Value Gradients, Intentional Dynamics, and Grammar Order Parameters: A Specification Hierarchy of Languaging
In the previous section. I pointed out that living systems, including simple single-celled organisms, develop strategies for orienting to what is beneficial to themand avoiding what is harmful to them. For example, a single-celled organism hasthe capacity to detect gradients of concentration of sugar solutions and to swim ox-row up the gradient to where the sugar concentration is located. What drives the creation of order in intentional systems? If far-from-equilibriumsystems alone cannot provide the answer to this question, what can? Linguisticutterances can be seen as modes of interactivity that access non-local matter,energy, and information potentials. An utterance sets up and/or presupposes amodalised value gradient between speaker and listener. The speaker’s intentionis responsive to a modal differential that defines a potential interaction between aspeaker and a listener. For example, I know something that you don’t know andI want to tell you. I might say, for example, I’ll be flying to London tomorrow.A modalised value differential exists between the speaker who has access to thisinformation and the prospective listener, who does not. A coupled difference of}}
this kind forms a value gradient. A value gradient is an intensive property. The term "intensive” originally applied to physical properties such as temperature and pressure that can form gradients containing usefiil energy (Section 1). A temperature gradient results from coupling hot and cold masses of air; pressure gradients from coupling high- and low-pressure zones (Delanda, 2010: 95). A sugar gradient results when a single-celled organism detects and is coupled to a concentration of a sugar solution in its environment so that the organism can move up to reach the sugar concentration.
Value gradients result from coupling value differentials between human agents in zones of intensity. Value gradients thus couple implicit modal differences between human agents even in the absence of explicit linguistic markers of modality. Human interactivity is always intrinsically modal even if only implicitly so. Interactivity is always a future-oriented exploration of interactive potentialities. Languaging agents tap into value gradients as well as feed off them. This also means that agents become concentrations of values that other agents can tap into and feed off. Coupled differences in modal values thus have the capacity to drive languaging behaviour (Thibault, 2002). The modalised value differential is a creative tension between the two (or more) agents. When I tell my interlocutor that I’ll be flying to London tomorrow, my utterance makes available information that potentially transforms the modalised relations (the value differential) between the two agents at the same time that the utterance sets up the possibility of getting a response from my interlocutor. Indeed, I may want to gauge the listener’s response when she receives this information. I want to see how she reacts. Will she respond or not? Approve or disapprove? And so on. My interlocutor’s response will, potentially, provide me with information that enables me to assess my interlocutor even if she remains silent. In other words, my interlocutor is a potential source of information and value that my utterance seeks to tap into.
However, the existence of a value difference between two agents in itself is not enough to explain utterance activity. Utterances are the exploratory activities of intentional agents. They are in the first instance phonetic trajectories that are modulated along their trajectory by the intentionality, feeling, and affect of the agents who produce them. The existence of a value differential or gradient is in itself not enough to get the process going as a felt, creative tension between a speaker and a listener. Utterance activity is a pulse or a series of pulses of intentionally and affectively modulated interactivity that puts agents in a condition of modal tension in the pursuit of a project that may generate an emergent result, e.g., the modalised transformation of values of the agents involved. A value gradient and the tension it entails or sets up is an intensive flow that agents can tap into and feed off thr ough the intentionality and affect of their utterance activity.
In this sense, languaging is a mode of intentionally directed values-realising activity (Hodges, 2007a, 2007b; Reed, 1996b: 102-103) that is grounded in agents’ perceptions of the potentiality for creating new values when they interact. The opportunity to modalise that is presented by a value gradient, coupled to the intentional and affective modulation of utterances by the agents who produce them, is what makes this happen. Languaging therefore presupposes not equilibrium as the natural reference point for human interactivity, but dynamic disequilibrium. Languaging is driven by the dynamic modal disequilibrium that characterises the value gradients that couple agents to each other.
Utterances have, in varying ways, the capacity to affect the bodies that comprise a socio-cognitive-affective assemblage. I derive the term "assemblage” from the work of Deleuze (2004/1968) and Deleuze and Guattari (2004/1980). Deleuze and Guattari define affect as a body’s capacity to act and to be acted upon (Section 3 above). Bodies have the capacity to form functional assemblages with other bodies. In other words, bodies have the capacity to form functional structures with other bodies while maintaining the heterogeneity of the component parts of the assemblage. Utterances have the capacity to act upon and to change the implicit presuppositions of a given situation and the situation conventions that are perceived to be in operation. Utterances are operations on situation conventions that can trigger or catalyse particular social effects in a given assemblage when the right conditions prevail. These effects are activated when thresholds, i.e., critical points or singularities, are crossed.
For example, a marriage celebrant is invested with the social authority to change the social status of two persons from unmarried to married. The two persons must also fulfil a set of conditions if the marriage is to be valid: In Western cultures, they must not be married to someone else; any previous marriage must be effectively annulled through divorce, etc. Such constellations of essential factors constimte the thresholds or the singularities of the situation, irrespective of the particular individuals involved. These thresholds or singularities are therefore impersonal and pre-individual. When the celebrant utters the words, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” for instance, and the two persons signal their agreement in the required way, the social status of the two persons is transformed, meaning that they have acquired commitments, obligations, responsibilities, and rights with respect to each other that they did not previously possess, or at least not within an institutionally sanctioned legal framework.
The uttering of the celebrant’s words, the agreement on the part of the two persons, and the celebrant’s ratification of this agreement catalyse or trigger the crossing of a threshold whereby the impersonal, pre-individual patterns of commitment, obligation, etc., referred to above are activated. The utterance effects not only a transformation of the social status of the two persons; it also operates upon the situation that is understood to be in operation and its conventions and transforms them. The marriage of two persons, Joan and Harry, or Joan and Joanna, say, by marriage celebrant, Charlotte, on a particular occasion is an actualised, individuated state of the (social) system. Underlying actualised states of the system are what Deleuze (2004/1968) calls intensive pre-individual or impersonal individuations. These are the intensive morphogenetic processes that make actual states possible. In mrn. these are defined by virtual pre-individual singularities (critical points, thresholds) that structure the intensive morphogenetic processes. Given the right constellation of thresholds, as defined above, the utterance "I pronounce you husband and wife” is a catalyst that enacts a critical transition from one actualised state to another, i.e., to a state that creates the commitments, obligations, and so on referred to above at the same time that the two now married persons take on their new social status as husband and wife.
How these commitments, obligations, and responsibilities are concretely acted out will depend upon the interactions among many factors, including the social- legal framework within which the marriage takes place, community expectations and norms, somatic affects, gendered differences, and individual predispositions, e.g., whether the persons approach the marriage and hence each other in self- regarding ways in which the demands of marriage are seen as being in competition with other spheres of interest outside the marriage (e.g., career) or whether the marriage is founded on an inter-dependent relationship of love and trust. Differences in the interactions among these factors, along with others not mentioned here, install thresholds or critical points which, when crossed, activate the patterns of, for example, response that one might associate with views of marriage as business transaction vis-a-vis marriage as an intimate relationship of interdependency founded on love and trust or some compromise between these values.
Utterances thus have the capacity to catalyse social phase transitions, exchanges of state, in the form of remodalisations of agents and values with respect to the situations on which utterances operate (Thibault, 2002; 2011c: 99). The utterance activity of interacting agents involves periodic cycles or pulses of activity that: (1) explore their environment in order to elicit a response from it; and (2) access and feed off the non-local potentials across diverse timescales that such responses provide, thereby drawing in a source of order that allows for a new phase of integration.