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Que demande la schizo-analyse ? Rien d’autre qu’un peu de vraie relation avec le dehors, un peu de réalité réelle.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, L’anti-Oedipe[1]

Is a schizoanalysis of cinema possible? My instinct is to answer unreservedly, “yes, it is possible,” but reason makes me more cautious and doubtful. I cannot but be conscious of the disheartening thought that if Deleuze had wanted such a thing surely he would have invented it himself. Certainly there is nothing more striking in Deleuze’s writing than the apparent discontinuity between Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus and the books he wrote immediately afterwards, Cinema 1 and Cinema 2. With the exception of the concept of “deterritorialisation,” itself used sparingly, but tellingly as we’ll see, there is no cross-over of concepts from one project to the next. There is no discussion, for example, of the body without organs of cinema, nor indeed either its abstract machine or assemblage. This is despite the fact that he and Guattari insisted in the earlier books that these are the essential building blocks of all phenomena. However, for that precise reason we can perhaps permit ourselves to be somewhat more sanguine about the possibility of a schizoanalysis of cinema than my initial scepticism allowed. If for Deleuze and Guattari these three concepts—Deleuzism’s own “holy trinity”—describe the essential building blocks of all phenomena, and it is clear that in their eyes they do (as they write on the first page of A Thousand Plateaus, what they have to say applies to “all things” [toute chose]), then it is impossible for there not to be a body without organs, an abstract machine and assemblage of cinema.[2] The real question then isn’t whether a schizoanalysis of cinema is possible—Deleuze always said questions of possibility were useless questions anyway—but how can it be realised?

Along these lines, then, there are two propositions I want to advance:

  1. Delirium is to schizoanalysis as dream is to psychoanalysis: as such it is the essential touchstone for a schizoanalysis of cinema.

  2. The tripartite conceptual schema of a body without organs, an abstract machine and assemblage informs the basic matrix of Deleuze’s account of the cinematic image: as such, it is already schizoanalytic in its conception.

My procedure in what follows is to look for functional equivalences—that is, rather than trace the lineage of specific words and images, I focus on “diagrams” that in the manner of little machines perform essentially the same function from one book to the next. I disagree then with those readings of Deleuze which insist on a discontinuity between one aspect of his work and the next. By contrast, I take the view that Deleuze’s concepts are migratory (in the sense in which information systems engineers speak of the migration of data). I will first of all try to map the functional equivalences I have been able to trace connecting Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus to Cinema 1 and Cinema 2. I will then endeavour to show the implications of this for a study of cinema. The real work to be done in this project, which obviously extends beyond the reach of this preliminary attempt, is ultimately to show how Deleuze and Guattari’s system can be made operative, which is to say put to use reading films.

1. Delirium is to schizoanalysis as dream is to psychoanalysis

“Schizoanalysis proposes to reach those regions of the orphan unconscious—indeed ‘beyond all law’—where the problem of Oedipus can no longer even be raised.” (Deleuze and Guattari 1977, pp. 81-82). For Deleuze and Guattari the royal road to the unconscious is not the dream, it is delirium. Delirium is generally regarded as a type of madness, or in the very least an aberration of the mind that if one is lucky will pass quickly without leaving a scar. But we can also become quite attached to our deliriums—as Coetzee (2006, p. 6) says, there is nothing more dismaying in literature than Don Quixote’s renunciation of his delirious quest, which is in effect a renunciation not only of the imagination itself, but of everything that made his life interesting. The delirious see, hear and feel things, which to the outside observer appears “made up,” a kind of fantasy or figment of the imagination. Don Quixote’s windmills. Despite medical and psychiatric conventions to the contrary, everyday life brims with examples of a generalised acceptance of delirium—when we say a goose has walked over our grave are we not trying to articulate the feeling of having sensed something that doesn’t belong to this world? Or more exactly, have we not sensed something that can only be sensed, something that cannot be put into words? The Wolf-Man could feel himself becoming a wolf, although he knew very well he wasn’t about to sprout fur and grow fangs. To the delirious, such feelings are fully real; the sensations are as gripping as they are confusing and inarticulable. The Wolf-Man’s “mental distress” derived from the fact that he couldn’t explain this feeling to his analysts, Freud and Brunswick, without it being misheard as a fantasy symptomatic of his Oedipal relation with his mother and father. He could never convey the “wolfness” of this feeling. For Freud, the wolf is the father, full stop. But this is not how the Wolf-Man felt about the wolves in his dream. As Deleuze and Guattari argue, his feelings were rather more complex than that. On three quite prominent occasions, Deleuze and Guattari use examples drawn from cinema to articulate the significance of what they mean by delirium to an understanding of schizoanalysis considered primarily as a therapeutic enterprise.

How does a delirium begin? Perhaps the cinema is able to capture the movement of madness, precisely because it is not analytical and regressive, but explores a global field of coexistence. Witness a film by Nicholas Ray [Bigger than Life[3]], supposedly representing the formation of a cortisone delirium: an overworked father, a high-school teacher who works overtime for a radio-taxi service and is being treated for heart trouble. He begins to rave about the education system in general, the need to restore a pure race, the salvation of the social and moral order, then passes to passes to religion, the timeliness of a return to the Bible, Abraham.

Deleuze and Guattari 1977, p. 274

“What the film shows so well,” they continue, is that “every delirium is first of all the investment of a field that is social, economic, political, cultural, racial and racist, pedagogical and religious” and only secondarily familial or oedipal (Deleuze and Guattari 1977, p. 274). His family is made to bear the brunt of his ravings, but they are merely the focal point for a delirium that exceeds the family on all sides and could quite easily be extended well past its present borders.

The fact has often been overlooked that the schizo indeed participates in history; he hallucinates and raves universal history, and proliferates the races. All delirium is racial, which does not necessarily mean racist. It is not a matter of the regions of the body without organs “representing” races and cultures. The full body does not represent anything at all. On the contrary, the races and cultures designate the regions on this body—that is, zones of intensities, fields of potentials.

