Archive for the ‘“life”’ Category

Typewriter: Free Indirect Discourse in Deleuze’s Cinema (From SubStance #108, Vol..34, no. 3, 2005. Pages107-135)

January 19, 2012 1 comment


The figure of speech variously called free indirect discourse, quasi- direct discourse, or represented speech, dominates Gilles Deleuze’s two-volume study Cinema, a work also containing a theory of cinematic free indirect images. Deleuze develops a concept of free indirect images, which, he argues, articulate the social in modern cinema, opening political and ethical dimensions of the time-image. Although Deleuze does not present his conceptualization of cinematic free indirect images as a theory of his own writing practice, if we link it to the figure as it appears in Cinema, we cannot but wonder how Deleuze’s writing relates to his thought. Cinema’s reflection on free indirect images exposes a major literary device used by Deleuze since his first books, but the theory mirrors the practice in an interested way, presenting it in a glamorous light that makes it hard to see the position from which Deleuze writes. By ignoring class critique in his theoretical sources, Deleuze makes his own practice seem unquestionably righteous, yet despite its triumphal air and limited, unconscious cosmopolitanism, Deleuze’s theory of free indirect images revitalizes the study of cinematic subjectivity. Beyond the boundaries of film studies, Deleuze’s theory prepares us to think the ethical and political aspects in an implicit, unelaborated concept that informs contemporary modes of social control the concept of life.’

In literature, free indirect discourse presents the speech, writing or thought of a character in the character’s own language, but without using quotation marks, as in the following example from Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend. The italicized phrase below is clearly in the language of the four rough fellows attending Riderhood’s death, and whose thoughts the narrator reports:

See! A token of life! An indubitable token of life! The spark may smoulder and go out, or it may glow and expand, but see! The four rough fellows, seeing, shed tears. Neither Riderhood in this world, nor Riderhood in the other, could draw tears from them; but a striving human soul between the two can do so easily. (440).

Although the most famous theories of free indirect discourse take their examples from literary fiction, philosophical examples can be found throughout Deleuze’s oeuvre.1 The literary character of Deleuze’s philosophical writing has provoked many scholarly remarks, including Deleuze’s own. In the introduction to Difference and Repetition, he writes, a book of philosophy should be in part a very particular species of detective novel, in part a kind of science fiction(xx). At the 1995 International Filmology Colloquium, the first major conference devoted to Deleuze’s Cinema, Raymond Bellour described Deleuze’s books as a kind of novel.

Deleuze uses the figure of free indirect discourse even while he elaborates his concept of free indirect cinema; for example:

As Pasolini aptly comments, Godard also uses characters who are undoubtedly ill, seriously affected, but who are not undergoing treatment, and who have lost nothing of their material degrees of freedom, who are full of life and who rather represent the birth of a new anthropological type. (Cinema I, 75).

The phrase a new anthropological type comes directly from Pier Paulo Pasolini’s essay on The Cinema of Poetry, one of the sources of Deleuze’s theory of free indirect images. Since the association of a cinematic style with an anthropological type is unusual, the expression grafts Pasolini’s language onto Deleuze’s text. Examples such as this one are often closely associated with paraphrases including words from the author’s lexicon, for example, but if [for Pasolini] Antonioni’s vision of poetic consciousness is essentially aesthetic, Godard’s is rather technicist’ (but no less poetic)(75). Pasolini names Antonioni’s style one of aesthetic consciousness, and the word appears here in Deleuze’s text as Pasolini’s. In part, Deleuze uses the related figures of free indirect discourse and paraphrase to isolate phrases and words from other authors in order to appropriate these for his own discourse, as in, for example, What characterizes Pasolini’s cinema is a poetic consciousness, which is not strictly aestheticist or technicist, but rather mystical or sacred’(75).

Such sentences often dispense with any explicit reference to the author’s discourse, although here he describes Pasolini’s cinema using terms from the latter’s theoretical writings. This mode of appropriation allows Deleuze to speak in his own voice and another’s simultaneously, reminding his reader of the arguments he has drawn from the works of his intercessor. Deleuze weaves the words of other authors into his sentences in a way that allows another author some autonomy within Deleuze’s statements, but simultaneously makes that other say something Deleuzean.

Despite differences between the two theorists Deleuze relies on in developing his concept of free indirect discourse, V. N. Volosinov and Pasolini, Deleuze selects passages that make Pasolini and Volosinov seem to agree with each other in their definitions of free indirect discourse, while ignoring each author’s critique of the figure. Deleuze radicalizes their definitions until free indirect discourse becomes the motor for the development of language, the wellspring of cinematic subjectivity and a fundamental resource for ethical and political invention.

Deleuze first mentions free indirect images in chapter five of The Movement Image, in a passage that begins by setting up two categories of images, subjective and objective, and goes on to argue that cinema’s degree zero, its defining possibility, consists in a passage between the two. In a movement typical of his thought, Deleuze constructs a continuum between the poles of subjective and objective images, allowing a strange new category called free indirect images to emerge between them. Ordinarily, according to the limits of our natural perception and the law of the excluded middle, we think of subjective and objective as exclusive categories, calling something either one or the other, but not both. Deleuze, of course, rejects this simple scheme, pointing out that in cinema, a single shot can begin objectively and end subjectively.

Mitry’s Semi-Subjective Image

Before invoking Volosinov and Pasolini’s work on literary free indirect discourse, Deleuze refers to Jean Mitry’s writing about the semi- subjective image(Mitry, 214-219), as a source for his concept of free indirect images. In reading Mitry’s The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema (a book that anticipates his own two volumes, insofar as both attempt to categorize cinema’s images in the course of a narrative about cinema’s development), Deleuze pays particular attention to Mitry’s account of camera movements that anticipate the arrival of a character in the frame or follow someone from behind. Such shots imply a perceiver not quite equivalent to the character and not quite objective, so that the camera seems to become a consciousness accompanying the character. Initially, Mitry, like Deleuze, makes a distinction between subjective shots, taken from a character’s optical point of view, and objective shots, taken from a point of view that is objective relative to the represented drama(207). Very quickly, he becomes dissatisfied with these terms and produces a flurry of synonyms. First, he suggests replacing subjective with personal and objective with impersonal’(207). Mitry does not follow through with this change in vocabulary, reasoning that objective and subjective were already widely used in early 1963 when he published The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema. Nevertheless, seven pages later Mitry suggests a further refinement, this time replacing objective with descriptive and subjective with analytical in order to reserve the term subjective image for an image from the memory or mental life of one of the film’s characters. Even after he introduces the terms descriptive and analytical, Mitry keeps using subjective and objective, as in semi-subjective image, the term Deleuze uses to introduce free indirect images. Mitry’s vacillating nomenclature suggests the difficulty of pinning down the status of cinematic subjectivity, as if the instability of the category prevented him from finding a satisfactory term.

By semi-subjective image (214), Mitry means an image in which the camera sees the character and what the character sees at the same time, so that the subjective reaction is always given in the objective image. According to Mitry, the semi-subjective shot arose in order to surpass a limit in the ordinary point-of-view shot, which, without shots of a character looking, cannot communicate to an audience her feelings about the events presented from her optical point of view. Mitry cites The Lady in the Lake (Montgomery, 1947), shot almost entirely from the detective’s point of view and without reaction shots, as an extreme example. The audience never identifies with the subjectivity of the detective, since every visual perception offered by the film reminds the audience that they see someone else’s experience, and nothing invites spectators to project themselves into Marlow’s character.

Mitry notes that in the mid 1930s,

It became abundantly clear that, though this method of eliminating one of the characters throughout enabled things to be considered from his point of view, it did preclude the perception of any potential reaction that character may have had at the same time … In order to experiencethe feelings of a given character, all the audience had to do is to be with the character, along side him. (215, italics in original)

According to Mitry the semi-subjective image found its mature form in the mid-1930s, finding its true expression(215) in Jezebel (Wyler, 1938), a film in which semi-subjective images give rise to what Mitry calls a shared point of view(216).

Mitry’s semi-subjective image implies an anonymous point of view accompanying the characterone that audiences can take up. Because the camera shows what the character sees and the character seeing it, the spectators become aware of the character’s reaction at the same time as the character, so that their empathy is strongly solicited. As Mitry says about Jezebel,

We are able to associate with her [Julie, played by Bette Davis] and project onto her feeling which might have been ours in similar circumstances [because] without losing any of Julie’s reactions, we can see with the same intensity as she, the object with symbolic prominence in the frame. (216)

According to Mitry, the semi-subjective image implies two perceivers who exist independently of the image itself. One of those perceivers is the character, but the other is sometimes the filmmaker and sometimes the audience. It is as if the impersonal consciousness accompanying the character in the semi-subjective image takes the form of a point of entry for either the filmmaker or the spectators. The camera reports the perception of the character and determines the organization of the film, so that for Mitry, semi-subjective images function hierarchically, subordinating the consciousness of the character to the artistic will of the film.

Mitry ignores the ethical and political implications of the concept of the semi-subjective image developed in these passages. In his analysis of Jezebel, he concentrates on a scene between Julie and Preston (Henry Fonda) alone, and chooses to mention, but not analyze the Olympus Ball sequence where the couple moves through a social space. Julie has insisted on wearing an inappropriate red gown to the ball, and Preston responds by insisting on dancing with her. As they take their place on the floor, the other couples move away from them, their faces disapproving. The camera accompanies Preston and Julie as they move, traveling fluidly in and out of their point of view, showing the behavior of the other couples and Preston and Julie’s reactions in a single take. If, as Mitry argues, the semi-subjective camera invites the audience to imagine itself in the position of the characters it accompanies, the camera in this sequence invites the audience to imagine itself in the position of perceiving, being perceived, and being judged by another. The ballroom sequence uses the semi-subjective image to render cinematically the self-conscious moment of an encounter with others. The disapproval of their peers acts as a force on Julie, Preston, and the camera, determining the image’s movement.

While Mitry’s semi-subjective image goes a long way in describing subjectivity in cinema, his commitment to sketching out the process of audience identification with the camera-eye prevents him from accounting for what interests Deleuze most how cinema produces subjects and the relationships between them. In Mitry’s account, cinema refers to preexisting subjectivities and binds them to predetermined positions with respect to one another. In order to complicate this scheme in which the semi-subjective image corresponds to consciousnesses already given and constrained by one another, Deleuze turns to the third part of Volosinov’s Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Although Deleuze mainly filters Volosinov through Pasolini, a close look at the original text will show that Volosinov’s work on what he calls quasi-direct discourse allows Deleuze to conceptualize free indirect images as a means of producing subjects.

Quasi-Direct Discourse and Speaking Personalities

Marxism And The Philosophy Of Language attempts to read the political and ethical traces inscribed in forms of reported speech. Volosinov develops his theory of free indirect discourse2 as part of an analysis of reported speech, which he classifies in three categories: direct discourse, enclosing a character’s speech within quotation marks or using another device to mark it off from the author’s utterance; indirect discourse, paraphrasing a character’s utterance in the author’s language; and free indirect discourse, bringing the character’s language into direct contact with the author’s. Each of these figures entails the expression of social judgments and relations. Volosinov calls reported speech a document of the reception of another’s speech. A document not about the accidental and mercurial subjective psychological processes in the soul of the recipient, but the social relations available in the author’s culture that have crystallized into language forms (Volosinov, 117).

Volosinov organizes his chapter as a critical review of theories of free indirect discourse, elaborating his own account of the figure in the course of his readings. From the beginning, the chapter insists on the creative novelty of free indirect discourse. While free indirect discourse can be thought of as combining the tenses and persons of indirect discourse with the tone and word order of direct discourse, Volosinov argues that free indirect discourse is not a mixture of the other two forms of reported speech, but is a completely new, positive tendency in reception of another person’s utterance(142). Inventive nineteenth- century authors did not bring about the development of free indirect discourse; it emerged along with new socioeconomic factors that caused a shift within verbal intercourse producing an essentially new manner of receiving another person’s words(143).

Volosinov understands the emergence of free indirect discourse as a bourgeois rhetoric that expresses social relations in an age of mystification. Understanding the passage from feudalism to early twentieth-century capitalism as the triumph of the bourgeoisie, Volosinov finds in free indirect discourse the main road of development

of modern European languages to be explained in terms of a general, far-reaching subjectification of the ideological word utterance(158).

Reported speech, and especially quasi-direct discourse, crystallizes social relations because they figure an active reception of another’s speech. For Volosinov, the manner in which one receives another’s speech is a social relation determined by class. The speaker and receiver embody social classes functioning as social types, rather than as individuals. The act of reception instantiates the relationship between the groups they belong to.

Free indirect discourse expresses class relations more clearly than the other forms of reported speech, because it preserves both the language of the speaker and the language of the listener so that the reported language takes on accents of the reporting language. Volosinov calls this its specificum, describing free indirect discourse as a single linguistic construction within which the accents of two differently oriented voices are maintained(144). Thus the figure always involves at least two consciousnesses that of the speaker and that of the reporter. Indeed, for Volosinov, free indirect discourse always expresses a social judgment through the interruption of the author’s language by the words of the character, and the author’s subsequent re-inflection of the character’s speech. Without interruption, the author’s words would naturalize his judgments, but once another speaks through him, the two sets of valuations contest one another, and in so doing each reveals the other’s existence.

For Volosinov, encounters between different consciousnesses give life to language; interaction produces changes in a language and drives its history. Language has little autonomy with regard to infrastructure. Material conditions determine social differentiation and sociopolitical order which in turn determine the place, time, conditions, forms and means of verbal communication [Ö] and [Ö] the vicissitudes of the individual utterance(153). Changes in the figures for reporting speech express the mutual orientation of two utterances changing on the basis of a change in the active perception by the linguistic consciousness of the speaking personality,’ of its ideational, ideological autonomy, or its verbal individuality(146). Changes in the active perception of others form the substance of social, political, and ethical life.

For Volosinov, the subject cannot be found in some psychic interior, nor can it function as the cause or explanation of any other phenomena; instead, he calls it an ideologeme that is vague and fluid in character until it achieves definition in the more stable and more elaborated parts of ideological creativity(152-53). Language use produces the speaking personality, its subjectivity, intentions, and stylistic tendencies. A word does not express a personality; instead, the impression left by a word forms the personality, and words express the social intercourse of their producers.

Speaking and writing give rise to determined subjectivities. Unlike the traditional philosophical conception of consciousness as light shining into an otherwise dark world, in Volosinov, language illuminates what is thought to be within consciousness: language lights up the inner personality(153).3 Before uttering anything, the speaking personality remains dark and amorphous, only constituting itself by using words.

Despite Volosinov’s seeming enthusiasm for the production of different subjectivities by means of free indirect discourse, he argues that its spread eroded the declamatory word and replaced the assertion of fact with the reporting of opinion. If free indirect discourse produces subjectivities, it also allows authors to evade responsibility for statements by attributing them to another. The generalization of the figure everywhere other than in scientific texts’(159) prevents a rational analysis of real conditions of existence, producing atomized, alienated subjects, as opposed to the collective subjects of the declamatory, responsible word. Free indirect discourse functions as a linguistic ideology of the bourgeois subject.

