Posted by: Johan Normark | August 30, 2012

Stephen Colbert, order-words and the Colonial Maya

On facebook I saw this image and a quote of Stephen Colbert that reminds me of Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of order-words in A Thousand Plateaus. Order-words refer to the capacity to create commitments through statements. It is not related to the communicative functions of language but rather the impersonal transmission of statements.

For people to obey they must believe in the legitimacy of the claims to authority expressed by these commands. A teacher gives order and commands. These are not external or additional to what is being taught. An order concerns earlier orders and hence ordering is redundancy. Order-words are not communicated, they impose semiotic coordinates on a child. Therefore, language is made to be obeyed and to compel obedience. A rule of grammar is a marker of power before it becomes a syntactical marker. Colbert is therefore right that arbitrary rules make us disciplined. They do not teach us logic. Religion and politics are made to make us disciplined. Unfortunately, science also tends to follow order-words. There is probably no way around that.

We can apply order-words on historical and archaeological data as well since order-words are dated. For instance, declaration of war expresses an instant incorporeal transformation of bodies. Farmers turn into soldiers, friends into enemies. Its instantaneousness gives it a power of variation in relation to the bodies. The order-word is a death sentence since it brings death to the identity of those who receive the order. It is also a warning to flee. In this light, the order-words to turn to Christianity or to congregate Maya settlements expressed by the Spanish missionaries triggered flight in Colonial period Mexico. The slow emergence of Maya reducido (William Hanks term for the Colonial Maya language adapted to Christianity) ultimately reduced the lines of flight and territorialized the Spanish empire and the later Mexican state.

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