notes on Dorothea Olkowski’s Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation, the section entitled, “The Theatre of Terror:” preparing for a theatre group called T-Cell

The breast-feeding child, in Melanie Klein’s ‘theatre of terror’ (as Gilles Deleuze calls it, with relish), sets up a literal feedback loop with the mother. Rending the maternal body into fragments, the suckling infant consumes and introjects these morsels, investing them with an infantile but, for that, nonetheless sadistic rage. The pieces of the mother’s body become poisonous little breasts.

The infant squirts mother back at mother in a urinous flood: the child liquefies its mother, first directing the flow against the breast. In this interchange of flows, the suckling’s feedback contravenes the energetic law which constrains output never to exceed input. Mother and child concur in a feedback loop which is also a credit bubble.

Every other vehicle of sadistic attack that the child employs, such as anal sadism and muscular sadism, is in the first instance leveled against its mother’s frustrating breast; but it is soon directed to the inside of her body, which thus becomes at once the target of every highly intensified and effective instrument of sadism. In early analysis, these anal-sadistic destructive desires of the small child constantly alternate with desires to destroy its mother’s body by devouring and wetting it; but their original aim of eating up and destroying her breast is always discernable in them.

– Dorothea Olkowski quotes Melanie Klein’s The Psycho-Analysis of Children, trans. Alix Strachey, in her Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation, Uni. of California Press, 1999, p. 183



Reading these lines and others like them aloud, I have a sense that Deleuze in some manner enjoys this recitation of horrors because he does not perceive in them, as Klein does, the striving of the infant or child for something else, something that would be more complete and perfect, something that could be represented as good.

– Olkowski, op. cit., p. 183

The dramas we witness in the Kleinian ‘theatre of terror’ are for Deleuze original, neither originary, nor founding, but “always in the past and yet to come.” [quoted at ibid.] What about the dramas we would make in this theatre?



Olkowski infers from Deleuze that the Oedipus complex might just as well have been called the Herakles complex. She writes:

If it is the movements of bodies and language that interest Deleuze, and not the Greek theatre, then rather than developing Deleuze’s text in The Logic of Sense as a psychogenesis, the question of how infants begin to think, of how bodies enter directly into thought, as Philip Goodchild has suggested, I would like to distance myself from a psychoanalytic perspective and interrogate Klein’s impulse from the point of view of the ruin of representation.

– Ibid., p. 184

To, as it were, steal a march on psychoanalysis, Olkowski claims that Deleuze’s empiricism and embrace of duration are oriented, by his additional disavowal of ‘order-words,’ toward an ontology of change and becoming. This ontological question features for Olkowski as key (lock?) in her feminist project, which she summarises early on in Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation, asking: Can a feminist read Deleuze?

Psychoanalysis becomes the science of particular political points of view. Rather than being guilty of sexuality, psychoanalysis is found guilty of politics. It gets locked out, of Life, for committing the crime of politics, of constructing and organising the socius after its own image. For Deleuze, for us here, it is a social disease, having nothing to say about “a life” and saying nothing to make me think it’s going to get me one.

[Psychoanalysis] organises life in terms of static hierarchies of genus, species, and their differences or in homogeneous spatial units. [It] belongs to stratifications that will not be undone, that impose their negative valuations on all social interactions and that, ultimately, are mechanised and materialised so that they preclude the third synthesis of the death drive – that is, affirmation of eternal return – even though they attempt, though miserably, the repetition of the same. Ultimately, they are stratifications embraced by fascistic and capitalist regimes of power because they are useful to those regimes in maintaining that power and control over social groups. Against this, eternal return affirms all chance [in Deleuze’s reading] except the chance of subordination to the one, the same, and necessity, making death the affirmation of all that acts and dies once and for all.

– Ibid.



Olkowski returns to the Aristotelian framing of the problem of difference. For Aristotle, substance – leaving aside its gender here, a problem in itself – is primary. Being is said of homogeneous substance. Differences occur as accidental – to being. Being is equivocal, distributed, organised across categories and into genera and species. Primary difference does not and can not exist. Difference is secondary, a second order phenomenon – of which, phenomenology is the study.