Free Indirect Point-of-View Shots

Pasolini’s theory of free indirect discourse varies in three significant ways from Volosinov’s, adding flexibility and strength to his account of the figure. First, Pasolini’s free indirect discourse is capable of calling forth new forms of collectivity as well as producing subjects and expressing their relations. Second, instead of analyzing free indirect discourse as an expression of bourgeois capitalism, Pasolini allows for different ethico-political interpretations of at least two distinct types of free indirect discourse. Third, Pasolini conceptualizes free indirect discourse more abstractly than Volosinov, loosening its ties to language and allowing a consideration of whether cinema is capable of articulating the figure.

Pasolini develops his theory of free indirect discourse in the form of notes on a book by Giulio Herczeg and in an essay on The Cinema of Poetry(1972). Like Volosinov, Pasolini insists on the social character of free indirect discourse, but for him the figure doesn’t express just the social relations between the author and the character  it can also imply a collective audience for the free indirect speech. He makes this point with a citation from Leporello’s aria in the first act of Don Giovanni, where he complains of his servitude using infinitive phrases rather than the first person:

To labor night and day
For someone who doesn’t know how to appreciate; To bear the rain or wind,
To eat badly and to sleep badly.
I want to act the gentleman
And I don’t want to serve any longer.

(cited in Pasolini, 79)

This example differs from those offered by Volosinov in that the speech is that of a character in an opera rather than a character in poetry or prose, and the other subjectivity is not that of the author, but of an unnamed collective. According to Pasolini, Leporello’s use of infinitives not only suggests repeated activity, it suggests a continuous activity shared by a group or class, and also solicits a chorus of addressees. Leporello speaks for the chorus, whose members recognize these social conditions as their own. In such uses of free indirect discourse, the author’s sympathy does not go to the character, but to all those like him(80). For both Pasolini and Volosinov, free indirect discourse involves the linguistic expression of a social type. Hence, every time one has free indirect discourse this implies a sociological consciousness, clear or otherwise, in the author(82).

Like Volosinov, Pasolini argues that true free indirect discourse involves two distinct verbal tendencies, and that a distinction between verbal tendencies can only be the result of different social positions and the different experiences they produce. Unlike Volosinov, Pasolini writes about a false free indirect discourse used by authors to report the speech or thought of characters of their own social type. An author can also fail to recognize differences in life experience(87) and produce a colonizing free indirect discourse that renders the character’s speech in the author’s language. In both cases, an interior monologue passes itself off as free indirect discourse. An author who uses his own language to report the speech of a character only gives voice to her own thoughts; she only reanimates the thoughts and ideology of the character when the words of a character and the words of the author are not the same(87, original italics). Only different language can express the character’s thoughts insofar as they are not those of the author, because words are the only access we have to the thoughts of others. As Pasolini puts it,

The character lives. in another linguistic or psychological, or cultural, or historical world. He belongs to another social class. And the author therefore knows the world of that social class only through the character and his language. (87, original italics)

An author who cannot recognize this

doesn’t know how to recognize the extreme characteristics of psychological diversity of a man whose life experiences differ from his, and who on the contrary believes that he make them his by seeking substantial analogies  almost as if experiences other than his weren’t conceivable. (ibid.)

Pasolini argues that authors naturalize their own subjectivities, each positing his as the norm for all subjectivity, serving the ideological interest of the status quo and performing an act that is the first step toward certain manifestations of the defense of his privileges and even toward racism’(87). For Pasolini, the recognition of difference makes possible an author’s freedom with respect to his socio-economic conditions and the norms of his social type by permitting a radical critique of the author’s speaking position. When an author fails to recognize different life experiences, he belongs to his class deterministically; there is no discontinuity between him and a police chief or an executioner in a concentration camp(ibid.).

Pasolini’s connection between false free indirect discourse and coercive state violence might strike a reader as hyperbolic, but the very possibility of alterity in literature hangs in the balance; the otherness of the character and her world can only be preserved through the alterity and opacity of her language. The assumption that language is transparent and can immediately be translated into thought implies that a particular psychology functions as a norm. Any deviation from that norm can then be construed as a lapse or degradation.

Pasolini sees free indirect discourse as an evolving figure, even as he notes its disappearance from literature. In the rise of modern writing beyond style,Pasolini sees a synthesis of pure plurality and contemporaneity of possible techniques(89). The density of figures in mid-twentieth century writing, and the rapidity with which its language changes register, make it more difficult to identify free indirect discourse, since the difference between the two conflicting utterances in free indirect discourse assumes that each utterance can be differentiated and recog- nized. Since modern writing collapses various consciousnesses into the same flow of text, all that remains of free indirect discourse are stumps’(89). While Volosinov saw a generalization of free indirect discourse as an evasion of responsible utterance and the triumph of bourgeois consciousness, Pasolini argues that as free indirect discourse spreads, it becomes less and less possible, since its use tends to dissolve any stable enunciative position in the text.

Despite the difficulties Pasolini recognized in using free indirect discourse in the literature of his time, he finds it in twentieth-century visual arts. In these passages, free indirect discourse seems to drive the development of modern painting. Avant-garde painters started incorporating separate objects such as newspapers into their canvases. Such objects, previously unknown in painterly tradition, constitute another language, or another mode of expression. The use of a different material opens the work to history, turning the artist and user from makers of history into products of history, by making them work with historically determined expressive material. In pop painting, the preexisting object often comes between the painter’s vision and the world, becoming something cited, like the image of a soup can. The painter mixes something already seen into his expression of a world he has seen, and in the process, it becomes something seen from another point of view.

The section on free indirect images in pop painting allows Pasolini to start thinking about a visual form of free indirect discourse. The use of a found object, of an object heterogeneous to the rest of the canvas, suggests to Pasolini a different source of enunciation and a different reading position. Because the heterogeneous object brings with it its own rules of seeing (often a clichè), that object makes palpable the historicity of images and the history of regimes of painting.

For Pasolini, class conditions reception as much as it conditions production. The intellectual, bourgeois critic can only understand the reported material according to old standards, unable to account for it except as a naked syntagma, the unequivocal and terrible pop-object(92), very different from the ‘innocent’ masses’(92) who are able to read the pop element in its affective complexity, since it comes from a set of objects that make up their daily lives.

True free indirect discourse must bear the inscription of the socio- economic difference between speakers in their language and conscious- ness. As the above example shows, one could also say that free indirect discourse exposes socio-economic differences between audiences. What is important is the existence of different languages, and hence of different social groups. Pasolini interprets the existence of languages other than the dominant one as concrete forms of social resistance.

We can now see why Pasolini ties the freedom of the author to the use of two distinct languages in free indirect discourse. To the extent that an author uses language that makes any experience other than his own seem inconceivable, that author colonizes everything according to the will of his class-consciousness. In so doing, he gives up his own freedom, because it depends on the ability to experience something other than class-based consciousness, and hence on a language different from that of his social class.

At the end of his Notes on Free Indirect Discourse(1972), Pasolini analyzes Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) as an articulation of two socio- economically different discourses. Pasolini moves between literary and cinematic ideas easily here, by treating the character’s attitudes as discourses, despite the fact that the film is silent. Modern Times depends on two registers: the industrial and the human. So long as the vocabulary of the factory is different from the vocabulary of the worker’s life, Chaplin’s character can play at making the machines into a linguistic-expressive world, staging a critique of the inexpressiveness of technology. When the language of the technocrat can no longer be distinguished from the language of the worker, the linguistic phenomena specific to factories will dominate all language, entailing the subsequent suppression of the margin of freedom assured by the various linguistic levels(100, original italics).

Pasolini articulates the possibility of a cinematic equivalent of free indirect discourse more explicitly and at greater length in “The Cinema of Poetry,” an essay where he draws correspondences between types of reported speech in literature and cinematic forms. According to Pasolini, the cinema’s point-of-view shot corresponds to literature’s direct discourse (176). Just as he wrote of Modern Times’s images as linguistic expressions, he links point of view to a character’s language. Pasolini’s translation of the figure from one medium into another seems simple: both figures bring into play something marked as having another source than the rest of the work in which they appear, but what they bring into play differs in each case. Direct discourse reports the speech of a character, while the point-of-view shot presents a character’s auditory and visual perceptions. The figures concern different elements: one concerns speech, the other concerns the senses of hearing and vision; and surprisingly, Pasolini’s application of a figure of speech to the cinema emphasizes the visual aspect of film at the expense of the sound track.

Instead of translating direct discourse with a cinematic figure for reporting speech (the use of synchronized sound in depicting a conversation, the alternation of shot and counter-shot in editing a conversation, or the written speech of silent film’s inter-titles), Pasolini identifies direct discourse with cinematic point of view. It is as if Pasolini had abstracted the problem of reported speech, construing it as the appearance of signs of the same type that dominate the text in which they appear, but that are marked as having been produced by a subject other than the authorof that textan abstraction already implicit in his notes on the indirect images in pop art. In literature, a character’s speech or thought reported by direct discourse consists of words, linguistic signs  like the rest of the novel in which they appear, but the reader understands those words as enunciated by someone other than the author. In cinema, the point-of-view shot presents acoustic and visual images, cinematic signs  like the rest of the film in which they appear, but the audience understands those images as having been perceived by someone other than the auteur.’

Establishing that single cinematic constructions can traffic in materials associated with two subjects opens the possibility of a cinematic free indirect, the interaction of expressive materials from both of the subjects. In order to evaluate the cinematic free indirect, Pasolini searches for inscriptions of class in point-of-view shots. Social difference inscribes itself on language, because language is a totality of socially differentiating and differentiated languages(176)  in other words, a social relation in and of itself. Variations from the institutionalized forms of language both mark and change social differences. A speaker identifies herself as belonging to a class, and can contest the linguistic norms of her culture, since those norms are produced by language use. In The Cinema of Poetry, Pasolini imagines the inscription of social difference in the cinema only with difficulty. Writing about the cinema as primarily visual art, he observes that while people speak differently according to their cultural and historical circumstances, our eyes are the same the world over’(176). This creates the first difficulty: in literature, free indirect discourse depends on differentiating the character’s language from that of the author, but if seeing is universal, how can a visual art formally register social difference? Pasolini attempts to solve this problem by imagining conditioned, socio-economically differentiated modes of vision, such as those of the peasant and the bourgeois who see different sets of things, but even a single thing in itself appears different through the two different gazes’(ibid.). However, as soon as he presents that solution, Pasolini mitigates it by noting that such differences between gazes cannot be institutionalized.

Given the difficulty of correlating modes of vision with the socio- economic conditions of spectators, all of Pasolini’s examples of free indirect cinema come in the form of films shot entirely in free indirect point of view. Pasolini calls this pre-textual free indirect, a phrase one might understand as meaning both that the logic of the text implies a free indirect view already underway when the film starts, and that a free indirect point of view is used as a pretext for something else. His three major examples of free indirect subjectivity come from films by Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard, and Bernardo Bertolucci, two of whom (Antonioni and Godard) become major figures in Deleuze’s Cinema 2: The Time-Image. In Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964), the world is perceived by Monica Vitti’s neurotic character Giuliana. With the exception of the sequence depicting her son’s dream, the film looks and sounds as if it were seen and heard through her subjectivity, because it differs from cinematic convention. Those differences, most famously the film’s emphasis on framing, mark Giuliana’s neurotic perception, which in turn becomes the pretext for Antonioni’s radical pictorialism, granting him the freedom from cinematic norms required for his aesthetic project. As Pasolini writes, instead of being the instrument that analyzes alienation Antonioni’s vision becomes alienated in the character’s(179-180).

In films that use pre-textual free indirect point of view, the character with whom the auteur establishes a free indirect relation is irrational, whereas the norms of cinema are based on rational subjectivity. Free indirect images serve to speak indirectly  through any narrative alibi  in the first person singular’(185), but surprisingly, Pasolini claims that this first-person singular never takes the form of an interior monologue, since cinema lacks a means of interiorization  of passing from images to thoughts and conceptual words(176). The cinema contains expressive material that can be associated with both the auteur and a character, but the vision of the auteur and the vision of the character are differentiated according to psychological rather than socio-economic factors.5 For Pasolini, free indirect point of view expresses psychological types.

Although the psychology expressed in free indirect point of view motivates the use of outlandish expressive devices, the filmmaker must use characters of the same socio-economic milieu as himself, analogous to him in culture, language, and psychology  they [must be] exquisite flowers of the bourgeoisie in short, the bourgeoisie, also in film, identifies itself with all of humanity, in an irrational interclassism(185). The cinematic version of literature’s free indirect discourse does not involve the same margin of freedom, since the director cannot mime the vision of someone from outside his social sphere without positing it as a lapse of bourgeois psychology. Modes of vision at variance with the institutionalized way of seeing are understood as expressing the

psychological flaws of the spectators, characterizing them as abnormal, neurotic, or hyper-sensitive(185). For Pasolini, the function of free indirect images in the cinema is the coming into consciousness of contemporaneous capitalism neo-capitalism that discusses and modifies its own structures and that, in the case in point once again, ascribes to poets a late humanistic function: the myth and the technical consciousness of form(185).


Deleuze constructs a new theory of free indirect discourse from references to Mitry, Volosinov and Pasolini. He assembles some of their thoughts into the new idea of free indirect images. In the course of constructing his idea, Deleuze emphasizes some aspects of his sources while ignoring others in short, he reads. From his sources, Deleuze constructs a concept of free indirect discourse and images that opens new insights into the textual politics of films, and to a certain extent, links them to the material conditions of their production, but the concept stops analyzing cinematic production as such. Deleuze could have used free indirect discourse to think about the films he analyzes as being the result of a production process involving multiple authors, but instead he writes of free indirect images as figures used by traditionally invoked and singular auteurs. Nonetheless, Deleuze produces a more flexible, finely articulated notion of free indirect discourse than any of his sources, one directly linked to the ethics and politics of cinema. However, the reading practice required to develop the new concept ignores everything in Pasolini and Volosinov that would force Deleuze to question the ethics of his own utterances.

As we have seen in Cinema 1, Deleuze develops the idea of free indirect images in the course of an attempt to define subjective and objective images through a reading of Mitry. In the course of defining objective and subjective images, Deleuze focuses on objective images that become subjective, and vice-versa. He begins by defining subjective images as things seen from inside the set of things to which they belong, and objective images as things seen from outside the set to which they belong. The camera’s ability to pass from a position within a set to a position outside of it complicates Deleuze’s nominal definitions of subjective and objective images, since any given shot can conceivably be re-determined as subjective or objective by being re-framed by a camera movement. The chapter begins with three cinematic examples, La Roue (Gance, 1923), The White Sheik (Fellini, 1952) and Pandora and The Flying Dutchman (Lewin, 1951). Of these, only La Roue is silent, but Deleuze deals only with the films’ visual aspects. He then turns to Mitry’s analysis of the shot-reverse shot to illustrate the fluidity with which the cinema passes from objective to subjective.

If Volosinov and Pasolini emphasize the sociological aspect of free indirect discourse, Deleuze emphasizes its ethical and political aspects. Before Deleuze introduces the term free indirect, he cues the reader to attend to its ethico-political importance. Deleuze introduces Mitry’s term semi-subjective image as a way of starting to describe the camera’s passage between objectivity and subjectivity, emphasizing its ability to be withthe characters. The phrase being-with comes from Mitry and appears in quotation marks in Deleuze’s text, but in the very sentence after Deleuze introduces this phrase, he translates it with the word Mitsein. Mitsein, a term from Martin Heidegger’s lexicon, alerts us that ethical relations are at stake here. 6 Deleuze goes on to associate this with John Dos Passos’s camera eye,which Deleuze describes as the anonymous viewpoint of someone unidentified among the characters,’7 who implicitly judges their actions.