Deleuze and Guattari 1977, p. 85

The different races are like so many circles of hell (to adapt a phrase from Deleuze and Guattari) radiating outwards from a single point which the schizo can never seem to escape no matter how far he travels. The second example shows this even more strongly, only now the races have been supplanted by animals.

I recall the fine film Willard (1972, Daniel Mann). A “B” movie perhaps, but a fine unpopular film: unpopular because the heroes are rats. . . . Willard lives with his authoritarian mother in the old family house. Dreadful oedipal atmosphere. His mother orders him to destroy a litter of rats. He spares one (or two or several). After a violent argument, the mother, who “resembles” a dog, dies. The house is coveted by a businessman, and Willard is in danger of losing it. He likes the principal rat he saved, Ben, who proves to be of prodigious intelligence. There is also a white female rat, Ben’s companion. Willard spends all his free time with them. They multiply.

Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 233

Willard’s relation to Ben is intriguing to Deleuze and Guattari because it cannot be contained within the prefabricated oedipal mould. Ben isn’t his pet. He is as much Willard’s nemesis as friend. He interrupts the Oedipalising circuits of Willard’s various half-hearted or at any rate half-witted attempts to play the role of the man from the suburbs who has a nice house, a good steady job and a pleasant girlfriend not even the most fastidious of mothers could object to. He gives over the entire basement of his house to Ben and his teeming progeny; he brings his rats to work with him; he feels ill at ease with his girlfriend Joan, played by a more anaemic than usual Sondra Locke, because he knows the rats view his relationship with her as a betrayal. Willard’s relation to the rats is ambivalent at best. He tries to contain the rats to the cellar, but it’s futile. “I’m the boss here” he tells them, but they know better. The rats eat too much, they become a burden. What’s more, the plainly malevolent Ben isn’t his favourite rat, the meeker Socrates is, but he stupidly allows Socrates to be killed. Even so, Ben exerts a strange power of fascination Willard can’t ignore. His relationship—a “demonic pact,” Deleuze and Guattari call it—with Ben gives him the strength to deal with his overbearing boss, the brutish Mr Martin, played by Ernest Borgnine, but at the same time Willard is quite prepared to sacrifice Ben in the process. Willard says to his boss: “You made me hate myself. Well, now I like myself.” With that the rats attack and kill the boss. Willard closes the door, leaving the rats behind him—“Goodbye Ben” he says. He then goes home and drowns all the rats in his basement. Afterwards, Joan comes to his house. He tells her. “My life is changed now—two things did it: Socrates and you. Tomorrow I’m going to start over. I’m not afraid anymore.” Then he sees Ben and he knows it is all over. He shepherds Joan out the door to make ready for what we all know is the final showdown. The very walls of the house seethe with rats. There is no stopping them. The rats eat him.

Willard raises essentially the same questions as Hitchcock’s The Birds. Hitchcock’s film is more enigmatic because the animal behaviour it depicts isn’t at all bird-like, whereas the rats in Willard behave more or less as we expect them to, though doubtless people with bird phobias find nothing to query in it. By the same token, Melanie evinces no particular fascination for birds, and in contrast to Willard we’re given no inkling as to why the animals should choose to attack her. She doesn’t provoke the birds as Willard does the rats, nor do the birds appear preternaturally hostile as does Ben. For that reason, psychoanalysis has always tried to make the birds stand for something, usually something that would otherwise be invisible, such as the id or superego.[4] But having said that, it also has to be acknowledged that neither Willard’s behaviour nor that of his rats is exactly ordinary—it, too, is peculiar enough to make us wonder what is going to happen. In contrast to the psychoanalytic strategy of asking what the birds or rats stand for, Deleuze and Guattari focus on what they do: the rats, the birds, aren’t representations of abstractions like the id or superego, they are “populations” living in our heads, but it isn’t the fact that they are either birds or rats that is vital, what matters rather is the way they’re organised: it is their swarming that is crucial. And then only insofar as that swarm draws an “arc of instability” around the subject, marking the current threshold of deterritorialisation he or she is about to cross. Hitchcock’s film is exemplary in this respect: the birds are first presented in their innocuous molar form—a single bird in a bird shop when Mitch and Melanie meet, a pair of lovebirds in a cage on the drive to Bodega Bay, a solitary seagull in a clear sky when Melanie rows to Mitch’s house. But all that changes quite suddenly, and for no apparent reason the swarming molecular form emerges and the birds attack. In short, Hitchcock’s The Birds doesn’t depict what a delirium looks like so much as capture what it feels like—its onset is sudden, the birds create radiating circles (the “arc of instability”) around Melanie from which she can never quite escape: when one group of birds stop attacking her in one place another starts somewhere else.

What is on the screen is delirium in person—what we see is always inside somebody’s head and for that reason it looks and feels real, even when it isn’t. In Cinema 1 Deleuze makes this explicit—the shot acts like a consciousness. “But the sole cinematographic consciousness is not us, the spectator, nor the hero; it is the camera—sometimes human, sometimes inhuman, or superhuman” (Deleuze 1986, p. 20). The third example I want to look at takes this a step further. Quoting at length Deleuze’s close friend Michel Cournot’s account of the function of laughter in Charlie Chaplin’s films, Deleuze and Guattari (1977, p. 317) propose that cinema can also produce a delirium of the spectator. Chaplin’s genius, according to Cournot, was to lead the viewers outside of themselves such that they cease to identify with the principal character and begin to experience directly what Cournot calls “the resistance of the events” that Chaplin’s character encounters. We have the same surprises, fears, premonitions and so forth as he does because, psychotically enough, we have stepped into his position, we occupy his place in the cinematic consciousness, namely the moving camera. In this example we have moved from a discussion of the content of the film to its constitution—the camera’s movement, which in its ability to subsume the subject position of the hero, but also to perform inhuman acts of speed and flight, generalises all movement and disorients us, or better, deterritorialises the image: we no longer see it as simply “theatre” that happens to be filmed. “In other words, the essence of the cinematographic movement-image lies in extracting from vehicles or moving bodies the movement which is their common substance, or extracting from movements the mobility which is their essence” (Deleuze 1986, p. 23). We enter into cinema’s phenomenological space—its “atmosphere” to use Deleuze and Guattari’s term—as one enters a delirium: we cease to judge in terms of true and false, real and possible, and so on, and embrace instead its peculiar strain of “réalité réelle.” Two decades later, in Cinema 1, Deleuze takes this position to its logical limit. In the discussion of framing, which we’ll have occasion to look at again in more detail in a moment, Deleuze (1986, pp. 14-15) says the following:

The cinematographic image is always dividual. This is because, in the final analysis, the screen, as the frame of frames, gives a common standard of measurement to things which do not have one—long shots of countryside and close-ups of the face, an astronomical system and a single drop of water—parts which do not have the same denominator of distance, relief or light. In all these senses the frame ensures a deterritorialisation of the image.

Outside of the darkened confines of the theatre only the seriously deranged could make the kinds of global comparisons routinely constructed by the cinematic image.

Cinema is delirium. This is the meaning of Bergson’s thesis, that the movement “as physical reality in the external world, and the image, as psychic reality in consciousness, could no longer be opposed,” upon which Deleuze (1986, p. xiv) bases his entire philosophy of cinema. If cinema is delirium we need a theory of delirium to form the basis of a schizoanalysis of cinema. In a marvellous couple of pages in A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari link the birth of psychiatry and psychoanalysis to the problems to thought posed by delirium. “In the first years of the twentieth century, psychiatry, at the height of its clinical skills, confronted the problem of nonhallucinatory delusions in which the mental integrity is retained without ‘intellectual diminishment’” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 119). The great psychiatric thinkers of the period, Esquirol, Kraeplin, Sérieux, Capgras and Clérambault were able to identify two main groups of delusional behaviours, each with their own distinct etiologies, which Deleuze and Guattari (1987, p. 120) designate as “signifying” or “passional” and “post-signifying” or “subjective.” The first regime has five key features: its onset is insidious; it has a hidden centre which bears witness to endogenous forces organised around an idea (for this reason Deleuze and Guattari also describe this particular delusion-formation as ideational in contrast with the second type which is active); it creates a “gliding atmosphere” capable of linking any kind of incident; it is organised in a series of constantly expanding radiating circles which the individual must jump between (the “family,” the “analyst,” and so on); and lastly its atmosphere can be changed by the irruption of secondary centres clustering around the principal nucleus of the “idea.” The second regime has three key features: its onset is sudden, usually triggered “by a decisive external occurrence, by a relation with the outside that is expressed more as an emotion than an idea and more as effort or action than imagination” (which is why it is described as an active rather than ideational delusion); instead of a “gliding atmosphere” pervading the entirety of one’s existence, it operates in a precisely localised sector; its movement is linear rather than radiating, usually taking the form of a limited “series” or “proceeding” that comes to an end only to commence again elsewhere. The first regime, then, is an idea or thought we can’t shake (like Woody Allen when he said, “If it is not one thing, it’s your mother”), whereas the second is a path we are impelled to follow (like Beckett when he said “It is not as if I wanted to write”).

If we consider the two types of intact delusions, we can say people in the first group seem to be completely mad, but aren’t: President Schreber developed his radiating paranoia and relations with God in every direction, but was not mad in that he remained capable of managing his wealth wisely and distinguishing between circles. At the other pole are those who do not seem mad in any way, but are, as borne out by their sudden actions, such as quarrels, arsons, murders . . . .

Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 120

Psychiatry, Deleuze and Guattari argue, was constituted by this dialectical split pulling it in two contradictory directions at once, invidiously compelling it to plead for tolerance and open-door asylums on the one hand and stepped-up surveillance and security on the other. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that sane-looking active delusionals are the really dangerous ones, not the insane-looking ideational delusionals who are by contrast quite placid. As the old saying goes, “It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for.” No wonder psychiatry has given rise to so much hostility over the years—psychiatrists either alarm us by locking up people who appear sane (but aren’t), or infuriate us by not locking up the people who appear insane (but aren’t). Is it by chance, Deleuze and Guattari ask, that these two major types of delusion recapitulate the distinction between the classes? A paranoid bourgeoisie whose ideas are radiant and radiating (is this not the meaning of hegemony?) and a schizophrenic working class reduced to sporadic, highly localised actions that can but rarely impact on the suzerainty of the upperclass’s ideas. Activists as diverse as Susan George (from Attac) and Subcommandante Marcos (Zapatistas) have stressed that for this reason it is in the realm of ideas that our struggles against the predations of global capitalism really need to be fought. But ideas in this sense are the proverbial circles of hell and the would-be revolutionary simply ends up jumping from one to another—we need to stop environmental degradation, we need more jobs, we need wage protection, we need to end third world poverty, and so on, each idea forestalling the next—without us ever happening upon the idea that could bring about a paradigm change. “All paranoiacs are not bourgeois, all passionals or monomaniacs are not proletarian. But God and his psychiatrists are charged with recognising, among de facto mixes, those who preserve, even in delusion, the class-based social order, and those who show disorder” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 121).

