of such classifying activity is similarity of response” (212); yet this criterion of similarity of response itself can only be derived as a regularity through the regularities of other responses to it; this necessarily creates a nesting of regularities: Thus:

Triangulation - Davidson - Objectification

1. There are regularities in the world (M).
2. A creature classifies these regularities.
3. The criterion of this classification is the regularity of this creature’s behavior in response (D).
4. The measure of this criterion is the regularity of behavior of another observing creature (another D, or the perceptive subject), etc.
5. We and others seem to be responding to the same features of the world.

The way that Davidson sees our understanding of others, as language users in a field of meaning, thus is built upon a recognition, and confirmation of regularities; it is these that underwrite our rule-following use of words and that help us form the propositional content of our thoughts; more complexly, it is that as language users we are constantly triangulating between a world and others. It is a world whose events are seen to cause our sensations (μ) , sensations which cause our beliefs (ν) ; and others are those whose mental-states are similarly caused, causing their intentional behaviors (ξ). These behaviors are then interpreted by a normative relation of one to another, via their meanings—that is, we triangulate two positions, our and others so as to gain a world. In this way we are always seeing the world, ourselves and others in an interlocking, mutually dependent relationship, as the world affects others as it also affects us. In such a matrix of relations the world takes on an objective character; all the while we come to have a necessarily intersubjective knowledge of others, and a dependent subjective knowledge of ourselves. These are Davidson’s “three varieties of knowledge” (ο) . To put them in Wittgenstein’s framework: something is “red” in the world because we know that others experience/believe it to be red and because we experience/believe it to be red.

To be more illuminating, I would like to expose these three knowledges to a conceptualization of affective sameness which subsumes Davidson’s principles of charity, filling the gap which lies between “experience” and “belief”. For triangulation necessarily occurs within bodies in relation, bodies of sensation. What I propose is that in interpreting others in the world, we affectively imagine them to be like us, not just at the normative level of beliefs, and thus meaning, but through a governing attribution of sameness. That is, not only do we imagine that like us, others hold a majority of true beliefs about the world, and that these beliefs are reasonably in support of each other, but we also imagine that we would experience the same things as they, under the same conditions.

Thus, if anything allows triangulation to operate all the way down the animal chain of being, it is this affective sharing. It is through this transmitive sharing of sensation, structuring and structured by our beliefs, that new beliefs are able to take hold, and the communication with another attains its bodily relevance. In it simplest form, our experience of the world as real comes about through an affective transmission of sameness.

So while we may very well disagree with others’ interpretations of the world, the beliefs which cause their behaviors, the world and they only make sense if we understand their (mis)interpretations within the larger context of a shared (re)action within a shared world, in an affective communicative capacity (π). We must in some sense “touch” and exchange affects even with those we disagree with, in order to disagree (this is the source of emotional repulsion and moral approbation, judgment involves intimate affective touching, becoming what you object to if only for a moment).

But there is something more involved in our affective and belief-guided imagination of others through which we see the world as it is to be. And this that the affects of others cause us to have affects ourselves. As Spinoza puts this law of affect sharing: “If we imagine a thing like us, toward which we have had no affect, to be affected with some affect, we are thereby affected with a like affect” (EIIIp27). There is, at the foundations of our perceptions of the world a socializing effect, a continuous potential trans-phyla exchange of affects which works to weave bodies together; those of diverse historical genealogies necessarily are put in affective states that others must be imagined to hold, however provisionally, in any attempt to make sense of manifest behaviors. Thus within the index of beliefs about the world is a working bodily exchange of Spinoza’s affectuum imatatio, an imitation of affects, which puts two points of view in concert with the world. Not only do we imagine what others believe, and are therefore able to understand what they mean, but we must feel what we imagine them to feel.