Deleuze’s description of this anonymous viewpoint casts the semi- subjective image as a primal cinematic substance, from which the objective and subjective images differentiate themselves. According to Deleuze, Pasolini thought that free indirect images expressed the essence of cinema. Pasolini’s essay on The Cinema of Poetry, which Deleuze refers to here, argues that cinema only manifests pre-textual forms of free indirect images, infinitely less articulated and complex than the figure in literature (Pasolini, 176). By making Pasolini identify free indirect images with the essence of cinema, Deleuze forges an ontological link between cinema and subjectivity.

Deleuze equates the perception-imagethe zero degree of cinematic images in his taxonomy with the semi-subjective, arguing that cinematic perception differs from natural perception, since natural perception does not have a semi-subjective form. As we move through the world, our perceptions are either objective or subjective, but never both. This makes it difficult to find a status for this semi-subjectivity, and Deleuze writes, this is why Pasolini used a linguistic analogy,(72)10 namely, that of free indirect discourse. The claim that Pasolini uses a linguistic analogy in order to overcome the difficulties of defining an unnatural mode of perception is not quite accurate. My own reading of the “The Cinema of Poetry” shows that Pasolini turns to free indirect images because they enable a linguistic analogy to be made; he does not turn to language in order to explain something in the cinema. Pasolini

looks for a cinema of poetry in order to analyze the social function of the film artist according to the model of the poet. As he argued in his earlier text Notes on Free Indirect Discourse, reading the figure allows him to analyze texts as the products of socio-economic types. Deleuze only invokes the parts of Pasolini’s essays concerning the figure’s potential to express different subjectivities and solicit responses from new audiences, and hence create new social groupings. He reads Pasolini’s essay as an attempt to explain an emerging style of cinema rather than as a call to transform cinema.

After having introduced Pasolini, Deleuze’s text uses free indirect discourse to combine Pasolini’s argument with his vocabulary:

It might be said that a subjective perception-image is a direct discourse and, in a more complex way, that the objective perception- image is like an indirect discourse (the spectator sees the character in such a way as to be able, sooner or later to state what the character is supposed to be able to be seeing). (72)

Here Deleuze retains Pasolini’s comparison between the cinema’s visual elements and figures for reporting speech, as well as some of Pasolini’s words: direct discourse and free indirect discourse. Deleuze also makes significant changes in Pasolini’s language and makes explicit a possible implication of his argument. Deleuze substitutes perception- image for point-of-view shot in Pasolini’s argument, and adds the comparison between the objective image and indirect discourse. The perception image is not quite a point-of-view shot, since there is an objective perception image but no objective point-of-view shot, and also because Deleuze uses the word image sometimes to mean a single shot and other times a concatenation of shots. Although Pasolini makes the comparison between the point-of-view shot and direct discourse, he does not write about a cinematic equivalent of indirect discourse.

These alterations transform Pasolini’s article from an aesthetic consideration of cinema into a consideration of how cinema produces subjectivity. By making the comparison between indirect discourse and objective images, Deleuze changes indirect discourse from a means of reporting speech to an arrangement of subjectivity. He describes free indirect discourse as an enunciation taken within an utterance which itself depends on another enunciation(73). Such a description is to be found neither in Volosinov nor in Pasolini. The word enunciation and the argument here echo Deleuze’s collaborative work with Felix Guattari on assemblages of enunciation a term Deleuze will soon invoke.

Deleuze’s example of free indirect discourse in literature, taken from Volosinov, is: She summons up her strength: she will rather endure torture than loose her virginity(73). Volosinov finds this passage in an example from an argument by one G. Lerch, who contends that free indirect discourse can be found in medieval French literature. As Ann Banfield points out in Unspeakable Sentences, Lerch’s argument is unconvincing because the passage lacks any of free indirect discourse’s linguistic markers, and Volosinov only endorses Lerch’s argument conditionally, writing in a footnote that Lerch’s reading is only the most probable interpretation of the lines(cited in Banfield, 229). Banfield traces a complex history of interpretation in which analysts disagree about whether the passage cited in Deleuze is free indirect discourse. Deleuze’s use of such a questionable example illustrates his tendency to understand all enunciation as an assemblage, hearing very subtle distinctions among lexicons, then figuring those differences as voices that produce speaking subjectivities, all the while never doubting the alterity of the languages involved.

Following this example, Deleuze paraphrases Volosinov’s argument about free indirect discourse as the production of two subjects in language, one of which constitutes a character in the first person, the other of which is present at his birth and brings him onto the scene(73). Deleuze gives voice to Volosinov’s theories of the speaking self as an ideologeme, only realized in speech, and of free indirect discourse as a single linguistic construction that maintains two voices within itself. However, he changes the emphasis from free indirect discourse as the crystallization of social tendency to free indirect images as the production of subjectivity. To play on Deleuze’s vocabulary, one might say that Deleuze’s work on free indirect images transforms a literary device determined by socio-economic conditions into a machine for producing subjectivities.

This shift in stress anticipates Deleuze’s observations on free indirect images in Cinema 2, where the figure makes it possible to call a people into being. Instead of writing about free indirect images as a product of bourgeois culture, Deleuze writes about the figure as a possible means of creating a collective of the oppressed and marginalized. By combining Volosinov’s argument that the speaking personality is created in the act of speaking, with Pasolini’s contention that certain uses of free indirect discourse imply a choral listener, Deleuze forges the figure into a political instrument. However, by ignoring either argument about free indirect discourse as a figure produced by a given class in a specific set of economic relations, he forecloses the political and ethical critique of free indirect discourse and images.

Deleuze establishes free indirect images as a technique of dual subjectification, as if this had been Volosinov’s claim, and then asserts that Pasolini took up this model. Deleuze explains that for Pasolini and Volosinov, free indirect discourse rather than metaphor drives the development of languages, because metaphor homogenizes language while free indirect discourse keeps the system heterogeneous, far from equilibrium(73). Although both Pasolini and Volosinov attribute the development of European languages to free indirect discourse, they do so for a very different reason. Both writers argue that free indirect discourse is the essential bourgeois figure. Thus, the primacy of free indirect discourse comes from socio-economic causes, rather than linguistic or aesthetic ones. Deleuze goes even further from his sources, arguing that free indirect discourse cannot be analyzed according to linguistic categories, which are always homogenous, but which are, as Pasolini says, a matter of style. Here, he makes the opposite claim about language from Pasolini, for whom the figure depends on linguistic categories, even when understood as a stylistic device. Rather than understanding the use of words from one dialect in a text written primarily in another dialect (the high and low versions of a language, for example) as an act of imitation or mimesis, Deleuze understands it as a correlation between two asymmetrical proceedings within language, so that the correlation matters and not the language itself, because that correlation is the simultaneous production of two subjects.

Deleuze’s differentiation of subjects can be found in thought and art as well as language. Deleuze identifies it with the cogito that can only be born by being reflected in a transcendental subject that thinks it. In the cinema, a subject cannot be born without another subject who watches it and assumes the first subject’s freedom for itself. Although this model of the split self has been a philosophical commonplace since Descartes, Deleuze appends a long quotation from Bergson’s Mind-Energy by way of elaboration. Bergson describes two egos as constantly in the process of differentiation, in an oscillation of the person between two points of view on himself, a hither and thither of the spirit’(cited in Cinema I, 74); an oscillation that Deleuze reminds us is a sort of being with.

In the cinema a character acts on the screen, and is assumed to see the world in a certain way. But simultaneously, the camera sees him, and sees his world, from another point of view that thinks, reflects and transforms the viewpoint of the character(74). For Deleuze then, free indirect discourse has an equivalent in the cinema to the extent that free indirect discourse is a model of the cogito or subject always differentiating itself from itself, always becoming another. This first formulation of free indirect images in Cinema is specular, as Deleuze has not yet broached film sound.

If for Pasolini, in Red Desert Antonioni is able to transform Giuliana’s neurosis into delirious aestheticism, for Deleuze, this ability comes from the camera’s rethinking of Giuliana’s point of view, and the character’s neurosis marks the subject’s difficult birth into the world. This correlation between a perception-image and camera-consciousness goes beyond subjective and objective to a pure form of an autonomous vision. Deleuze defines the cinema of poetry as a perception image whose content is reflected in an autonomous camera consciousness a reflection that grants the perception image its status as free indirect subjectivity.

Although Deleuze recasts Pasolini’s arguments about free indirect point of view in Antonioni and Godard in the language of the reflected cogito, in Cinema the universal cogito is much less important than the subjectivity of character types. For both Volosinov and Pasolini, free indirect discourse allows the expression of subjectivities conditioned by class differences; Deleuze values free indirect images because they allow subjectivities of different types, such as the neurotic. Here, the noun neurotic names a category of subjects in the same way that the common noun bourgeois does in Pasolini. As the man losing his identity(75), or a subject becoming less differentiated, the neurotic exposes the conditions of normative subjectivity while providing an alternative to it, or to borrow Deleuze’s words, a line of flight from it. The director affirms himself in him while distinguishing himself from him(75), an image that repeats not only Bergson’s two cogitos but also the key image of differentiation in Deleuze, that of the lightning in the night sky in Difference and Repetition.10

Deleuze’s displacement of Volosinov and Pasolini’s socio-economic classes with character types supports the usually overlooked sociological or anthropological tendency in the Cinema books. Throughout the two books, Deleuze argues that various groups of films construct images of different kinds of social relations, and think them through different categories and kinds of reasoning. Deleuze’s use of common nouns allows him to write about films as social organizations of character types: for example, in his comparison of W. D. Griffith and S. M. Eisenstein in Cinema I’s first chapter. These arguments depend on a rhetoric that calls characters not by their proper names, but with common nouns that name different types with varying degrees of specificity: the young girl(30), a Negro(30), the Chinese opium addict(31), the people(34), the Boyars(34). The variation in the specificity of the nouns corresponds to variations in the ways films conceptualize social categories. Free indirect images are like undifferentiated plasma of subjectivity that generate types. Ultimately, it becomes possible for cinema to reflect on its own production of types, for instance in Godard, who, according to Deleuze’s free indirect account of Pasolini’s essay, uses characters representing the birth of a new anthropological type(75). Deleuze goes on to write that Eric Rohmer’s films have a truly ethical

consciousness, formally transforming the cinema to make it capable of bearing the free indirect discourse of the modern neurotic world. He claims that Rohmer creates an image that is an exact equivalent of an indirect discourse, as in Percival (1978) or the Marquise of O (1976). Both directors work on the relationship of the image and the text, i.e., in Percival, the chorus reports what the characters say indirectly. While all free indirect relations are ethical encounters, Rohmer’s films are the most self-aware of this.

Deleuze concludes the first section of chapter 4 by emphasizing free indirect’s oscillation between objective and subjective, and its status as a higher aesthetic form(76). He writes that in Pasolini’s films the free indirect subjective is like a reflection of the image in a camera-self- consciousness.(76). This gives camera-consciousness an extremely formal dimension(ibid.) It is precisely this self-consciousness about subject production that constitutes the ethical and political hope of the cinema.

Cinema 2

In Cinema 2, Deleuze returns to free indirect images, introducing them to address subject-object relationships and their development, a relationship that is the concern of the rècit ,or tale. Deleuze writes, According to convention, what the camera sees’ is called objective, and what the character sees is called subjective(148), and the rècit is the development of these two series of images and the relations between them. In classical or organic cinema, what the camera sees is the truth, but what a character sees might not be. Narratives tend to involve a character learning to see as the camera sees; but in the cinema of poetry, the distinction between what the character saw and what the camera saw objectively vanished because the camera entered into a relation of simulation (mimesis’) with the character’s way of seeing(148). With the emergence of this sort of free indirect subjectivity, the story no longer refers to the truth but becomes a pseudo-story’11 that decomposes and recomposes subjective and objective images. Thus the cinema of poetry becomes capable of composing directly with the medium’s mode of subjectification: in other words, of attaining self-consciousness about its production of types.

As if in an aside, Deleuze notes that free indirect images emerge in non-fiction films as well as in art cinema. As the argument develops, it becomes clear that various post-war documentaries provide the strongest examples of free indirect images in modern cinema, a free indirect connected to the world beyond the film so intimately that such a film can call a people into being. Deleuze analyzes these films as if they were machines for producing new collectivities and new social relations.

Deleuze argues that despite the obvious opposition between documentary and fiction films, both traditionally address their spectators as if they told the truth, and for both modes, the truth means an accord between what the camera sees and what the character sees. Like fiction films, documentaries often take the form of double systems, where the camera sees objectively and the characters see subjectively. In this passage Deleuze calls this adequation between two series of images a cinematographic fiction(149) even in documentaries. He suggests that in moving away from such an articulation of perception, cinema undergoes its own version of Nietzsche’s critique of truth.

Here, Deleuze contests a traditional opposition of film criticism, just as he earlier claims that film history is better divided into pre- and post- World War II periods than into pre- and post-sound periods. Presently he claims that the distinction between cinemas of fiction and documentary is less important than the distinction between films that ground truth in an accord between the subjective and the objective, and films that don’t. For Deleuze, free indirect images emerge in certain documentaries of the 1960s and undo the ideal of truth based on cinematographic fiction.

Deleuze assembles a band of cinematic Nietzscheans to perform the critique of truth: John Cassavettes, Sheryl Clarke, Pierre Perrault, and Jean Rouch. All of these filmmakers abandon a pre-constituted model of truth to become creators of truth, a feat they are able to accomplish by virtue of free indirect figuration. Deleuze uses the term less frequently here than in the sustained consideration of the figure in Cinema 1. When it comes up, it is often at the conclusion of an argument, and points to a general trait of the modern cinema. Just as Pasolini argues that free indirect discourse saturates modern writing, Deleuze claims that it saturates modern cinema. Deleuze describes the way his band of filmmakers produce multiple subjectivities in their work through a figurative process of differentiation.

The analysis starts with Perrault, and Deleuze’s larger claims about Perrault apply to the other filmmakers as well. For example, Deleuze writes that Perrault criticizes fiction insofar as it forms a model of pre- established truth, which necessarily expresses the dominant ideas or the point of view of the colonizer(150); the critique of pre-established truth politically validates the practice of all the filmmakers at the end of chapter 7. If pre-established truth expresses the point of view of the colonizer, legend and memory exemplify the story-telling function of the poor(ibid.). The filmmakers Deleuze assembles here all present real characters in the act of making fiction, an act that Deleuze argues contests dominant ideas and established models of truth by presenting the character in the process of changing, or as Deleuze puts it, of becoming. Images of characters telling stories constitute an enunciation given in an utterance, which in turn depends on another enunciation. We see and hear the character narrating in a film assembled by someone else. Such images correspond exactly to Deleuze’s definition of free indirect discourse in literature.

Instead of presenting characters as identities, these filmmakers present real characters playing characters from the past, or legendary characters; in this literal sense, they give us characters becoming another (character) or differentiating themselves from themselves. In these films, the storytelling function is given over to the characters; the filmmaker’s fictions are replaced by his real characters’ rÈcits. In that sense, the filmmaker, or the source of the film’s enunciation, also becomes another.12 The stories told by the characters in these films are stories representing groups or types whom Deleuze calls peoples, and the characters relinquish the role of the storyteller to characters of other types. It is thus, Deleuze claims, that the films in question call a people into being, rearticulating in a different register Pasolini’s claim about the choral address of the infinitives in Don Giovanni.

