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Niels Helsloot, 'Linguists of all countries ...!, On Gramsci's premise of coherence', in: Journal of Pragmatics 13, 1989, pp. 561-562.
Chapter 6, Charlatanism of the will (Vološinov), section 6.3.
© 1989, 2003 (posted with permission from Elsevier)



The earlier quote by Gramsci continues as follows: "That all those Nietzschean charlatans in verbal revolt against all that exists, against conventionality, etc., should have ended up by accepting it after all, and have thus made certain attitudes seem quite unserious, may well be the case, but it is not necessary to let oneself be guided in one's own judgments by charlatans". In opposition to the unorganized and undirected refusal of unity, Gramsci posits "a need for 'sobriety' in words and external attitudes, precisely so that there should be more strength in one's character and concrete will" (PN 369). Without a will to express 'the unity of the human spirit', one "would not create new history, philosophies would not become ideologies and would not in practice assume the fanatical granite compactness of the 'popular beliefs" (PN 404, cf. 360). But on what historical basis could one say that a will to sameness, to an identity undisturbed by antagonistic otherness, is necessary? Or that the otherness that Vološinov sees as revolutionizing any group identity from within, is 'pathological'? And how can one distinguish (critically) between coherence and dispersion?
   Gramsci's answer is that difference contains in itself the reasons for unity. In actual fact, there is no unity, and there can never be unity. The individual subject is dispersed: we are all conformists, humans in the mass. The individual ('thyself'!) is "a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory" (PN 324). Language (ideology, life) is a continuous metaphorical process (PN 449-452). It cannot find its origin in the creative act of the speaking subject, whose identity is absorbed by the ensemble of metaphorical relations. Creating an identity means modifying this ensemble (PN 352). But the ensemble itself is also dispersed. Not even 'man' can function as a criterion for unification (cf. Gramsci (1967: 279-281)). [11] "An historical act can only be performed by 'collective man', and this presupposes the attainment of a 'cultural-social' unity through which a multiplicity of dispersed wills, with heterogeneous aims, are welded together with a single aim" (PN 349); i.e., the coherence of 'man' rests upon a historical premise. 'Human nature' is the 'complex of [p. 562:] social relations', which includes the idea of becoming (continuous change), and denies 'man in general' (PN 355).
   It appears that language (including 'man', and 'will') is purely differential, absolutely deferring unity in a heterogeneous process of change (cf. Derrida (1982: 1-28)). But Gramsci optimistically holds that 'becoming' is not arbitrary. It takes place in a 'discordant concord', "which does not start from unity, but contains in itself the reasons for a possible unity" ((PN 356); cf. (PN 445)). But, just as it is not necessary to let oneself be guided by a will to dispersion, there is also no necessity to hold on to a preconceived will to coherence at all costs.

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p. 561   11.   Chomsky (1976: 128) criticizes Gramsci, because his point of view undermines the autonomy of the subject, on which Chomsky's political and linguistic theories are based. Chomsky considers freedom as an essential part of human nature. For this reason, he both revolted against the violations perpetrated on this essence in Vietnam, and left out such violations and everything social from his linguistics; this was one of the reasons for the social skewedness of most modern (socio-)linguistics.

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