In the centre of it all

The Puzzle of Philosophy

One of my favourite aspects of reading continental theory or philosophy is the connects that pop out at you from the pages. The more well versed you are in the tradition, the more things will connect and pop out at you while reading. This is even true within a single text: If you read Being and Time a second time new things will develop out of the reading that weren’t apparent during your initial reading. Because you know where the text is headed, the journey becomes fully new. Subsequent readings allow us to see the dense layering that exists within the text that is not apparent initially. One becomes more attuned to the painting that is being put together by the artist, and is able to see how the various parts of the tapestry fit together.

When we read multiple texts by various authors, it often seems as if we can reach out and bring different parts together, as if we are putting together a puzzle. The more we explore, the more elements of that puzzle come into focus. As a result, new things and new connections might come about that weren’t there in previous explorations.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. This puzzle is not the same as a typical puzzle. It does not ‘exist’ in a way that can be ‘discovered’. Instead this puzzle is a work of art that the reader is constantly producing while reading. Each of us is capable of creating our own puzzle or tapestry that brings together different elements from seemingly divergent (or not so divergent) readings. In this act one is acting both a creator and curator: Some pieces might initially fit together, but will require weeding at a later date. But throughout this curatorial process of addition and subtraction (affirmation and negation, one might say…) something novel is created. Through this curatorial process, the puzzle is constantly going through a process of becoming. In this way, the puzzle is never “finished”. Instead, it is always moving, shifting and transforming in various directions.

An initial connection: Derrida and Sloterdijk

In the villa of Ormen,  in the villa of Ormen/ Stands a solitary candle, ah-ah, ah-ah/ In the centre of it all, in the centre of it all/ Your eyes. -David Bowie

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve begun reading Derrida for the first time as part of a reading group through the Turtle Island Cooperative Farm and Research Centre (which is doing some really interesting work, and you should check them out!). I’ve really been appreciating this reading so far, as it has opened up a variety of questions and connections which engage with others areas of thought that I have thought about. By connecting Derrida’s project to these other areas, I hope to open up something new, or at least to transform my own creative process in some way.

In his work, Derrida comes to a world that is dominated by structuralism and phenomenology. These are two very distinct and different discourses which are each, in their own ways, attempting to overcome the system of metaphysics which dominated the Western tradition since the time of Plato and Aristotle. Derrida believes that, despite their attempt to escape the metaphysics of presence and logocentrism that are central to the Western philosophical tradition, both phenomenology and structuralism fall prey to what they are attempting to escape. Phenomenology attempts to escape the mediated presence by doubling down into the phenomenal experience, whereas structuralism attempts to alienate all subjective experience in favor of a cold realism. Yet, as Derrida shows in his work, both fail to overcome what they critique of Western metaphysics.

Despite this, Derrida does not believe that these discourses are worthless. In fact, he garnishes high praise of both discourses, which he claims allowed the very possibility of his own pursuits [in other words they allowed his tapestry to take shape]. Rather than suggesting that these discourses are worthless, Derrida uses them as a starting point for his project of deconstruction.

Basic Schema
Basic Structure.

Structures tend to depend on a centre. For Derrida, it is this centre which acts as a foundation and a limit on the system itself. In Christian theology, the centre of the system was God. The system would not work without God holding the structure in place and allowing everything to function. Yet, at the same time, within the system, the centre is on the one thing “which while governing the structure, escape structurality” (Margins of Philosophy, 279). The centre is the presence or logos of the system–thus a system that depends on the centre is, for Derrida, logocentric. The entire system depends on its logos. For the structuralists–who wished to move away from the transcendental—the sign retains the place of God in the centre of the structure. In this way, the sign remains transcendental, and structuralism remains logocentric.