Difference can only be derived from substance, which is the same. Difference is subsumed under the same. Olkowski desublimates representation, showing representation to be homologous with this view of substance: insofar that substance is presumed to be the guarantor, to ground and govern the continuity of the “sensible intuition,” of phenomena, organising, distributing, categorising. This work of stratifying and freezing in the privileged state of being, stating, or representing, is undertaken with the insistence of the same, the same substance, which, in what is smaller, partitioned and further partitioned, the being of substance eqivocates.

Take the phrase particle ‘just like:’ ‘like’ is a relation of analogy, calling upon a prior condition to justify it, or make it ‘just.’ So, “Representation subsumes species by means of resemblances that resume the continuity of the sensible intuition in a concrete representation.” [Ibid.] Representation doubles itself, but the double is a sheer repeat, doubles itself as itself, “to erase difference as a concept and as reality and to subsume all difference under the one, the same, and the necessary.” [Ibid., pp. 184-5] Reflection makes difference submit to representation, a bad habit.

As Aristotelian substance is just like representation, according to Olkowski, so Platonic Ideas impose representative standards upon the pure form of time and ‘death.’ The latter is understood to crack the subject open to the form of time, which is pure flow: on one side of the crack, the ‘I’ who acts; on the other, the ‘me’ who is acted upon, asujetti, subject-ed.

Death works as a transformative and therefore creative state-of-movement. In the eternal return of Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche, death creates difference. However, not for Plato, who opposes the hierarchical order of (fixed) Ideas and representation to the Sophists’ claim that the same objects can be both alike and unlike, one and many, at rest and in motion.



If we continue, as Deleuze implies, to analyse the child from the point of view of the stratified adult, the organic representation, or the reminiscence of the Idea, then we are likely to find in the child’s motions and creations something as strange and horrible as Klein’s sideshow of infant freaks.

– Ibid., p. 185


Living beings are constituted in duration’s qualitative and heterogeneous movements as passive egos, mere ‘larval’ subjects, ‘cracked’ by the pure form of time, oriented by passive and active series, temporal and spatial tendencies, connective couplings, intensive aggregations.

– Ibid.


Difference and duration are unavailable to representation. Structures of differences undergo durational processes, which are also called actualisations, and produce at the surface effects of identity, similarity, analogy and opposition. Difference and structures end up feeding the bad habits, of the senses, for example, in their commonly stated, stratified arrangement, leading inevitably to the distorted world of representation, against which we may pit the habits of a Nietzschean ‘greater health,’ arts, drugs and substances that derange both senses and sensibilities.

There are, as Bergson has taken pains to show, two ‘tendencies’ or, as Nietzsche would have it, two forces in a struggle of interpretations. According to what organisation does difference differenciate without threat of representation?

– Ibid., p. 186

According to the organisation of a series, difference can differenciate, i.e. undergo durational processes and form structures, and so avoid falling under the authority of representation. Is, then, differenciation the hidden, the repressed of differentiation? (An oscillation of ‘T’ to ‘C’ would be all there was in it: think of T-Cell!) The Lacanian Real also pre-exists the split subject, however, a subject split between signifier and signified, a linguistic subject.

The Deleuzian ‘crack’ in the subject is opened by the pure form of time, an upswelling. Bergsonian duration shifts what only resembles the psychoanalytic distinction between the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real, psychoanalysis’s revolutionary invention of the unconscious, out from under an image of thought still governed by representation to the revolutionary thought that has yet to make the Real, or it real.

Deleuze emphasizes that the unconscious is not an object of reflection, or of psycho-linguistic inquiry, but has to be produced to be. He argues for MORE unconscious, therefore on behalf of differenciation and for the process implicating structures of difference. Duration, the pure form of time, rather than healing all wounds, keeps the crack of creativity open.

What is a series? A series connects different elements. Where two or more heterogeneous series connect different elements we have a system. The system, because constructed of connected or coupled differences, irreducible differences, may also be called a machine, for the way it articulates and sets in motion differential elements. The latter are ‘intensities,’ “constituted by a difference that refers to still other differences, more heterogeneity.” [Ibid.]

Difference can be between one and many, and between one and one. The sense of singularity and sameness, of the ‘same difference’ pertaining, comes from the fact that difference acts, makes, moves, creates the same regardless of the differences, where these differences, furthermore, in which a sense of sameness seemingly interecedes, have since while we were looking for resemblance – the habitual error – now become actualised and reduced to relations, relative size or relative number.