In Deleuze’s analysis of Perrault, he argues that direct cinema, cinèma- vèritè, and cinema of the lived consist of a free indirect figure who articulates two different points of view and produces two different subjectivities. Concluding his analysis of Perrault, Deleuze calls this figure the free indirect discourse of Quebec, imaging the story-telling function passing from one to another, until it passes through a multitude and becomes a discourse with a thousand heads(151). This account of free indirect images ignores the problem of whether the films present a story- telling function of the poor that comes from outside the filmmaker’s realm. Because the characters come from our world, Deleuze assumes that the film depicts their stories from their point of view. Clearly these films attempt to accomplish this, but whether they succeed is another matter.

Rouch articulates free indirect images through characters who are defined by a passage from one state to another: through trance in Le Matre fou (1955), and through role-play in Moi un Noir (1959), for example. In these films the character becomes both real and fiction, because he is real as he invents his fictional character. In order to show this change in the character, the camera constantly links him to images from before and after the process of self-differentiation. Rouch’s characters are constantly becoming another and [are] no longer separable from this becoming that merges with a people(152). Rouch and the characters both make a free indirect discourse. Since free indirect images and discourse produce subjects, Deleuze can link them with the possibility of producing an image of subjects yet to come, and to forge out of it a cinema of absolute non-self identity.

The argument goes on to identify Rouch’s free indirect with a cannonical French formulation for the self in differentiation Rimbaud’s famous phrase Je est un autre. Having just differentiated Rouch from Perrault on the grounds that Perrault makes films that attempt to rediscover the lost identity of a repressed people, while Rouch escapes his civilization to find a different identity, Deleuze’s citation of Rimbaud is apposite, since the poet left France for Africa in order to become something other than a poet. Here, free indirect images have become a generalized possibility for subjective becoming in the cinema. Deleuze calls this the very poetry that Pasolini looked for in fiction films.

Perault and Rouch return to a similar argument at the end of chapter 8, Cinema, Body and Brain, but this reprise considers the story-telling function of free indirect discourse in terms of literal telling or speech. This speech act creates itself as a foreign language in a dominant language(223).13 This becomes the goal of Third-World cinema, which seeks through trance or crisis, to constitute an assemblage that brings together, in order to produce collective utterances, as the prefiguration of the people who are missing(188).


In his consideration of Shirley Clarke and John Cassavettes, Deleuze writes free, direct discourse’(153) with a comma between free and direct to indicate the way the figure supposedly allows both filmmaker and character to express and set free the becoming of a minority. At the end of the chapter, the whole cinema becomes a free, indirect discourse operating in reality(155). In both sentences, the comma after free implies that the figure is on the side of liberty.14 The politico-ethical aspiration of freeing the expression of a minority collectivity is thus associated with all the time-images that Deleuze links to free indirect cinema. Deleuze writes that the time-image erases internal monologue in favor of a free indirect discourse and vision(155).

Deleuze’s analysis of the figure in Jean Rouch’s films is extraordinarily rich. By connecting free indirect discourse with the depiction of characters in the act of story-telling, he reveals the purest example of the figure in cinema. By choosing films with real characters playing themselves, Deleuze convinces us that free indirect discourse has some relation to actual ethical and political problems. By choosing to focus on two ethnographic filmmakers, he is able to show how free indirect discourse works to construct collectivities by allowing multiple voices to address multiple spectators who themselves become potential speakers.

Yet Deleuze’s analysis of Rouch and Perault does not mention the names of their collaborators, only the names of the auteurs. Even in this account of the most radical examples of free indirect discourse in cinema, the other voices lose their identity, while the name of the auteur remains. This rhetoric functions as an erasure of the very oppressed minoritygroups that cinema’s free indirect is supposed to call into being. The names of the members of those groups never appearan absence that contradicts an important aspect of Rouch’s project.15 For Rouch not only made films; he trained collaborators like Damoure Zeka in both filmmaking and anthropology. He wanted to de-institutionalize both practices. If Volosinov and Pasolini’s critiques of free indirect discourse had been maintained in Deleuze’s reading, along with the valorizing aspects of their theories, Deleuze might have been able to rethink this erasure, or at least to make explicit a theory of authorship that might mitigate it.

The erasure of other names might have been avoided through a simple consideration of who did what on a particular film. But although Deleuze defines free indirect discourse as an assemblage of enunciation and here he uses films produced under very specific circumstances (in the midst of ongoing life, with real characters, without scripts) and with very specific equipment (portable 16-mm cameras, crystal-synch tape- recorders)he never develops a sustained consideration of free indirect discourse in terms of material circumstances of production.16 Since Deleuze calls free indirect discourse an assemblage of enunciation, it is all the more surprising that he does not address the collective nature of film production.

If Deleuze ignores production history, he also avoids formal analysis of his examples of cinematic free indirect discourse, although such an analysis would be required by Pasolini’s critique of the figure. The only way to assess whether a filmmaker has allowed another subject to emerge in a film or has disguised his own position as that of another is to analyze the form of the example of free indirect subjectivity in question. In Dialogues, Deleuze tells Clair Parnet that he often had to do a lot of work to make the authors he reads, say what he wanted them to say. This suggests that Deleuze consciously uses the figure to re-accentuate others’ writings, so that they say something else. Without a formal analysis of the films of Rouch and Perault, it is uncertain whether their use of free indirect subjectivity does the same thing. If so, another argument would be needed to show that it could nonetheless still call a people into being. For if the filmmaker’s control of the cinematic medium ends up determining the speech of other subjects in the film, can the voices in the film be thought of as multiple?

The triumph of free indirect images in modern cinema reflects Deleuze’s use of the figure in an alluring light. Deleuze’s selective reading of Pasolini and Volosinov is an interested reading. He ignores the parts of their arguments that would challenge his own writing, and thus allows the figure to function as a utopian lure, promising a politics and ethics within modern cinema, but he never shows us how new modes of social organization inform the screening room.

Despite the limits of Deleuze’s ethical and political argument for free indirect discourse, Cinema articulates one of the most suggestive accounts of the production of subjectivity in the cinema. Furthermore, the theory of free indirect images and discourse in Cinema prepares us to think the unthought in thought, or the question of life. In chapter 7 of Volume 2, Thought and Cinema, Deleuze writes that the task of the cinema is to make us believe, not in a different world, but in a link between man and the world, in love or life, to believe in this as in the impossible, the unthinkable, which nonetheless cannot but be thought(171). Part of this project of discovering the identity of thought and life must involve the analysis of the concept of life in contemporary social and biological sciences, and a resistance to the use of the word life within contemporary social control systems; otherwise, lifeis taken to be already thought.’17

According to Giorgio Agamben, Deleuze concentrated his efforts on producing a thought of life that does not consist only in its confrontation with death and an immanence that does not once again produce transcendence(238). That thought will require us to discern the matrix of desubjectification itself in every principle that allows the attribution of a subjectivity(ibid.). Such a matrix appears in free indirect discourse and images, insofar as they express subjectivities at the moment of their differentiation rather than as always already differentiated.

Agamben further points out that the task of thinking the concept of life requires
a genealogical inquiry into the term life. This inquiry will demonstrate that life is not a medical and scientific notion but a philosophical, and theological concept, and that many categories of our philosophical tradition will have to be rethought accordingly. (239) Deleuze’s theory of free indirect images gives us to understand that the figures through which the notion of life are rendered into text must also be accorded their place in the genealogy Agamben proposes.

The remainder of chapters 7 and 8 consider the cinema as a mechanism for thinking life and believing in the body as the germ of life. These passages write about cinema in order to create concepts for a coming philosophy of life. Deleuze’s taxonomy of the cinema prepares for the philosophy of life by associating a set of character types with each category of cinematic image. The cinema allows Deleuze to think about images in terms of life and particularly in terms of social life. The free indirect necessarily figures the social since it always involves relations between multiple consciousnesses, 18 and the character types define the categories of social life that allow it to be conceptualized. In this scheme, free indirect images provide a model for the production of new social subjects in the cinema. Whether these new subjects are authentically other or are disguised versions of the filmmaker, Deleuze’s cinema sets them to work thinking life and imagining new forms of social relations. A task for some readers will be to imagine how such forms might be thought and imagined in light of the limits of free indirect discourse and the historical circumstances of film production.

Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. Absolute Immanence.Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy. Ed. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Bally, Charles. Le Langage et la Vie. Series Linguistica. Zurich: Max Niehans, 1935.

Banfield, Ann. Unspeakable Sentences: Narration and Representation in the Language of Fiction. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.
Bellour, Raymond. Penser, Raconterin Fahle and Engell, 22-40.

BensmaÔa, Rèda. L’ Espace Quelconque’ comme Personnage Concpetuel,’in Fahle and Engell, 140-52.

Gilles. Cinema 1: L’image-Mouvement. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1983.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: The Movement Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara

Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986. . Cinema 2: L’image-Temps. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1985.

Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Claire Parnet. Dialogues. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson, Barbara Habberjam and Eliot Albert. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Fahle, Oliver, and Lorenz Engell, eds. Der Film Bei Deleuze. Le CinÈma selon Deleuze. Weimar Paris: Verlag der Bauhaus-Universit‰t Weimar Presse de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1997.

Hirschkop, Ken. Bakhtin Myths, or, Why We All Need Alibis. South Atlantic Quarterly 97.3/4 (1998): 579-89.

Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. New York: Penguin Classics, 1998.

Eliaz, Ofer. The Absent Corpse: Vision and the Institution Free Indirect. Unpublished paper, 2001.

Guattari, Felix. Institutional Practices and Politics. The Guattari Reader. Ed. Gary

Genosko. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.
Johnston, John. Machinic Vision.Critical Inquiry 26.1 (1999): 27-48.
Mitry, Jean. The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema. Trans. Christopher King.Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1997.

Pasolini, Pier Paolo. The Cinema of Poetry, in Heretical Empiricism, trans. Ben Lawton and Louise K. Barnett. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

Comments on Free Indirect Discourse, in Heretical Empiricism.

Tihanov, Galin. Volosinov, Ideology, and Language: The Birth of Marxist Sociology from the Spirit of Lebensphilophie.South Atlantic Quarterly 97.3/4 (1998): 599-621.

Ungar, Steven. The Cutting Edge: Subjective Voice and Colonial Culture in Rouch’sMoi, un Noir.Society For Cinema And Media Studies. London, 2005.

Volosinov, V.N. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Trans. Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik. New York: Seminar Press, 1973.

1. Deleuze is not the only philosopher to use the trope; Levinas and Derrida rely on it,

to name two French theorists contemporaneous with Deleuze.
2. Although Volosinov refers to the figure as quasi-direct discourse rather than free indirect discourse, I will follow Deleuze’s terminology. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language mentions free indirect discourse in citations of Bally, but a reading of the differences implied by the two terms, while potentially creative in another context,

falls outside the scope of this inquiry.
3. Volosinov’s description of language as illuminating and giving form to the personal-

ity resembles Bergson’s account of consciousness as a photographic plate exposed to the light of perceptionan account Deleuze gives a careful reading of in the first volume of Cinema.

4. In fact, there are more than three important differences between Volosinov’s and Pasolini’s accounts of the free indirect. For Pasolini, the subject seems to exist before language use, whereas for Volosinov, language use produces the subject. How- ever, these differences do not matter in Deleuze’s appropriation of their work.

5. While this implies that the free indirect point of view articulates a psychological consciousness rather than a sociological one, things become more complex when Pasolini writes about the free indirect in Godard. He seems to associate Godard’s free indirect with institutional or technical vision rather than character perception. Hence Godard is capable of expressing the average of a new anthropological type(182) by analyzing the habits and gestures of his characters.

6. Given Deleuze’s antipathy toward Heidegger, this invocation of him at the very moment when Deleuze elaborates the ethical structure of the free indirect deserves attention in a properly philosophical study.

7. Note the importance of anonymity here. In Deleuze, the anonymous, preceded by the definite article, can represent a type; here, one pole of the semi-subjective is defined in terms of such anonymity.

8. Deleuze seems to feel that he must justify Pasolini’s comparison of film to language since he devotes several of Cinema’s key passages to a critique of the application of linguistic categories to film. In order to validate his reference to Pasolini, Deleuze must excuse the essay’s attempt to understand film in terms of literature.

9. According to Felix Guattari, the assemblage of enunciation provided the ulterior problematic of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, which sought to relate prepersonal subjectivity  prior to the totalities of the person and the individual  and supra personal, that is, concerning phenomena of the group, social phenomena(112).

10. Dorothea Olkowski analyzes Deleuze’s fascination with difference between things that cannot be separated in Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

11. Deleuze takes the term pseudo-storydirectly from Pasolini’s Cinema of Poetryessay.

12. Hence the contested authorship of Rouch’s films. See Damoure Zeka’s claims in Jean Rouch and his Camera in the Heart of Africa, as well as Manthia Diawara’s meditation on the authorship of Moi un Noir (Rouch 1958) in his own film, Rouch in Reverse. Steven Ungar has also pointed out Oumarou Ganda’s collaboration in the authorship of Moi un Noir with special attention to Ganda’s own statements, and Cascabo (1969), a later film directed by Ganda.

13. This formulation resonates with the definition of minor literature in Deleuze and Guattari’s Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.

14. In a passage on Godard, Deleuze writes, characters express themselves freely in the author’s discourse-vision, and the author, indirectly, in that of the characters(187).

15. Some of Rouch’s collaborators have asserted their role in the authorship of some of his films. Damoure Zeka makes many comments of this kind in Jean Rouch and his Camera in the Heart of Africa. This erasure is also noted by Manthia Diawara in Rouch in Reverse, where he argues that the New Wave originates not with Rouch but with his collaborators, and is thus is African in origin.

16. Dudley Andrew is one of the few scholars to attempt such an approach. See his Nomadic Cinemain The Brain is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema, ed. Gregory Flaxman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

17. In addition to Agamben’s writing on the importance of Deleuze’s interest in the concept of life,Galin Tihanov has pointed out important connections between Volosinov and Lebensphilophie in his Volosinov, Ideology, and Language: The Birth of Marxist Sociology from the Spirit of Lebensphilophie.’

