The Cinemachine


The Cinemachine

Steven Shaviro,
The Cinematic Body,
Theory Out of Bounds, Vol. 2.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Theory, therefore, can be instituted.

Search and destroy.

The orthodoxy. What is held in silence gathers force. The law of repression: what is marked as outside thereby has power over you.

In the game of defiance and resistance to established orders of thinking, the strategies of challenge are still subject to an implication in and complicity to the structural paradigms of war. Perhaps this is not necessarily the case, but in this case, it is.

Consider a tradition of film theory which is ordained by intellectual considerations taking their cue from pyschologies under the auspices of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. Determine, if you will, what the political ramifications might be of rendering this first as a discrete philosophy (one which is further complicated in mapping its determinants by its systemization, not to mention the difficulty in sorting out the similarities and differences between two separate thinkers on what appears to be the same subject), and secondly, by a critical notion of its “application” (with all the attendant problematics around judgements of propriety in that operation) to a discipline also rendered as philosophy and as language (vernacular, grammar) — namely film/film studies. Now, if that weren’t already enough (whatever that means) of a complex nexus of philosophical, social and political concerns to unravel, make sense of, and perhaps have an opinion about, consider further, rallying forces (namely Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari through two texts in particular: Anti-Oedipus; Capitalism and Schizophrenia, and its so-called sequel, A Thousand Plateaus, but also two texts by Deleuze on cinema and Bergson — Cinema One and Cinema Two) critical of the socio-political and philosophical consequences of these two writers and their representative institutionalized orthodoxies, and applying that philosophy (strategy, tactic, whatever) to an alternative method for analyzing film — and do so in the face of the full irony of applying a line of thinking resistant to such an application.

My dog’s better than your dog.


The ghost which haunts here is orthodoxy. Simply put, it is a manifesto against a prevailing method or style of cinematic analysis. In this respect, it is a thoroughly Oepidipalized endeavor. It is defensive. It stresses at length the necessity for grounding one’s reflections on film at the level of an experiential seduction that unfolds itself in the face of critical ideas and preferences which it may find itself in contradiction with, and to flush out the theory in the interstices of this contradiction (or confrontation). It seeks, thus, to write without denial of its own self-challenging moments, and with respect to that aim, it proffers a practical method which is exemplary in an organic sense (a species of imminence) and yet does not pre-empt its own statement of intent. Its purpose is noble. The proof is meant to be in the pudding.

But is it? No. I don’t think so. If only because of its nagging insistence on reminiscing on and referring to what it is not. It is (again) a difference which defines itself in relation to an alterity, an outside, an other. It is, in short, a dialectic differentiation predicated by exclusion and refusal. It is contentious. It is war.

The cinematic body, then, is another machine, a cinematic machine, in that its movement is mechanized and subject to duplicitous anxiety over the management of its automatic running on the one hand, and its manual over-ride on the other. It still remains, interestingly, profoundly exterior, and its agency is always the thing that is to be determined. It is the occasion of a forced confrontation with subjecthood which is liminal. It reinforces the mark between an outside and an inside. As a thing which is approached, it is always necessarily and perhaps inescapably this. It is the thing which occasions the thought about subject and object. A generator of the metaphysical moment in critical theory. A war machine under discussion. Which is not quite the same thing as a war machine which is in use. The war machine in use refers not to itself (it is the “body without organs” — the prevailing motif in Deleuze and Gauttari’s collaborative efforts). In this sense, the war machine mentioned is not the war machine deployed, although its deployment may include such a statement. Like the cloaking device used by the enemy in Star Trek stories, its strength lies in its ability to strike when invisible.

The examples of a so-called alternative analytic treatment of films announce themselves as different by virtue of their being generated through an unfolding of desire (of a “body of desire” — which makes me wonder about typifications of the body, especially as organic philosophical and political mass), but could it ever be any other way? Indeed, if part of the thesis could be said to be a recognition of the inability of a writing (or perhaps anything) without a stain of desire to happen except as a result of a repressive denial (which returns to exact its revenge), then its point would seem to be the affirmation of the place of desire in the face of a history of its denial. The difference then, is to be registered at the level of admission (or confession), and perhaps its celebration. Fair enough. So noted. But this is no guarantee of substantive political difference, and the political analyses articulated in the examples given in The Cinematic Body are largely of a kind easily typified as its own brand of post-Marxist school of thought; a descriptive treatment of narrative elements which are aligned with preferred representations of social life. It presents a file of films which are ideologically agreeable. In some cases the films chosen as such are apparently contentious in their designation vis a vis the orthodoxy. It is exemplary, therefore, of a struggle for symbolic (say, the idea) and not so symbolic (publishing possibilities, teaching positions, determination of curriculum, etc.) territory. The war over interpretation, then, as a site (once again) of Nietzsche’s Will to Power. And difference as the ghetto of the disempowered.

m-angle-angel is the cyber-alias of Michael Boyce, who is author of The Vague Generation and director of the video documentary of the same name.