Tom Cohen (2005) Hitchcock’s Cryptonomies. Volume 1: Secret Agents; Volume II: War Machines.

Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-4206-0 and 0-8166-4170-6.

Hitchcock’s ‘Material Whirl’

Karyn Ball

‘Pardon me while my brain reels,’ intones the enemy spy, ‘Marvin,’ with mock melodrama while flirting with Elsa on the telephone in Secret Agent. This ironic attempt at seduction by ‘our side’s’ not yet recognized ‘mark’ serves as epigraph to Tom Cohen’s War Machines, the second volume of Hitchcock’s Cryptonomies. With this epigraph, Cohen perspicaciously anticipates what is to come while citing the first volume, Secret Agents. His ‘Hitchcock’ dream work weaves a ‘telemnemonic archive’ and with it the deconstructive promise of Maria Torok and Nicolas Abraham’s famous cryptonomic reinterpretation of Freud’s Wolf Man case study. Yet it must be acknowledged that Cohen’s metonymic virtuosity also radicalizes Torok and Abraham’s detection method in exploding the isomorphic logic of any code, map, referential system, or psychoanalytic catechism of sexual symbolisms, which imply eyeline matches between image surfaces and their ‘hidden’ depths. The Cryptonomies do not merely sidestep identitarian thematizations and film-critical traditions, but also sabotage them from within as an act of war. The citation, ‘Pardon me while my brain reels’ could therefore just as easily echo my initial response to these volumes, which were maddening in the best possible way. I recommend them to those who take pleasure in the cognitive dissonance that transpires as one reads intricate textual analysis slowly while the mind races.

Between the film reels and the reeling mind, Cohen gives us a theory of materiality in a telemediatized present that ‘mobilizes in Hitchcock a transformation of reading itself’ (Volume 2, xi). This transformation is convened in these two volumes as an interplay between a deconstructive and a Benjaminian materialism. The premises of Paul de Man’s formalist materialism and prioritization of allegory over symbol in conjunction with Jacques Derrida’s attention to graphemes, signatures, and ‘postal’ relays (as well as their respective debts to Walter Benjamin) train Cohen’s scrutiny of the composition of shots, the grammar of montage, as well as the significance of graphics, patterned backdrops, and the hieroglyphic languages of the props that populate each scene. The other side of this materialist Hitchcock heuristic is Benjamin’s weakly Messianic historiography with its allegorical-revolutionary agency that ‘breaks through all historicism to chance an act that puts various pasts and futures at risk’ (Volume 2, 116). It is this agency that ‘alters and deforms the terms by which the world or the senses are programmed, pasts and futures designated or occluded’ and that ‘turns on the formal not to abstract itself from historical conflict but precisely to alter the model of the historial “experience,” horizons of the possible’ (Volume 1, 10). Cohen identifies the background and foreground signifiers available from composition, but also setting, costumes, facades, and props as ‘vehicles of transport’ that allow him to travel between films and reawaken past moments as utopic progenitors.

True to his deconstructive predecessors, de Man, Derrida, and J. Hillis Miller, to whom the second volume is dedicated, Cohen’s style compels scrupulous attention to what is absolutely self-evident and thus absolutely opaque in any text: the arrangement of elements on a page (or screen). This formal attention to the text’s matter moves readers toward taking responsibility for the associative play that attends slippages of signification — the indetermination that arises between the grammar and rhetorical insinuation of judgments into the experience of reading as manipulated by tone and point of view.

In keeping with this praxis, Cohen’s ‘telemnemonic’ and typographic vision enjoins a different mindset; it not only parses words, but the parts of the parsings, down to most primal marks, the matter of letters and, indeed, any kind of notation that supplements or produces memory. Cohen’s micrologies of such elements and their associative paths through Hitchcock’s films tactically mobilize reinscription as différance. To become open to this exhilarating and sometimes overwhelming proliferation of drifts therefore requires one to abandon the lazy philistinian habits of meaning consumption that comprise the survival currency of a culture wherein to save time is to increase productivity. Cohen’s interpretations do not facilitate quick thematizations, which coerce the reader into collaborating in the build-up to a climactic, historically finalist insight that can be easily summarized, incorporated, and taught. The ‘technopoetic’ language that Cohen in some measure invents to spin this Penelopean tapestry will distress a utilitarian and prosaic temperament, which sees redundancy where there is, instead, repetition with a nuanced difference.