Deleuze and Guattari give the highest priority they can to the analysis of the regime of signs. Schizoanalysis has no other object, they say. The regime of signs is what we presuppose in order to make meaning. I won’t rehearse in detail here Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987, pp. 111-112) full account of what a regime of signs is, suffice it to point out two things: first, it is a conception of semiology in which the signifier does not have primacy; second, it is a conception of semiology “in which language never has universality in itself.” The implications of this for an analysis of cinema are surprising. What results, as I will explain in more detail below, is a strange kind of formalism that is at once rigorously deterministic and yet open to variation. There are other “regimes of signs,” as Deleuze and Guattari label these delusion-formations, but these are the two most common, or predominant, in Western capitalist society. Each entails a way of seeing the world that is quite distinct from the other, even though it is rare to encounter such ways of seeing in their pure form. Psychoanalysis, Deleuze and Guattari argue, only recognises one regime of signs, the signifying, and to its shame whenever it encounters another type it applies its own unique variety of thaumaturgy to transform it into something it recognises. “The Wolf-Man keeps howling: Six Wolves! Seven Wolves! Freud says, How’s that? Goats, you say? How interesting. Take away the goats and all you have left is a wolf, so it’s your father…” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 38). One positive implication we may draw from this, however, is that, like a watch which has stopped, psychoanalysis is right some of the time—the signifying regime does operate the way they say it does. The problem is that “interpretation” of the type psychoanalysis is justly famous for is a symptom of this regime of signs in full flight, rather than a pathway to a cure.

Your wife looked at you with a funny expression. And this morning the mailman handed you a letter from the IRS and crossed his fingers. Then you stepped in a pile of dog shit. You saw two sticks on the sidewalk positioned like the hands of a watch. They were whispering behind your back when you arrived at the office. It doesn’t matter what it means, it’s still signifying.

Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 112

Hence the interminability of the so-called “talking cure,” which Freud himself acknowledged, not a little despairingly, towards the end of his life. Deleuze and Guattari (1987, p. 113) state matters even more sternly. “Nothing is ever over and done with in a regime of this kind. It’s made for that, it’s the tragic regime of infinite debt, to which one is simultaneously debtor and creditor.”

The regime of signs systematises the condition of production of the delirium—it doesn’t render a delirium legible to us, so much as reveal its consistency. We can see how it is formed and how it reproduces itself. Deleuze’s cinema books propose two cinematic variants of regimes of signs: the movement-image and the time-image, each in their distinct way a theory of the condition of the production of the cinematic image. These concepts articulate the consistency of the image under the sign of history—both of the medium itself, that is, the history of its artistic and technical innovations, and of the world itself, as the essential backdrop of all forms of creativity. The history of cinema as Deleuze writes it—he sometimes calls it a “natural history”—fuses these two aspects of history by treating the image types (rather than specific instances of the image, about which he is always extremely judicious, just as liable to applaud as rebuke) as the best they can be in the circumstances in which they are produced. “The history of cinema is a long martyrology” (Deleuze 1986, p. xiv). In his own unforced way, Deleuze (1989, p. 126) himself alerts us to this convergence between the regime of signs and his history of types of cinematographic images when he writes: “Two regimes of the image can be contrasted point by point; an organic regime and a crystalline regime, or more generally a kinetic regime and a chronic regime.” He maps out four key points of comparison and in doing so reveals very clearly the extent to which his thinking on cinema is indebted to his earlier work, and not just at the level of a generalised commitment to transcendental empiricism, but at the more practical and idiosyncratic level of the formal architecture of his concepts. The four ordinal points are as follows: 1) description; 2) the relation between the real and the imaginary; 3) narration; and 4) truth. They canvas, respectively, what in a more traditional cinema studies vernacular is known as: setting, the supposedly pre-existing reality cinema either records or projects; sequencing or continuity, although these aren’t quite the right words—the mental operation we have constantly to perform to make sense of the stream of images cinema presents; dramatisation, the weaving together of action and space; and truth, the conviction that what we are witnessing is really happening in the possible world of the cinema, something that the evolution of dream sequences and the like would cast into doubt.

The cinematic regime, as I will refer to it in order to align it with the parent notion of the regime of signs, consists of these four elements in a state of dynamic interaction. Change at the level of the image occurs when one or more of these elements is pushed beyond its present limits in such a way that it doesn’t bring about a generalised collapse of the regime, but opens up new “vistas of possibility,” to use one of Guattari’s formulations. Deleuze is always quite careful to stipulate that the shift from the movement-image, which was the first form of cinematic image to be invented, to the time-image, which was the second, and so far the only other form of cinematic image to be invented, cannot be conceived as progress.

There is no value-judgement here, because this new regime—no less than the old one—throws up its ready-made formulas, its set procedures, its laboured and empty applications, its failures, its conventional and “second-hand” examples offered to us as masterpieces. What is interesting is the new status of the image, this new type of narration-description in so far as it initially inspires very different great authors [auteurs].[5]

Deleuze 1989, p. 132

Under the umbrella of these two major forms of the image, there are dozens of complex and highly original permutations, which is what gives cinema its interest. The point to be borne in mind here is that the image has a “deep structure” which functions as its immanent condition of possibility, determining what can and cannot be incorporated. Slavoj Žižek provides a vivid illustration of what is at stake here when he asks us to imagine a pornographic sex scene inserted in the middle of Out of Africa. In effect, when he argues that this is impossible to conceive without it radically altering the movie, he is saying that the regime of signs underpinning it is incompatible with the regime of signs we call pornography (Žižek 1991, p. 111). The actual film doesn’t need to show “all” because its regime is constituted in such a way that everything the camera “touches” is imbued with significance, thus a “gliding atmosphere” of eroticism is established that constantly radiates outwards from the idea of what might take place in the privacy of the bedroom. To show “all” would realign this heady atmosphere so that instead of radiating waves of eroticism there would be a linear sequence leading from the first kiss to the bedroom where the act would be consummated and then the whole sequence would need to be restarted elsewhere. It shouldn’t be thought from this that it is always impossible to mix different regimes, because that isn’t the case: but it is the case that regimes can only be mixed under certain conditions. We may add, too, that what we take to be the most exciting works are very often the products of mixed regimes.[6]

Delirium is a royal road to a schizoanalysis of cinema because its perceptual regime can be formalised. In the next section we need to consider how the cinematic regime of signs is realised by looking at cinema’s own “holy trinity,” at least according to Deleuze, of the shot, frame and montage. The regime of signs is a form of expression—shot, frame and montage comprise the corresponding form of content.