The structure itself functions as a kind of container, holding the system within. This allows the system to be demarcated or differentiated against those things that don’t fit within it. Thus, each system is granted an inside (y) and and outside (z). For Saussure–a prominent linguist who Derrida spends a great deal of time responding to–the sign is the unity of the signified and the signifier. The signified being the object, the signifier the word describing that object. Writing, on the other hand, is the representation of the signifier; it is a representation of a representation. Writing falls outside the natural system of speech. As a result, it falls outside of a ‘natural system’ that Saussure believes there to be. Writing is thus Othered, and placed outside of the structure. Yet, writing continuously changes the way that we speak, shifting the way that words are pronounced, and sentences are structured. In this way, writing is both political and violent. The written word can pervert the spoken language, as people begin to speak as the word is written. Instead of protecting language, the written word attacks it. Thus the system as a whole, for Saussure, must be set up to protect against the violence of the written word in order to protect the natural order.

Saussure’s System

This system of inside verses outside looks a lot similar to the sphere of Europe that is put forward by Peter Sloterdijk in his trilogy on Spheres. According to Sloterdijk, the European system “places…God into the center of being and grants him insight into his own universal orb from within” (Bubbles, 89). For Sloterdijk, the Europeans treated God as an immunological system of protection against the outside (those who weren’t a part of Christian Europe).

Sloterdijk’s Europe

This connection all fits within Derrida’s reading of logocentrism. Both the Christian/European tradition as well as structuralism fit within this category. Saussure’s structuralism simply replaces God with the ‘sign’ as a transcendental logos.


With this system in mind, we finally get to how Derrida hopes to deconstruct the system. According to Arthur Bradley, a commentator on Derrida, deconstruction is too often understood as destruction. “As its unusual etymology – with those two apparently contradictory prefixes ‘de-’ and ‘con-’ rubbing shoulders against one another – suggests, ‘deconstruction’ actually describes a double process that is both positive and negative, both destructive and constructive” (Bradley, Derrida’s Of Grammatology, 42). But, deconstruction does not put things back together, as we would typically understand construction. Instead, it helps us move in a third direction between destruction and construction, understanding the thing that is constituted. According to Bradley, “deconstruction is not something we do to a text from the ‘outside’, so to speak, so much as something that we reveal about the way in which any text is internally constructed” (Ibid., 43). Derrida himself says the following of Deconstruction:

“Deconstructing this tradition will therefore not consist in reversing it, of making writing innocent. Rather of showing why the violence of writing does not befall an innocent language. There is an originary violence of writing because language is first, in a sense, I shall gradually reveal, writing. “Usurpation” has always already begun. The sense of the right side appears in a mythological effect of return” (Of Grammatology, 37)

Deconstruction does not come from outside the system. Instead, it reveals the internal contradictions of a system which undermines the system itself. This is what happens in Sloterdijk’s Europe.

The people sought to protect against the external with God, but as Europe continued to expand, the sphere itself came to encompass everything. God was no longer necessary against the outside forces. God died not because of an attack from the outside, but because of the logical end of the system. For all of the worrying about the outside, no defence was prepared against the internal attack. In Of Grammatology, and Structure, Sign and Play Derrida suggests that Structuralism’s system will ultimately come to an end in the same way. The internal structure itself is undermined by the violence of writing—not because writing attacks from the outside, but rather because it is already internal to the system itself. Like Europe for Sloterdijk, Saussure has already invited the undoing of his system into the very structure of its sphere.

More Connections: Derrida, Christianity and Capitalism.

In a similar vein to the system of European Christianity and Linguistics, Accelerationists have suggested that Capitalism will be undone not by an external force, but instead by the contradictions internal to the system.


Capitalism creates a new logos: Capital. Capitalism depends against its external limit. This limit excludes things like communism and anarchism, but historically has also excluded groups like homosexuals who have not fit into the heteronormative way of life. This latter example provides evidence of one way that capital defends itself against the outside: it constantly seeks to bring those things outside of itself into itself so that it can make more money off of them. One can look at the difference between the influence of the initial pride parade at the Stonewall bar and the corporate influence of contemporary Pride to see how capital has taken advantage of something that used to be outside of itself. (One could say something similar about the way that capitalism was adopted at a State level by the Soviet Union, and the way that China is, today, among the most capitalist countries in the world).

