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BECOMING-EXPRESSIONIST-ANIMAL: DELEUZE AND GUATTARI'S
KAFKA AND THE DEBATE OVER EXPRESSIONISM
BRENDAN PATRICK RILEY
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
There are too many people to thank and too little space. My mother and father,
Mary and Pat, have both been very supportive and have helped me immensely, as have
my aunt Jeanne, my uncle Doug, and my cousins Kristina and Petra. I would like to
thank the wonderful grads on the fifth floor of Rolfs Hall for making school worth
coming to every day. Special thanks go to Wendy Sterba, who made me watch Caligari
for the first time and showed me how much fun this stuff could be, and to Scott Nygren,
who helped me craft the paper that was the genesis of this project and stayed on board to
find out where it would go. Of course, this project could not have evolved so splendidly
without the insights of my chair, Greg Ulmer, whose comments were always helpful and
encouraging-even when they consisted of "here are a couple more books you should
read." And finally, my thanks go out to Jenny Gardner, my fiance, who cheerfully put up
with my griping and sniping and always had something nice to say. I love you all.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ....................................................... ............................... ii
A B STR A CT ............................................................................................................... iv
IN TRO D U CTION ...................................................................................................... 1
PRIMITIVISM, EXPRESSIONISM, AND NATIONAL-SOCIALISM ....................... 1
R E SPO N SE S .............................................................................................................. 7
THE DEBATE AND KAFKA .................................................................................. 12
BECOMING EXPRESSIONIST-ANIMAL ............................................. ........... .... 17
W O RK S CITED .........................................................................................................22
FILM O G RA PH Y ........................................................................................................ 24
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ............................................................................................25
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirement for the Degree of Master of Arts
BECOMING-EXPRESSIONIST-ANIMAL: DELEUZE AND GUATTARI'S
KAFKA AND THE DEBATE OVER EXPRESSIONISM
Brendan Patrick Riley
Chair: Gregory L. Ulmer
Major Department: English
The Expressionist and Primitivist movements are a contentious center point in the
argument between those who favor "realist," "useful" art and those who value modernist
art. Some berate Expressionists for their inability to take a political stand while others
argue that their art finds a deeper truth than "realist" works ever could. While the two
camps are thoroughly entrenched, a recent work allows for a new approach. Deleuze and
Guattari, in their work on Kafka, have illuminated a rhetorical escape from the enclosed
system and have, in doing so, given us a new way to perceive Expressionism and
Primitivism as art movements. Rather than viewing the movements from a position on
the axis between realism and modernism, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature shows us
how we can view them as attempts to escape the machinations of society.
This paper is divided into four sections. The first sets the ground for the artistic
movements themselves. It situates them historically and gives the reader a sense of their
motives. The second section, focuses on the way Expressionist and Primitivist art was
received in German society-co-opted by the Right and argued about by the Left. The
third section introduces the debate about the art in more detail, discussing crucial essays
by the German Marxist school and introducing Deleuze and Guattari's reading of Kafka.
The final section brings these trains of thought together, illustrating how we can read
Expressionism itself as an attempt to "become-animal," to escape the enclosed system by
eschewing normal representative structures.
It is by reading Expressionism as an attempt at becoming-animal that a new entry
to the Expressionist debate can be found. Now, the movement is not seen as without
praxis, it is intentionally obtuse. And its co-option by the fascist Right is evidence of the
re-encapsulating effect that Deleuze and Guattari predict. Expressionism becomes an
example of Deleuze and Guattari's system-in that light, must be reconsidered.
The Expressionist and Primitivist movements stand at the center of a maelstrom.
The argument between those who favor "realist," "useful" art and those who value
modernist art swirls around the movements. Some would dub the Expressionists fools,
berating them for their inability (or unwillingness) to take a political stand when one was
necessary. Others argue that their art, along with the Primitivist art, finds a deeper truth
than "realist" works ever could. In the midst of this thunderstorm, it would seem that
there are no new arguments to be made.
A more recent addition to the debate, however, does allow for a new way to
approach the realist/modernist argument. Deleuze and Guattari, in their work on Kafka,
have created a rhetorical escape from the enclosed system and have, in doing so, given us
a new way to perceive Expressionism and Primitivism as art movements. Rather than
viewing the movements from a position on the axis between realism and modernism,
Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature shows us how we can view them as attempts to escape
the machinations of society. In this new light, Deleuze and Guattari show us how
Expressionism and Primitivism were attempts at "becoming-animal," attempts whose
failure further illustrates the machinations of society and the re-territorializing engine that
the artists were working to elude.