Cohen’s reading of ‘Hitchcock’ begins as ‘an examination of what can be called secret writing systems that traverse this work’ (Volume 1, xi). Yet as he himself acknowledges, there is more at stake here than what meets (and deconstructs) the eye. Cohen’s ingenious reading of the early thrillers emulates a logic that he learns from the film Secret Agent and that carries over to the second Cryptonomy: to ‘isolate the secret agency of a trace that moves within cinematic surfaces and bands, mnemonic systems and visual effects, timescapes and wars and disasters’ (Volume 2, 193). As the anarchical saboteur of a ‘cruel’ Enlightenment episteme that restricts believing to seeing and hearing, Cohen’s ‘Hitchcock’ touches on a few ‘inverse interpretations’ of metaphysics installed as histories (Volume 2, xiii) in the telemnemonic-archive. Such histories are, underground, and therefore, ‘cryptonomic’ in Cohen’s sense of ‘covert epistemo-political agents’ that are tropological rather than anthropomorphic. For while such agents ‘are secret if unseen, outside certain assumptions about the eye or sight,’ in Hitchcock’s oeuvre, the secrets that travel through it operate as the real agents, as Cohen remarks, ‘when they transform the perceptual grid or sabotage it or rewire its memory system’ (Volume 1, xi). Hitchcock’s cinema can hereby be said to engage in a mode of subversive espionage that ‘alters regimes of old software, the senses as hermeneutically programmed, the archive as site of virtual pasts and futures, temporality, the eye, the “human”‘ (Volume 2, 5). It is cinema as a ‘time bomb’ that clears the way for ‘something else to arrive’ (Volume 1, 149, 154). ‘Hitchcock’ is, then, a decentered base for ‘epistemo-political agents mobilized against the home state’s ocularcentric and auratic premises’ (Volume 2, xv) and a Messianic vehicle for ‘a historial clash of countertime(s)’ that tears the whole fabric of the global order (Volume 2, 49).

Cohen serves as a translator for Hitchcock’s anarchically usurping ‘epistemo-political agents.’ This practice makes him into a kind of double-agent who acts on cinema’s behalf to spy out the workings of a ‘vast and mobile empire of signs’: graphic riddles, alphabet soups, the spectral agencies that ‘inform the field of cinematic tropes’ (Volume 2, xi), the ‘animemes,’ or non-anthropomorphized animals, whose function is reduced to primitive marks that blot light filled screen-scapes and that indicate a more primordial order before (human) communication through words and images, before but not beyond punishing memory. The bird war will take it all back ‘in the name of a prehistorial otherness’ that eviscerates ‘humanity’ (Volume 2, 36) and pecks its eyes (and title sequences) out. Animemes, as much as shadows and machines, are ‘variant fugitive forms’ that take revenge on the humanist-intentionalist regime and its visibility entailments: they destroy its aura and subtend its mimetic hold on the imaginary that projects human characteristics onto animals and designs tools as extensions of limbs. Ultimately, it becomes Cohen’s task to spell out the ‘time-altering archival politics’ (Volume 1, 103) of this assiduously dematerializing materialist ‘teletechnics’ which ‘situates “cinema” in the accelerated histories of writing and memory systems, including, today, the entire advance of electro’ (Volume 1, 249, n.1).