The impression of sameness and singularity of difference obverts the intuition: what is different is. This is the univocity of being. It finds difference first and does not allow representation to hide differences. Resemblance, identity, analogy, opposition can connect differences, as in, ‘to resemble,’ ‘to identify as’ or ‘with,’ ‘to be like,’ ‘to oppose,’ but do not confine these elements or terms to their relations, relations of definition, limitation, reduction, articulation, or representation. Deleuze is fond of citing Hume in this regard, to the effect that relations are not reducible and are external to their terms.

The three syntheses of the psyche constitute series:

Passive synthesis couples affective excitation forming the basis of habit. Eros, the second or active synthesis, designates the ‘internal resonance,’ that increase in qualitative differentiation that occurs when impressions of reflection are associated; as I have argued, impressions of grief and disappointment combine with anger, envy, and malice, or joy intermixes with love, generosity, pity, courage, and pride, and the association of ideas and that of impressions intertwine to provoke a violent ‘double impulse’ that intensifies passions. And finally, with the third synthesis the death drive merges with the movement of life itself and by necessity overflows all series, opening them up to chance and chaos.

– Ibid.

It’s at this juncture, in her series, that Olkowski introduces Antonin Artaud’s ‘theatre of cruelty,’ to attest to the dynamism of a system composed of series. Artaud, she writes, begins with an audible series, extending the voice, from words to vibrations, to qualities and affects, exaltant, numbing, charming , in “a long and vast derangement of the senses.” [Ibid., p. 187]

Artaud is not simply thematizing theatre, which would still be a matter of representing. Artaud is really finding a new manner of living and another order, insofar as theatrical system-series include techniques for making the theatre ‘function’ as the connective series between dreams and eroticism, obsession, savagery, fantasy, every utopian image the brain generates, and the real life of beings. To this end the physical and perceptible is of the utmost importance, and the theatre, rather than thematizing moral or personal crises, must find a way to thematize immediate affectivity.

– Ibid.

There follows a list, including theatrical devices, tricks of appearance, magic, as well as surprise, physical and perceptible differences, such that the theatre can bring and must bring into play in order not to represent, to ruin representation.

I haven’t cited Olkowski’s list in full because the Artaudian theatrical project has been, in twentieth century practice, so extensively explored as to form part of theatre tradition, a tradition to which any current practitioner is the rightful legatee. My interest, however, lies rather with the triad of terror, Artaud and representation’s ruin, that is, with the life of theatre, rather than with the theatre of Life.

The first two elements, terror and Artaud/theatre-of-cruelty, seem to me to vindicate an approach to theatre that is Artaudian and Kleinian in equal measure. To clarify: Artaud flips the discourse on infantile analysis over onto its back, where it may have something to offer the tradition in the way of innovation and renovation, particularly qua project.

Olkowski brings in Deleuze’s take on Klein’s ‘theatre of terror’ to witness the ruin of theatre. She introduces Artaud to witness the ruin of theatre as a form of representation. Her use of Artaud differs radically from Deleuze’s recontextualization, since for the latter, Artaud is the epitome of a schizophrenic writer, not a ‘man of the theatre [or of cruelty]’ at all. We would not sacrifice a single page of Artaud for Lewis Carroll’s entire literary output, says Deleuze.

Olkowski’s observations following these remarks about Artaudian theatre suggest little experience of contemporary theatre practice, which is as traditionally a ‘theatre of cruelty’ as one of ‘poverty’ or Aeschylus’s or Shakespeare’s: the whole tradition is transformed in Artaud’s theatre (in the past that’s never been present), but it is decisively there – where, as I’ve indicated, Olkowski situates it. She does, however, provide a few (negative) pointers useful to begin to discuss a theatre group called T-Cell, wherein we project the series of theatre – tradition and terror, Kleinian-Deleuzian – adds a series which includes Olkowski’s (ruin of) representation.

… theatre, poetry and prose, instead of offering the immediacy of affectivity, presents itself in terms of the moral injunction … to learn a lesson, to contemplate a fixed and dead expression, to conform to standards of perception that are constituted by a restrictive social norm. Such conformity does not merely bore the public, it substitutes for the affective immediacy of spectacle the representation of ideals, in order to then judge the public for not living up to the standard of those ideals. Rather than being challenged with what exceeds even their most intense series, the public is given stale models of resemblance, identity, analogy, and opposition; the public is given representations of violent acts, representations of vicious acts, representations of sexual acts, representations of courageous acts, representations of virtuous acts, actualizations that by definition exclude the possibility of what Deleuze has called humour. And so people … act out or represent to themselves degraded copies of these acts. … They represent but cannot create; most often they are not even given access to the basic tools of creation, and those who are have no idea what to do with them.