PRIMITIVISM, EXPRESSIONISM, AND NATIONAL-SOCIALISM
Primitivism first surfaced as an artistic movement during the Romantic period, in
response to the realism that dominated the art of the late 1800's. The artists who
pioneered the movement were disillusioned with the Industrial world that the modernr
age" had created. They saw the primitive as something Utopic, something that had been
lost and should, if possible, be recovered. Colin Rhodes writes of their beginning, in his
book Primitivism and Modem Art, "[M]odern artists often looked first to Europe for
'primitive' sources to provide lessons that promised the possibility of revitalizing
Western art and culture" (22). Primitive art and craft work served as a model for the
artists, a way for them to connect with something more "authentic." With the coming of
the World War, the artists became even more disillusioned about the viability of the
Western mind set, often turning or moving to primitive cultures outside Europe, saying
that the loss of "myth" in the West was a major factor in the downfall of the West (185).
Primitivists considered several groups in their search for "primitive" truth. Two
of the groups they were most interested in were children and the insane. Children were
believed to have an unspoiled vision of the world, and the insane were seen as being
disconnected from the world thus able to tap into their unconscious, something
"normal" adults cannot do. Less "civilized" societies, too, were viewed as Primitive, so
many of the artists spent time with the "tribal" people in Tahiti. They also spent time
trying to get at the "authentic, primitive" traits of the less advanced people of Europe,
who were seen as a more noble, authentic "race" of Europeans a distinction that would
haunt the German populace into the Hitler regime, when it was more fully exploited.
Another goal of the Primitivist movement is the drive to re-connect with "nature," a goal
whose simplicity we would now problematize. Again, savage peoples, children, and the
insane were seen to be the closest to nature, so their art serves as a model for Primitivists.
The techniques used by Primitivist artists serve to further 'overturn the applecart'
by "questioning the received wisdom of Western culture" and "making the familiar
strange" (Coates 75). In contrast to other artists, the Primitivists try to make use of the
style of the art used by primitive peoples rather than bringing their own style in to paint
exotic scenes. This process results in an undermining of the usual representative codes
and new, effective art. The artists succeed in undermining standard codes by walking the
line between what was then considered a division of content and style. One offshoot of
Primitivism that stresses style more heavily than content is Expressionism, a movement
that concentrates most heavily on emotion as the key to the soul.
Expressionism is a highly contested style. Some would have us believe that it is a
well-defined, easily recognized one. Others disagree. Georg Lukacs described the
problem as follows, "... when it becomes imperative to specify whom we are to regard
as the exemplary Expressionist writer, or even to include in the category of
Expressionism, we find that opinions diverge so sharply that no single name can count on
general agreement" (Reason 28). For purposes of coherency, this paper will construct a
definition of the movement, starting from Ulrich Weisstein's description. He writes, ". ..
most of the ... Expressionists would have agreed that they were primarily concerned with
capturing the essence of things rather than their external appearance"(33). With that first
idea in mind, let us divide the rest of the traits of Expressionism into two categories; we
will use the terms mechanic and thematic as names for the categories. The former will
deal with stylistic elements, things that would be visibly (or audibly?) identifiable as parts
of the system of Expressionist art creation the nuts-and-bolts of Expressionism. The
latter, the thematic, will deal with the ideological underpinnings and goals of those works
generally identified as fitting with the movement. Between these two categories, we will
get a strong idea of what Expressionism is and how it functions.
There are five traits that fit into the mechanic category. These traits are most
easily adopted, as they do not make meaning themselves. The first of these is discussed
by Lotte H. Eisner. She writes,
The Expressionists, for whom all things and objects were brought to life
anthropomorphically, turned light into a frenzied cry of anguish devoured by the
greedy maws of the shadows. The key principle of Expressionist lighting
techniques is, in fact, this clash and this pitiless struggle between light and
The Expressionists used light and shadow as one of their main signifiers of conflict, to
volatile and exhilarating ends. Eisner also describes the second trait, that Expressionists
required the use of "abrupt, incoherent gestures and bizarre poses"(165) by their
actors. As with lighting, this method allows for a stronger sense of the magical, the
uncanny. The third mechanic trait of Expressionist films, the setting, is discussed by
Mike Budd as he writes, "the expressionist settings ... seem insistently to force their
attention on us, to refuse the subordination of 'background' ... demanded by classical
cinema"(12). The memorable settings are the most distinctive and the least timeless
feature of Expressionist film.