Among the tropological agents he must translate, and thereby ‘out,’ is the auteur function itself in the history of film criticism. As Cohen observes in the ‘Preface’ to the first volume, ‘A certain Hitchcock knew too much’ (Volume 2, xiv). Perhaps this is why, apart from his dryly self-mocking ‘signature’ appearances in his own films, he can only ‘take place’ as a signature effect that converts ‘the symbolizer into the symbolized,’ as Cohen writes, echoing Benjamin (Volume 1, 49). This conversion ‘rattles the auteurist premise that the term signature was meant to uphold’: it propels movement into antefigural and deauratic series, which cannot symbolize any thing, but instead allegorizes the history of form itself (as Fredric Jameson suggests) and, by extension, as Cohen notes, ‘the intervention of “form” in the cast of historiality’ (Volume 1, 11).

‘Hitchcock’ as signature cannot, for these reasons, be reduced to the obvious: his notorious cameos or the protocols he dryly breaks that involve the proper spacing of cuts in and between shots. In Cohen’s reading, one of Hitchcock’s most seemingly oblique yet most emblematic signature effects is produced through the recurrent motif of the bar series, ‘the slashes generating and suspending the effects of narrative, or mimesis, or the visible’ (Volume 1, 190). These series indicate and reinforce ‘impenetrable surfaces’ that upend ‘vertically, then dispossess any anthropomorphic valence’ (Volume 1, 11). In ‘A User’s Guide to Hitchcock’s Signature Systems’ (Chapter 2, Volume 1), Cohen offers this entry for bar:

As a series, irreducible ‘signature’ of prefigural alteration and spacing; injected into the nominal order through the word-syllable bar (Barbara, George Barbor, Detective Barton or Judy Barton, Barlow Creek, even Bertani and Bernice), or the visual bar, or a pub bar (at the opening of The Lodger, or ‘the Bar at the Top of the Mark’ in Vertigo, or the Oak Bar at the Plaza or the Globe, as in Frenzy.

This barely indexical index also anticipates Cohen’s readings of the myriad instances of ‘mark,’ ‘marking,’ and, among the most basic elements of notation, ‘more primordial than the letters of any proper name’ (Volume 1, 5), the ‘mere’ line, which ‘comprises a signature system older than history, perception, or any one definition of “cinema'”: graphematically, in proper names and descriptors and, abstractly, in the proliferation of metronomic bar sequences ‘present in a row of teeth or banisters or train tracks’ (Volume 1, 5), the patterns on furniture and wall coverings, musical notation, benches, window blinds, and parallel lengths of shadow. The cinema’s ‘anarchivist materiality’ thus erupts as a primordially graphematic and virtual event (Volume 2, 37).

Because an image ‘has access to all that has been marked and stored, inscribed or projected by that site, its memory, and its virtual futures,’ it is both archival and melancholic: it ‘broods,’ as Cohen observes, ‘over an outside to the “Enlightenment” protocols it “knows too much” about’ (Volume 1, 16). ‘The cinematic image is politicized at its advent,’ Cohen asserts, because ‘either it will appear to assure the mimetic real or it will suspend what could be called this statist epistemology, expose the mnemonic machines as prosthetic’ (Volume 1, 66). To the extent that ‘Hitchcock’ might be viewed as a cipher for this advent (Volume 1, 4), the questions that his films raise for Cohen revolve less around narratological mechanisms of plot and character development, but relate instead to the questions of what ‘attended the coalescence of “image” from an atomizing stream of light that citationally brackets and dematerializes what it arrests’ and of ‘What, moreover, occurred within the histories of the “eye”?’ (Volume 1, 66). To the extent that it aims to split cinema’s ‘material vehicles’ from its miasmic ‘rush of frames’ (Volume 2, 16), this approach seditiously derealizes the legibility of action and eclipses the heliotropology of ‘bringing truth to light.’ In To Catch a Thief, the ‘aerial eye, invisibly fed through memory loops and machines, cannibalizes its folds and travels . . . . It performs, and decimates, a proactive tele-archive accelerated to consume its own premises. It exceeds any rhetoric of desire’ (Volume 2, 192). Cohen’s italicization of it here (and elsewhere) is, itself, ‘excessive’: it connotes a conspiratorial tone that renders the referential link with ‘aerial eye’ suspicious, uncanny even. In this manner, Cohen’s own typographic ‘cameos’ mirror the very subreption of transparent signification that Hitchcockian metonymy instigates.