2. Deleuze’s account of the cinematic image is already schizoanalytic

I. The Cinematic Regime

Deleuze and Guattari’s revision of psychoanalysis doesn’t take the form of a wholesale repudiation of Freud, as most people seem to think. Their tendency, rather, is to attempt to unblock the blockages in his thought. Very often, as is the case with delirium, they are more than willing to credit him with great clinical discoveries, only to then shake their heads in disappointment that he didn’t realise the true nature of his insight. Their general assessment of Freud is that he understood neurosis, but psychosis escaped him. Even so, Deleuze and Guattari (1987, p. 27) attribute to Freud’s 1915 paper “The Unconscious” the clinical discovery of the difference between neurosis and psychosis:

Freud says that hysterics or obsessives are people capable of making a global comparison between a sock and a vagina, a scar and castration, etc. Doubtless it is at one and the same time they apprehend the object globally and perceive it as lost. Yet it would never occur to a neurotic to grasp the skin erotically as a multiplicity of pores, little spots, little scars or black holes, or to grasp the sock erotically as a multiplicity of stitches. … Comparing a sock to a vagina is OK, it’s done all the time, but you’d have to be insane to compare a pure aggregate of stitches to a field of vaginas: that’s what Freud says.

Deleuze and Guattari describe this observation as a great clinical discovery because it clarifies the difference between the two types of pathologies we know commonly as neurosis and psychosis and as we’ve seen sets the stage for their own investigations. What is at stake here is the difference between two regimes of signs—the “signifying” and “passional.” In their eyes, Freud stood on the threshold of making the discovery of “the greatest art of the unconscious,” namely the art of “molecular multiplicities,” but somehow he botched it. Having served him so well in so many other situations, Freud’s unshakeable conviction that all “dream-thoughts” can be treated sensibly, as representations of one kind or another—a sock for a vagina, a wolf for daddy, and so on—left him unable to grasp the peculiar form of action and ideation known as delirium. Although mindful of the fact that this correspondence appears to break down in the case of psychosis, Freud nonetheless pins his hopes on the power of the proper name to restore unity to thoughts and ideas that seem to be fleeing from his grasp. The Wolf-Man has an obsession with wolves, Freud thinks, but this is just a screen for his true state of mind and all his symptoms can be explained by isolating the central fact of his passive attitude towards his father. His imperious gaze, that of the “one supposed to know” prevents him from seeing that the boy in the dream isn’t just looking at the wolves, they are looking at him, or more particularly reaching out to him. “A fibre stretches from a human to an animal, from a human or an animal to molecules, from molecules to particles, and so on to the imperceptible. Every fibre is a Universe fibre” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 249).

Here Deleuze and Guattari make what is, I think, their single most important intervention into dream analysis. Freud, they cry, thinks that the boy of the famous dream of the five wolves in the tree is looking at the wolves. But aren’t the wolves also looking at him? “Freud obviously knows nothing about the fascination exerted by wolves and the meaning of their silent call, the call to become-wolf. Wolves watch, intently watch, the dreaming child; it is so much more reassuring to tell oneself that it is really the child who sees the dogs or parents in the act of making love” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 28). Watching-wolves could still be daddy, to be sure, but to acknowledge that the wolves are watching the boy and not merely obscuring thoughts of his father via the process Freud termed dreamwork is already to insist on the importance of something Freud more or less ignores, namely the spatial arrangement of the dream elements. The wolves are just outside the window, watching, waiting, threatening, but in an obscure manner. What are they waiting for? If they wanted to attack, why do they hesitate? Is there something holding them back? If they aren’t about to attack, then what is their purpose? What do they watch for? Are they perhaps waiting for someone to join them? We see more clearly what Deleuze and Guattari are trying to do when they offer Kafka’s short story, “Jackals and Arabs,” as a parallel example. The Jackals, too, watch and wait, on the edge of the camp, thereby creating, as they explain, three different kinds of spaces which we can designate as follows: inside the camp, outside the camp, and the boundary between the two. The Wolf-Man’s dream exhibits the same three types of spaces: inside the bedroom, outside the bedroom, and the boundary between the two. One can specify the difference between these two positions very simply: it is the difference between being inside or outside a particular space and being an insider or an outsider. Jackals and Wolves are outsiders regardless of whether they are inside or outside the camp or bedroom, which is what makes them so fearful. It is not the topography that governs the distribution or peopling of these spaces, but the other way round: it is the distribution or peopling that creates the topography. If this were a film instead of a dream we would say: it is the camera that creates the distribution that in turn creates the topography.

If we draw a diagram of the Wolf-Man’s dream taking account of where the wolves are in relation to the boy, the first thing we notice is that the boy is on the outer edge of the pack. We know he’s part of the pack because the wolves are in his head; they are his people—but the fact that they are standing in the cold, hiding out in a skeletal tree in the middle of an immense barren space, tells us his relation to them is uncertain. What sinews reach out to him to bind him to the group? How does he relate to them? Why is it so dark and cold? These are the second and third things, respectively, that we should notice about the spatial arrangement of the dream. The interesting question, then, is how does the boy in the dream feel? I don’t mean how does the Wolf-Man feel. We know the answer to that, or at least we have an answer to that—he says he felt terrified, that he was in great danger. But his fear is nameless. He half-heartedly ascribes it to a fear of being eaten, but we are no less unconvinced by that than Deleuze and Guattari. It doesn’t ring true somehow. Our attention is drawn to what the Wolf-Man specifies as the only action in the dream—the opening of the bedroom window. This is a threshold moment in the dream: Is he an insider or outsider? Obviously the boy is inside the four walls of his bedroom, but those walls no longer seem to contain him. He doesn’t feel as though he belongs there.[7] The wolves are watching him, but perhaps not as predators salivating over their prey, as he at first fears, but as compassionate outsiders who recognise their own—the Wolf-Man feels like he is part of the pack. That’s where he belongs. If he’s an insider at all it is as a member of the wolf pack watching him from the tree, not the family sleeping in the bedrooms down the corridor. They’re out in the cold and so is he. But this is a giant step to make and he hesitates. The frozen wasteland he can see from his window is his plane of immanence, his body without organs. Freud makes no mention of the geography underpinning the spatial arrangement of the dream.[8] He imbues the wolves with significance, but not the snow. In contrast, Deleuze and Guattari downplay the significance of the wolves, except to observe that they are species that hunt and live in packs; but play up the significance of the snow, or at least its icy emptiness.