These first three traits can be seen in several Expressionist films. The two most
prominent examples are The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu. The lighting in the
latter is particularly memorable, as with the scene when Count Orloff emerges from the
hold of the ship, his ghastly white face surrounded by shadow. The setting is what makes
Caligari stand out it is composed mostly of paper-and-paint sets that give a theatrical,
bizarre look to the scenes. Both films also have actors who exemplify the Expressionist
acting style that Eisner writes about; Caligari's Cesare and Nosferatu's Knock both use
overdone motions and bizarre poses to make themselves stand out. These films serve as
prototypical examples for the following traits as well.
The fourth and fifth mechanic traits might be classified as belonging to both the
thematic and mechanic categories. The fourth trait, identified by Paul Coates, is the
uncanny. Coates writes in his introduction that the uncanny is the identification of more,
of a world beyond the simple reality that we can see (1-3). While this is an extreme
simplification of Coates' argument, it does bring to light a key to the Expressionist film:
that which is otherworldly. Finally, the last mechanic trait of the Expressionist films -
the opposition of interior and exterior is described succinctly by Weisstein, who writes,
"With the Expressionists ... the function of art is not to reproduce the visible but... to
make visible that which is not ordinarily revealed to the senses"(36). The opposition
results in both interior emotions finding physical representation outside, and in an
opposition being built between inside spaces and outside spaces.
That second category of Expressionist traits, the thematic, has its own
interior/exterior conflict to deal with. This is because the style's most obvious traits, the
mechanic ones, are not the substance but the tools; Expressionism's "soul" lies in its
thematic traits. The thematic traits, of which we will identify three more, are the topics
addressed by many of the films in question. The first is, as Mike Budd would argue,
perhaps a defining trait around which Expressionism formed, rather than a trait it is
attempting to portray. He writes,
Expressionism was strongly influenced by the subjectivist traditions of
nineteenth-century German romanticism, which glorified the unified vision of an
isolated and rebellious artist. On the other hand, it developed the radical
disjunction and abstraction of emergent modernist forms. Expressionism carried
these contradictions within itself. It combined an intense avant-garde desire to
overthrow authority and change the world with a modernist rejection and retreat
from the world into a grotesque realm of subjective expression. (15)
In other words, Budd identifies a deep-seeded ambivalence toward its own views deep
within the Expressionist platform. It wants be both politically active helpful to the
masses and 'art,' which necessitates an aloofness from the common people. Thomas
Elsaesser identifies this trait also, asserting that Expressionism's ambivalence is, instead,
a reaction to the impotence of its artists (172). In other words, the artists' work reflects
their own frustration over being unable to affect change in society. Either way, the
dualistic nature of wanting-to-act and failing-to-act (either by choice or inability) is a
theme throughout the movement.
The second thematic trait of Expressionist film is also discussed in Elsaesser's
piece. One of the themes that occurs again and again in Expressionist film is what
Elsaesser calls "The sorcerer's apprentice" theme. He writes, "One of the most typical
figures ... is that of the sorcerer's apprentice, i.e., the creation and use of magic forces
that outstrip their creator and over whom he loses control"(178). In other words, the
Frankenstein story. By invoking the magical, the Expressionists are creating characters
who have access to a more ancient knowledge, a more natural "truth." Of course, since
control of the German film system was in place pretty quickly, the films were rarely as
revolutionary as they pretended to be.
The third thematic trait is closely related to the aesthetic traits identified above; it
is what Weisstein calls "soul-states." Weisstein says that the Expressionist must try to
"undermine" realist art forms and at the same time "render visible... soul states and
violent emotions welling up from the innermost reaches of the subconscious"(23). In
other words, the thematic element of the film must be 'violent emotions' that the aesthetic
tools can portray. We can see these strong, violent emotions in all of the films: Golem
features danger and jealousy, Nosferatu features a vicious bloodlust, Caligari features
more revenge, Weird Tales features fear, revenge and hatred, and finally, The Testament
of Dr. Mabuse features a murderous criminal impulse. This connects back to one of the
primitivist strains of thought, the savage impulse. The savage impulse is one of the ways
we connect with the "natural," the primitive.