Using this Spinozist conception of affect-sharing we may manage the leap between Davidson’s normative meaning as it spreads out in a pragmatism of sense and interpretation, and Deleuze and Guatttari’s transmitted forces, ethically increasing the number of things a body can do, marrying phyla-genic lines. Davidson grants that a thought may belong to a single person, but not its content, which is mapped, “Even our thoughts about our own mental states occupy the same conceptual space, and are located on the same public map” (218), and this map can be regarded under the affective process of mappings the body . Because Davidson is looking for nonindivuative psychological attitudes (211) which govern our capacity to make sense of the world as language speakers, and sees Wittgenstein’s private language argument as holding not only a community-based “objective check on the correct use of words” but also necessarily a check on “what is the case” (210), the recursivity of pattern recognition in the use of words, as they are used to describe ourselves and the world must be seen as nested and communal relations, building semantic bodies in dependent reflection, not only of belief, but of experience, as it unfolds in the world. It is the case, therefore, that when a biological “woman,” per se, takes on the narrative that “she” has always been a “man”, and too in project willfully constructs the affect experiences of a “man” this transmission of affect must be read as both “real” and “truth telling”, for our accounts of the world are made of nothing more than this. In such a process, not only is the “woman” changed—that body—but so too are “men” changed—those bodies—so as to become however ephemerally a body. It is the force and the coherence of such claims, played out in the constructed struggle to become what one is, that ultimately decides the fact of the matter. In the end the question will be: How well does desire sit in that circulation?

What Davidson’s work does is contextualize the projects of affective becoming which typify the body without organs of Deleuze and Guattari, within an orientation towards a shared world: I am a horse, I am a man, become affect-enriched, world-making procedures, without collapsing them into a purely subjective state of personal psychology, because psychology itself (mental predicates and nonindividuative attitude) is seen as part of a mediating same which constitutes relations . When affects are communicated through program, for instance that of those practiced by the masochist, reinscribing “instinctive forces” with “transmitted forces,” this can be read in context as something more than producing a body without organs, though this descriptions remains; rather, such are dimensionally full productions of affective bodies, as seen to be sharing the world, and cognitively oriented towards it, as it causes internal states in affects spread between perceptions; hence material assemblages become interpretive assemblages of community. For while the masochist may be mapping the intensities of a horse-assemblage upon his body, he is not only doing so, but also in that he is positing himself within the affect-range of a horse he is feeling the world to be causing these distributions, the particularities shared by a horse and himself, as in their union they are determined to hold specific states and potentiated beliefs. Part of cognitive becoming, without a reduction to a Cartesian or even Phenomenological subject, is the transmission of affect across bodies in the experience of a shared and causal world. What Davidson does is compass the expansive ontological work of Deleuze and Guattari’s back towards some of its own origins, that is, back towards an ethical Spinozist description of shared affects in an imaginary binding of the social, in service of the judgment of the world through the creation of affective bodies.

What I propose is that as transgenders and transsexuals come to orient themselves around the meanings and uses of the words for gender, they, like all of us, engage in a radical, body constructive affectuum imatatio. But as Deleuze and Guarttari tell us, this is not taking on the representation of some other thing, but rather taking on the power of an affect as another body might be experiencing itself, as it is undergoing an interaction with the world. It is placing the map of the body in its causal contexts, and thus maintaining the materiality (limits and possibilities) of relations. Trans-individuals are perhaps best seen as engaged in forming an affective ratio in concert with other bodies, such that in a transmission of affect they form together a novel, interpretive perspective of the world.

Spinoza defines a body in a spectacular way:

When a number of bodies…are so constrained by other bodies that they lie upon one another, of if they so move, whether with the same degree of different degrees of speed, that they communicate their motions to each other in a certain fixed manner, we shall say that those bodies are united with one another and that they all together compose one body or Individual (EIIP13def.)

It is this “communicate their motions to each other” which makes of an imitation of affects a material exchange, and also of meaning a praxis experimentation in power, one in which the composite mutuality of experience in response to the world becomes a new locus of experience, across bodies, in so forming a body of communications. In this way, semantic articulations of states of the world, and internal experiences become pathways of bodily constructions of knowledge, in combinatory forms, as the “facts of the matter” continually play out in that praxis of an affective community.

