On Deleuze and Guattari, language, and politics after Mexico City’s 1968

I am working through the following paragraphs for my dissertation, ‘Between Repression and Heroism: Young People’s Politics in Mexico City After 1968‘ (more here). I should note that my reading of Deleuze and Guattari on language in A Thousand Plateaus is influenced in part by a 2010 reading group (with Austin Kocher) around Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.


Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 81) write, “History will never be rid of dates.” This reveals, for them, history’s effectuation of redundancy in society. “Real history undoubtedly recounts the actions and passions of the bodies that develop in a social field; it communicates them in a certain fashion; but it also transmits order-words, pure acts intercalated into that development” (ibid). This transmission of order-words through language in the wake of Mexico City’s 1968 – not just in histories but through literature, film, visual art; in the statements of politicians and also in those of activists – is and has been an establishment of coordinates for action to come. There is a distributive relay between the archive of state violence in 1968 and young people’s politics today; put differently, statements “intervene directly” in machinic assemblages of bodies, and the acts of bodies intervene directly in collective assemblages of enunciation (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 89). This is crucial when considering the political action of young people who did not directly experience the famous Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968 but nonetheless must practice politics in its wake – people for whom “narrative consists not in communicating what one has seen but in transmitting what one has heard, what someone else said to you. Hearsay” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 76).

Deleuze and Guattari suggest that language (as transmission of order-words) is a map, not a tracing. This is to say: language is “entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real,” or that it “fosters connections between fields,” removes blockages (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 12). Deleuze and Guattari no doubt make this claim for language as map on the basis of their recognition that “something always escapes” (1987, 217) – that deterritorialization is primary and the strata secondary (1987, 55-57), that “there are pass-words beneath order-words” (1987, 110). But, when examining the language of Mexico City’s 1968, I am not so sure that an assertion of experimentation can be defended. To be clear, I do not claim that there is an “identity” between the order-words that have established coordinates for young people’s politics and the practices of politics themselves. Rather, there is redundancy (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 78-79); there is a relay between the archive of state violence in 1968 and the repertoire of young people’s politics, one that provides a political logic for young activists today, facilitating and setting limits on what young activists can think, say, and do politically almost five decades after Tlatelolco.

Put differently, the language of 1968 in Mexico City is all too often – despite claims otherwise – precisely that of a “tracing.” To assess the situation this way is not to pursue only a “major” treatment of language, casting a line of variation outside the analysis (see Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 94-95). Rather, it is to acknowledge that a center of resonance has emerged and that the memory of Mexico City’s 1968 is – in a word – an “organized memory” that overcodes experimentation with lines of uninterrupted “filiation” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 16, 25). This “genetic axis” hems in experimentation and imposes a predetermined form on young people’s politics (1987, 12). Using Deleuze and Guattari’s language to diagnose the situation,

[The language of 1968 in Mexico City] has organized, stabilized, neutralized the multiplicities according to the axes of signifiance and subjectification belonging to it. It has generated, structuralized the rhizome, and when it thinks it is reproducing something else it is in fact only reproducing itself. […] It injects redundancies and propagates them (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 13).

A distributive relay between forms of content and forms of expression establishes contemporary activism within the spatial-temporal continuity that, at least since Octavio Paz (1970), has been projected onto contemporary student movement space, and more generally onto young people’s politics. An exclusively “major” treatment of the language of 1968 would discourage attention to the relational spaces of marchas, asambleas, plantones, and so on, which are constantly being animated through practices whose specificities are distorted when they appear as a “final term” in an evolution of activism condemned to an inevitable reencounter with a ‘repressive’ state (see Foucault 1977, 148-149). But this attention to how languages of 1968 function as a “tracing” holds out the possibility of nonetheless placing the tracing “back on the map” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 14) – back within the molecular soup that insistently agitates the overcoded molar aggregates of the post-Tlatelolco regime of representation: “repressive” state, “heroic” students (see Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 215-217).

In my Chapter Four, I examine several sets of artistic and literary practices (e.g., of Ximena Labra, of Thomas Glassford, of Roberto Bolaño) through which, I claim, the elements of Mexico City’s 1968 have been placed in variation and the major language has been “sent racing” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 96-105). Before examining the disruption promised by this minor treatment of 1968 – that is, before examining this mode of “politics,” in Rancière’s (2003) terms, one must first identify the procedures through which, in the wake of 1968, the contours of the visible and sayable have been established. The procedure of “tracing” through which a political framework of repression and heroism has been maintained, and through which – for many young people in Mexico City – the world of politics is now intelligible and practicable, can then be placed back on the map and made open to experimentation.


Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1977. Nietzsche, Genealogy, History. In, Donald F. Bouchard (ed.), Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (pp. 139-164). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Paz, Octavio. 1970. Posdata. Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno Editores.

Rancière, J. 2003. The thinking of dissensus: Politics and aesthetics. Paper presented at the Fidelity to the Disagreement: Jacques Rancière and the Political conference, 16-17 September 2003, Goldsmiths College, London.


5 thoughts on “On Deleuze and Guattari, language, and politics after Mexico City’s 1968

  1. Nick–great post. We had a bit of discussion about mot d’ordre, and sussed out that it is the most complex word ever, meaning, among other things: order, command, order-establishing phrase…but also catchphrase, buzzword…and also password, or rallying cry. That struck me as the key of chapter 4, that they are insisting that embedded in every act of decree that fixes are the lines of flight that unfix, that place in variation, that liberate. I love the link to Ranciere, since I think this maps very closely onto the relationship between police and politics that he describes. Politics always returns, always bubbles to the surface to disrupt the police, to interrupt the mot d’ordre that the police is trying to pronounce. Except, I think, D&G offer the possibility of a more generalized liberation, one Ranciere seems not to…

    • Thanks so much for your reply, Mark. I’m sorry to have missed the discussion on Friday, though the trip to Sucre was excellent, well worth it.
      Good to see that we find a similar argument in plateau 4, and I’m also very pleased with your affirmation of the link I find between Deleuze and Guattari on language and Rancière on politics-police.
      More on that connection, and leaping to another plateau: I think Rancière’s notion of politics as “unaccounted for” and beyond what can be counted in the existing police order agrees in large part with what we read in Deleuze and Guattari’s plateau 9 on the “something unaccountable” that was escaping in May ’68, and which was inevitably missed by “those who evaluated things in macropolitical terms” and therefore “understood nothing” (ATP, 216).
      Regarding how, as you put it, “politics always returns” — I have had trouble explaining this to the uninitiated. My best attempt to clarify this return of politics is to focus on moments of inconsistency that are endemic to police ordering (maybe something like “the void” in Lefebvre’s book on May ’68 in The Explosion, pp. 47-53). For Rancière, a police order is naturalized in part by the very people who could come to pursue its disruption. A refusal of the lie that police order is natural is therefore permanently possible.
      Something like that… thoughts?

  2. Pingback: Memory without organs: denaturalizing repression-heroism | Becoming Poor

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