In the spirit of Gilles Deleuze, who sought to interrogate the presuppositions of the ideas and concepts we assume as a function of our education and social existence, this essay uses poetic prose to reflect upon nine quotations from Difference and Repetition as they are relevant to questions of merit and distinction. Like Deleuze, the author assumes that allusive and even metaphysical prose employing neologisms and creative (re)interpretation of language can be especially helpful when critiquing and seeking to understand repetition, tradition, and hierarchies that have been locked in place by disciplined styles of expression.
… there is an adventure of faith, according to which one is always the clown of one's own faith, the comedian of one's own ideal.1
We have lost the gifts of Mnemosyne, goddess of memory, daughter of Zeus and Gaia, of heaven and earth, of the masculine and feminine, of the short-lived ephemeral and the eternally reproducing fecund. Somehow, from this tension of destruction and potential, we've lost the tension: we honor imperfect, scripted memory. In our human communicative nature, we forget the dynamic and powerful beauty of tensions, speaking into being all manner of imperfect systems, structures, traditions, and principles of unnatural ordering. We structure amnesia while we claim to honor memory. Difference will always challenge these structures, disrupting the illusion of an order without tension, an etiquette that assumes to perfect (erase) the natural tendency toward conflict through obscene dances of civility. Repetition and tradition are meant to be broken. Else, we are lulled into a sleep of complacent routines, performing what it is to forget we are human.
Our question is not yet that of knowing whether the selective difference is indeed between the true and false. … Plato establishes the difference thanks to the method of division. … He does so by introducing a “myth.”… Division, once it abandons the mask of determining species and discloses its true goal, nevertheless renounces the realisation of this goal and is instead relayed by the simple “play” of a myth.2
We have forgotten that when we learn, we often feel we are violating some unwritten code of conduct. Such amnesia is necessary for us to be hegemonically controlled, self-controlled. Bien educada, is the way we say it in Spanish. Es muy educada. She is very educated. The same language is used for both formal schooling, and evidence of being very well trained, disciplined, polite. Until we learn that certain forms of restraint are actually the ways we self-discipline to support codes of supremacy—and inherited colonial etiquette—and until we learn not to resist the discomfort but to recognize it, we will play into the myths of merit and distinction that have been finely narrated into the codes we've learned.
Everybody knows, no one can deny, is the form of representation and the discourse of the representative. When philosophy rests its beginning upon such implicit or subjective presuppositions, it can claim innocence, since it has kept nothing back—except, of course, the essential—namely, the form of this discourse.3
I chose to study language and conversation because, like Santa Gloria, la Anzaldúa, I was familiar with what she calls “linguistic terrorism,”4 labeling the way my friends mocked my accent when I spoke Spanish, or others mistrusted me because I had no Texas drawl when I spoke English. Somewhere in our bodies, we hold the memory of the beatings of our ancestors for not learning to speak properly, like los patrones, los padres, las monjas. In time, like the professor who would write in the margins, “don't use this word,” “too colloquial,” “is this your idea?” Over time, as I became properly disciplined in this terribly undisciplined collection of scholars on the margins, I discovered the other margins, where we would learn by watching “how and what and when and where” we said to “whom,” as the bases to determine merit. The assumption of a generalized and natural, somehow universal, underlying and privileged knowledge allows for the perpetrators of discrimination and prejudice to avoid accountability.
When difference is read as opposition, it is deprived of the peculiar thickness in which its positivity is affirmed. … For opposition teaches us nothing about the nature of that which is thought to be opposed.5
My soul is rooted in a bilingual Mexican childhood growing up on the Spanish-speaking side of town, where the whites were called “los Americanos,” “gringos,” maybe even “gabachos,” reflecting our collective, if often unconscious, history with our language, not knowing that this is what we were doing. Never even knowing that at some level we knew how to make the distinctions that would guide us to make the proper linguistic choices. We learned to answer, “Mande?” when we needed to have something repeated, when we didn't quite hear or understand something. Needing to have something repeated called for us to ask for a command. “Mande?” Literally, “give me your orders,” “command me.” I didn't hear you, and I stand ready to receive your wish as my command. Whoever you are, it is my body's expected discipline to obey, to request to be told what it is that I am to do. It takes a special strength to break the discipline of centuries to balk at standards and criteria, to offer not simply opposition, but to dare to critique and see the way these syllables and signs with which we determine distinction are based on underlying assumptions of what and who has the power to be heard, understood, repeated.