If transgender and transsexual persons can be seen as orienting the cartography of their bodies around the “beetles” or “crickets” that all persons are grammatically supposed to have, with each person coming from the particularities of anatomical and behavioral markers, the histories of what they have been, embedded in the language and expectations of their time, their trans-attempts across those genetic histories mapping upon their bodies the “same” of others imagined to be the same, then trans-acts can be read as multi-individual body-makings, as those of one genealogical history are conjoined with others of others, under the auspice of a single semantic perception. And this new assemblage of perceptions, affects and an operative mutuality of beliefs becomes enriched through the capacities for affect which each genealogical history brings in its cross-pollination of the new assemblage.

In this way, narratives of identity which populate many trans-gender self-descriptions don’t have to be seen merely as collapses of desire into a subjectivity of pleasure, as Deleuze and Guattari may have it. Or to put it another way, the reterritorializations by which Deleuze and Guattari characterize the nature of assemblages that desire forms, don’t have to be read solely in terms of a subject, in the absolute interiority of a “beetle” or a “cricket”. For while it is in terms of identity, gender and self that trans-persons might argue, and even experience their rights as authentic persons, such organized experiences exist through the mutuality of affect as it slides across bodies, keeping parts in communication, through speed, motion and ratio, in a compass-work of an objective world. The experience of such a world need not be dependent upon a subject-state of an “I”. If Davidson has shown us anything, the two are not reciprocal to each other. Rather, it could be read that any localized experience of subject-hood, the pleasures and fears that make up the occasions of passing as another gender for instance, is already part of a communication of affects which make up the body of that semantic sign, as it takes up another organ of perception. And this assemblage of affects, no matter its narrative, should be understood within the specifics of its program and assemblage as they are engaged, that is, the practices, techniques, and material relations, as they produce a shared world through their continual, if only provisional, communications. Just as the subject can be seen as a molarity for Deleuze and Guattari, a passive collapse, the beetle is crossed out by the grammar of Wittgenstein.


α. Such a meeting ground can perhaps very broadly be characterized as “non-representational” thought.

β. As Pearson writes of the ethical dimension of Deleuze and Guattari’s BwO: “The ethical question [knowing what a body can do] concerns the theory and praxis of opening up the body to connections and relations ‘that presuppose an entire assemblage’ made up of ‘circuits, conjunctions, levels and thresholds, passages and distributions of intensity, and territories and deterritorializations” (154). This is viewed as ethical within Spinoza’s determination that any increase in the capacity to affect or be affected is an ethical increase in power and perfection (Spinoza, EIVP38). It is to this Spinozist ground that Deleuze and Guattari must return if they are to make ethical claims for their descriptions.

γ. The terms of deterritorialization and reterritorialization are difficult to define, and can be seen as open and closed states of becoming within the world, respectively. The most helpful analogy is perhaps Deleuze and Guattari’s comparison of a piece of music leaving and returning to a refrain (310-350). Here deterritorialization describes an organism, for instance the orchid, leaving behind its genealogical history, to become what it is not, a wasp, in a flight of transformations, only to become what it is again, when the wasp becomes part of its reproductive system. It is the same for the action of the wasp. Two pieces of music, perhaps, are woven in code, leaving and returning to a refrain.

δ. Man is sick because he is badly constructed./ We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to scrape off that animalcule that itches him mortally, / god, / and with god / his organs. / For you can tie me up if you wish, / but there is nothing more useless than an organ. /When you will have made him a body without organs, / then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions / and restored him to his true freedom. / Then you will teach him again to dance wrong side out / as in the frenzy of dance halls
and this wrong side out will be his real place.

ε. Deleuze and Guattari describe it this way: “program … At night, put on the bridle and attach my hands more tightly, either to the bit with the chain, or to the big belt right after returning from the bath. Put on the entire harness right away also, the reins and thumbscrews, and attach the thumbscrews to the harness. My penis should be in a metal sheath. Ride the reins for two hours during the day, and in the evening as the master wishes. Confinement for three or four days, hands still tied, the reins alternately tightened and loosened. The master will never approach her horse* without the crop, and without using it. If the animal should dis­play impatience or rebelliousness, the reins will be drawn tighter, the mas­ter will grab them and give the beast a good thrashing” (155).