This third thematic trait seems to be the most pervasive of the three thematic
traits. The violent emotion, the passion that Weisstein writes of, seems to be the core of
the Expressionist movement (and a key to the Primitivist one). It may be that passion's
centrality to the movement explains why the common denominator for most of the
Expressionist films being discussed is insanity. Indeed, each of the films discussed here
deals with insanity in one way or another-in fact, most of the films deal with it directly.
Remember that the Primitivists saw insanity as one of the ways to reach true speech.
As one might expect of an art movement founded on the idea of eschewing
"normal" viewpoints, Expressionism (and Primitivism) provoked reactionary responses
from both the Right and the Left. The attack from the Right came in two forms:
censorship and co-option; the Left presented a third front: intellectual dismemberment.
What was particularly brutal about the attack from the Left was that it blamed
Expressionism for its own co-option by the Right.
The response of the conservatives in Germany to the Expressionist movement
was, to begin with, mostly about censorship. In the 1920s, the tightly controlled German
film industry had all the necessary machinery in place to stifle revolutionary films or
ideas. The most famous example is Caligari, which went from being a revolutionary
piece about the political situation in Germany to a conformist piece that celebrates the
status quo. Siegfried Kracauer describes the change in the film as follows,
... the framing story ... perverted, if not reversed, their intrinsic intentions.
While the original story exposed the madness inherent in authority, Wiene's
Caligari glorified authority and convicted its antagonist of madness. A
revolutionary film was thus turned into a conformist one following the much-
used pattern of declaring some normal but troublesome individual insane and
sending him to a lunatic asylum. (66-7)
Kracauer's passage gives us an example of both parts of the conservative regime's
reaction to Expressionist film in general it censored and co-opted the film's technique
in one blow. In the original screenplay, the doctor, a symbolic representative of the
establishment, was depicted as mad with power; in the revised version, Francis is
revealed to be insane. The method of the Expressionist is turned back on itself by the
Other techniques of Expressionism were also used by the conservatives in
Germany during the 20s and early 30s. To begin with, the functions of the tropes of
Expressionism were re-worked to make the empathetic subjects of Expressionism seem
horrific. How did the use of the tropes of Expressionism and Primitivism make the
madman into a psychopath? S.S. Prawer writes that the horror genre started in the first
decade of 1900, growing as "a wave whose crest is reached in the silent German cinema,
from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Richard Oswald's terror compendium Uncanny
Tales ..."' into a full genre that comes and goes through the decades. He frames the rise
of the horror genre in "the First World War, its anticipatory rumbles, and the social and
political upheavals that followed in its wake"(9). Prawer's classification of these films as
horror films is significant, as it illustrates the way these films are received today. Prawer
goes on, a bit later, to discuss Expressionism's role in the depiction of the horrific in film.
He writes, 'Expressionism' had furnished a style of acting and scene-design that proved
admirably suited to the translation of these Romantic themes into terms of the silent
film"(32). In other words, he characterizes Expressionism as a set of tools that was
utilized to meet a current demand-the demand for horror.
Prawer's impression of Expressionism is a bit shallow here. He makes no
mention of Expressionism as a movement outside of film and does not address the fact
Uncanny Tales is referred to here as Weird Tales, the title under which the video was released.
that many Expressionist films are only "horrific" in part. For example, in Weird Tales,
two of the tales are not horrific, but merely fantastic-otherworldly. Prawer does not draw
a distinction between the two. Similarly, The Golem is classified as a horror film within
his book, when it seems to fit much more appropriately into fantasy or even
science-fiction. Even Caligari, which has been called "the grand daddy of all horror
films," is not nearly so much horrific as supernatural. It is a fine distinction, but one that
is worthwhile to draw considering the much more "horrifying" nature of films like
Nosferatu and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.
Paul Coates is much more willing to consider the idea that Expressionism's role in
the production of horror film was more ambivalent. He writes,
The valorization of the ugly and monstrous in ... expressionism embodies a split
consciousness that partially identifies with the instrumental reason against which
it is in revolt: These movements may bring into the light the repressed and
oppressed of society, their features twisted by furious knowledge of their own
marginalization, but inasmuch as the ... expressionists depict such figures as
deformed, they identify with the power they oppose, which also apprehends them
In other words, the Expressionists were split, ideologically, between their goals (the
freedom from certain current ideologies (totalitarianism, nationalism) ) and their role as
artists in German society. This split seems evident in the early Expressionist films, such
as Caligari, where the victims of passion receive empathy and are, simultaneously,
objects of revulsion from the viewer. By the time we reach the 30's, that split has been
subsumed by the goals of the horror genre itself, and we're left with entirely evil villains,
no longer subjects of a split, as is the case in Mabuse.