Here, too, we follow the path to the bend at which “reason” plunges into the beyond. The ultimate origin was always assimilated to a solitary and divine game. There are several ways to play, however, and collective and human games do not resemble this solitary divine game.6
So, it's a game, is it? Let's see how this will go. Grice's Cooperative Principle7 taunts me with the need to be invisibly cooperative, without causing others to think I've said too much, too little, perhaps said something judged as irrelevant or “not what we say.” Or worse, I might say it in an inappropriate manner that offends, surprises, or otherwise doesn't mind the norms of how we should participate (or not). Cooperating is in many instances evidence of effective social control, the mark of making it through colonizing charm schools. We co-operate like wheels in a machine requiring automatic uniformity. What would be de la Garza's Heretical Principles,8 or Dutta's Cultural Communal Principles,9 or Miike's Co-creative Principles,10 LeMaster's Un-Principles?11 What happens when we cease to cooperate in uniformity; what happens, then, to the university?
As a general rule, the critique of the negative remains ineffective so long as it assumes as given the form of affirmation ready-made in the proposition.12
Who determines what is deserved? The concept is one rooted in religion and is therefore a bit odd, presuming a doctrinal or theological higher order of determination of what is deserved. I remember the nuns and priests hovering around the confessionals of second-graders recanting our rehearsed awareness of our sins. We were schooled in distinction, in self-discipline. Determination of distinction, as in distinct from others—those who do not merit the distinction. Difference. And repetition of the “honor,” until the discriminatory thinking of one's accomplishments becomes habitual, unconscious, including a systematic code for eligibility for sainthood.
Difference is not between species, between two determinations of a genus, but entirely on one side. … The meaning and goal of the method of division is selection among rivals.13
Why would we want to become the exact things that we are critiquing? Why do we lament that we are treated as if we are not that which we are critiquing for its oppressive nature? Isn't that the curse of adolescence, to despise the adults all the time insisting we have “grown up”? One would think that with so much effort and expertise dedicated to the study of the reproduction of power and authority, we would have somehow thought to question the affective level at which the human animal (for we are, indeed, animals) surrenders to the reptilian brain, forgoing all wisdom for the sake of dominance. We must come to understand and acknowledge these impulses to want dominance, for they are our enemy on our quest for a just celebration of the contributions to knowledge. I don't want to be them. I must remember we are a collective, despite the systems imposed to legislate rivalry between Others.
Repetition as a conduct and as a point of view concerns non-exchangeable and non-substitutable singularities. Reflections, echoes, doubles and souls do not belong to the domain of resemblance or equivalence. … theft and gift are [the criteria] of repetition.14
Voices of distinguished scholars to me over the years: “You could be part of this group in ten years if you do things right,” the learned rhetorician said to me as we stood on the margins of a reception for distinguished journal editors in 1984. “If I wanted to be part of this group, I could do it in five,” I responded.
“You don't know your place,” my professor said to me when I chose not to include my name in the authorship of a body of work that I did not want to represent my scholarship. “I am the only one who does know my place,” I replied to him.
“Tell the Mexican woman that I'll be ready for her to work for me when I arrive,” I read in the note to my professor, as I sorted through the papers on his desk, organizing them while he was on a research leave. I was the only “Mexican woman.”
To realize I was considered property, even a sort of Mexican maid, reminded me of the days when I would watch my grandmother ironing at the homes she cleaned. It was clear we were not one of them, and nothing in my being has ever wanted to be. This is the fallacy of equivalence in repetition, in generalizability of standards. The true challenge for us as scholars is not in making difference disappear through repetition of assumptions and ideals, but to discover how to overcome our propensity to do just that. Any other efforts will steal our right to be who we are, erasing our contributions, while gifting to others the illusion that they and theirs are more real.
Once chance is affirmed, divergence itself is the object of affirmation within a problem.15
But then, what happens to standards? Do we consider everything excellent? Do we just draw names from a hat to choose that which is distinguished by its excellence? We have become so accustomed to the idea of repetition and difference as requisites for the reinforcement of hierarchical logics and epistemologies that we do not trust the idea that perhaps we have not yet seen what is possible when we cease ensuring that no one is coloring outside the lines. Perhaps it's time to stop coloring inside lines. Perhaps it's time we start erasing the lines and letting the colors, not the lines, inspire our art. Welcome divergence, welcome diversity, welcome the affirmation of the excellence of which we are collectively capable. Take a chance—quit trying to paint master-pieces and rather, celebrate the ability to design processes and praxes of creative and critical knowledge that are forever dynamic, forever holding us accountable.