ζ. The quote continues, “Horses are trained: humans impose upon the horse’s instinctive forces transmitted forces that regulate the former, select, dominate, overcode them. The masochist effects an inversion of signs: the horse transmits its transmitted forces to him, so that the masochist’s innate forces will in turn be tamed. There are two series, the horse’s (innate force, force transmitted by the human being), and the masochist’s (force trans­mitted by the horse, innate force of the human being)”.

η. At more length, on what it means for a body to be a map: “Instead of being read simply as messages, that is, as signifiers of a hidden or inferred signified which is the subject’s interiority, these incisions function to proliferate, intensify, and extend the body’s erotogenic sensitivity. Welts, scars, cuts, tattoos, perforations, incisions, inlays, function quite literally to increase the surface space of the body, creating out of what may have been formless flesh a series of zones, locations, ridges, hollows, contours: places of special significance and libidinal intensity…These incisions and various body markings create an erotogenic surface; they create not a map of the body but the body precisely as a map. They constitute some regions on that surface as more intensified, more significant, than others. In this sense they unevenly distribute libidinal value and forms of social codification across the body” (139).

θ. “My dear Simmias, I suspect that this is not the right way to purchase virtue, by exchanging pleasures for pleasures, and pains for pains, and fear for fear, and greater for less, as if they were coins, but the only right coinage, for which all those things [69b] must be exchanged and by means of and with which all these things are to be bought and sold, is in fact wisdom; and courage and self-restraint and justice and, in short, true virtue exist only with wisdom, whether pleasures and fears and other things of that sort are added or taken away. And virtue which consists in the exchange of such things for each other without wisdom, is but a painted imitation of virtue and is really slavish and has nothing healthy or true in it; but truth is in fact a purification [69c] from all these things, and self-restraint and justice and courage and wisdom itself are a kind of purification”

ι. Dennett makes the use of a similar concept in explaining intentional states in terms of what he calls an “abstract objects” attempts to reconcile Instrumentalism with Realism, “If we go so far as to distinguish them [beliefs] as real (contrasting them with those abstract objects that are bogus), that is because we think they serve as perspicuous representations of real forces, ‘natural properties’ and the like” (29).

κ. Davidson is concerned with the fundamental problems with explaining the value of truth in our attempts to understand others, in particular under a model of communication which he calls “Radical Interpretation.” Under such a view each of us as language speakers are seen to be continually interpreting the speech act of others under working hypotheses of what their intentions, beliefs and desires are, and their causal relations to the world. When making sense of others we regularly employ what he calls the principle of coherence, which allows us to “discover a degree in logical consistency in the thought of the speaker,” and the principle of correspondence that gives us to “take the speaker to be responding to the same features of the world that he (the interpreter) would be responding to under similar circumstances” (211). These two principles are examples of what has been called principles of charity, and he contends that without such charity we cannot come even understand what it is that another person is saying, to even come to the point of disagreeing with it.

μ. “The relation between a sensation and a belief cannot be logical, since sensations are not beliefs or other propositional attitudes. What then is the relation? The answer is, I think, obvious: the relations is causal” (“A Coherence Theory of Truth” 229).

ν. Beliefs include a class of mental predicates, which include desires, fears and wants.

ξ. “An action, for example, must be intentional under some description, but an action is intentional only if it is caused by mental factors, such as beliefs and desires” (“Three Varieties of Knowledge” 216).

ο. “Until a baseline has been established by communication with someone else, there is no point in saying one’s own thoughts or words have a propositional content. If this is so, then it is clear that knowledge of another mind is essential to all thought and all knowledge. Knowledge of another mind is possible, however, only if one has knowledge of the world, for the triangulation which is essential to thought requires that those in communication recognize that they occupy positions in a shared world” (213).