Whether you believe Coates or Prawer, it is clear that Expressionism was co-
opted by its own enemies for nefarious purposes. This co-option occurred in several
places. One example is above: the tropes of Expressionism were adopted by German
cinema to depict the outsider as horrific rather than empathetic. Another example is the
use of "folk" movement in Primitivism. While the Primitivist use of local folk art was an
attempt to get in touch with a "simpler" lifestyle, it also had dangerous side effects. Colin
For many progressive artists folk arts and crafts assumed importance both as art
and, perhaps more disturbingly in the light of events in Europe with the rise of
Fascism in the 1930s, as a symbol of the distinct racial character of a region's
past. Thus,... artists... emphasized the physical, moral, and religious
superiority of the indigenous peasant populations of their respective home-
lands. ... It must... be seen in terms of a deep-seated reactionary distaste for
cosmopolitanism ... fueled by Social-Darwinian beliefs in the catastrophic results
of miscegenation on the 'national stock.' (24)
In other words, Primitivism's conception of rural folk as "pure" was one that Fascists
were able to use as a rallying cry for National Socialism. The "essence" that the rural
folk had access to shouldn't, in the fascists' minds, be diluted by outsiders-hence the
Another aspect of the Primitivist movement that the dominant regime in Germany
co-opted for its own use was the love of Nature. The reader will remember that the
Primitivist movement idealized nature as another way to connect with a truth otherwise
unattainable. Again, the Fascists capitalized on this idea in film, creating what Kracauer
calls "the mountain film." The mountain films were a group of films that revolved
around mountain climbing and idealized mountains as natural peaks over which one must
With the Primitivist and Expressionist movements gutted by the reactionary
Right, the Left stepped in to determine how (and why) the movements had failed so
badly. The criticisms revolved around two main points: the art of the modernist
movement was too subjective and the stance the artists took was not critical enough -
they were mired in their bourgeois upbringing. These views are most easily illustrated in
Georg Lukacs' stinging criticism of Expressionism, "Realism in the Balance." He
criticizes the subjectivity in Expressionist art, writing that "[t]he symbolist movement is
clearly and consciously one-dimensional from the outset, for the gulf between the
sensuous incarnation of a symbol and its symbolic meaning arises from the narrow,
single-tracked process of subjective association which yokes them together" (43). In
other words, the art uses its energy to be subjective, sacrificing its bid for the universal in
Lukacs also raises the second objection to the Expressionist movement, namely
that the political/critical stance of the artists does not make the sort of revolutionary
progress that they hoped it would. He points out that their stance served as a way to ease
the transition from one ideological center to another. He further argues that the artists
unintentionally prevented the transition by giving the status quo too much help. If the
ruling authority hadn't had the help, the revolution may have happened. However, he
writes, ". .. to the extent that Expressionism really had any ideological influence, its
effect was to discourage rather than promote the process of revolutionary clarification
among its followers" (51-2). Lukacs saw little value in modernist art, placing his faith in
realism instead. The debate that ensued over the validity of modern art plays directly on
the way Expressionism is perceived today.
THE DEBATE AND KAFKA
The debate over modernism among German Marxists has many ramifications for
this discussion. While the discussion of Expressionism does not solve the problems at
hand, it does lead us to another way to approach the movement, a method discussed and
exemplified in Deleuze and Guattari's reading of Kafka in their book, Kafka: Toward a
Minor Literature. They do not argue for the "aesthetic" "value" of Kafka's work, but
rather that his work represents a different kind of move within literature, an attempt to
escape the machines of history. By placing their argument next to the conventional
arguments of the German Marxist school, it will become evident how Kafka can help us
see Expressionism and Primitivism in a new light.