18. I am indebted to Joshua Clover for this observation.

Talk for the Rendering The Visible “Book Bloc Against Aesthetics” (Georgia State)

Digital aesthetics, particularly those grounded in a theory of medium specificity or on variations of Stanley Cavell’s vague notion of “automatisms” exemplify a deeply atavistic development in contemporary thought. The precarious state of contemporary universities and the even more precarious position of the humanities among the faculties have lead to a conservative theoretical mode that seeks to maintain institutional positions in what appears to be an analysis of art. In film studies, a supposed discipline that, as Dudley Andrew pointed out in the PMLA, has been moving from standalone departments to programs integrated with other departments, institutional players have for the past decade and a half, invoked philosophy and philosophical aesthetics in hopes of re-legitimating themselves and their positions. Their appeals to the most conservative theoretical modes clearly attempts to align film studies with other disciplines thought to be more firmly established. Ironically, aesthetics and philosophy were long ago outstripped by developments within and beyond the field. The exhaustion and political limits of philosophy were elucidated by Jacques Derrida’s oft stated interest in ‘thought” rather than philosophy and the same can be read in Gilles Deleuze’s work, despite his retention of the term. Semiotic approaches to film, Foucault’s famous chapter from The Order Of Things on Las Meninas and the very same apparatus theory cited by those who have taken up Cavell’s “automatisms” move away from art and aesthetics towards a treatment of their objects as social acts. One can say the same for psychoanalytic film theory. Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema” does not once mention art or aesthetics. Such writings were produced during and just after the high point of capitalist expansion, which ended in 1973 (Brenner,) and so could afford to let go of such legitimating references. Claims that the digital offers a fundamentally new aesthetic find themselves outstripped by an earlier text by André Bazin, “The Ontology of The Photographic Image.” Though the dominant tradition misreads this essay as arguing for an indexical notion of photography and film, the word “index” does not appear in it, nor according to Yale’s Ouvire Bazin database does the word appear anywhere in Bazin’s writing. As I have tried to show in my chapter of Andrew and  Herve Joubert-Laurencin’s Opening Bazin. Make no mistake, the leading edges of theory and cultural production still concern themselves with interventions in our life-world, whatever Jacques Rancier may say. Despite the growing interest in genealogies of life and the currency of the term biopolitics, cultural production or “art,” if you insist, as attempted intervention in the lebensraum has yet to be fully thought.  Our consciousness of it’s potential remains where Pier Palo Passolini and The younger Jean-Luc Godard left it, if not behind them since many cover over the cineastes’ efforts with aesthetic analysis of their films. Any movement away from intervention in the lebensraum and towards a restoration of notions of art as a set of works, or toward representation, or aesthetic theory, especially aesthetic theory that posits an autonomy of media or automatisms, or worse that posits a right to beauty, has a regressive character and depoliticizes you in a way that subjects you to deans and today’s real dominant power — namely, capital. In order to show how this is so, as a condensed example I wish to analyze the reception of a series of events digitally disseminated but involving wood, foam, plexiglass, paint and violence: the colorful shields of Book Bloc. I justify the use of this example whose relation to rendering seems more a matter of convenience than anything like essence, because in the larger project of which this forms a part, I argue that the digital aesthetics or an aesthetics of electronic rendering are an effect of a general regressive movement towards aesthetics, philosophy and worst of all “ethics” all of which do nothing but return us to the systems of judgment so hated by Deleuze.

The reception afforded  the  digital images of book bloc by the professionals of theory, art and even activist art provides a paradigm for contemporary aesthetics, revealing their regressive bourgeois character.  As Hegel knew, aesthetics theory has marked the irrelevance of art as an independent sphere since its invention by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten. In our times, digital aesthetics function as the latest in a long series of rescue operation for aesthetic theory in general, just as the effort in the first half of the twentieth century by Anglophone film theorists to establish film as an art functioned to fortify an outstripped, fading concept of art.  Paradoxically, contemporary aesthetics attempts to sell us on autonomizing views of    practices that have lost all autonomy. Aesthetics and art refer us to a dead sphere of activity in the name of academic legitimacy at a time when history finds itself infected by life.

In the autumn and winter of 2010 the internet brought us photographs and videos of actions against the privatization of European higher education featuring activists using shields decorated with monochromatic fields baring the titles of well known books. The shields looked like elegant editions and they had a tactical function. They protected the activists from the blows of police batons and allowed them to form phalanxes.

Photographs of book shields started circulating on the web in November of 2010 (Wu Ming Blog.) On November 25, a row of book shields pushed up a street in Rome, protecting the crowd behind them from assaulting police. Titles included The Italian Constitution, Plato’s Rebublic, Q by Luther Blissett, and perhaps most charmingly Don Quixote. As the winter wore on, blocks of books appeared at actions all over Italy and in London on December 9.

In The Huffington Post Sarah Amsler described the London book bloc thus:

By visualizing immaterial value, students restore to the figure of the book a gravitas that years of digitization and commodification have depleted. They do not shield themselves behind knowledge, but hold before them the symbolic promise of all the radical traditions of oppositional knowledge and politics signified through these works. The resulting spectacle of oppression is profound: students communicate symbolically the intellectual and cultural violence of the state’s abdication of education, and the authorities, ridiculously, actually interpellate themselves.

Amsler’s account exemplifies the limited coverage of the book shields, almost all of  which turned attention away from the tactical function of the shields and towards the symbolic functions of the books. Here I do not mean tactical in Michel De Certeau’s expanded and diluted sense, I mean it in the military sense. To situate the books only on the plane of symbolic violence is to ignore the physically violence of the struggle depicted in the images. Surely, Amsler’s points have a certain validity, but a partial one. Something like a tradition of opposition guides the choice of books whose titles the shields bear. On other days titles appeared such as The Coming Insurection (Glen beck;s favorite book,) Das Kapital, and Specters Of Marx. However, dwelling on the virtual aspects of the books articulates the ideology of contemporary liberalism and interpellates the blog reader within it. Perceived by those under the influence of liberalism, the events in London in November and December appear as largely virtual and symbolic, meant to focus media attention in hopes of influencing a parliamentary vote to raise student fees. Liberal ideology makes certain social facts seem natural and obvious. In this case, public opinion as the primary object of struggle, electoral politics and the all encompassing state appear as unquestioned assumptions. Jacques Rancier, the inverted messenger of liberalism would no doubt try to assert that the monochromatic fields function as a variation of the blank page that he claims figures the space of democracy. In short, liberal ideology turns the actions in London into what Guy Debord used to call spectacle in the sense that they disguise living action as a dead commodity.

To some of those who participated, those events appeared otherwise. On December 10th Nina Power’s Facebook status update read “There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t.” Liberal ideology was one of the primary mechanisms keeping certain people from saying “there is a war.” For the liberal, the obviousness of the state, of electoral politics, of public opinion makes it equally obvious that only the virtual, symbolic and aesthetic aspects deserve serious consideration, foreclosing any possibility of acknowledging the war. Commentators interpellated by liberal ideology greet what they see as the aesthetic aspects of the events with a certain unrestrained joy, as if surprised by the creativity of activists.

A historical analysis supports the creativity of the book shields, but in a way that does not divorce their tactical function from their adornment. In 1968 in Paris, the lids of metal trash cans functioned as shields. Images of youths holding the lids while throwing the paving stones that covered the beach before being liberated illustrated the spontaneous creativity of rebellion.

During four decades between that May and the events in London, European urban waste management underwent massive changes. As part of these changes, what the British call the “wheelie bin” was patented 1975 by the German company Schneider ( and replaced metal trash cans in cities all over Europe over the following years. Trash bins were completely redesigned to work with semi-automated rubbish collection trucks. Unlike the older round cans, wheelie bins are usually made of rubber or plastic and more importantly, feature lids attached to the bin by hinges.  While the older, metal, trash can lids had an easily graspable handle in the middle of their circular form, the rectangular top of wheelie bins tend only have a sold ridge in the middle, sometimes with handles on the edges. In 1968, rebels found themselves surrounded everyday elements of the urban fabric, trash can lids, that could be instantly used as shields. The rebels of last winter had to make their own and the fact that they did so cannot be separated from the way in which they decorated what they made. More recently, in Cairo, activists appropriated pelxiglass riot shields from the police attacking them.

Digital photography and video immediately disseminated rendered images of the book shields around the globe via the equally digital means of the world wide web, yet even the deep market penetration of these media could not prevent the automated spectacularization of the images by liberal ideology, despite the images of the shields taking baton hits. Such rendered images render the visible as part of the current processes by which liberal ideology neutralizes any potential threat of social antagonism bourn by images and sounds. The current mode of spectacularization takes digital and digitally distributed images and sounds as one of its main materials and renders them, in the sense of giving them up to, privileged interpreters who render them, in the culinary sense of reducing, to ensure that they cannot escape the current diffuse spectacle.

Contemporary rendering, in this special sense, depends conceptually on the disavowed persistence of Lessing in contemporary aesthetic theory. As I have tried to show elsewhere, attempts to once again develop a new theory of media, or automatisms, their dematerialized functional equivalent, lead to a confinement of artistic practice to a historical field determined by the media or automatisms themselves (art history, film theory) stranding us in a symbolic economy or a virtual field and blinding us to the actual functions of cultural practice. David Rodowick’s book on the after life of cinema in the digital age performs exactly that operation whileattempting to defend a particular institutional position (in the case the centrality of Film Studies in contemporary higher education. The metaphysics of such works substitutes a weak or even false materialism for a worthwhile one. Just like older arguments about medium specificity, Rodwick, Cavellians and their ilk treat media or their equivalents as if they were actual and virtual materials that determined an aesthetics. Liberal ideology implies a simple material essentialism when we need a dialectical or historical materialism in order make cultural products appear as parts of larger historical assemblages.

As a result, it becomes difficult to perceive the war as a war. Amsler treats books as the composite actual and virtual material proper to the book shields. According to her analysis, the book shields represent the actual aspect of books (their covers and printed titles) while deploying their symbolic or virtual aspects (the thought or knowledge they contain.) Thus she virtualizes the entire book shield, as if it were all book and no shield. As with all essentialist-materialist analyses, the operation of the product can only be understood as taking place on the same plane on which she has posited the materials as existing. She writes, “Students communicate symbolically the intellectual and cultural violence of the state’s abdication of education.” Perhaps they do, but they do so while walking in a city, holding shields, confronted by police violence. Perhaps they do, but the state’s abdication of education must be understood as part of immiseration’s physical violence. Like any good liberal ideology, Amsler’s analysis cannot consider the possibility that the violence on the streets of London might not merely express “intellectual and cultural violence” and that the engagement sought by the activists might take a form other than “interpellation.” What if the shields function as a tool for occupying space within which to build new social relations? What if the protests did not merely seek to influence public opinion and the parliamentary vote on fees but sought another politics entirely? What if, as one of the major signs promoting the action said, the goal was to “shut down London” and use it for something else? What if the book sheilds were part of a physical struggle to establish a temporary autonomous zone?

We have seeming arrived at an impasse, how can we understand the tactical function of the book shields without reducing them to shields and forgetting their reference to books, and specific books at that? How can we include the image on the shield in the historical assemblage of which they are apart? Here we might appeal to developments in film aesthetics more recent than Rodowick’s The Virtual Life Of Film. Rosalind Galt’s forthcoming Pretty: Film and the Decorative Image articulates a genealogy of certain aesthetically devalued concepts such as “pretty” and “decorative” and profoundly transvalues them. In the course of her work Galt shows that one of the major differences between the decorative and the beautiful or the sublime is that the decorative defeats attempts to develop it into an autonomous sphere or activity or experience. The dependence of the decorative on a support that functions historically and not merely as an essence makes it inconceivable otherwise than as part of an assemblage. In the case of our example, book images decorate the shields. In light of Galt’s work, perhaps one can say so without dismissing the book images. Perhaps the decorative book images function as virtual prompts to new social relations and new modes of life to be actualized in the space cleared and occupied by the tactical use of the shields. In other fields one could perform a similar reading of the “cute” in Sianne Ngia’s Ugly Feelings. Finally, I want to acknowledge another book of theory that refused to treat film as art, Akira Lippit’s Atomic Light (Shadow Optics,) a book so complex that it remains to be read and has mostly been understood in the most reductive terms, for example by Rosalyn Deutsche in her recent Hiroshima After Iraq: Three Studies in Art and War. For me the books crowning achievement is its development of the theme of avisuality not just as a way of thinking about the impossibility of seeing the flash of the atom bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but as a link between seeing and subjectification — a conduit between images and the lebenswelt or the lebens-todvelt. A conduit that opens most  completely at the level of film analysis in Lippit’s readings of certain shots in the “Hoichi The Earless” episode of Kobayashi Masaki’s Kwaidan; and at the level of the books poetics in Lippit’s insistant use of the second person singular. You will find in Atomic Light a way of continuing film theory that shines directly into your life without regressing into aesthetic theory. You will find that all three books make your shields pretty.

My favorit Italian movie since Salo

Andrew, Dudley. The ‘Three Ages’ of Cinema Studies and the Age to Come,” PMLA 115.3 (May 2000): 341.

Amsler, Sarah. Creative Militancy, Militant Creativity and the New British Student Movement.  Huffington Post December 10, 2010.

Brener, Robert. The Economics Of Global Turbulence. London. Verso. 2006

Cavell, Stanley. The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film. New York. Viking Press. New York.1971

Deutsche, Rosalyn. Hiroshima After Iraq: 3 Studies in Art and War

Galt, Rosalind. Pretty: Film and the Decorative Image. New York. Columbia University Press. Forthcoming, 2011.

Lippit, Akira. Atomic Light (Shadow Optics). Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Press. 2005.

Ngia, Sianne. Ugly Feelings. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 2007.

Ouvrire Bazin: A Database Of His Articles

Rodowick, D.N. The Virtual Life Of Film. Cambridge University Press. 2007.

Il fiore delle mille e una notte Hypothesis 1

If, unlike the other two films in Pasolini’s trilogy of life, Il fiore delle mille e una notte does not end with a scene in which an artist played by the director completes a work of art, perhaps the film’s complete diffusion of aesthetics in the plane of life motivates this difference. In Il fiore delle mille e una notte the shimmer of material culture creates sexual potentials, which, when actualized, lead Nuredin to the city ruled by his first love.

The shooting style of the film as well as the props, costumes and locations express the material culture of the world of Il fiore delle mille e una notte. The shooting style mimics various forms of Islamic art through it’s framings and color palate in a clear example of what Pasolini called the pretextual indirect.  In his essay The Cinema of Poetry” Pasolini shows that the styles of certain films by Godard and Antonioni mix various modes of subjectivity with the highest level of the films narration. In Deserto Rosso (Antonioni, 1964) the camera sees in the same way as Giuliana throughout most of the film, even when the narrative positions certain shots as objective. The character’s eyes seem to determine the look of the film starting at a point before the text begins and they provide a pretext for certain visual effects that critics and other sales people sometimes call “painterly.” The pretextual free indirect functions somewhat differently in Il fiore delle mille e una notte. Visual tropes from the complex set of historical cultures woven into  كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة‎ (Kitāb ‘alf layla wa-layla) or هزار و یک شب (Hezār-o yek šab) and many of it’s later presentations such as those by Burton and Berger, Powel Korda et al.

The folktales in A Thousand and One Nights were collected over a long historical period encompassing a variety of mentalities linked to a closely related but differentiated cluster of material cultures, all determined by variations on feudalism trapped in its moment of primitive accumulation in the Middle East, Asia and the Persian Gulf. As in the other films in the trilogy, Pasolini uses historical visual topes as traces of material cultures invoked in A Thousand And One Nights to open up a set of potential sexualities determined by the life-worlds of non-capitalist and pre-capitalist economies.

The props, costumes and other elements of the mise en scene play an important role in articulating the imagined economic base with the sexualities within the life world of Il fiore delle mille e una notte. Pasolini’s Marxist attention to modes of production and the economic base can be felt in the film’s use of goods and their circulation as causes of action and as a means of connecting the stories to one another. The film starts with Nuredin purchasing Zummurud as a slave and moves onto its next phase when he sells a tapestry she weaves. Later a demon will find his captive’s lover by asking if anyone recognizes the owner of his shoes. The film connects the story of Aziz and Azizi to the next tale via a scroll Azizi leaves Aziz. While many of these props might be considered works of art, the film prioritizes their economic circulation not so as to make economics dominant, but so as to make it impossible to disassociate sensation and affect from forces of production. An attentive viewer cannot watch these films and dream of aesthetics as an autonomous sphere of human activity; in them aesthetics becomes a thing of the past. Il fiore delle mille e una notte completes the anaesthetic work of the trilogy of life in the context of an imagined economy based on various features of the multiple historical circumstances in-forming it’s source text. Pasolini’s choice of a work marked as lacking a single author and his displacement of Sherazade from her common position as the teller of all the tales to that of a minor character, an extra, in one of the episodes complete the dissolution of art and aesthetics into immanence  of life-forms precisely by making it impossible for the film to end with an artist as figure of authorship in the film’s finale. The conclusion of Pasolini’s work on aesthetics ends the trilogy of life and includes it in a quartet of films opening onto the irremissible.

