An explanation of the word trope for understanding philosophical works . . .

In reading theoretical philosophical theories on power and subjugation you may come across the word trope. Considering the following excerpts with regard to interpretations of, not only speech and language, but actions performed in the form of the will of the conscience minded individual:

“The claim that the conscience is a fiction is not to be confused with the claim that conscience is arbitrary or dispensable; on the contrary; it is a necessary fiction, one without which the grammatical and phenomenological subject cannot exist. . . . . What does it mean to say that a subject emerges only through the action of turning back on itself? If this turning back on oneself is a trope, a movement which is always and only figured as a bodily movement but which no body literally performs, in what will the necessity of such a figuration consist?”

“The paradox of subjection implies a paradox of preferentiality: namely, that we must refer to what does not yet exist. . . . We consider how the explanation of melancholia participates in the mechanism it describes, producing psychic topographies that are clearly tropological. . . . Another consideration is the account of how the social subject is produced through linguistic means. Yet Althusser and Foucault agree that there is a founding subordination in the process of assujetissement (French meaning the process of becoming a subject.) In Althusser’s essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” the subordination of the subject takes place through language, as the effect of the authoritative voice that hails the individual. In the famous example that Althusser offers, a policeman hails a passerby on the street, and the passerby turns and recognizes himself as the one who is hailed.” [it’s the performative power of an authoritative voice.]

The Explanation of Trope

“Hayden White remarks in Tropics of Discourse (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978) that “the word tropic derives from tropikos, tropos, which in classical Greek meant ’turn’ and in Koiné ’way’ or ’manner’. It comes into modern Indo-European languages by way of tropus, which in Classical Latin meant ’metaphor’ or ’figure of speech’ and in Late Latin, especially as applied to music theory, ’mood’ or ’measure’” White goes on to associate the notion of trope with style, a term that he understands to distinguish the study of discourse from both the study of fiction and logic. Tropes are “deviations” from customary language, but they also generate figures of speech or thought, a distinction crucial to Quintillian’s account as well. In this sense, a trope can produce a connection between terms that is not considered either customary or logical. For our purposes [the study of power and subjugation], this means that a trope operates in a way that is not restricted to accepted versions of reality. At the same time, a trope cannot operate, that is, generate new meanings or connections, if its departure from custom and logic is not recognized as such a departure. In this sense, a trope presupposes an accepted version of reality for its operation.

For Nietzsche, however, the recirculation and sedimentation of tropes is the condition of possibility for the customary use of language. Indeed, he argues that tropes are the stuff out of which literal and conceptual language emerges. Only through a king of forgetfulness of the topological status of language does something like customary language take hold. Customary language is the sedimentation of “deadening” effect of tropes. This suggestion is made clear, both argumentatively and rhetorically, in his essay “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense,” in Friedrich Nietzsche, On Rhetroic and Language, ed. Sander Gilman et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

“Turn” was an English term for “trope” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, used in referring to several syntactical figures of speech. Richard Lanham writes that a trope is a specific kind of figure, on which changes the meaning of a word (A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991). Some argue for retaining the term “figure” for terms that change the meaning of more than one word. Quintillian objects to this distinction, insisting that this change of meaning happens in ways that are not reducible to single or plural words, and then defines a trope as a change of meaning, whereas “figure” is used for a change in form (ie: the form of a pattern of speech or even a genre of writing). That this turn is considered generative or productive seems especially relevant to our consideration of the production or generation of the subject. Not only is generation what a trope does, but the explanation of generation seems to require the use of tropes, an operation of language that both reflects and enacts the generativity it seeks to explain, irreducible mimetic and per formative.”

“What drives the conscience will of man? If you’re really wondering, just ask them  what they seek?”

One might be able to begin to understand how the psychic life of power in subjugation to a force creates a person’s assujetissement. One might even be able to make connections between symbols, images, and fantasies which emerge as a result of one’s assujetissement  in the formation of identity. Certainly Hitler’s effect on the German population in convincing them the Jewish populations deserved to die in an act of white supremacy of forced genocide was fairly effectual in the after math of World War I. The German society witnessed terrible inflation, starvation, and poverty grew after war reparations were made. Those who witnessed the events and who knew Truth, sat by and watched as innocent people went to their deaths. For to speak out meant your incarceration and death as well. To fight this enemy, one had to become invisible in clandestine operations. An underground railroad to usher out those in hiding to safe borders.

But what is the difference between cloaks? What is the difference in meaning of the veil of the psychopath, and the veil of the conscience minded individual in face of the psychopath? The difference lies in their assujetissement, which comes down to breeding.   The will of the mind is locked up in their passionate attachment to ‘object:’ where one is suffering a wounded attachment to ‘other’ and seeks to annihilate them, the other is experiencing a healthy attachment ‘other’ and seeks to preserve them.

Works to consider reading:
“Wounded Attachments,” by Wendy Brown in her work “States of Injury: Freedom and Power in Late Modernity” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).


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