The other transvaluative dimension of Cohen’s teletechnic materialism derives from his ‘installation’ of Benjamin’s weak Messianism interlaced through his reflections on modernity and his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History.’ In ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’ Benjamin observes, ‘the tasks which face the human apparatus of perception at the turning points of history cannot be solved by optical means, that is by contemplation alone. They are mastered gradually by habit, under the guidance of tactile appropriation’ (Benjamin, 1969a: 240, XV). What is crucial about distraction, as provided by art and by film above all, according to Benjamin, is that it ‘presents a covert control of the extent to which new tasks have become soluble by apperception. Since, moreover, individuals are tempted to avoid such tasks, art will tackle the most difficult and most important ones where it is able to mobilize the masses’ (240).

Citing Benjamin’s ‘Work of Art’ essay, Cohen writes ‘that the advent of cinema was registered as a sensorial and cognitive “shock,” the mobilized dynamite of the tenth of a second, and in turn promised the atomization of perceptual networks’ (Volume 2, 3). He links the shock effect of this advent to a ‘nonsite from which memory and perception are inscribed’ (3). This is a decenteredarchive that is at once hegemonic and virtual — it functions like a conspiracy, an insidious specter of variegated yet interconnected controls. This mnemonic archive is also a utopic site of revolutionary potential in Benjamin’s sense to the extent that any of its traces can be redeemed to ‘blackmail’ or ‘rewire’ the network along with its matrices of subject formation and to read the present otherwise by inaugurating a multi-directional proliferation of metonymic chains. It is in this manner that modern spectators in a state of distraction will be guided into solving ‘new tasks of apperception’, as Benjamin suggests.

Cohen’s logic hereby enacts Benjamin’s materialism with the Kabbalist lining of his theological writings on language that promote the anarchically creative potency of words, letters, and even script. The Hitchcock who, as Cohen notes, began his training as a graphic artist ‘positioning letters on title cards,’ establishes new citational networks and ‘combinatories’ through his alertness to the materiality of the written letter (Volume 2, 164). The deconstructive-Kabbalistic Cohen cannot help remarking the insurgent potential lodged in typographies of all kinds on signs, labels, documents in Hitchcock’s scenes that alternately reveal and then cut up words into syllables and letters (Rusk’s ‘R’ tie pin from Frenzy, for example). This demolition unleashes the power of each graphematic-facet to become available for retroactive and anticipatory resonance with previous and successive instances in and between films.

It is this incessant shattering of words and of Logos which shocks thought so that it might crystallize into a monad that ‘blasts’ the past out of a homogenous narrative, and thereby rewires the telemnemonic archive for an alternative future. As Benjamin describes it in the ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’:

Thinking involves not only the flow of thoughts, but their arrest as well. Where thinking suddenly stops in a configuration pregnant with tensions, it gives that configuration a shock, by which it crystallizes into a monad. A historical materialist recognizes a sign of a Messianic cessation of happening, or, put differently, a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past. He takes cognizance of it in order to blast a specific era out of the homogeneous course of history . . . .

(1969: 262-63)

Cohen’s cryptonomic dissection of words and his puzzling with letteration (Volume 2, 193) intersect with ‘the oppressed past’ of the places in which Hitchcock’s plots concatenate. This is why, as Cohen writes,

a network such as Hitchcock’s oeuvre presents has yet to arrive at its appointed time: the contracts to nonexistent or future readings that it marks in its flood of secret scripts, signature systems, black holes. So many historial chains pass through its stations and citations — the history of technicity, states and wars, techno-genocides, representational politics, gender and relational deformations, numbers and speech acts, deforestation and the ‘universal reading room’ of the British Museum, the archive, animemes, aesthetics, ‘America’ and global marketing.