π. And indeed, when others act in ways that seem incommensurate with “reality,” it is upon the nature of their beliefs that we place our attention, understanding those beliefs to somehow be erroneously caused by the world, and thus explanatory of something of their natures, that is, traceable to a genealogy of thought and experiences which strikes us as incommensurate with our own, an incommensurability founded upon either an error or an essentialized kind. In such a way, even those with whom we vehemently disagree can still report on the world so that the world retains its objective character, as it is confirmed by the (mis)perceptions of others (filtered through their beliefs or experiences which we take in account). But only by imagining others to hold beliefs and affective states that we too might be able to hold do even our greatest disagreements still hold relevance.

Works Cited

Ayasse, Manfred, et al. (2003). Pollinator attraction in a sexually deceptive orchid by means of unconventional chemicals. The Royal Society. 24 January, 2003. pp 517-522.

Davidson Donald. “A Coherence Theory of Truth”. The Essential Davidson. New York: Oxford University Press. 2006.
–.“Three Varieties of Knowledge”. Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Félix. a thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. Trans. Brian
Massumi. Minneapolis: Minnesota Press, 1987.

Dennett, Daniel C. (Jan., 1991). “Real Patterns”. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 88, No. 1. pp. 27-51.

Green, Jamison. Becoming a Visible Man. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2004.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Pearson, K. A.. Germinal Life: The difference and repetition of Deleuze. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Spinoza, Baruch. The Collected Works of Spinoza, volume 1. Trans. Edwin Curley. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. Elizabeth Anscombe. 3rd Edition, Hardback. Cornwall: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004.

Wong, B. B. and Schiestl, F. P.. How an orchid harms its pollinator. The Royal Society. 3 July, 2002. pp 1529-1532.

The Purpose of a Word: a note on PI section 6


Wittgenstein, in attempting to upend the picture-in-the-mind theory of meaning writes rather innocently:

Well, it may mean various things; but one very likely thinks first of all that a picture of the object comes before the child’s mind when it hears the word. But now, if this does happen�is it the purpose of the word?–Yes, it may be the purpose.–I can imagine such use of words (of the series of sounds). (Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.) But in the [bring me a slab] language of section 2 it is not the purpose of the words to evoke images. (It may, of course be discovered that that helps to attain the actual purpose).

–Philosophical Investigations, section 6

There are a few problems here. One is that is that the word “purpose” is not included in the block-pillar-slab-beam primitive language game Wittgenstein is referencing, so to speak definitively of what is and is not the “purpose” of an action is really to superimpose our description upon it. The word “purpose” does not exist in that world.

Secondly, the entire idea of purpose, as it relates to instrumentality, depending upon the models of mind being used, varies with each model, as it is so conceived. I might push a button so as to cause an explosion, and one might say that the purpose of my pushing of the button is to cause that explosion, but if the button is stuck and doesn’t move, it makes little sense to say that the purpose of pushing on the button is not to get the button to depress. If I push the button and it does not move, my original purpose to make move will be exposed as I push at it again and again. In just this way, if the model of the mind one is working with is that of thinking that one gets a picture in the mind before being able to match a word to its object, it makes little sense to say that the purpose of using a word is not to bring a picture of the object before the child’s mind. In fact, like the button/explosion example, if the desired result does not occur, I might go about trying to get the child to hold just such a picture (for instance I might draw the object, or mime its outline), just as I might press repeatedly at a button that does not move.

Thirdly, since language games could be seen to be historically contingent, and a particular teacher might very well be under the according to Wittgenstein mistaken view that the child must hold a picture in the mind before being able to identify the word to its object, then it certainly can be asserted that the purpose of stating a word is indeed to put a picture of the object before one’s mind. In fact, if the picture-before-the-mind model of language is as pervasive as some might think, one could argue that it is exactly such a purpose that is present in many of everyday uses of language (that is the assumed button that almost always depresses).

It seems that speaking about the purpose of an action is fraught with the difficulty of assembling a description, and each description is itself a framing of the action. Ultimately there is no “purpose” actual or otherwise, that does not rely upon some description of purpose as such.

[written September 20, 2006]