The reason for these examples is to show that capitalism provides a unique, but strong, defense against external threats. Capitalism is the most effective deterritorializing force that we know of in history–much more effective than Christianity. As Deleuze and Guattari suggest, it is able to reterritorialize everything with capital as it continues deterritorializing its outer limit. Yet, perhaps, if we think about the other structures which are logocentric, and think about how they produce their own destruction from within, we can understand a potential end of capitalism as well.

Derrida’s understanding of this system as theological is immensely helpful for understanding how this sort of overcoming will take place–and there are so many connections to be made between Derrida and other thinkers who produce this sort of overcoming from within. In a lecture series that I recently read through: “Security, Territory, Population,” Michel Foucault suggests that the thing that leads to the destruction of Christian hegemony in Europe is not some external force, but Christianity itself. Unlike Sloterdijk, this deconstruction does not take place because of territorial expansion, but because of the practices of the Church undermining the pastoral order. Foucault suggests that within the system of the Church, there was a requirement of obedience to the pastor (like a sheep to a shepherd). But, over time, pastors and congregations adopted practices like asceticism, communitarianism, and the inerrancy of scripture. These practices stripped the power of the pastorate (giving it to the individual, community, or scripture respectively). This ultimately led to the stripping of political power from the Church in Europe. Yet, these very practices came out of the pastorate themselves, it was not the result of some external force. It was the pastorate itself which led to the undoing of its power—not some external force (See Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 242-248).

I can’t help but bring up the philosopher Slavoj Zizek here as well. Zizek suggests that only thorugh Christianity can one become an atheist. For Zizek, most formations of atheism remain within a system of theology. For instance, many atheists turn to science as a transcendental centre on which they place their faith. It is science, they believe, which can provide them with truth, meaning, and understanding about the reality that we live in. Because of this, God is no longer necessary, as God has been replaced by science. Yet, such a system of thought remains theological. Like the linguist who retains the divine in the transcendental sign, the atheist retains the divine through their faith in science. For Zizek, it is only through God’s death on the cross that one can become an atheist. The main difference between Zizek and Derrida (as well as Foucault) is that Zizek is a thinker of the dialectic. He believes that this process is a dialectical one. Yet, still for Zizek, the way outside of Christianity does not occur on the basis of some force external to Christianity. Instead, Christianity can only be overcome through itself: Theology can only truly be negated through the affirmation of Christianity to its radical conclusion: That God is dead and there is no transcendental or divine left to save us–not science, not the sign, not God (see Zizek’s The Puppet and the Dwarf; The Frail Absolute).


Having gone through this pathway of Christianity overcoming itself, we can perhaps return to the structure given of capitalism. Capitalism is consistently deterritorializing its outer limit, but what of its inner limit? Deleuze and Guattari suggest that capitalism has both a relative and absolute limit. The relative limit is the capitalist social formation. This limit is constantly being decoded and deterritorialized by capitalism in order to create more wealth. Deleuze and Guattari say of this process that capitalism “is continually drawing near the wall, while at the same time pushing the wall further away” (Anti-Oedipus, 176). Capitalism doesn’t allow a full deterritorialization. it seeks to “encaste the merchant and the technician, preventing flows of money and flows of production from assuming an autonomy that would destroy their codes” as such a deterritorialization or decoding would go past “the real limit” (Ibid.).

Such an analysis of capitalism suggests that the way to overcome capitalism is not by means of a dialectic struggle from the outside, but rather from within. That capitalism itself leads to a contradiction through which is will overcome itself. Deleuze and Guattari suggest this even more powerfully in one of the more well known passages from Anti-Oedipus

“But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one?–To withdraw from the world market…in a curious revival of the fascist ‘economic solution’? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process’, as Nietzsche put it: in this manner, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.” (Anti-Oedipus 239-240)

Like Derrida, that solution to the structure is not to overcome from without, but from within. This is to attack the structure by driving the structure to its logical conclusion. This is, arguably, more dangerous when it comes to capitalism than when it comes to metaphysics (though one could argue that realities such as racism are just as grounded in faulty logocentric metaphysical systems). Deleuze and Guattari themselves become much more cautious of this sort of acceleration in A Thousand Plateaus.

