Drawing a Line: On Territory, Theatre and Non-transitional Space



          From this hour, freedom!
          From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
          WALT WHITMAN, Song of the Open Road


34th Street, New York, 1951. From Robert Frank's Black white and things.

34th Street, New York, 1951. From Robert Frank’s Black white and things.

What I offer here is a preliminary hypothesis, and admittedly a rather loose one. In short, I use D. W. Winnicott’s concept of “transitional object” as an axis through which to interrogate Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of territory. The latter is sometimes invoked as a liberating concept in the reconfiguration of our political dispositions. My suggestion here is that the notion of the transitional allows us to inquire further, and from an unfamiliar angle, as to what kind of political invitation is being extended to us by the cry for “open space”, or the “call of the outside” (Deleuze, “Nomadic”, 259). Where does it place us, or where does it take us? In even cruder terms: Where can we go from here? How do we get out of this?

These two questions imply some kind of answer, no matter how vague, to another one: “Where are we?” Without presuming to answer it, let me note at once that I take it for granted that “this” or “here” (where we go from, what we get out of) is not something we can lay our hands on. It is an entanglement, a Gordian knot of subjects and objects, us and the world. An awkward love triangle indeed: us, the world, and Capital. This is one of those knots that cries out for the Alexandrian solution: if you can’t untie it, cut it.


Ruth Krauss, A Hole is to Dig: A First Book of First Definitions (1952). Illustrations by Maurice Sendak.

Ruth Krauss, A Hole is to Dig: A First Book of First Definitions (1952). Illustrations by Maurice Sendak.

But we are entangled. And if this is so – it seems to follow, like a bitter punch line in a joke we’d rather not be part of –, there is nowhere to run to, and nowhere to hide. To Walt Whitman’s rallying call, in his “Song of the Open Road” – “Allons! out of the dark confinement!” – we may perhaps answer with Wordsworth’s line: “The world is too much with us”. But perhaps we need to twist this around, as Deleuze suggests we do: the problem is that the world is fact not with us, not nearly enough.

The world, in an emphatic sense, is the outside (le dehors), that which awaits us. Better still: that which awaits something other than us, something other than what we already are. The world is the territory:

But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

we read at the end of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Whitman’s call may also be dubbed “the Tom Sawyer-solution”:

slide out of here one of these nights (..) and go for howling adventures amongst the Injuns, over in the Territory,…

Jean-Luc Godard, Still from Pierrot le fou (1965).

Jean-Luc Godard, Still from Pierrot le fou (1965).


“To form a rhizome with the world”, they say.

This, Deleuze and Guattari tell us in Mille Plateaux, is the wisdom of plants: “there is always an outside where they form a rhizome with something else—with the wind, an animal, human beings” (MP, 11).

And so comes the imperative: “increase your territory by deterritorialization, extend the line of flight” (MP, 12).

Anyone who has read Deleuze has probably received the invitation card, where one reads simply: “maximum opening”! (MP, 12).

For Deleuze (even before his collaboration with Guattari), the question was always, despite shifts and variations, that of constituting “a world ever wider and ever more intense” (as he writes in Spinoza, Philosophie pratique). This is articulated through Spinoza’s Ethics, read as a passage from ethics to ethology, or from morality to ethics as ethology. Ethology, the study of animal behaviour, in Deleuze’s hands becomes something else: the study of “bodies, animals and humans by the affects they are capable of” (“Ethology”, 627). As a Spinozist and Nietzschean disposition, it translates into the idea of “pushing to the utmost what one can do” (“aller jusqu’au bout de ce qu’on peut”, in the original). That, he says, “is the properly ethical task.” (EP, 269).

The point – or the line – is to not to be there for the Natural History books, not to be there for knowledge – “Ethics tells us nothing, it cannot know”, as he said in his 1980 Cours at Vincennes.

The point is not to be there for the family photo:

Gerhard Richter, Familie am Meer (1964).

Gerhard Richter, Familie am Meer (1964).

Aunt Sally, she wants to civilize me…

Or, in the words of Robert Creeley’s poem “I win”:

I’ll win the way
I always do
by being gone
when they come


One should recall, at this point, that “being gone” does not mean that one has actually moved: «The nomad distributes himself in a smooth space; he occupies, inhabits, holds that space; that is his territorial principle» (MP, 381). It is a matter of speed, but speed as intensity, rather than movement.

The key is the hinge – or fold, of you will – between this world that is with us, and the world that is beyond us – by which I mean not just outside, somewhere you can step into, but rather a bursting open of the very notion of world.

Somewhere where “all forms come undone” (Deleuze, Kakfa, 13).

Somewhere beyond capture.


The theatre of knowledge was often conceived in the form of an anatomical theatre, and it is notoriously difficult to anatomize a living, moving, breathing body – not to mention a “body without organs”. And so – as one narrative has it – wild things were removed from their natural habitats (their territories), tamed or trapped, boxed and sealed, turned into objects precisely by being held still. That is to say, by being separated from their relations. Look,

dead butterflies pinned to a board.

Mark Dion, Mobile Wilderness Unit - Wolf (2006).

Mark Dion, Mobile Wilderness Unit – Wolf (2006).

This process obeys what we might call a general principle of commensurability: turning a thing into an object, or indeed to see the world as object (etymologically, something over there), is to make it no more than we can handle.