If Pasolini’s life/death quartet (Il Decameron (1971,) I racconti di Canterbury (1972,) Il fiore delle mille e una notte (1974) Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975)) rewrites aesthetics in the past tense, obviously, the films don’t consign attention to and pleasure in sensation to the dustbin of history. The traces of material culture that refer us to economies which produce sexualities and subjectivities solicit affects that include the quartet’s spectators, but those affects cannot be separated from historical potentials. The post recently brought me a letter from a friend articulating the link between materialized actuality and subjectivity — a letter which, without wanting to, describes the precise process at work in the Quartet:

If the subjective process is something like a new creation in the world, we have an infinity of consequences. In fact, there are no limits. There are potentially—virtually (to speak as Deleuze)—we have virtually an infinity of consequences. But this infinity is not a transcendent one; it’s an immanent infinity. It is the infinity of the body itself in relation to the trace. So we have to understand what is an immanent infinity and not a transcendent infinity.

How can we speak of the affects that traverse the infinity of consequences issuing from the traces of material culture?  A forthcoming book by another friend inadvertently rises to the challenge via a genealogical articulation of “pretty” as a concept. In Pretty: Film And The Decorative Image, Rosalind Galt transvalues the eponymous term so that it’s disparaging sense of  “cunning and art” becomes a virtue, a gesture which completely repositions decoration as decoration within our affective relations to cultural production. Her chapter on Soy Cuba (Kalatosov, 1964) clarifies the role of the film’s prettiness in producing a transnational revolutionary affect that cannot be separated from the historical specificity of Soy Cuba’s production or the culture it was released into. Unlike the quasi- autonomous aesthetic sphere, the pretty cannot be disassociated from gendered bodies and forces of production in the strictest sense. Galt allowed me to understand how forces of production generate affects and material simultaneously.

Galt’s uncompromising philology cites the difficulties encountered by Sianne Ngai in her re-articulation of cuteness as a “minor taste concept” particularly suited “for the analysis of art’s increasingly complex relation to market society in the twentieth century.” Ngai’s “The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde” (Critical Inquiry 31 (2005): 811–12.) and Ugly Feelings work through a set of affects that, like “prettiness” cannot be disassociated from the material conditions giving rise to them and which have therefore been devalued in the atavistic aesthetic sphere. Although both authors seem committed to retaining some version of the concepts of “art” and “aesthetics” in relation to contemporary cultural practice, their deeply transvaluative approach harmonizes with Pasolini’s passage beyond them and into the lived. I have found no better term for Il fiore delle mille e una notte ‘s mise-en-scene than “pretty” and no better word for Ninetto Davoli’s performance as Aziz than cute.

draft introduction to a journal issue on “life”

Introduction to The Meaning of “Life”

Louis-Georges Schwartz

I: The Ghosts of “Life’s ” Present Meaning

If the recent turn towards the  meaning of “life” in the humanities were analyzed, perhaps we would find a threat of death motivating it. The current period in the history of the humanities might be defined as starting with the mid nineties “end of theory” and coming to fruition with the current death threats against university humanities departments[1]. While we should not be surprised to find in this period when “zombie capitalism” (Haraman) caused necrosis in the university intensified theoretical attempts to elaborate a concept of “life” as something that includes survival but reaches far beyond it to the creation of new values, the contemporary inquiry into the meaning of “life” has its’ own, longer, periodicity.

In the mid 1960s, near the peak of capitalist expansion, publications by Michel Foucault and Georges Canguilhem on “life” brought the modern inquiry into word, concept and value into focus. In 1965’s“Le concept de la vie” (published in the revised edition of La Connaissance de la vie(1952)) Canguilhem gives an account of the concept from Aristotle’s time to the discovery of DNA, and in 1966’s Les Mots et les chose Foucault argues that the concept of life as such originates along with two other “quasi-transcendentals” at the end of the classical age in the eighteenth century (127-8[2]). Foucault shows that “life” detaches itself from the “living being” in a conceptual break which makes possible the shift from natural history to biology. The difference between “life” and the “living being” produces new values as well as changes in the use of words and concepts. Foucault narrates a shift from the “living being” based on the paradigm offered plants to “life” understood according to the paradigm of the animal and invokes the Marquis de Sade to contend that after this transition “life can no longer be separated from murder, nature can no longer be good, or desires from anti-nature” (277-8.)

Canguillem argues that the discovery of the double helix and the emergence of molecular biology redefine “life” as information and that contemporaneous accounts of mutation as the failure in the transmission of genetic information suggest that life should produce a new concept of life as that which “by error produces a living thing capable of error.” That formulation revises the value conventionally attributed to error as well, rendering the value of life highly problematic. Both writers took a genealogical approach to the question of “life.” They each track usages of the term historically, denaturalizing it and opening it to contestation.

The examples of Foucault and Canguilhem show that the genealogical approach does not determine a stable semantic reference across all usages of a term, it rather exposes the lines of historical force that alter a word, concept and value over time[3]. Writing “meaning,” rather than “meaning” indicates the differential shifts disclosed by genealogies. Canguilhem’s and Foucault’s genealogies both transvalue[4] “life” by historicizing its pervious semantics and opening space for the word to be used in the creation of a new concept and value.

Over the course of Foucault’s career, his interest in “life” led to the development of the concepts of biopower and biopolitics. Foucault came to believe that modern states regulated the lives of subjects instead of governing through the power to kill. Foucault’s later work names the relations between “life” and state power: “biopower.” He articulated these ideas in lecture courses in the mid 1970s and they first appeared in print in 1976’s Histoire de la sexualité.  Foucault characterized biopower as the way states exercise power over “man in so far as he is a living being.” Starting at the end of the 18th century (Foucault 2003, 240), for example, the government attempts to control disease and birthrates. According to Foucault, states exercise biopower over populations rather than individuals and use statistical methods of calculation to do so. These shifts allow Foucault to conclude that genocide rather than execution is the “dream of modern societies” because “power is situated and exercised at the level of life, the species, the race and the larger scale phenomena of population” (Foucault, 1978, 137.)  The development of Foucault’s thought about “life” involves a shift in his genealogical approach, which had focused on the term and passed to the consequences of its becoming a key concept in governance as well as science.

In 1996, the publication of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Il potere sovrano e la vita nuda intensified and proliferated research on the meaning of “life.” Agamben traces the concept of life from classical Greece to the present day in the form of a division between bios, quality bearing life capable of citizenship, and zoê, bare life reduced to it’s biological aspect or it’s survival. Agamben calls the conceptual operation separating the two “the ban” or “abandonment” and argues that it founds sovereignty. He tracks the modulations of that division through history. In the second section of Homo Sacer, Agamben introduces Hannah Arendt’s writings on totalitarianism, emphasizing her use of the term “life” and articulating it with Foucault’s project. By attending to “life” as word, concept and value in Arendt’s writing, Agamben advances a genealogic project, showing that her work contributes to the development of the term in 1951, a decade and a half before the publication of Les Mots et les chose. He shows that in the twentieth century, in both totalitarian societies and mass consumer societies, paradigmatic governance shifts from the regulation of bios to reducing the lives of governed populations to zoê .

In an essay entitled “Pure Immanence” published the same year as Homo Sacer, Agamben explicitly calls for a genealogy of “life” across a variety of fields. The essay focuses on the final works published by Foucault and Gilles Deleuze during their life times, both of which take up the problem of “life.”  Agamben points out that “life” has been a key term in the work of a variety of continental twentieth century philosophers. He organizes their work into a chart tracing the differences and intersection of a transcendental though and an immanent though on the subject. According to Agamben, the genealogy of the term life will allow philosophy to come to take up its main task, the production of a new concept of life as beatitude:  a concept of life that does not differentiate between “organic life and animal life, or even between biological life and contemplative life and between bare life and the life of the mind” (239.)

Along the transcendental line of Agamben’s chart we find Immanuel Kant, Edmund Husserl, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Derrida; on the immanent Spinoza, Nietzsche, Deleuze and Foucault; Heidegger sits in the middle amidst intersecting lines that connect the transcendental to the immanent. The chart provides productive suggestions for further genealogical work. One can imagine reading the philosophers that appear on it with special attention to “life” and closely related terms. Rereading Derrida, for example, reveals that “life” has been an important term in his writing since very early in his career. Derrida began attending to the deconstruction of the philosopheme life/death[5] from his first published writings. The continuity of his attention to that problematic can be felt in his later development of “hauntology” and the theme of the ghost[6]. The recently published seminar entitled The Beast and The Sovereign confirms the centrality of “life” to Derida’s project. The seminar explicitly takes up the theme of “life” and works, in part, as a jealous critique of Homo Sacre, as the near correspondence between Agamben’s subtitle “Sovereign Power and Bare Life.” and Derrida’s title suggests.

Agamben’s work comes from Italian thought that includes the work of autonomists combining Michel Foucault’s concepts  of biopolitics and biopower somewhat uncomfortably with a certain Marxism. The autonomists consider the life of the multitude as a force of production and attempt to organize a politics around a struggle for control over that life.

In Empire, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt invoke biopower as a key concept in their study of what makes revolution possible in the contemporary world. They define biopower as the “form of power that regulates social life from its interior by “investing life through and through” in order to “administer it” (23-5.) Negri and Hardt see biopower as the form of power in what Foucault called societies of control in which “social command” “becomes ever more immanent to the social field” (23) and they connect such societies to Marx’s phase of economic development when the real subsumption of labor under capital occurs (25.)  The rise of “immaterial labor” and the massive economic importance of communication technologies and all things somatic transform biopower into a force of production in the Marxist sense. The authors place biopower within a genealogy that includes Marx, Deleuze and Guattari as well as various Italian Autonomists in an attempt to turn the concept taken from Foucault into a viable site for militancy. These conditions lead to the outstripping of Marx’s general intellect embodied in machines by mass intellectuality supported by the body of the multitude. They conclude that the seizure of biopower constitutes the only effective form of militancy in today’s world, a seizure that takes the form of replacing empire’s domination of “mass intellectuality and affective networks” (413) with a loving self regulation of these same factors. Such autonomous regulation of the multitude’s life can be understood as an affirmative biopolitcs as opposed to the critical endeavor of describing empire’s domination of life.

In Grammatica della moltitudine: Per una analisi delle forme di vita contemporanee (2001) Paul Virno interprets Foucault’s formulation of biopolitics as a term “applied to changes that took place in the concept of “population” between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century” (81.) Virno sets biopolitics in an original genealogical context by deriving it from the concept of “labor power” (81,) which he says is “discussed everywhere in the social sciences and that Marx defines as “the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in the physical form, the living personality of the human being” (Capital V I quoted, in Virno, 81.)  According to Virno, only the current Post-Fordist era fully realizes labor power by exploiting the mental as well as physical capacity of the multitude. A pure potential, labor power has no existence independent its substratum, the body of the worker. Virno argues that it takes the form of pure and simple bios, and for him “bio-politics” can only be used to name a situation in which politics issues from the commerce in human potential — from traffic  in labor power.

Despite the genealogical efforts of Virno, Negri and Hadrt, the attempt to cast biopower as a means of production and affirmative biopolitics as a privileged form of counter-power, the articulation between these concepts and Marxism remains uncomfortable, especially in light of the recent resurgence of dialectical and historical materialism in the political economics of David Harvey, Luc Blotanski and Naomi Kline[7] — a resurgence fueled by the very same economic crisis killing universities and unconsciously motivating contemporary interest in the meaning of life . The discomfort arises partly from the fact that, as Negri and Hardt acknowledge, Foucault originally posited biopolitics as an alternative to Marxist analysis. For example, while Marxists treat the real subsumption of labor under capital dialectically, Foucault treats biopolitics as a matter of “plurality and multiplicity”[8] (Negri and Hardt, 25.) Read in light of the new political economists, the regulation of the multitude’s life simply cannot produce value as such and Foucault’s attempt to fold the superstructural into the base remains illegitimate, as does that of the neo-Foucaultians.  For the Autonomists “life” can become the site of revolutionary struggle precisely because they posit it as a means of production; but for Marxists, it cannot be a means of production since it does not produce surplus. The Autonomists cannot show how communication or sociality itself directly creates surplus value simply because it does not do so. Thus biopower cannot initiate a new phase of semiotic or communicative capitalism[9]. In Marx’s own writings, capital determines life as particular “life forms,” and life “itself” cannot be construed as a productive force: thus struggle must focus on the actual forces that mutilate the lives of proletarians. The failure of the Autonomists to convince Marxists that biopower becomes a productive force in our time might be understood in part as a limit of the genealogical method in so far as it can track the meaning of cultural values, but not economic value since, under capitalism, the concept of economic value does not change.  Yet patient genealogical work on Marx’s use of the term remains to be done and constitutes one of the most important future responses to Agamben’s call for a genealogy.

Whether directly or by implication, the Autonomists refer both affirmative and critical biopolics to Agamben’ distinction between bios and zoê. To the extent that their deployment of the distinction replicates a certain phobia about or distaste for zoê, their work encounters a recent feminist call for revision as well as Marxists critique. In 2006, Rosi Briadotti published Transpositions, a book that takes Agamben to task for having inherited an implicitly masculine fascination with finitude from his teacher Martin Heidegger, and for assimilating “zoê to non-life in the sense of a failure of humanness” (39.) Rather than following Agamben in figuring zoê as the unattainable limit of otherness (she compares Agamben’s account of zoê to Jacques Lacan’s work on the pre-discursive, Julia Kristeva’s chora and Luce Irigaray’s maternal feminine all of which install mortality as the “trans-historical horizon of life” (39)  and function to support a melancholic theoretical affect), she proposes a thought of zoê supported by the theory of virtuality and capacity that Deleuze and Guattari derive from their readings of Baruch Spinoza[10].  Such a revision might be seen as an intensification of themes already present in Agamben’s work, and their extension into his theorization of “life” could be said to valorize the generative capacity of zoê, blocking it’s implicit association with a monstrous figuration of the feminine by associating it with the generative and gestational potential supported by a female substratum.

Paul Rabinow  has taken up a theoretical lineage running from Foucault through Deleuze that analyzes human finitude as itself unlimited and uses it to analyze scientific “practices of life” emerging around genetic technologies. Rabinow’s project investigate both the development of biological machinery and the ways in which genetic research might produce a new “episteme” changing modern forms of rationality as well as social and ethical practices (182). He contends that work on the human genome profoundly re-maps all prior distinctions between the artificial and the natural, a claim with profound implications, particularly for contemporary understanding of race and medical treatment.

Thus, in the 21st century, research into the meaning of “life” has flowed along three main streams: directly genealogical work tracking usages of “life” and related terms in order to transvalue them; work on biopolitics, taking a critical form that points to the regulation of life by power and an affirmative form that affirms the ability of the multitude to regulate it’s own life; and research into growth of biological technologies and commodities.