The opinions about Kafka's work are varied. Adorno and Benjamin read his lack
of resolution as an effective technique in battling the status quo. Lukacs and Brecht both
denounced him, saying that his work was not praxis-based, and could not be made
effective. Lukacs favored realism as the ideal way for art to speak to the masses. He
despised modernist art as pretentious and bourgeois; he included Kafka in the modernist
school. Brecht, on the other hand, took a different approach to Kafka's work, though he
still disliked it.
Being a modernist himself, Brecht's criticisms stem more from the abstract nature
of Kafka's work, the lack of efficacy, of applicability. Benjamin summarizes Brecht's
position as follows,
Kafka had one problem and one only, ... and that was the problem of
organization. He was terrified by the thought of the empire of ants: the thought of
men being alienated from themselves by the forms of their life in society.... But
he never found a solution and never awoke from his nightmare. Brecht says of
Kafka's precision that it is the precision of an imprecise man, a dreamer. (88)
In other words, Brecht saw that Kafka's concerns were much like those of other
modernist, activist artists, but that Kafka's work held to an unresolved fear, rather than
working toward giving praxis to the working class.
On the other side of the fence sit Adorno and Benjamin, who see value in Kafka's
work. Adorno's evaluation of Kafka revolves around disputing Lukacs' claims about the
writer. Adorno praises Kafka as a writer whose work is a "commodity that has served no
purpose" (114). Some argue that Adoro likes Kafka's work because of its "refusal of
any form of reconciliation" (Livingstone, et al. 146). Or, to put it another way, Kafka's
work avoids being used, a tactic that seems particularly sensible given the spurious use of
Expressionist art by National Socialism. At the same time, Jameson argues, Kafka's
work accomplishes something. He writes,
Kafka and Beckett arouse the fear which existentialism merely talks about. By
dismantling appearance, they explode from within the art which committed
subjugates from without, and hence only in appearance. The inescapability of
their work compels the change of attitude which committed works merely demand
Jameson is arguing that Kafka's work, despite often being associated with modernist (as
opposed to realist) works, compels readers to change. But how? He doesn't explain.
Deleuze and Guattari offer an answer in their book Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.
Their conception of the "becoming-animal" explains the efficacy of Kafka's work, and
might lead us to a new understanding of Expressionism as well.
In Kafka, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari argue that Kafka's work was an
attempt to establish a "minor literature" that worked toward an escape from the very
confines of the machinery of society. The "assemblages" and methods Deleuze and
Guattari illuminate in Kafka's work, particularly the "becoming-animal" are quite useful
when put next to the work of the Expressionists, and may serve as the beginnings of
another kind of examination of the modernist movement.
The authors begin by discussing Kafka's writings in terms of content and
expression. They write that Kafka, in centering his writing around expression instead of
content, uses language to deterritorialize, a way of cutting a path of escape from the
triangles of society (the family, the bureaucracy, and so on). They write that "expression
gives us a method.. ."(16) for creating a "minor literature" and that everything in such a
literature is political (17). At this point, they have noticed the same trait in Kafka that
Adorno noticed, its use outside the normal use of commodity. The method Kafka's work
uses for escape is the "becoming-animal."
The concept of the becoming-animal, the escape from the sign and the system that
is central the authors' reading of Kafka, is explained by Deleuze and Guattari as follows:
To the inhumaness of the "diabolical powers," there is the answer of a becoming-
animal: to become a beetle, to become a dog, to become an ape, "head over heels
and away," rather than lowering one's head and remaining a bureaucrat, inspector,
judge or judged. All children build or feel these sorts of escapes, these acts of
becoming-animal .... The acts of becoming-animal are the exact opposite of
[reterritorialization]; these are absolute deterritorializations, at least in
principle .... To become animal is to participate in a movement, to stake out the
path of escape in all its positivity, to cross a threshold, to reach a continuum of
intensities that are valuable only in themselves ... .(12-3)
The act of becoming-animal, then, is the refusal to interact with the powers that rule in a
human fashion-it is the rejection of the sign-system. It is a way of removing one's self
from the system of domination, but is more than a "reterritorialization," which would
constantly require more reterritorialization and more after that. Instead, it is a disconnect,
an almost-revolution. Deleuze and Guattari stress the revolutionary effect of the action as
well-it is not a retreat, but an escape; the becoming-animal is a rebel.
The connections between Deleuze and Guattari's becoming-animal and the
Expressionist and Primitivist movements seem almost self evident. First and foremost,
Kafka is a modernist writer, one over whom (as we have seen) a great debate has raged.
