Toward a Foucauldian-Deleuzian Genealogical Metaphysic of Polysemous Signifiers in Juridico-Political Discursive Formations

When, in the pursuance of constitutionally mandated juridical “procedures,” one encounters a signifier with varied and numerous signifieds, how does one proceed? If this polysemous aberration presents itself, makes itself known, in the realm of substantiation, attestation, corroboration, and thus the determination of culpability or irreproachability, the repercussions of equivocation could “be” dire. How does one reconcile a linear––or (rather) binarist––proceduralism with a rhizomatic reality, replete with untold (even untellable?) metonymic slippages and acrimonious ambiguities? For that matter, can one safely assume a rhizomatism in “reality,” or even a “reality” of static persistence? Might not one be better off substituting a sort of verisimilitude for “reality” or “truth,” acknowledging the perfomativities and uncertainties inherent to routine and necessary, but all the same bedraggled “procedures?”

By lubricating the multiplicitous mechanisms of legal deliberation, whether as a barrister, a solicitor, or a juror, one lends credence to a problematic abstraction. One engages in certainties where none exist, in linearities where there are (or “are” there?) only rhizomes, in stabilities where polysemy jeopardizes the unity of all signs. Perhaps most disconcertingly, however, one necessarily undergirds erroneous certainty with a degree of power, albeit in the restricted form of Weberian rational authority. Fromm once argued, and persuasively at that, that figures of power exhibit both lasciviousness and trepidation. This means/signifies a fear of the sword, but an undeniable longing to wield it all the same.

Such a profound duality betokens the concurrence of the temptation of meaning with the eternal (or “is” it?) resilience of dubiety. By this token––not a Lacanian phallic token, mind you, but another proverbial token––can one suggest that the polysemous character of certain crucial symbols in a given juridical discursive process (evidence, we mean––a bloody bed sheet, perhaps; though what is the exact essence of a “bed sheet,” and why should the simple presence or stain of blood sully it? Is this merely a reification of an insistent taboo relating the bodily inside to the bodily outside? Why should we be so averse to the permeability of bodily borders? Moreover, as Deleuze asks, and Butler reiterates, “What can a body do?” [italics “ours”]) may expose the irresponsibility and inevitable miscarriages ensuing from abstracting a rhizome into a binary or an ambiguity into a unity?

For our purposes, then, it seems prudent to return to a postulation in the first paragraph––that is, the suggestion of verisimilitude. Even if “reality” and “truth” are not purely phantasmagorical (and this author is not convinced that they “are,” as it were), can any individual––let alone an “unencumbered” individual, stripped of his/her/their affective commitments––truly know them? Is not the multiplicity of meanings, the barrage of uncertainties, endemic to any discursive formulation a formidable obstacle to such “knowledge?” Of course, one cannot convict unless he/she/they is/are certain, “beyond a shadow of a doubt,” yet is absolute certainty of this nature not an impossible telos, an unbridgeable chasm, an unreachable horizon? This question is, of course, rhetorical (or is it/can it be, whatever it “truly,” as it were, signifies?).

But, the cynical reader might quip, is not such a critique of juridical discursivity, as elucidated above, dismissible as mere “obscurantist terrorism,” rife with “holophobia,” to borrow terminological formations from Searle and Eagleton, respectively? Almost (always “almost”) certainly! But how could “it” be otherwise? This is an unproductive, formalist rejoinder. Does the recognition of an invariably uncertain “essence” of things (objects?) not require us to dismiss tempting “wholes,” as it were? In launching a critique (if such a “critique” can be said––by whom? By “us?” Who is/are this undefined “we?”––to be “launched”) of liberalism’s (liberalism itself being a polysemous term, variably a broad ideological justification for capitalism, a doctrine of individual rights, or a social democratic reaction to laissez-faire doctrines––which raises the question, can liberalism, or any ideological formation, react to itself?) juridico-political pretensions to “truth,” must we not abandon any such pretensions ourselves?

One could––though “we” won’t––go so far as to say that verisimilitude is the rule of any and all discursive formulations, that “truth” is a phantasm which can make its presence felt, but never “truly” known, and that whether an event transpired is less significant than whether juridical actors can impress said event’s having-happened upon those other juridical actors who are to decide its “happeningness” (to borrow a terminological formation from Tim O’Brien). “We,” however––if this substanceless “we” has been sufficiently problematized––will resign “ourselves” (assuming that “we” possess “selves”) to meekly suggesting a consideration, and perhaps a further Foucauldian-genealogical and/or Deleuzian-metaphysical elaboration of this verisimilitude by other authors, or even by “ourselves” (depending on how one determines individual identity––that is to say, existence as an identical being––“we” may very well exist as “other author/s” in the future; and here, of course, one is forced to confront the intractable ambiguity of the “we:” whether it is a royal “we”––so royal, in fact, as to sound a retreat to feudalism, a neo-Hegelian, quasi-Marxist dialectical perversion––referring to a singular author, or a plural “we” referring to both the author and the reader, for has Derrida not taught “us” that the reader also writes?).


About Asher Wycoff

Left-wing blowhard who sometimes writes and draws things.
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2 Responses to Toward a Foucauldian-Deleuzian Genealogical Metaphysic of Polysemous Signifiers in Juridico-Political Discursive Formations

  1. Lacan's ghost, as it were says:

    This is hilarious, as it were.

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