Closing remarks

My goal in these brief musings has not been to solve anything. I have likely opened up more questions for myself and others than I have closed–but that has been the precise point. My goal was to connect things–things that have likely been connected before, and will likely be connected again–but to connect them as my brain connects them while reading. To open up new thoughts, and to produce new pathways.

These connections should not be taken as fixed. Deleuze and Derrida, for instance, have much different projects, and should not be taken as producing the same theory. That said, there are connections between the two (connections that likely result from their mutual admiration for Nietzsche). In any case, I’m excited to read more Derrida over the next 7 or so weeks. It’ll be interesting to see what other connections pop out.


On Positive and Negative Liberties

While reading through Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge I began to ponder on the role that systems of rules play within our discourses on liberty. Foucault’s text sets out to define Archaeology, and comes to the conclusion that “Archaeology defines the rules of formation of a group of statements” (167). For Foucault, there are certain rules that make any discourse possible – and it is archaeology will attempts to show what these rules are. A common example that he uses within the text is the discourse of medicine. Medicine comes about because of a series of rules that allow medical discourse to take place.These rules prescribe what subjects are discussed within the discourse, what methods are utilized, etc. Within any discourse there are rules of this sort that limit what can be talked about. What struck me while reading is that these rules can have implications for both positive and negative liberty. They perform the action of making a discourse possible as well as confining it to a certain number of topics.

Initially, this made me think about grammar. To the annoyed 5th grader, grammar is a nuisance which infringes upon one’s liberty to perform whatever writing function they wish. Rather than simply using words, grammar forces them to learn a set of rules that disciplines their writing and speaking styles. While this 5th grader might see grammar as an imposition on their liberty, they might eventually begin to see the positive aspects of grammar. It is grammar, of course, that makes any communication possible. Without grammar the structure of our sentences would disappear, making any sort of conversation impossible. In this way the confines of grammar constitute a positive liberty. Rather than promoting freedom from something, they advance the freedom to do something. In the case of grammar the rules allow us the freedom to speak and communicate with one another.

Contemporary western political discourse is inundated with negative conceptions of liberty. Negative liberty is the freedom from something. A basic example of negative liberty is that I have the freedom from infringement on my personal speech (i.e. I have freedom of speech). When we speak of freedom in this way we are speaking of freedom from some constraint (taxes, immigrants, courts, etc). Negative liberty is an important component of our culture. It is a key concern of many of the freedoms that we hold dear — freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to vote for whomever you wish, freedom of speech, etc. — but with all of the focus on negative conceptions of liberty, positive conceptions are often left to the wayside.

Plato on the Fall of Ancient and Modern Greece - The Imaginative ...

in the tenth book of The Republic Plato argues against democracy for the reason that it promotes negative liberty to the detriment of society. In 558 b-c Plato writes, “We said that no one who had not exceptional gifts could grow into a good man [sic] unless he were brought up from childhood in a good environment and trained in good habits. Democracy with a grandiose gesture sweeps all this away and doesn’t mind what habits and background of its politicians are; provided they profess themselves the people’s friends, they are duly honoured” (p. 294). Throughout much of The Republic Plato makes the case for an educational program that would produce the ideal leader — a philosopher king. The ideal leader can only come about through a series of harsh educational regiments. These educational regiments take place as constraints on the individual who is attempting to become a philosopher king. From one perspective these restraints can be seen as attacks on an individuals liberty (and education can for sure be used as a means of discipline and control, c.f. Foucault’s Discipline and Punish), but within the context of becoming a leader, they allow for the individual to attain certain practices that would be impossible without constraint.

Part of what Plato is attempting to show in The Republic is that too much negative liberty is detrimental to an individual. Too much negative freedom leads to chaos. If we return, for a moment, to the discussion on grammar we might try to imagine a text that exists without the constraints of grammar. When imaging such a document one might be reminded of a random texts from Borges’ The Library of Babel where the texts, void of any semblance of grammar, appears to us as pure gibberish. The grammatical rules that are in place allow us to communicate with one another. These rules can provide us with the ability (at least to some degree) to flourish or perhaps — in Aristotelean terms — to reach our telos.