(Volume 2, 255)

There is an echo here between Cohen’s allusion to an oeuvre that has yet to arrive and Gilles Deleuze’s phrasing in Cinema 2: The Time Image, where his own debt to Benjamin’s Jewish-Messianism is evinced in his definition of a ‘modern political cinema’ based on a people who ‘no longer exist, or not yet’ since they are missing. Like Cohen’s ‘Hitchcock,’ Deleuze’s ‘cinema’ is Messianic: it sets the stage for a politics still to come in which an infinity of peoples remained to be reunited, or should not be (Deleuze, 1989b: 216).

In view of their shared intrigue with Benjamin’s Messianism and Hitchcock, it is worth reflecting on certain convergences and disparities between Cohen’s ‘cryptonomies,’ his Secret Agents and War Machines, and Deleuze’s Cinema books devoted to the ‘movement-image’ and the ‘time-image’ respectively. I read Deleuze’s volumes as an attempt to displace the depth hermeneutics established by psychoanalytic matrices of sexual repression, castration, and ‘Oedipal imperialism.’ This endeavor motivates his recourse to Henri Bergson’s theses on ‘creative evolution’ and the disarticulation, in Matter and Memory, of the ‘false problem’ that opposes matter to memory (as a difference in kind rather than degree). What is paradoxical is that Cohen’s Benjaminian and de Manian materialism is not only more post-Oedipal than Deleuze’s Bergsonianism, but also more Bergsonian, albeit inadvertently. If there is a psychoanalytic (or ideological) ‘symptom’ in Cohen’s text, it is the husk of a symptomatic reading strategy and a psychoanalytic ‘science’ which has been waylaid into divesting its own scientific presumptions. Cohen situates ‘Hitchcock’ ‘beyond the pleasure principle and the dream interpretation of Oedipus,’ across a pre-sabotaged and sabotaging matrix (a non-place) rather than tying it back to a sentimental origin — a ‘Mother’ (who is not where or who you think she is since this ‘mummy’ is, as Norman Bates would say, not quite herself) (Volume 2, 89). ‘Mother’ and ‘nature’ will be exposed as ‘narrative fronts’ for the powers that will ‘globalize markets, partake of techno-war machines, accelerate terrestrial consumption’ (Volume 1, 68). For Cohen, their alien technicity belongs to that experience of shock which Benjamin allies ‘with prehistory and with ‘natural history’ — or geological “time,” deanthropomorphized’ (Volume 1, 68). Cohen’s formalism harkens back to Benjamin’s primitivist longing for a reawakened mimetic faculty responsive to correspondences, and to the ‘thing knowledge’ that they refract (but against which secular reason has blinded and deafened us). Modernization has hardened us against a pre-rational receptivity that stems from ‘”before” the protocols of mimetic culture, hermeneutic, identification and film-theoretical accoutrements have a chance,’ yet also before and beyond personification and, perhaps, irony too (Volume 2, 98).

Auteurism still belongs to the regime of the Author as Father. Despite an apparent semiotic agenda which breaks down perception, action, and affect shots into multiple signs including the mental image, presumably perfected in Hitchcock, ‘which takes as its object, relations, symbolic acts, intellectual feelings’ (Deleuze, 1989a: 198; emphasis in original),1 the Cinema books remain resolutely transfixed on the auteur as a vehicle of a Bergsonian ‘creative evolution,’ whereby cinema ‘thinks’ itself from the ancient to the modern perception of movement in relation to time. Cohen, in contrast, focuses on a ‘Hitchcock’ who ‘is conjured and produced by signature systems and marks and not the reverse’ (Volume 2, 264). There is only ‘Hitchcock’ as the dynamic cumulative cross-referenced interplays among such marks. It is this deauraticizing ‘Hitchcock-effect’ that derails the indexical functions of images and with them, the visible surface-hidden depth aesthetic ideologies that convene the illusion of a guarantee that signs ultimately testify to prior, known, or knowable referents. Instead, ‘the impasse of or within cinema — that a repetition which should secure identity morphs into a web of associated figures, a spy network — is also the impossibility of any “documentary.” The premise of the cinematic “image” — that it indexes the real and is guardian of mimesis’ undoes itself (Volume 2, 80). Cohen writes:

What is peculiar about this image culture that ‘Hitchcock’ shaped and interrogated, is that the citational structure of the image upon which all relies (namely, the indexing testimony of the mimetic photograph, say, in which a stability of knowledge is assumed) structurally betrays everything that is invested into it — everything auratic, that is: identification, metaphor, gaze, auteurism. Like a ‘whirling pickpocket.’

(Volume 2, 255)

Like Cohen, Deleuze seemingly commits to Benjamin’s theory of cinema as an artistic vehicle for apperceptual task solving and the sudden irruption of Denkbilder that shock thought into a Messianic standstill. This principle comes to the fore in Deleuze’s characterization of the ‘crisis of the movement image’ which leads to the advent of the time image. The crisis that triggers the rise of the time-image as an experience of duration in postwar film could thus be said to achieve the effect that Benjamin’s definition of historical materialism attributes to the constellation. Cohen notes that with Benjamin’s materialist historiography, ‘the turning point is an event that would reconfigure history and the world order through an assault on representational and mnemonic regimes’ (Volume 1, 5). As an interesting side note on the permutations of post-Marxist aesthetic theories, the major distinction between Deleuze’s and Cohen’s recourse to Benjamin is that Deleuze’s understanding of crisis embeds it in the beginning of cinema as a latent ‘unthought’; consequently, his is a restrictively proleptic notion of the revolutionary-futural potential that lies buried in the ruins of histories of progress. The poetic and logical consequence of this notion is that his narrative of cinematic development and crisis must be linear. In keeping with Benjamin’s Messianism, the temporality of Cohen’s cinema as a ‘mnemonic apparatus’ and teletechnic archive (Volume 1, 98) is, in contrast, reversible. If there is a history that conjoins Cohen’s two volumes, it would therefore need to be told in a non-linear fashion as a non-causal series of ‘transports,’ where the generative chips of Messianic time that shoot through Benjamin’s historical materialism permeate but also disrupt the absorption of a formalist-materialist reading practice.

Cohen points out various modes of disruption that intimate ‘a reflexive rupture, a caesura at the site of mnemonic inscription, whereupon alternative inscriptions could be employed’ (Volume 1, 244). Such disruptions crystallize ‘now-time’ in the whirl of a cinematic present. ‘Now-time’ also emerges when the consumptive absorption of reading in ‘Hitchcock’ is interrupted literally (on trains by bullying boys as in Hitchcock’s famous cameo in Blackmail), but also ‘globally’ as a trope of sinuous fascination among the spectators of the world-as-picture. It is in this respect, then, that Cohen’s articulation of ‘Hitchcock’ as citational networks and signature effects is actually more ‘deterritorializing,’ post-teleological, and, as I suggest above, more inadvertently Bergsonian than Deleuze’s cinematic evolution is by intention. Every ‘chapter-transport’ precipitates a new range of surfaces and magnetizes a new network of possibilities that attract the traces of past and future films as links in a chain. The Cryptonomies are conspicuously not progressively narrated. Though we are ostensibly given a coda in the second chapter of the first Cryptonomies, it mainly functions to stage-manage the reader’s consent to its map-effect, while we are still submerged in a state of preliminary innocence, a preconscious suspension of disbelief, before we are thrown into the language of the text, into the heat and drive of an archive fever.