Expressionism shares this position. Second, the becoming-animal seems to be a primal
maneuver. It is hardly accidental that Deleuze and Guattari described the becoming-
animal as something children feel and play at. It seems that the "inner truth" that
Primitivism and Expressionism looked for in children (as well as women and the insane)
is something that might be obtained by (or inspired by, or seen by) the becoming-animal
just as effectively. Finally, the connection to the motives of Modernist art in general are
highlighted by the final sentence in the passage above: "To become animal is to
participate in a movement... to reach a continuum of intensities that are valuable only in
themselves .. ." (13). In other words, the becoming-animal is the ultimate Expressionist
move it connects with truth outside of language in a way that sign-based art can never
Despite the becoming-animal paths of escape that Deleuze and Guattari see in
Kafka's stories, they still spend a good bit of their time discussing the failure of the
becoming-animal, ultimately, to escape the system. Because of the always-underneath
triangles of power, the becoming-animal method of escape is not enough. They write,
There is always the danger of the return of Oedipal force. The amplifying
perverse usage of Oedipus is not sufficient to guard against every new
closure, every new reconstitution of the familial triangle that takes over
other triangles such as the animal lines .... [But] [w]e would say that the
process of Gregor's deterritorialization through his becoming-animal finds
itself blocked for a moment. Is it the fault of Gregor who doesn't dare go
all the way? (14)
In other words, they construct the failure of Gregor's becoming-animal (from "The
Metamorphosis") to his unwillingness to become completely animal. His lack of
gumption, if you will, gives the familial triangle a way to reterritorialize him, a way to
pull him back. The becoming-animal, then, becomes an all-or-nothing trap. Once again,
Kafka's unwillingness to take Gregor far enough to escape the system draws direct lines
to the Expressionist movement, which was ambivalent about its revolutionary purpose
So how does the becoming-animal help us understand the Expressionist /
Primitivist movements better? By looking at the movements through the becoming-
animal, we can see new approach to a seemingly two-sided argument.
It is, as we have discussed, one of the Expressionist movement's goals was to find
a new way to show, and deal with, extreme emotions. They eschew direct representation
for an eradication of direct meaning in their representation of emotion. This seems to be
directly in concert with the becoming-animal method for eluding the structures of
organized society that Deleuze and Guattari find in Kafka's writing, especially when one
considers the prevalence of the becoming-animal in Expressionist film.
The becoming-animal is particularly evident in the early films, where horror has
not yet subsumed the movement. In Caligari, for instance, the ever-more-frantic Francis
and the unconnected Caligari seem to be the embodiment of the becoming-animal. They
have moved outside of the normal sphere, their actions deterritorialized and distant.
Indeed, it is this very move that Expressionism tries to show. Another, more literal
becoming-animal can be found in the character of Knock, in Nosferatu. Where Count
Orloff fits in with Deleuze's discussion of the Vampire, it is Knock who eats animals in
an attempt to gain their power. In essence, he is cutting his own path of escape away
from the asylum and from encapsulated society.
Coates notices the becoming-animal move in the Expressionist films, writing that
"it is the confrontation with the acknowledged double that can foster a self-transcendence
that goes beyond self-repression; the repressed real returns without the mask of
repression" (105). In other words, as the films construct the animal-other/self that the
characters and the audiences confront, they acknowledge that it is real and returning. In
doing so, the possibility for transcendence is reached, just as the line for escape in Kafka
is drawn by the presence of the becoming-animal in his short stories. Unfortunately, the
possibility of escape, of expression instead of content, of the avoidance of the triangles
and machines of society, was a limited one; the arrival of horror eclipsed it and
reterritorialized it from the beginning, slowly usurping its power to transgress until the
tools of Expressionism became another part of the machinery of desire that encapsulated
existence to begin with.
The reterritorialization that is almost inevitable in the becoming-animal arises for
the Expressionists as well. In their films, they are trying to find the becoming-animal
escape that the insane man takes when he disconnects from society, but they are unwilling
to abandon form in favor of expression, the very method that Deleuze and Guattari see in
Kafka's attempts. Like Gregor (and Kafka?), and unlike the Surrealists, the
Expressionists are not willing to completely abandon the signifier. Passion does reign
king, but it is accountable to its queen, its content. It is that split, that unwillingness to
completely deterritorialize that gives horror film, the representative of the triangles of the
status quo-normalcy, psychiatry, and all the other structures-its chance to appropriate the
tools and subvert the attempt at escape.