From a religious perspective this shouldn’t appear to be anything new. Within the religious sphere — even more so than in the political sphere — we are quite obsessive about positive liberties. In You Must Change Your Life Peter Sloterdijk writes about the ways that religion uses liturgy and ritual to shape the habits of believers. Religion creates social hierarchies that can only be climbed if one performs the rituals (or Anthropotechnics) which shape ones desires and habits to the degree that one’s body is affected in such a way that these habits become second nature. For many religious peoples the goal is to not simply refrain from our sinful desires, but to shape our bodies in such ways that those desires no longer even occur to us. In this way, religion uses educational constraints that allow for flourishing. Through the restraints imposed by religious practice one is granted the freedom to flourish within the religious sphere.

similar results jacob s ladder jacob s ladder circa 1925 european ...
Depiction of “Jacob’s Ladder”

These systems of rules that exist within the political and religious spheres hold implications for liberty in both the positive and negative senses. In these religious practices, for instance, we can see clear examples of times where these rules move from positive liberty to infringing on negative liberty. One can look to the barbaric practice of conversion therapy as an example of this. It seems to be the case that when we stop understanding these systems of rules as helpful tools that allow us to flourish and transform them into universalizing truths that must be followed, they stop providing us with positive liberty, and begin to infringe upon our negative liberties. We must remember that the rules which give the ability for positive liberty are not universal rules. They are confines which exist in order to allow us to do things, to fulfill things. When these rules lose any flexibility and become written into law, they fail to participate in any notion of liberty, and instead fall into the realm of discipline and control.

in this way, we can see that the distinction between a positive liberty and an infringement on negative liberty is not so clear cut. To make things more difficult, one might see a positive liberty as a clear infringement on a negative liberty (and vice versa). Where we draw the line is likely up to our political or religious ideology. So far as it is possible, however, we must attempt to examine how we are using the rules that we have established. So long as our rules are allowing us to flourish and grow into the people that we want to be, we can see these rules as positive influences. It is when our rules start to become inflexible and oppressive that we ought to take the time to re-examine, change, and, perhaps, abolish them.


Works Cited:

Foucault, M. (1982). The Archaeology of Knowledge: And the Discourse on Language. New York: Vintage.
Plato. (2007). The Republic. (D. Lee, Trans.) (New edition). London: Penguin Classics.

Glass Harmonica

The short surrealistic film Glass Harmonica (1968) is, according to Open Culture the only animated film ever censored by the Soviet Union. This is interesting since the film itself can easily be seen as an attack on capitalism and bourgeois greed. The European Film Philharmonic Institute suggests that the film was controversial in the USSR because of its display between governmental authority and the artistic population. In this post I provide an alternative to this understanding of the censorship through an analysis of the film from a theoretical perspective.


“Meter is dogmatic, but rhythm is critical” -Deleuze and Guattari [1]

This narrative of this film can be viewed as a conflict between rhythm and meter. The meter of the despotic bankers drum against the rhythm and melody of the harmonica. Chronologically, it is the drum that appears first – though its initial appearance gives only a single beat. The drum is the second major territory that is seen, after the clock tower (we’ll return to the clock tower later), but it is only given a single initial beat at the beginning of the film before being overcome by the harmonica. After the breaking of the harmonica the viewer is granted a full understanding of the drum, as it draws the surrealistic animal people in towards itself. When we hear the drum the second time in the film – just after the people have become animals – we see the true nature of its power. The repetitive, singular rhythm of the drum draws the people in towards it. This rhythm, which belongs to the despotic banker figure – the figure who signifies the greed of the bourgeois and capitalism – is able to affect the people in order to shape their desire for the image of the coin/capital. This meter reflects the meter of fascism. As Deleuze and Guattari write that meter is the tool of dogmatism. Meter is the affective force behind the fascist authoritarian – it is through the fascist meter that the people desire fascism. And it is this meter, the meter of the despotic authoritarian drum which draws the people in. It is the second instance of the drum which makes sense of the first. In the second instance the drum plays and the ‘people’ travel towards its noise; they are drawn into the meter of the drum. They have come because they desire capital. But, why do they come to the drum initially? It is a single beat of the drum which repeats inside of them. Their desire has already, to some degree been shaped (as can be seen in some of their appearances). The sameness of the despotic meter has already taken hold of their desire.