– Ibid., pp. 187-8

I hope you agree that this is a trenchant critique of the expressive arts, of creative acts altogether. But in so being, is it holding up a standard, like the Artaudian one, for example, to which we should – Olkowski says ‘must’ – aspire when we make theatre or create works of art? This is the trap Olkowski sets for herself and why I’m interested in adding terror to the series in which representation and spectacle (and carnival, the dialogical, participatory, etc., and other ideals to live up to) already arise. I would argue that representation is already thus complicated and resonates in series with the spectacle and, therefore, with terror: a complication with capital, a capital C.

Upon mounting this critical challenge, Olkowski returns to the larval subjects. These precede, presumably, those flies the gods swat for sport; they are also the results of engagement in the ‘theatre of terror,’ which, in its embryological incarnation, implies “vital, systematic movements, slidings, twistings, that only the embryo can tolerate; the adult would come out of them torn to pieces. There are movements with respect to which one can only be a patient but the patient can only be a larva.” [Deleuze, quoted in ibid., p. 188]

I am moving towards theorising the theatrical incarnation of a ‘theatre of terror’ which employs on its cruel stage larval subjects. There are, then, movements in the clinical project of the theatre I’m envisaging, that of a group called T-Cell, to which one, one actor, one audient, can only be a patient, a larva, and risking and at risk.

Thought too, Artaud has shown us, is though of these terrible movements, this theatre that only a ‘larval subject,’ a dynamic, heterogeneous, and local subject can endure. The system-series of the constituted subject consists of such larval subjects; they are the patients of the dynamic series that express them.

– Ibid., p. 188

Olkowski ends this section, which is a short one, in her long book with a note of caution as to how dangerously close difference veers to representation. She invokes Deleuze’s concept of the ‘object=x,’ ‘the disparate,’ although you might call it the disparator, displacing and disguising in the durational proecess of differenciation, darkly precursive – and somewhat theatrical, you might want to add. Represenation, she notes, distorts, garbles, and stops the infinitely speeding ‘object=x,’ which, like the logos, races through all, flipping the switch to difference, flipping the bit in the matrix to that inbetween/meanwhile in the separatrix.

This places representation always on the outside of any series or system-series, whereas difference, we have seen, in Bergson is internal or immanent.

– Ibid., pp. 188-189



I’ve taken so long working throught these notes that I now find myself, with continued admiration, reading Dorothea Olkowski’s The Universal (in the realm of the sensible): beyond continental philosophy. [Columbia Uni. Press, New York, 2007] At the beginning of this work she notes a break, where she pauses, in her thinking, specifically in regard to the contribution of the scientific worldview to the philosophy contemporary with it. She records having undergone a period of tuition, a mentored familiarisation with mathematics and theoretical physics. She notes Deleuze’s taking up of differential calculus into philosophy; moreover, she attends particularly to his conceptualisation of the manifold.

My affinity, I’m discovering, for Olkowski’s work has to do with her problems of which, in The Ruin of Representation, and why I picked up the book in the first place, representation is clearly one. She is attracted to Deleuze, as I am, for the reason that in his philosophy there might be a before/between/meanwhile to representation that is at the same time able to be conceived and brought to consciousness, that language need not be the only theatre of operations for philosophy.

Her problem, again where I concur, is that of affirmation: how make it without making it stand in a relation of opposition, to critique, to the negative; how affirm representation or not disavow it, when the problem of representation, like death, consists in its indifference. Anne Carson, I believe, poses to this dilemma the question of the double negative, a does Slavoj Zizek, by imposition, in his thematization of negative disavowal: it’s not not to judge/critique/oppose/negate or judge/affirm but to suspend such judgement in time.


The legends accumulate

like wealth or grain at the edge of a famine.

You will never be bored and you will never

conclude your investigations since the crime

has no culprit, or too many to fill the old courthouse.


The cab stalls on the far bank, its headlights ablaze.

I couldn’t photograph any of this for you.

I couldn’t show its reflection in a windshield.

I could tell you about the rain: it is not raining.


– John Ash, from “Unwilling Suspension,” in Disbelief, Carcanet Press, Manchester, 1987, p. 11