Moreover, Cohen’s approach is not wedded to conventional modes of figuration. Cohen is keen on enunciating Hitchcock’s ‘countermoments’ to figuration itself, when his work ‘seems to drain the entire texture of the medium of any metaphor, recalling the experience of cinema to the conditions of its conjuring’ (Volume 1, xvi): the proliferation of circlets and zeros at the British Museum or Mount Rushmore, the animemes, blackouts, bar series, letters, and graphic puzzles ‘that cannot be effaced as images or even recognized’ (Volume 1, 98). In writing about The Man Who Knew Too Much, Cohen observes that this is a cinema that ‘knows too much about how little cognition knows: the eye as epistemological tourist travels from out of a preinscribed image (anticipated, advertised), which will be again sought out or consumed circularly, so that when one arrives there (Griesalp) one is still finding what had been preimplanted’ (Volume 2, 201). Hence interpretation will also bend back upon itself or short-circuit in fake lures, eclipsed suns, or in the distillation to bars, to a virtual pointillism, while retaining the potential to trigger kinetic ‘flights’ of association in multiple directions — metaleptic and proleptic, backwards and forwards — across the ‘whole’ of the archive. This ‘whole’ consequently remains ‘open’ in a Deleuzian-Bergsonian sense because, depending on one’s point of departure, it can always be reconstituted anew.

The same multilateral praxis holds true of Cohen’s Cryptonomies, which I read, first, in a linear fashion all the way through and then once more, haphazardly, by lighting upon whatever chapter struck my fancy, which was, in effect, to read it again for the first time. Of course, the most effective test of a new interpretation of a canonical work is to determine whether it succeeds in transforming reading itself and not only its object. I say reading in general because these two volumes on Hitchcock not only illuminate the structures and flows of the filmmaker’s sabotaging codes; they create a new heuristic for close reading: an increasingly lost art in an era of expedient and transferable insight production. As Cohen’s method reminds us, the intense degree of rigorous attention to formal detail required by a deconstructive approach could not now (or ever have been) easily digestible or reproducible. To ‘navigate’ the eddies and byways of Cohen’s metonymic travels in concert with a screening of Hitchcock’s films is to experience cinema finally as a material event and, perhaps more precisely, to realize an ability to witness it as an advent of a spectrographic materiality: already ‘undead,’ because it has been depleted of anthropomorphic-humanist aura, but not of its unfulfilled promise, its futural force.


1 In Cinema 2, Deleuze writes:

In [classical] American and in Soviet cinema, the people are already there, real before being actual, ideal without being abstract. Hence the idea that the cinema, as art of the masses, could be the supreme revolutionary or democratic art, which makes the masses a true subject. But a great many factors were to compromise this belief: the rise of Hitler, which gave cinema as its object not the masses become subject but the masses subjected; Stalinism, which replaced the unanimism of peoples with tyrannical unity of a party; the break-up of the American people, who could no longer believe themselves to be either the melting-pot peoples past or the seed of a people to come . . . . In short, if there were a modern political cinema, it would be on this basis: the people no longer exist, or not yet . . . the people are missing.

(Deleuze, 1989b: 216).

Deleuze adds:

The death-knell for becoming conscious was precisely the consciousness that there were no people, but always several peoples, an infinity of peoples, who remained to be united, or should not be united, in order for the problem to change. It is in this way that third world cinema is a cinema of minorities, because the people exist only in the condition of minority, which is why they are missing

(Deleuze, 1989b: 220).


Benjamin, W. (1969a) ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History,’ Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, (ed.), H. Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books. 253-264.

Benjamin, W. (1969b) ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’ Iluminations: Essays and Reflections. New York: Schocken Books. 217-51

Deleuze, G. (1989a) Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans. H. Tomlinson and B.
Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, G. (1989b) Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Trans. H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Karyn Ball is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. She specializes in critical and literary theory. She edited a special issue of Parallax (36, 2005) devoted to the concept of ‘visceral reason’ and Traumatizing Theory: The Cultural Politics of Affect in and Beyond Psychoanalysis (forthcoming from the Other Press), which will include her chapter on Deleuze’s Cinema books. Her article ‘Paranoia in the Age of the World Picture: The Global “Limits of Enlightenment”‘ appeared in Cultural Critique (61, 2005) and an essay entitled ‘The Longing for the Material’ is forthcoming in differences (17.1, 2006).