In contrast to the meter of the drum is the rhythm of the harmonica. The harmonica appears early in the film as the people surround the drum, after its initial beat. When the rhythm of the harmonic plays the people begin to change. The rhythm of the harmonica is a critical deterritorializing rhythm. It pulls the people out of the desire for capital and towards a desire for beauty. The harmonica’s rhythm fights against the meter of the drum. Each time the harmonica arrives, it is treated with fear from the despot. In an interesting move, the despot is able to travel throughout this world as if he is teleporting. This suggests that the despot, like capital, is an omnipresent force who circumnavigates everything. In each case the despot destroys the harmonica, attempting to destroy the rhythm which was overcoming the meter of his drum.

It should be noted that both of these rhythms are deterritorializing. The drum deterritorializes the current socius – the initial image given is of the landscape with the clock tower at the centre. The drum is able to shape the people’s desire in such a way that the clock tower – that which used to function as the centre – is stripped down because of desire for the coin/capital. The drum functions like capitalism – it decodes all, and recodes with capital as the only code. Everything in the tower is stripped for money; no meaning remains outside of monetary value for the people. They desire nothing but the coin. The harmonica, too, functions as a deterritorailzing force. The harmonica serves as a refrain which undoes the despotic desire of the drum to a new desire for beauty. The harmonica’s creation of the Rose is the result of the desire for beauty that comes with the refrain of the harmonica. This creation suggests something key – the harmonica does not simply deterritorialize, it reterritorializes as well.

Rhythm and Image

The relationship of these rhythms to image is prominent throughout the film. This is enforced in the reshaping of the people. Each figure is shaped in their relationship to rhythm. As the meter of capital travels through the people their physical appearance shifts until they become as animals, objects or monsters. The most notable of these figures is a short man who betrays a lover of the harmonica who is holding a rose. In exchange for this betrayal, the despot gives the man a coin. This man is portrayed as short, and as the rhythms of capital deterritorialize his body, he begins to shift into a more monstrous being. Yet, when the harmonica’s rhythm later deterritorilizes him and he gives away his wealth, he begins to appear more and more like a man. Furthermore, he becomes a tall man rather than short. The rhythm has affected the body of this person in ways that shape his image. With the harmonica he becomes a less surreal, and more normative human figure.

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We see similar circumstances with a couple who steal the clock’s hands. When the couple first appear, they are in awe of the despot’s rhythm. Their faces appear symmetrical, and they are the first to the top of the tower to steal its machinery in order to fulfil their desire for wealth. Their prominent scene is an interesting one. As they bring the clock’s face to their home, abandoning it on a pile of things, the pile begins to fall over. The man, now treating the woman as an object, leaves her to hold up the things. While this is occurring, the man begins to look through a peep hole – no doubt aligning with the traditional image of the peeping Tom – yet, rather than a woman, the image through the hole in the wall is of the short man, depositing his coin into a box of coins. In this surrealistic world, the sexual perversion has been transformed into a perversion of greed. The man desires not sex, but wealth. As the coin of the short man rolls through the window of the peeping Tom, both the man and woman are transformed into animals. The rhythm of the despot – the rhythm of the coin has fully taken over their being. They have been deterritorailized through the rhythm of the coin, and reterritorialized as animals. Yet, the final image of the couple shows, again, the deterritorializing force of the harmonica, who appear in a more human, rather than a surrealistic form as they return the stolen clock hands to the face of the clock.