II: The Ghost of “Life’s” Past Meaning

My own research into moving images and written accounts of them, loosely known as “film theory,” provides a fecund genealogical field for investigating the meaning of life. The term has often, in a variety of ways, been used to name that which the cinema records, captures or produces. In other cases, such as the wring of Guy Debord, the cinema functions as a paradigm for social death[11]. Somewhat surprisingly, the literature of film theory even contains something very close to Agamben’s call for a genealogy of “life,” to be found in Seigfried Kracauer’s Theory Of Film.

Published in 1960, Krackauer’s expression of interest in the history of “life” came six years before the publication of the works by Georges Canguilhem and Michelle Foucault I cited previously.  Kracauer wrote theory of film surrounded by the ghosts of WWII and during a period of urban life in the US characterized by the increasing reification of everyday life and it’s exploitation as a source of corporate profits. Against such a lethal background, Kracauer’s book mourns the suburbanization of street life, the intolerable trauma of World War 2 and the triumph of industrial quantification of experience invoking the cinema as an anodyne.

“Life” appears throughout the book in analyses of cinematic form and of the movies’ privileged subjects. Kracauer uses the term to refer to cinema’s almost paradoxical capacity to capture a form of pure potential which cannot be seen in and of itself.  The word even appears in a note Kraucuer wrote as a boy and cited in his preface to Theory of Film. Kracauer writes that he started his first “literary project” after seeing his first film, which included images of a puddle reflecting the facades of houses and the sky. The young critic entitled his project Film as The Discoverer of the Marvels of Everyday Life. The word “life” appears embedded in a cliché phrase, which has come to refer to a major area of research in the humanities and social science, yet the idiom cannot hide it’s specific valance. The paradigmatic image of the reflecting surface of a puddle rippled by the wind blows the word “life” towards the notion of quality, towards the marvelous, inflating its semantics to include more than mere daily biological survival.

Kracauer takes up the word, concept and value “life” explicitly near the middle of the book,[12] as if it were one of Proust’s characters, appearing fleetingly as one word among others at the beginning and then taking on central importance. In the section entitled “Gratifications” (166), on what the audience gets out of cinema, Kracauer names “life” as the main desideratum of filmgoers. In this section, “life” functions as an evolving value to be transvalued through historicization as well as a term in Kracauer’s argument.

Works that transvalue “life” typically use the term within arguments and mention the term in genealogical procedures. The more daring transvaluative texts, such as Kracuaer’s, exploit the fragility of the distinction between use and mention in order to sensitize readers to their previous transvaluations of the term through a kind of deferred action; later, explicitly genealogical mentions in a text ask the reader to revise their understanding of previous uses. (In this sense, Agamben’s understanding of Foucault’s genealogical work allows him to complement the latter’s work on biopolitics with Arendt’s use of “life” by attuning him to the term). In Theory Of Film, Kracauer’s sustained investigation of the term in the middle of the book sends the reader back over all the previous uses, causing the word to emerge all the more forcefully from the phrase “everyday life” in the preface and suggesting that the history of the study of “everyday life” would provide rich material for the genealogy of “life.” The deferred action between genealogical mentions and constative uses exemplifies meaning in so far as the differences between the uses and the mentions produce an opening instead of a semantic field — an opening within which the word can shift yet again, the concept can enlarge or contract, and a new value can be created. Thus, the differentials between using and mentioning a term can be understood as the enactment of genealogy or transvaluation as such.

In the ‘Gratifications” section, Kracauer points out that the concept of “life as a powerful entity” has a “relatively recent origin,” (169.) He writes that  “it would be tempting to try to follow the evolution of” the concept “life” “from the time of the Romantics via Nietzsche and Bergson up to our days,” (169) but such a project lies outside of the prevue of Theory Of Film. The beginning of the period Kracauer delimits and the claim that “life as a powerful entity” originates with the romantics correspond to Foucault’s claim that before the 18th century life did not exist.

Kracaur’s temptation and his treatment of “life” must be understood within a genealogy of “life” including the work of later authors and as transvaluative in itself. Kracauer’s unwritten history would historicize the term between the 18th and 20th centuries and the very suggestion of such a project begins the denaturalization of the value “life,” especially because it posits a recent origin for “life as a powerful entity.” The power of that “life” comes precisely from its ability to function as both a particular value and a source of values. Showing that “life” has not always existed also shows that other values can stand in its place and that the term itself can refer to a changing set of values.

Kracauer ‘s language in this sentence registers the always double character a value becoming transvalued. He writes of the “evolution” of the concept as if “life” were itself alive and subject to biological differentiation over generations: as if to mark doubleness of “life” as constative use and genealogical mention in Theory Of Film; as if to emphasize “life’s” status as a value and that which makes values possible. Though Kracauer does not make the argument explicit, the subsection on “the concept of life” as such (169) casts life as potential, releasing the transvaluative force of moviegoers’ desire. The moviegoer seeks “the opportunity of drama rather than the drama itself” (171). These passages read as if the predictability of everyday life in mass society has stripped the spectator of any ability to imagine the future.

Kracauer grounds his argument that “life” provides the main gratification of cinema on the claims of various sociologists who show that filmgoers cite “life” as the reason they go to the movies. After a brief introduction justifying his interest in the gratifications of cinema during the age of television, Kracauer begins a subsection entitled “The Hunger for Life” with a consideration of “The Substitute for Dreams,” a 1921 article by Hugo von Hofmannsthal concerning urban proletarian moviegoers. In Kracuaer’s account, Hofmannsthal argues that such audiences go to “silent” films to escape from the “kind of life” (167) forced upon them by society and its language. Although one might take the absence of speech in the films of the late 1910s and early 1920s as detriment to the illusion of life,  those audiences experienced language as an instrument of society’s control over them which led them  “further away from what there senses” told them was “life itself” (167). Freed from the language of the newspaper and the party meeting, cinema offered them “the fuller life which society denies them” (167). “Fuller life” not in the sense of greater fulfillment of economic need, but “life in it’s inexhaustibility” (168). The transvaluative force of Kracauer’s consideration of life as one of cinema’s gratifications lies in his consistent use of the term to mean something other than either survival or access to certain goods. In Theory of Film, Kracauer presents filmgoers’ desire for life as a desire for the possibility of an existence beyond the merely biological and material. “Life” indicates that which makes values as such possible, a potential capable of sustaining desire.

Hofmannsthal’s article suggests that modern life rendered the proletariat unable to dream and that they escape from what they feel into the cinema. Kracauer focuses on Hofmannsthal’s descriptions of the ways that industrial urban life leads the masses away from “life itself.” This usage of “life itself” refers not to biological existence, but to a field of rich and non-alienated existence and shifts the value referred to by the term from the exclusively biological to the self-regulating experiential plane filled with qualities and the promise of autonomy. Furthermore, Kracauer understands the “life” that the moviegoers desire as both a specific entity that industrial society deprives them of and as that which makes values as such possible. His argument draws attention to the possibility that the “life” moviegoers desire functions as the “underlying substratum” of “normative incentives” (169). According to Kracauer, industrial society replaces the qualities of lived experience with quantities, depriving subjects of any basis for extra-economic valuation. Kracauer’s work on that survey reveals that the desire for that substratum effects a nostalgic critique of what “modern mass society” makes of lived experience by positing the perceived source of value as a value in and of itself. In other words, Kracauer discovers that the desire of the movie audiences in the surveys is transvaluative in itself. Instead of referring to that which moviegoers want to survive under any circumstances, “life” here refers to the capacity to create.

In order to show that the desire for creative life is not limited to proletarian audiences, Kracauer relies on responses to a survey included in a 1940 dissertation by Wolfgang Wilhelm to argue that “life” was the primary desideratum for “film addicts” (169) in general. The survey of twenty students and teachers as well as 23 people from various occupations and ages (168) shows that they all go to the movies to redress a lack of “life.” The isolation of individuals in modern life leads to a sense of alienation from “life” shared by all social classes. Kracauer’s interpretation of this survey uses “life” as the treatment for the “alienation” and “loneliness” suffered by all those who feel “the urge to frequent the movie houses” (169.) Although “life” becomes the potential to create non-material values in Kracauer’s writing, it also sustains the drive to attend the cinema which sustains the cinema economically.

“Life” refers not only to satisfactory relations with other members of society, but also with the world itself. A member of society needs to be in touch “with the breathing world about him, that stream of things and events which, were it flowing through him, would render his existence more exciting and significant” (169.)  When Kracauer enlarges the semantics of “life” to include the relationship between the individual and the world, his language retains a reference to biological bodies, making the transvaluative character of his project evident. Kracauer characterizes the world as “breathing” like a biologically living being, and he calls things and events a “stream” that could be “flowing through” individuals like their blood.

Even if read as metaphorical, Kracauer’s use of a biological vocabulary to describe moviegoers works to conflate the terms of biological survival with “life in its fullness” (169.)  Kracauer writes as if it were possible to imagine a world where biological survival produces a full existence capable of sustaining values and qualities, leaving no rhetorical space for what Agamben names “bare” life or mere biological or nutritive survival. His vocabulary and argument imply that industrial society places an economic value on survival in so far as it depends on the continued existence of workers and consumers in order to function. “Life” as valued by industrial society does not exist for itself, it only exists for the interest of those who profit from that society. The cinema supplements this with the illusion of a life that exists for itself. Such life must function as a value and that which makes values in general possible — it can only be a life judged and valued by and as itself. Kracauer’s use of the same terms to refer to both meanings of life in the same argument where he distinguishes between the two meanings works to denaturalize the ordinary semantics of the term and attempts to change it, transvaluing life. The surveys and the sociological analyses of “life” as the main gratification offered by the cinema serves as a fragment of a “history” or genealogy of the term focusing on its use in a particular cultural practice during a specific historical period. Kracauer discovers that the filmgoers’ usages of the term differ from a more conventional usage and roughly corresponds to the literary philosophical usage whose history he says he is tempted to write.

“Life” appears in this section of Theory Of Film as the main satisfaction or pleasure offered at movie theaters, but in the course of explaining and generalizing the satisfaction offered by the cinema, Kracauer posits a lack in all of society. The lack of life creates the need met by cinema and the basis for a critique of industrial mass society as a whole. Clearly, Kracauer does not mean that society lacks biological survival. The lack of life refers not only to isolation from human relationships, but to “satisfactory human relationships.”  Social relationships as such do not meet the criteria for Kracauer’s use of the term life. Those relationships must be able to be valued, they must be such that they can sustain the quality of satisfaction. He sees the satisfaction of the cinema as satisfaction in general, but in the form of life or an “illusion of life” (169).

Melancholy and loss saturate Theory Of Film. The prose and arguments portray a traumatized world marked by loss and this limits Kracauer’s analysis of life as cinematic gratification. He allows moviegoers life and the illusion of life and implicitly criticizes the confinement of life to the cinema, but a writer who could still hope for revolution and profound social change might explicitly point out that by providing an illusion of life, films make deadening industrial survival more tolerable and thus dampen the impulse to change the world. Such change seems more or less impossible to the author of Theory Of Film. Movies can only allow us to look at intolerable events and phenomena whose intensity would blind us and make us turn away in the world outside the cinema. Kracauer likens films that allow us to look at that which we otherwise could not bear to the shield of Perseus which allows him to look at the medusas reflection and decapitate her, but he points out that Athena recovers the monster’s head and uses it for her own purposes. In the end he limits Perseus’s achievement, and that of filmmakers, to the ability to make looking at the monster of history possible. Kracauer must be content with a redemption of physical reality confined to making that reality visible (305).

III The Ghosts of “Life’s” Meaning Yet to Come

The articles in this issue all seek a passage beyond merely making visible the usages of life and biopolitical modes of power that they describe. Each piece attempts to open onto a future less subject to the brutalities of domination’s current modes through a reconfiguration of life, not through an economy of representation, but through action in the world or withdrawal from it. Exemplary in it’s commitments, David Oscar Harvey’s[13] brilliantly militant essay on unprotected gay male anal sex understands the political saturation of even the most intimate aspects of the life of individuals and the socious as biopolitical. He focuses on the abandonment of homosexual males during the AIDS epidemic — a shift that installed heteronormative practices in gay communities and punished “dangerous” practices in the name of protecting and maximizing heterosexual life. Harvey works with the notion of biopolitics elaborated by Foucault in The History Of Sexuality, emphasizing its necropolitical aspect by reminding readers of Foucault’s argument that despite the passage from the exercise of power by ending life to government through the regulation of life, the state still deploys the power of death over populations perceived as threatening the health of others. Harvey points out that gay, HIV positive men constitute the paradigmatic case of a population subject to the power of death in biopolitical regimes.  The situation led to the brutal and unrelfexive transvaluation of gay male sexuality and refigured anal sex between men as a “giving birth to death.”  In the course of his analysis, Harvey shows how the effects of transvaluation can have negative effects on the lives of those who hold the values under revision. Specifically, the transvaluation at work here reduces the life of gay males to zoê and seeks to exclude it through a ban operating in the name of preserving dominant power’s bios. In this context gay male barebacking becomes a mode of queer (dis)identification with the potential to initiate radical auto-valorization and contestation of power’s regulation of gay life via a transvaluation of gay life by gay men themselves radically contesting the biopoltics of the state.

In her essay on Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001,) Maja Manojlovic describes the experience of driving out of the movie theater’s garage after a screening of the film and relates it to what she calls the film’s “digital aesthetics.” According to Manojlovic a digital aesthetics pervades contemporary culture and opens our waking lives to what Deleuze calls a “plane of immanence,” similar to the field we move through in our dreams. She relies on Manuel Castells’ notion of a “space of flows” in an elaboration of the destabilization of time effected by vision in today’s world, analyzing the phenomenon in terms of Henri Lefebvre’s “differential spaces.” Manojlovic’s original use of autobiography allows her essay to follow the continuity between the disorientation experienced while watching Waking Life and within the subjectifications that in-form our consciousness while navigating contemporary cities. Her critical technique recalls that of the poet HD as exemplified in writings anthologized in Close Up 1927-1933: Cinema And Modernism (Donald et al., 2001.) She develops a new mode of cartography in which the critical essay becomes a map that articulates both visual and social spaces on the plane of “a life.” Her usage of “life” implies a powerful and necessary revision of the concept of “aesthetics,” which under the influence of her writing’s delirium allows us to comprehend the totality of experience regardless of whether a particular moment involves that which we still refer to as “art.[14]

Barbara Kennedy’s article on Memoirs of a Geisha develops the work she began in her book Deleuze and Cinema: The Aesthetics of Sensation (2003.) Here, she focuses on how “life assemblages of enunciation” and machinic connections might be explained in terms of the process of film. Her project should not be confused with an investigation into cinematic spectatorship. It demands to be understood as an analysis of the pleasure we take in the movement of life guided by the cinema. Kennedy illuminates discussions of “life” by insisting on its corporeal substratum, introducing concepts such as viscerality, proprioceptivity and synaesthesia to current film studies’ considerations of the immersive body. Kennedy forcefully argues figures of embodiment drawn from such concepts continue Deleuze and Guattari’s  schizoanalytic work with special attention to “life flows,” a notion Kennedy relates to Deleuze’s essay “Immanence: A Life.[15]” Kennedy’s essay makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of “Immanence: A Life,” an articles that in many ways remains unread. By using “life flows” to underline Deleuze’s concern with “a-subjective consciousness” Kennedy allows her reader an insight into Agamben’s stress on “desubjectification” in his consideration of “Immanence: A Life.” Working a highly elaborated notion of “choreography” Kennedy writes about a performance sequence in Memoirs of a Geisha in such a way as to assemble its movements with those of extra-cinematic lived experience. Like Manojlovic, Kennedy establishes cinema on the same plane as other experiences. For her, the immanence of choreographed cinematic synestheisa and corporeal life results in biograms, or the bringing together of all the senses in quasi-corporeal movements. Kennedy’s concept of the biogram offers limitless potentials to schizoanalysis by offering it a new mode of virtuality absolutely correlated with the lived. Not only does the biogram explain the lived character of cinematic affects, it also offers valuable material for future genealogists seeking to elaborate the folding of “life” into virtuality.