Deleuze and Guattari’s delirium-centred dream analysis doesn’t ask what the wolves in the tree mean, but what does this distribution of wolves on that plane tell us about the boy’s state of mind? How is it working? We can observe that his mental topography and physical geography are at odds with one another. He is an insider where he is not and an outsider where he is. His feet are in one place and his head another. What Deleuze and Guattari describe as becoming-wolf is precisely this process of leaving one formation where one is an insider for another—we become-wolf to the extent that we start to feel like outsiders in human company and insiders in the company of wolves who’ve taken up residence in our heads. The wolves mark the limit-point of our present state of “humanity;” they are the point beyond which we are no longer the same person. This affinity does not imply that one identifies with wolves, or feels in any way wolf-like (which is why the designation “Wolf-Man” is really an abuse). The space of the dream appears vast and unlimited, but in reality it is a closed system, a regime of signs—it cannot admit any changes of detail without it changing the whole. A trace of blood, a swirling leaf, tracks in the snow, even the smallest detail alters everything. But rather than continue to think of it in pathological terms, I want to shift the discussion back to the schizoanalysis of cinema by viewing it, experimentally, as a film image. I have said that the royal road for schizoanalysis is the delirium not the dream, so it may appear that I’m going back on my word by focusing on this example. However I think there is good reason to plead that this is a special case of a dream which has the quality of a delirium, or as it might also be said with some justice, a delirium that took the form of a dream. As Freud (1990, pp. 263-264) notes, the dream has a “lasting sense of reality” which the Wolf-Man himself seemed to think deserved notice. Freud takes this as his starting point because according to his experience this indicates that the dream recollects in its own uniquely transfigured way some real event. We may simply say that in the manner of all deliriums it felt real to the Wolf-Man—the wolves were in his head; they were alive to him, and whether or not they sprang from the pages of half-remembered fairy tales they clearly had more substance, more flesh and blood, than mere figments of a dream.[9]

It will be recalled that the cinematic regime consists of the following four dynamic elements (these elements are realised through the agencies of framing, shot and montage, which I will deal with in more detail in a moment):

  1. description;

  2. the relation between the real and the imaginary;

  3. narration;

  4. truth.

What is crucial concerning description, Deleuze (1989, p. 126) says, is whether or not the setting stands for a “supposedly pre-existing reality” or creates its own reality or realities, which constantly give way to other realities that “contradict, displace, or modify the preceding ones.” It is clear that Freud treats it as belonging to the first type, what Deleuze calls the organic regime, which implies that the reality of the dream comes from the outside, whereas Deleuze and Guattari categorise it as belonging to the second type, namely the crystalline regime, which means the reality of the dream is at once self-generating and unstable. The dream doesn’t occur in his bedroom, but a bedroom, and as the window opens—which it does all by itself—the room itself seems to change nature: it is no longer a bedroom looking out on a frosty landscape in which there stands a tree with wolves on it, but rather, impossibly enough, a bedroom in a frosty landscape in which there stands a tree with wolves on it. If it looked like his bedroom to begin with it was sheerly a matter of habit. Turning more directly to Deleuze’s work on cinema, we may observe that the Wolf-Man’s passivity is consistent, too, with the crystalline regime, which Deleuze says is the cinema of the seer [voyant] not the agent [actant]: he doesn’t react to his situation, he records it. His situation “outstrips his motor capacities on all sides,” and, as Deleuze (1989, p. 3) puts it, “makes him see and hear what is no longer subject to the rules of a response or an action.” His situation is patently that of the child, which as Deleuze notes was of central importance to the development of neo-realism because in his or her motor helplessness the child is astute watcher and listener of what goes on around them. The child absorbs the world.[10]

Quite obviously, the second element, the relation between the real and the imaginary, follows from the first. In the organic regime the distinction between the real and imaginary is rigorously maintained—even if the film consists largely of dream sequences, there is always a perspective point of the real which serves to differentiate one kind of image from the other. The ontology of the pre-existing reality is preserved, even if interrupted, by “the continuity shots which establish it and by the laws which determine successions, simultaneities and permanences: it is a regime of localisable relations, actual linkages, legal, causal and logical connections” (Deleuze 1989, pp. 126-27). There is always a consciousness in which the dream sequences can be actualised, and the various illogicalities of sequencing rationalised. Think of the way the Dalí-designed sequence in Spellbound (Hitchcock, 1945) is carefully corralled by a plot that makes it into an intelligible “truth” so there’s never any doubt that what we’re witnessing is a dream firmly connected to a pre-existing reality. One has only to compare this to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive to see what happens when this model of structuration is dispensed with and the organic regime gives way to the crystalline. Here there is no overarching plot to position the dream as a dream and render it intelligible. We can no longer discern a perspective point of the real which can reliably differentiate the dream image from the supposedly real and consequently we find ourselves absorbed by a game of cat and mouse in which the virtual and actual seem to be chasing each other.

