The Paradox of the Inexpressible Incorporeal Event of Stuttering

“We bring bodies to the surface [of language], as we deprive them of their former depth, even if we place the entire language through this challenge in a situation of risk. This time the disorders are of the surface; they are lateral and spread out from right to left. Stuttering has replaced the gaffe; the phantasms of the surface have replaced the hallucination of depth; dreams of accelerated gliding replace the painful nightmare of burial and absorption. The ideal little girl, incorporeal and anorexic, and the ideal little boy, stuttering and left-handed, must disengage themselves from the real, voracious, gluttonous, or blundering images.” (orig. ital., LoS, 24)

Reading the above passage from The Logic of Sense is the closest I have come to throwing ‘Deleuze’ across the room (Isabelle Stengers has noted to the bloke who wrote this essay that Deleuze is considered a ‘master’ and therefore deserves to be recognised under a heading of his own name). The girls will probably be pissed off with the anorexia comments, but I am pissed off by the stuttering comments. As a person with something of a speech impediment that I have to live with everyday for most of my life, Deleuze’s almost casual invocation of stuttering as a necessary attribute of the ‘ideal little boy’ is very disturbing. I would never want a child, especially any of my own (yet-to-be-had-maybe) children, to have to suffer growing up with a stutter. Luckily when I was a kid, I was about three times the size of every other kid in my year (I was about 6ft and 90kgs when I was 12, and, yes, they were all 2ft and 30kg pygmies), plus I was a ‘good bloke’ so I got on well with everyone.

Yeah, but then because of my experience I know exactly what Deleuze is trying to do in this part of his argument. (Do you know how fucked up and, well, stupid it is to live a philosophical argument? Let alone a fuckin philosophical paradox…) The relation of language to the depth of thought means choosing the right word to say to express something that determines a state of affairs and locks it in like Larry Emdur when the price is right, of the order: ‘order-word’. This link between logic and signification is exactly what he is not talking about. Deleuze wants us to move to the ‘membrane’ between ‘things’ and ‘propositions’:

Sense is both the expressible or the expressed of the proposition, and the atribute of the state of affairs. […] It is in this sense that it is an ‘event’: on the condition that the event is not confused with its spatio-temporal realization in a state of affairs. We will not ask therefore what is the sense of the event: the event is sense itself.” (orig. ital., LoS, 22)

The exquisite pain of being able to select a word, to think it, to be able to spell it in your head, to be able to imagine yourself saying it, but then finding it impossible to actually say it is exactly the pain of stuttering. The body locks up and the mind races to find an alternative phrase or word to say with a less explosive syllable. It is a bit like driving a car where the gearbox randomly locks up every now and then, locking the wheels and requiring a quick shift of gears to enable forward movement again. It is particularly painful in those moments of one’s life where you know you should say something, within the moment, and can not. Like when you have an awesome one-liner joke to throw into conversation and, even worse, when you are with someone in one of those magic moments where life is perfect and you are in love, but you can not say so… I have had to find so many different ways to say ‘I love you’. Perhaps to the chagrin of future loves, and definitely to the explanation of those past, I should never come into the habit of saying it? From Michael Tournier’s Friday:

“It is a strange prejudice which sets a higher value on depth than on breadth, and which accepts ‘superficial’ as meaning not ‘of wide extent’ but ‘of little depth,’ whereas ‘deep,’ on the other hand, signifies ‘of great depth,’ and not ‘of small surface.’ Yet it seems to me that a feeling such as love is better measured, if it can be measured at all, by the extent of its surface than by its degree of depth.”

But back to work… To stutter; stutter is a verb. Verbs hold a special place in Deleuze’s thought:

“On the side of the thing, there are physical qualities and real relations which constitute that state of affairs; there are also ideational logical attributes which indicate incorporeal events. And on the other side of the proposition, there are names and adjectives which denote the state of affairs; and also there are verbs which express events or logical attributes.” (orig. ital., LoS, 24)

The paradox of stuttering is that by definition and at the horrible limit, the stutterer will never be able to express a stutter as an incorporeal event, nor denote stuttering as a state of affairs. For the state of affairs denoted by ‘stuttering’ necessarily requires the stutterer to stutter. For the stutterer, he or she indeed fails when the “entire language [is placed] through this challenge in a situation of risk.” Whenever I speak I know I am at risk of stuttering, that my language is at risk of collapsing around me… literally! Or should I say, ’embodyingly’, as my language exists purely on the surface of my body. In other words, my ‘heart’ forces me to wear my ‘words’ on my ‘sleeve’.

Non-stutterers have the illusion that they speak the sense of their words. Deleuze calls this the ‘paradox of regress, or of the indefinite proliferation’:

“Sense is always presupposed as soon as I begin to speak; I would not be able to begin without this presupposition. In other words, I never state the sense [incorporeal event] of what I am saying. But on the other hand, I can always take the sense of what I say as the object of another proposition whose sense, in turn, I cannot state. I thus enter in the infinite regress of that which is presupposed.” (orig. ital., LoS, 28)

Yeah, when I begin to speak… Right, but does that ever happen? Until I had read Deleuze the only reference I had was only a short extract of the work by Gottlob Frege (pun intended;). His classic example is of the Morning Star and the Evening Star. Depending on where you are in the world you will see the same object (reference), but have a different ‘sense’ of that object (as Evening Star or as Morning Star). The labour of the stutterer is to hopefully communicate some sense of the object, or what Deleuze would call ‘a state of affairs’, through using different names, words, combination of words, or expressions. Of course, by changing the words used you change the sense of what is spoken. The radical gap between the sense of what is spoken and the sense spoken about is lived by stutterers and is the paradox of the regress of sense and the infinite proliferation of propositions refered to by Deleuze above. This state of affairs requires stutterers to be mind-numbingly creative (at least until you develop non-stuttering modes of expression) or stutter. Simple as that; and it is this transversal (‘rhizomatic’) creativity that Deleuze is referring to when he describes stutterers as ‘ideal’.

The irony is that most people I speak to about this stuff find it hard to believe I have any sort of speech impediment. Stuttering never goes away, that is is just me learning how to massage my language around it. Swearing helps. The soft ‘F’ of ‘fuck’ and the soft ‘Sh’ of ‘shit’ are very easy to say as they are not explosive sounds. I call swearing ‘discursive lubrication’. What is crazy is that the ‘P’ in PhD is very hard to say! (Maybe I need a psych-doctor of some description!;) My body disciplines my everyday language… as readers of my comments around the place would’ve noticed by my incessant swearing… but it does mean that I am continually and happily in biopolitical revolt. 😉

5 replies on “The Paradox of the Inexpressible Incorporeal Event of Stuttering”

  1. When speaking about stuttering or stammering Deleuze is not talking about speech impediments. It is to do with bringing language to its limits, to break with dominant modes etc. Deleuze rarely uses words in their literal sense.

  2. xy, hmmm. Have you read any of the other posts on my blog about Deleuze? This post was actually written for stutterers, not Deleuzians.

    Deleuze does clarify on this point in an interview, when he says he was not referring to an actual stammer. Awesome. I don’t care.

    If you reread my post I am actually bringing into question the assumption that anyone ‘speaks’. If we follow Deleuze, all a ‘speaker’ ever does through the process of expression is differentially repeat an incorporeal event.

    Actual stutterers do not need to read Deleuze to gain an intimate appreciation of this because they live it. I figured this out when I was a teenager. There is an interview with the director of the movie Rocket Science (which I write about elsewhere on my blog) who also discusses this.

Comments are closed.