Olivia Banner’s essay “The Post Racial Imagination: Gattacas Imperfect World” assess the rhetoric of genetics in a world of biological commodities as figured in the film Gattaca and relates them to the confluence of race and biology in our time. Attending to accounts of ideologies and practices of researchers who work on the human genome and pharmacology, she brings out the field of contradictions that forms contemporary accounts of race. In her article the film becomes a means of breaking apart the human genome project’s account of the human commonality as a quasi-universal form of race based medical treatment. Banner chooses Gattaca as the central text of her study precisely because of its combination of a biological model of race and a “liberal multiculturalist typecasting.”  She argues that the tension in the film reflects the problematic of race in contemporary culture. Her article deepens and complicates the problematic set forth by Rabinow’s work in different terms.  Her detailed, brilliant reading of the film does the genealogical work of presenting race as an institution of difference while stressing the ways in which it’s fictional science breaks apart the illusory unity of the body, allowing the temporality of race to emerge and releasing biotechnology’s potential transformation of our understanding of race.

John Dittrich’s essay also provides a genealogy of non-organic life in the work of Wilhelm Worringer, Deleuze and Guattarri, showing that the contradictions in Worringer’s 19th century though limit the possible elaborations in the conceptualization of “life.[16]” Dittrich’s article also makes a major contribution to the articulation of the meaning of “life” with Marxism through careful consideration of Georg Lukács’ critique of Worringer’s work on expressionism. Lukács argues that, arising after the proletariat revealed itself as the true subject of history, expressionism functioned as a bourgeois apology for capitalism. Under Lukács’ reading, non-organic life appears as subjectivist flight from the realities of economics and produces a false synthesis of subject and object. In art history this leads to a false dialectic that reduces objectively recognizable style to the expression of subjectivity and produces false concepts of “experience” and “life.” According to Dittrich, Deleuze and Guattarri’s readings of Worringer in Capitalism and Schizophrenia lead them to account for power as an oscillation between two poles with one of the poles becoming valorized, as for example in the polarity between war machine and the state. Though Deleuze and Guattarri use “the non-organic life of things” to explain both the polarities and the valorization of one of the poles, the also point to the limited and contradictory status of this concept of life, yet, for Dittrich, they fail to provide an alternate conception, relying on the notion of a “line of flight” to escape from every contradiction. Dittrich’s reading of Lukács and his deployment of it on Deleuze and Guattari’s terrain comes at the discomfort between Marxists and theorists of the biopolitical from a different angle than my articulation of it above; instead of treating the debate in terms of what counts as a productive force, he points to the differences between the metaphysics of each camp. For Dittrich, the concept of “life” tends to fail as an expression of the social conflict’s driving history because it finds itself invoked in non-dialectical theories.

Nathan Gorelick’s contribution “Life in Excess ––– Insurrection and Expenditure in Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty” reads Artaud’s work as an uncanny corpse or shell of a life, that tends to fall part under criticism which he valorizes in terms of Aurtaud’s descriptions of “life” as a form of excess. Gorelick’s presentation of Artaud carries a strange echo of Canguilhem’s definition of life as that which through error brings forth beings capable of error in so far as both oppose “life” to a deadening rationality and refuse to subject life to management. Gorelick brings out the political potential in Artuad’s thought of “life” without instrumentalizing it, which would vitiate it’s political potential by subjecting “life” to the very same rationality it opposes. Gorelick stunningly develops Artaud’s notion of life as a shocking force which “forces us to live” — a form of hunger irreducible to what Artuad calls digestive concerns. Articulating Artaud’s tetxts with Derrida’s Writing And Difference as well as Deleuze and Guattarri’s A Thousand Plateaus, Gorelick allows the impower of Aurtaud’s expression of life to transvalue traditional concepts of work, art and belief.

These writers have all attempted to clear the ground for new, critical thoughts of life not in order to differ a change in the world, as part of the activity of creating new modes of life. The thoughts expressed in their articles do not differ to a future thought of life but immediately mutate the reader’s habits of though, spawning creative valorizations and giving each of us the opportunity to participate in the ongoing transvaluations of “life” and enabling the resistant potential within each of our bodies — bodies that we must willingly expose to the dangers inherent in any actual opposition to power if we are to stop describing the world and change it.

List Of Works Cited:

Agamben, Georgio. Homo Sacer: Il potere sovrano e la vita nuda. Einaudi . Torino. 1995

—— Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Daniel Heller-Roazen Trans. Stanford University Press. Palo Alto. 1998.

Potentialities :Collected Essays In Philosophy. Daniel Heller-Roazen, Trans. Standford University Press. Palo Alto. 2000.

Andrew, Dudley. “Introduction.” In André Bazin: What Is Cinema? Volume I. University of California Press. Berkeley. 2005.

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins Of Totalitarianism. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. New York. 1973.

Berardi, Franco. Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of Post-Alpha Generation. Minor Compositions. 2009.

Boltanski, Luc and  Eve Chiapello. The New Spirit Of Capitalism. Gregory Elliott, Trans. Verso. London. 2007.

Bordwell, David and Noël Carol. Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies. University of Wisconsin. Madison. 1996.

Briadotti, Rosi. Transpositions. Polity Press. Cambridge. 2006.

Canguilhem, Georges. La connaissance de la vie. Vrin, Paris, 1965.

–– A Vital Rationalist: Selected Writings from Georges Canguilhem. Arthur Goldhammer. Zone Books. Cambridge MA. 2000.

Haraman, Chris. Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx. Bookmarks. London. 2010.

Derrida, Jacques. The Beast And The Sovereign Volume I. Geoffrey Bennington. University Of Chicago Press. Chicago. 2010.

–– The Politics Of Friendship. George Collins, Trans. Verso. London. 2006.

–– Specters Of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning & the New International. Peggy Kamuf, Trans. Routledge. New York. 1994.

Foucault, Michel. Histoire de la sexualité tome 1 : La Volonté de savoir. Gallimard. Paris. 1976.

–– Les Mots et les chose.Gallimard. Paris 1966.

–– The History of Sexuality Volume 1: The Will To Knowledge. Robert Hurley, Trans. Random House. New York. 1978.

–– The Order Of Things. Pantheon. 1970.

–– “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collége de France, 1975-1976. David Macy, Trans. Picador. 2003.

Hansen, Miriam Bratu. “Introduction” in Siegfried Kracauer: Theory Of Film. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 1997.

Harvey, David. The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism. Oxford University Press. New York. 2010.

Inside Higher Ed. “Disappearing Languages at Albany.” Accessed  January 3, 2011.

“Joint declaration of the European Ministers of Education convened in Bologna on the 19th of June 1999.” Accessed January 3, 2011.

Kaufman, Walter. Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Princeton University Press. Princeton.1975.

Kiderra, Inga “Innovative Class Examines State Budget Crisis in Public Education.” This Week @ UCSD. March 3, 2010. Accessed January 3 2011.

Kline, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Metropolitan Books. New York. 2007.

Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory Of Film. Princeton University Press.  Princeton.1997.

Marazzi, Christian. Capital and Language: From the New Economy to the War Economy. Gregory Conti, Trans. Semiotext(e). New York. 2008.

Negri, Antonio and Michael Hardt. Empire. Harvard University Press. Cambridge MA. 2001.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On The Genealogy of Morality” And Other Writings Revised Student Edition. Carol Diethe Trans. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 2006.

Rabinow, Paul. “Artificiality and Enlightenment: From sociobiology to Biosociality.” In Anthropologies Of Modernity: Foucault, Governmentality and Life Poltics.

Richardson, Hanna. “Humanities to Lose English Universities Teaching Grant” BBC. October 26, 2010. Accessed January 3, 2011.

[1] Giorgio Agamben published Homo Sacer: Il potere sovrano e la vita nuda in 1995, the book that gave impetus to current research on “life.” 1996 saw the publication of  David Bordwell and Noel Carroll’s The End Of Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies, a book that declared the era of theory over. By 1999 the process of privatizing education that had started in many countries in the early 1990s had become an official policy goal of the European Union, expressed in the “Bologna Declaration.” By 2010, educational reform had lead to the destruction of language department in US universities (Inside Higher Ed, 2010;) Privatization had become accelerated and threatened the humanities at the University of California that in addition to student protests and occupations, humanities and social science faculty at UCSD taught a class on the problem (Kiderra.) In the UK, privatization also lead to massive student unrest and the drastic reduction to funding in the humanities (Richardson.)

[2] While publication dates for texts in languages other than English in my text refer to the original language versions, the page references refer to the standard translations.

[3] In On The Genealogy Of Morality, Nietzsche mocks English psychologists who attempted a history of morals because they assumed a trans-historical continuity of meaning in words for “good.” They argue that “unegoistic acts were praised and called good by their recipients, in other words by the people to whom they were useful; later everyone forgot the origin of the praise and because such acts had been habitually praised as good, people also began to experience them as good — as if they were good as such” (11.) Nietzsche contradicts them by positing that concept of goodness originated with those who did the deeds rather than those the deeds were preformed upon and that “good” originally referred neither to selflessness or usefulness, but to a social differentiation between the common and the superior. His genealogy then follows the series of historical ruptures that convert “good” as superiority into good as selflessness and compassion. For Nietzsche and all proper genealogists in his wake what counts are the differences between usages, or what I have attempted to write as “meaning.”

[4] I take “Transvaluation” as a translation of Nietzsche’s word “Umwertung” from Walter Kaufman (Kaufman.)

[5] Agamben’s chart and his call for a genealogy of life have clearly influenced readings of Jacques Derrida. Research on Derrida’s work published early in 21st century largely ignored the theme deconstruction of life/death, despite Derrida’s emphasis on the term from very early in his career (see for example the analysis of Husserl’s “living present” in Derrida’s 1962 introduction to The Origin Of Geometry.) Though the term life sometimes appears in their analyses, it is not developed as a theme and does not appear in the indexes of Later Derrida (Herman Rapaport, 2003) The Philosophy Of Derrida (Mark Dooley and Liam Kavanagh, 2007) The Politics Of Deconstruction: Jacques Derrida and the Other of Philosophy. (Martin McQuillan Ed, 2007,) Derrida and Feminism: Recasting the Question of Woman (Ellen K. Feder, Mary C. Rawlinson and Emily Zakin, 1997,)  Jacques Derrida And The Humanities: A Critical Reader (Tom Cohen, 2002) A Derrida Dictionary (Niall Lucy, 2004) and Derrida Dictionary (Simon Wortham, 2010) do thematize life, though the two dictionaries don’t have indexes and only Derrida and Feminism contains an entry containing a closely related entry “living feminine.” The paucity of index entries for “life” indicates that the deconstruction of life/death did not seem like an important aspect of Derrida’s work to his Anglophone readers until recently. In sharp contrast, the description of Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am (2008) ends with the sentence “ However, Derrida cannot subscribe to a simplistic version of animal rights that fails to follow through, in all its implications, the questions and definitions of “life” to which he returned in much of his later work.”

[6] On “hauntology” and ghosts, see Specters Of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning & the New International and The Politics Of Friendship.

[7] See Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme, (Blotanski, 1999;) The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (Harvey, 2010) and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Kline, 2009.)

[8] I extend thanks to poets and scholars Christopher Nealon, Joshua Clover, and Jasper Bernes for a correspondence on a social networking site in which they pointed out the explicitly counter Marxist character of Foucault’s original project.

[9] On “communicative” or “semiotic” capitalism, see Christian Marazzi’s Capital and Language, a book that despite having sever flaws from the point of view of traditional Marxists, contains a very useful analysis of the conversion of savings into equity in financialization.

[10] It seems necessary to articulate Briadotti’s thought with Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s recent essays on “joyous pessimism” which seem to argue that a fear of depressive affects lies at the core of masculine subjectivity; See, for example Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of Post-Alpha Generation.

[11] See, for example, the commentary referring to “petrification” diverting an advertisement for super 8 cameras reprinted in Internationale situationnist 2 on page 57.

[12] Kracauer’s Anglophone exegetes have almost entirely ignored this section of Theory Of Film. Gertrud Koch does not mention it in Siegfried Kracauer: An Introduction although it contains a sustained reading of Theory Of Film , nor does Miriam Bratu Hansen refer to it in her introduction to the current edition of the book, although she does take up some of Kracauer’s other uses of the term. This omission in the “secondary” literature doubtless came about because, as Dudley Andrew points out in his introduction to André Bazin’s What is Cinema, starting in the mid 1960s, the emergence of semiotic and Marxist approaches to film required the suppression of realist film theory and produced a dominant interpretation of such work as naïve ideological illusion as opposed to the new, supposedly scientific, methodologies. Although Bazin remained in circulation thanks to the efforts of his translator Hugh Gray and Andrew himself, serious readings of Kracauer’s book have only just begun.

[13] This issue of Discourse owes Harvey a huge debt for editorial work early in it’s long path to publication. Without his work on it while he was a research assistant at the University of Iowa’s department of Cinema and Comparative Literature, the issue would not exist.

[14] Manojlovic’s invocation of “aesthetics” in the noun phrase “digital aesthetics” harmonizes with, but cannot be reduced to the word’s resonance in the contemporary anthropological notion of “social aesthetics;” see for example David MacDougall’s The Corporeal Image (2006)

[15] Agamben’s “Pure Immanence,” referred to earlier in my introduction refers to “Immanence: A Life.” Although Deleuze does not write “life flows” in his article, Kennedy successfully shows how such language might an appropriate description of the transcendental field and particularly to the “pure stream of a-subjective consciousness.” “Life flows” might thus be seen as illuminating  Agamben’s interest in “desubjectification.”

[16] In many ways, Dittrich’s article can be read as the inverted compliment to Nathan Brown’s “The Inorganic Open: Nanotechnology and Physical Being.” (Radical Philosophy 144.) Brown uses nanotechnology to elaborate the difficulty of articulating Agamben’s understanding of zoê and Heidegger’s da-sein with conceptualizations of the object. In the course of his argument brown demonstrates the inability of any concept of life to “specify the site at which power’s ‘supreme ambition’ operates in the case of nano-technology,” as well as the lack of any form of agreement over the definition of the term life. Among other virtues, the genealogical aspect of brown’s piece brings out the Heideggerian heritage in Agamben’s attempt to think life, a crucial contribution given the latter’s intellectual formation. Although Brown holds out the hope of finding a new approach to the inorganic open extrapolated from an aporia in neo-heidegarian thought, much of the essay implies that failure to account for certain features of nanotechnology points to the ideological functions of the vagueness inscribed in the thought of life.