In apparent contradiction of our initial findings, the Wolf-Man’s dream would seem to be a clear-cut case of an organic regime, and not crystalline as just described, inasmuch as the dream seems to be clearly differentiated from reality and firmly anchored in his consciousness. Yet on closer examination, our impression soon changes and we find our first thought is confirmed. If we follow Freud as he elicits the Wolf-Man’s associated memories that supposedly “explain” the dream, we start to wonder where the dream begins and ends: we move from a picture of a rampant wolf in an illustrated book of fairy tales to flocks of fluffy white sheep on the family estate, and from there to an epidemic in the flock and a failed attempt at a cure and the resulting pile of sheep corpses; then there is grandfather’s story, although which he can’t recall whether he heard it before or after the dream, tells the tale of tailor who pulls the tail of a wolf and supposedly explains the presence of the tree in the dream; as for the number of wolves in the dream this is conveniently accounted for by a “forced” recollection of the fairy story “The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats.” Which is real? The dream or the memory it allegedly condenses? In terms of narration the difference between the two regimes turns on whether the characters act or react to their situation. Freud clearly wants the Wolf-Man to tell a story and in doing so to connect all the flotsam and jetsam of “free association” he can dredge up in a logical and precise way. One could imagine how this might be filmed: you’d start with the dream image and then in a quite mechanical way the camera would cut between a page torn from a fairy tale book to sheep in a paddock; and from there to a little boy listening to his grandfather telling him a bedtime story (for added effect an animated version of this tale might be inserted); and then back to another fairy tale, and so on. At the centre of it all would be Freud, the analyst, his consciousness connecting the apparently random chain of associations and securing their coherence, in the last instance. The crystalline regime would, in contrast, be achieved by eliminating the analyst’s unconscious as the centre of meaning.

“A fourth point, more complex or more general, follows on from this. If we take the history of thought, we see that time has always put the notion of truth into crisis” (Deleuze 1989, p. 130). Deleuze refers to this problem as the “crisis of contingent futures.” “If it is true that a naval battle may take place tomorrow, how are we to avoid one of the true following consequences: either the impossible proceeds from the possible (since, if the battle takes place, it is no longer possible that it may not take place), or that the past is not necessarily true (since the battle could not have taken place)” (Deleuze 1989, p. 130). From this, Deleuze says, a new status of narration arises—Deleuze characterises this new possibility of narration as the “power of the false.” The false is not the untrue, as such, but rather the undecidable. In cinema, it comes into being when the virtual ceases to be a derivative of the actual and takes on a life of its own (Deleuze 1989, p. 127). This is the moment when choices not made, the choices that couldn’t be made: the choices that were never made; the fanciful, frightening and impossible choices we are all confronted with in everyday life suddenly become as real to us as the choices we consciously do make. Is there a better definition of the potency of delirium? Again, Hitchcock’s The Birds is an instructive example. Whatever could have happened for the birds to behave that way? To start attacking people like that? Is it something in Melanie’s past or in her present that makes them attack her like that? The false is the problematic. It is a delicate power, Deleuze (1989, p. 146) says, but it is also “the only chance for art or life,” by which he means, it is the power of chance itself. From the point of view of cinema, the key issue is which direction the impetus for narrative movement comes from. In the case of The Birds that impelling force comes from the outside, not from within, which is undoubtedly why critics have always been ambivalent about it. The inexplicable logic of the story’s development compels us to search beyond the confines of the situation for an answer. Similarly, any attempt to read the birds as symbols tends to fail because there is no consistency in the narrative—they come from nowhere, attack without reason and cease without being halted. The impossibility of deciding why the events are taking place calls into question and literally falsifies our standard means of apprehending them. Raymond Bellour’s famous shot by shot analysis is in this sense a heroic failure inasmuch as it attempts to establish a chronicle of events for a mode of narration-description that destroys the possibility of the chronicle itself.[11] It is clear that the Wolf-Man, too, wonders: whatever could have happened for me to start feeling this way, to feel like I’m becoming a wolf?

II. The Cinematic Apparatus

Having mapped out the extent to which the ordinal points of the organic and crystalline regime can be coordinated with that of the signifying and passional regimes of signs, we must now advance the experiment a step further and inquire at the microscopic level how the image is realised and determine whether the schizoanalytic apparatus of abstract machine, body without organs and assemblage applies there as well as it does at the macroscopic level of the cinematic regime itself. What, in other words, is the abstract machine, body without organs, and assemblage of cinema? This is not the place to rehearse lengthy explanations of the provenance of each of these terms, but it will be helpful I believe if I briefly give an account of how these three concepts interconnect to form what I have called Deleuzism’s “holy trinity.” The abstract machine is encased in the body without organs, where it functions as its unity of composition. It is effectuated in concrete reality by the assemblage, where it persists as its organising ideal. The body without organs is the virtual plane of desire created by the abstract machine. The assemblage, then, is the effectuation of the organisation of desire elaborated by the body without organs. But as the famous chapter on how to make yourself a body without organs makes clear, the assemblage is also the plane where we experiment and tinker to create the body without organs. The abstract machine articulates or connects these two realms, the body without organs and the assemblage. It has no existence for itself, but subsists or perhaps insists in the other realms. I am of course aware that these are at best austere formalisms, at worst empty phrases, so I will try to give flesh to the skeleton by matching these functional definitions to the constitutive agencies—the other “holy trinity”—of the cinematic image, namely frame, shot, and montage.

