Beckett and Deleuze


by Alison Kozberg, Alex Chase and Genevieve Anderson

Deleuze claims that Samuel Beckett’s 1965 Film demonstrates the three aspects of the movement image: the action-image, perception-image and affection-image. The action image consists of the character O running horizontally along a wall, and then vertically up steps. The camera, or OE (actually the Man with a Movie Camera himself, Dziga Vertov’s brother, Boris Kaufman was the cinematographer of the film), is allowed forty-five degrees of mobility in relation to O, if OE attempts to move beyond this limit, the “action is extinguished”. Once inside the room, the “angle of immunity of the camera is doubled—forty-five degrees on either side, thus ninety degrees.” Deleuze describes this as the perception image, as “O perceives (subjectively) the room, the things and the animals which are there, whilst OE perceives (objectively) O himself, the room, and its contents: this is the perception of perception, or the perception-image, considered under a double regime, in a double system of reference” (67). After O removes all the animals in the room, and covers up all objects that reflect or frame him, he sits in his rocking chair and rocks with his eyes closed. This is the third moment, as the camera is freed from its restrictions, OE faces O, and we have the perception of affection, or the affection-image: “The character O is thus now seen from the front, at the same time as the new and last convention is revealed: the camera OE is the double of O, the same face, a patch over one eye (monocular vision), with the single difference that O has an anguished expression and OE has an attentive expression: the impotent motor effort of the one, the sensitive surface of the other” (67). Thus, each variety is extinguished successively until all that remains is perception of self by self, the affection-image. This image is “the most terrifying, that which still survives when all the others have been destroyed: it is the perception of self by self.” (67) In this image the camera becomes indistinguishable from the protagonist and spectator. This collapse of the self, camera and viewer implies the problems and questions posed by the development of cinema.

The film’s primary problem or point of inquiry is that of ultimate subjectivity. The film’s three image types embody three subjective modes, and the double-subjectivity of the actor (perceived) and the camera (perceiver) create a very streamlined rendering of Deleuze’s analysis of the subjective/objective, where what is occurring on screen goes “beyond the subjective and the objective toward a pure Form which sets itself up as an autonomous vision of the content… we are caught in a correlation between a perception-image and a camera-consciousness which transforms it.” (74) Does this, in essence, point to Deleuze’s notion of the “out-of-field,” in relation to the span of space that is allowed and omitted by the primary subjectivity (perceived)? Within the closed system of the frame wherein the perceived is aware of what is watching him, his second subjectivity, the “disturbing presence” (17) that follows him, confronts him with the space of his broader being, the one that reminds him of the “more radical elsewhere, outside homogeneous space and time.” (17) The perceived continually narrows the space around him by going from the outside to the inside, then systematically diminishing the details of his interior space, including his private history (tearing up the pictures of his past), all in an effort to rid himself of himself. Is this why Deleuze, in describing how Beckett extinguishes the image modes (thus extinguishing the entire frame of reference for being for the perceived), proclaims that he “ascends…towards the luminous plane of immanence?”(68)

Piece originally published at Critical Commons |