As the rhythm of the harmonica travels through the people, one of the most interesting images is that of an egg. The egg begins to crack, revealing a body with an egg for a head. This egg, too, cracks revealing a woman beneath it. This image relates to an interesting use of the egg in the theory of Deleuze and Guattari. The cracks could be seen as the lines of flight along the socius of the egg which is deterritorialized by the rhythm of the harmonica. All of the surreal figures appear to be deterritorialized in the same way. They have been deterritorialized to such an extent that when the despot returns (still omnipresent) to destroy the harmonica a second time, his rhythm has no effect on the people. His fascist meter is beaten by the rhythm of the harmonica which lives on in the rhythm of the people who it has affected.


Immunological Clock Tower

At the end of the film the harmonica is destroyed by the despot a second time. Yet, when the despot attempts to reassert their drum meter over the people again, the people do not return to their animal forms, but retain their normal human appearance. Even more, the people restore the very clock tower that had been ransacked by their greed at the beginning of the film. As mentioned earlier, the first territory that is seen in the film is the clock tower – not the drum or the harmonica. So, despite the various deterritorializations that occur throughout, the end of the film signals a return to the beginning. The film is circular: it goes clocktower—drum—harmonica—drum—harmonica—drum (failed)—clocktower. I think that the image of the clocktower is one that is central to understanding the censorship of the film in the USSR.


The philosopher Peter Sloterdijk writes on immunological spheres. In his book, Globes[2], he writes about ‘macrospheres’. These are large spheres which provide cultures with immunological spaces against the exterior. A chief example of this is the role of God during the middle ages. God functions as the centre who provides immunological resistance against the unknown exterior. The centre, God, helps make the people immune against the outside. I’d suggest that one might read the tower as having a similar role. The tower exists at the centre of the town, and can be read as protective against the outside. When the outside force is able to circumnavigate the defences of the interior, the first thing that it takes out is the clock tower (as we see the clock tower ravaged by the greed of the people). This works similar to the role that capitalism and enlightenment play in the destruction of macrospheres in Sloterdijk’s writing. Capitalism circumnavigates the globe and deterritorializes interior defences and immunological systems, focuses on individuals and recoding everything for capital. The end of the film, then, does not present a deterritorialized body without organs, but rather a return to the old territory – a return to the old immunizing system. The question then becomes: what is the role of the harmonica in all of this.


Two Interpretations of the Harmonica

As a result of this viewing of the film as a return to the previously deterritorialized immunological space, I think that we can provide two interpretations of the harmonica. Either the harmonica is revolutionary or the harmonica is reactive. I’ll begin with the idea of the harmonica as a revolutionary deterritorializing force. If one views the harmonica as a revolutionary force, we can see it as an extension of the Russian political struggle against the bourgeois. If this is the case, it is clear that with the second destruction of the harmonica, the revolutionary aim of the people is abandoned. If the harmonica is a revolutionary force, any rhythm that it provided the people is abandoned at the end of the film with the return to the immunological clock tower. Revolution pushes forward, not backwards. Thus, if the clock tower is presented in the end, then the revolution has failed. With the defeat of both the force of capitalism and the force of revolution, the people are free to return to their old immunological space. Under this interpretation, the film provides the communism of the USSR as a phase on the road to return to the previous immunological society – before bourgeois and before revolution.

Alternatively, the harmonica’s rhythm can be seen as reactionary. If one views the harmonica’s rhythm as always already signalling a return to the past it could be understood that the despotic meter is not simply a representative of capitalism, but all authoritarian forces. In this case, the reactionary movement of the harmonica’s rhythm can be seen as a signal back towards a time before the USSR. The film would again present a return to an immunological space, but in this case the harmonica is not simply a tool of this return, but the rhythm of its return. This return is not a revolutionary (forward moving) rhythm but a conservative one. Under this interpretation, the film does not attack only capitalism, but all authoritarian rule, which would also be seen as antagonistic from the perspective of the Russian government. In either case, these interpretations give some theoretical motivation of this film’s censorship in the USSR. The film does not provide the viewer with a revolutionary message. It provides message of return – return to the past immunological space – rather than a revolutionary move towards new horizons.


[1] Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. 1 edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. p. 313

[2] Sloterdijk, Peter. Globes: Spheres Volume II: Macrospherology. Translated by Wieland Hoban. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext, 2014.