The frame is “the determination of a closed system, a relatively closed system which includes everything which is present in the image—sets, characters, props” (Deleuze 1986, p. 12). It exhibits three characteristics which correspond to the threefold determination (adapted from Marx, Lacan and Spinoza) Deleuze and Guattari ascribe to the body without organs: first, following Marx, they define it as a “divine presupposition;” second, following Lacan, they say it is like the reverse side of the Other, a revolt of partial objects or the “real inorganisation” of desire; and, third, following Spinoza, they define it as an immanent substance—“the partial objects are like its ultimate attributes, which belong to it precisely insofar as they are really distinct and cannot on this account exclude or oppose one another.”[12] The frame is the logic of what we see on the screen—it is an “art of choosing” whose operation is everywhere apparent, but nowhere visible itself. We see the results of framing and feel its effects, but we do not see it. In this sense, it “falls back on [il se rabat sur] all production constituting a surface over which the forces and agents of production are distributed, thereby appointing for itself all surplus production and arrogating to itself both the whole and the parts of the process, which now seem to emanate from it as a quasi cause” (Deleuze and Guattari 1977, p. 10). But this doesn’t mean these parts are without their own efficacy, which brings us to Lacan: the parts of the frame are partial objects or objets petit “a.” It must be emphasized, though, that framing is what holds the objets petit “a” together (but not the operation of the objets petit “a” themselves, which actually corresponds to the operation of the abstract machine). The partial objects are

pure positive multiplicities where everything is possible, without exclusiveness or negation, syntheses operating without a plan, where the connections are transverse, the disjunctions included, the conjunctions polyvocal, indifferent to their underlying support, since this matter that serves them precisely as a support receives no specificity from any structural or personal unity, but appears as the body without organs”.[13]

Deleuze and Guattari 1977, p. 309

There is nothing “naturally occurring” (not even when it is Nature itself in the viewfinder) about what we see on the screen, every element—objet petit “a”—is carefully chosen, but the interactions between the elements cannot be subsumed under some imagined “phallic” theme. The most we can say is they display two tendencies: towards rarefaction and saturation, or the smooth and the striated. Lastly we turn to Spinoza: “The partial objects and the body without organs are the two material elements of the schizophrenic desiring-machine [abstract machine]: the one as the immobile motor, the other as the working parts” (Deleuze and Guattari 1977, p. 327).

The “working part” of Deleuzism’s “holy trinity” is the assemblage. The assemblage maps the intersection of the action of bodies with the incorporeal transformation of statements—the prisoner’s body and the judge’s sentence:

Taking the feudal assemblage as an example, we would have to consider the body of the earth and the social body; the body of the overlord, vassal, and serf; the body of the knight and the horse and their new relation to the stirrup; the weapons and the tools assuring a symbiosis of bodies. . . . We would also have to consider the statements, expressions, the juridical regime of heraldry. . . . We would have to consider how all this combines in the Crusades.

Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 89

Who does the camera follow? What does the camera see? The shot is “the determination of the movement which is established in the closed system, between elements or parts of the set” (Deleuze 1986, p. 18). More than that, the shot is the primary vehicle of ideology in cinema—it determines whether we see the workers’ faces, their hands, their feet, the hard earth they must sleep on and so forth. Created by the cut, the shot is the “working part” of cinema. It simultaneously expresses movement within the fixed frame of a set, the movement of an actor across the screen from right to left, and a qualitative change in the whole itself, in other words the reason why that man crossed the screen. The shot is the movement-image as such. There are three varieties of movement-image: action-image; perception-image; and affection-image. If we follow an action, but we neither see what the actor sees, nor know how she feels about what she is seeing or doing, then we have a pure action-image. When we see what the actor sees, not just as a matter of point of view, but fully as a matter of judgement, that is, when we see what compels the actor to act (the glint of steel on the horizon indicating unseen attackers waiting in ambush or the tell-tale facial tic that reveals a gambler’s position), then we have shifted to the realm of the perception-image. When the character acts and we see his face and he is smiling or laughing or crying and we know what he feels about his situation, then we are in the realm of the affection-image. These are the basic building blocks of cinema, but as Deleuze (1986, p. 68) acknowledges there “is every reason to believe that many other kinds of images can exist.” These three images correspond to the long shot (action-image), medium shot (perception-image), and close-up (affection-image), but this shouldn’t be treated as absolute. “A film is never made up of a single kind of image: thus we call the combination of the three varieties montage. “Montage (in one of its aspects) is the assemblage [agencement] of movement-images” (Deleuze 1986, p. 70).

“What originates from montage, or from the composition of movement-images is the Idea, that indirect image of time” (Deleuze 1986, p. 32). Montage is the abstract machine of cinema—it joins together the two powers of the frame and the shot, or more particularly the twin powers of relative and absolute movement (the movement of individual actors in a particular sequence and the movement of the narrative as a whole). The abstract machine of montage is the sense of cinema—it is what enables the camera to close in or pull away from the subject, to cut backwards and forwards between two subjects, and so on, and for that to remain meaningful. “The abstract machine [montage] sometimes develops upon the plane of consistency [the frame], whose continuums, emissions, and conjugations it constructs, and sometimes remains enveloped in a stratum [the shot] whose unity of composition and force of attraction and prehension it defines” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 71). The shot may be the consciousness of cinema and the frame its unconscious, but montage is thought. For this reason all the great directors, particularly pioneers such as Eisenstein, Griffith, Gance and Murnau, invest their “hope” in montage—their manifestos invariably single out this aspect of the cinema as the most crucial, as the element which can finally make “us” think. “Everyone knows that, if an art necessarily imposed the shock or vibration, the world would have changed long ago, and men would have been thinking for a long time. So this pretension of the cinema, at least among the greatest pioneers, raises a smile today” (Deleuze 1989, p. 157). But the hope that cinema can change minds by forging new ideas hasn’t faded, even if it has gotten a little lost in the commercial demands of the film industry itself.


What I have tried to do, which is of the order of preliminary spadework, is first of all make a direct link between cinema and schizoanalysis by highlighting the significance of delirium to both; second I have shown how Deleuze and Guattari’s reconceptualisation of delirium as a “regime of signs” can be used to inaugurate a new kind of semiology of cinema not reliant on unhelpful analogies of the order that cinema is a “kind of language;” and third, I have shown that, at the most microscopic level, Deleuze’s anatomy of the image follows the logic of his previous books. There is much more work to be done, of course, and it is clear that this will have to concentrate on the “moving parts” of Deleuze’s thought so to enable us to move past a description of the cinema using schizoanalytic terms to a genuine schizoanalysis of it.