One such reterritorialization comes in the pinnacle of the films discussed here,
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. This film, both the quintessential Expressionist film and
"the grand daddy of all horror films" has, in its inception, an example of the very inability
to escape that Deleuze and Guattari saw within Kafka's stories. While Francis and
Caligari both disconnect themselves from the societies they live in, they both fail to
escape as well. Both are locked in the asylum, either in the framing device itself or in the
story told by Francis. Either way, the becoming-animal man has failed to escape; instead
he was physically recaptured and, in Dr. Caligari's case, reformed into a territorialized
character by the very real outside forces that regulate both the digetic world of the film
and the world of the film makers. After all, though the film may have been conceived as
a successful escape story, it could not be. For not only does the original becoming-man,
Dr. Caligari, get caught in the original inception of the story-leaving just a social
commentary about the dangers of nationalism and conformity-but the original storyteller
is also caught by the director and forced back into the triangle, thus subverting the
"message" of the film while, at the same time, stopping any chance of the becoming-
As the Expressionist film vanished in the early 1920's, we see the becoming-
animal changed from a man trying to escape into a man reviled. The formerly empathetic
and even sought-after character becomes the villain. For example, just two years after
Caligari is Nosferatu, in which we have two uncanny characters, the becoming-animal,
Knock, and the becoming-man, Count Orloff. Neither are given much sympathy, though
Knock is generally seen as harmless until he attacks a guard. Nonetheless, they are both
seen as horrible Others, only vaguely related to their human audience.
By the early 1930's, when The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is released, the tools of
Expressionism no longer create a path of escape for the becoming-animal. Instead, it is
demonized from the beginning, a dark side of mankind that should be locked away, lest it
infect others, as Dr. Mabuse does in the film. It is the most horrifying of the three faces
of the Other. Coates identifies those faces as "visibly nonhuman ... semihuman ... and
visually identical with a human being .... The third category-that in which the monster
resembles ourselves-is the most uncanny and genuinely terrifying of the three"(85-6).
While Coates does not mention the madman in his discussion of that third face, it seems
to be the most aptly part of the category. The insane man is the horror film becoming-
animal that is not easily identified. Nevertheless, it is, in Deleuzian terms, trying to
escape and subvert the triangles and machinery of power; those very triangles will
constantly try to reterritorialize themselves to include and cut short any escape attempted
by those becoming-animals.
The insane man in the horror film and, in fact, the horror film itself are both
products of that reterritorialization, of that attempt by the triangles of power to preclude
any escape from the system by way of Expressionist films. That reterritorialization is the
reason that Expressionism, the method by which those artists tried to deal with the
systems of power in post-war Germany, was adopted by horror. By adopting the
emotionally evocative methods of Expressionist art, the horror genre could better tap into
a burgeoning market for "terror-films" in 1920's German cinema. At the same time, the
horror genre acted as a way to subvert the revolutionary and, as Deleuze and Guattari
have pointed out, necessarily political "minor literature" that Expressionism embodied in
its attempt to negotiate another path for escape from the threatening national currents of
nationalism and fascism.
In the end, it becomes possible to see Expressionism, Primitivism, and
Modernism as a method that failed to elude the reterritorializing structures of the status
quo. No longer do we need to see the Modernist movement's slide away from
signification as an abandonment of praxis, but can see it as pioneering another path for
escape (even if that path was ultimately cut off). The becoming-animal can serve as a
bridge between the competing sides of the realist /modernist debate and can provide us
with historical view of the Expressionist and Primitivist movements that does not stress
the aesthetic character of their debate, but rather stresses the revolutionary escape and the
reterritorializing machinery that came into play in the 20s and 30s.
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Brendan Patrick Riley grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis. He studied English
at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, before coming to the University of
Florida to get his PhD in English. His two main foci are film studies and computers and
writing. Brendan's studies in film focus on horror and science-fiction and his research in
computers and writing focuses on the use of synchronous, multi-user environments. He
also likes wiener dogs.
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a thesis for the degree of Master of Arts.
Gregory Ulmer, Chair
Professor of English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a thesis for the degree of Master of Arts.
Associate Professor of English
This thesis was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Department of English in
the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and to the Graduate School and was accepted as
partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts.
Dean, Graduate School