This is, of course, far too simplistic a view. But it may serve as a provisional counterpoint not only to Deleuze’s efforts, but to a fairly wide contemporary intellectual front which has attempted to remove objects not only from the prison-house of language and concepts – where “everything that is” is only the correlate of the subject that conceives of it – but to return philosophy to “the Great Outdoors”1. These efforts offer various, and at times contradictory, escape routes, but the point is to throw us back into the middle of things – the thick of things, as the phrase goes. In Deleuze and Guattari, as I’ve tried to suggest, it is the notion of territory, as the unstable articulation between territorialization and deterritorialization, which encapsulates this movement of escaping and connecting, or escaping by connecting.

But the notion of ethology acquires its particular configuration in the Capitalism and Schizophrenia project by being coupled with the well-known redefinition of the unconscious as a field of production, torn “away from significance and interpretation” (MP, 160). A factory, not a theatre.

Louis Lumière, Still from La sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon (1895).

Louis Lumière, Still from La sortie de l’usine Lumière à Lyon (1895).

It is at this point, through the opposition between the “private theater” of psychoanalysis and the “fantastic factory of Nature and Production” that the theatrical becomes fully identified with domestication and representation (in Difference and Repetition, we have the “theatre of repetition” vs. the “theatre of representation”). It is an apparatus for interpretation, for tracing the unconscious back to the family, rather than spilling it everywhere around us.


The territory: that’s where it’s all happening.

But, more generally, we could say: it all happens in the middle.

“Un rhizome ne commence et n’aboutit pas, il est toujours au milieu, entre les choses, inter-être, intermezzo” (MP, 36).

This is where we are, where we’ve been all along. Where else?

And yet the middle is not a model. That’s the whole point. It is “an image of thought”, which means it cannot itself be an object of thought. It cannot be modeled. It is somewhere beyond representation, beyond theatre, beyond the negative, beyond beginning, beyond ends.

Jacques Tati, Still from Playtime (1967).

Jacques Tati, Still from Playtime (1967).

This is the point at which Deleuze and Guattari missed a dialectical opportunity. This is something they would hardly lose any sleep over. Still, I would like to suggest that our capacity for displacement, and even our capacity to be affected (to refer back to the Spinozist ethology) is weakened without it. Openness produces its own form of closure. Deleuze and Guattari escape from filiation by accelerating, without missing a beat. I will argue, instead, that we need to find ways for fate to “stop beating, like a heart” (to borrow an image from a brief sketch by Walter Benjamin (“Short Shadows (I)”, 272).


…the world is painted in splendid colours, while the bodies which people it are insipid and colourless. The world waits its inhabitants, who are still lost in neurosis. Cinema 2, 204-5

This is Deleuze writing about Antonioni. I guess what I’m doing here is making a plea for the neurotic who freezes on the threshold, one of his feet suspended, awkward, unsplendid, unsure about all of those glaring colours.

This is not the contrary of joy. There is as much joy in missing a step, in falling out of step, as in stepping in.

This suggestion itself will have to be left suspended in midair, like a cartoon character that has just ran over the edge of a cliff. In the meantime, I’ll finally address the notion of transition, and then I’ll make my case. And I’ll try not to look down.

Transitional objects and transitional space

Covers of different editions of D. W. Winnicott’s Playing and Reality.

Covers of different editions of D. W. Winnicott’s Playing and Reality.

Now I finally move (or leap, awkwardly) to the notion of “transitional object”. This term was developed by pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott (1896 – 1971), namely in the 1953 essay “Transitional objects and transitional phenomena”. This will allow me to turn the questions I invoked at the beginning toward an enquiry into the dialectics of connection and disconnection (or separation) – the tug between holding on and letting go, if you will.

The transitional object is the infant’s “first not-me possession” – the soft toy, the teddy bear, the “comfort blanket” or “security blanket” (Linus’s blanket, in Peanuts, for instance). According to Winnicott, these objects occupy an “intermediate area, or potential space between subject and object” (PR, 137), thus fulfilling “the perpetual human task of keeping inner and outer reality separate yet interrelated” (PR, 3). So, as Winnicott himself says, it is not the object itself which is transitional: the adjective is used to refer, instead, to the role the object plays within a particular space.

Transitional objects “are not part of the child’s body yet are not fully recognized as belonging to external reality” (PR, 3). Although the infant has powers over the object, which adults recognize, the fact that objects of fixation are not merely representational but actual materially-embedded mediations means there must be what Winnicott calls “an abrogation of omnipotence” (PR, 7). Finally, while the baby “creates the object”, it “was there waiting to be created and to become a cathected object” (PR, 89)2. This leads to the rather suggestive imperative that “we [adults – parents and psychoanalyst] will never ask the question: ‘Did you conceive of this or was it presented to you from without?’ (…) The question is not to be formulated” (PR, 17).

This avoidance of the question bears a striking – and, I argue, more than coincidental – similarity with Fredric Jameson’s definition of ideology as a “strategy of containment”: “the middle-class method of repressing reality is not so much an affair of distortion but rather, primarily and constitutively, of leaving out, of strategic omissions, lapses, a kind of careful preliminary preparation of the raw material such that certain questions will never arise in the first place” (Jameson, “Beyond”, 118-19). I shall return to this later.

Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts strip.

Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts strip.

The traits outlined above offer us the bare bones of the concept. But other, perhaps more incidental, features are equally meaningful. It has to resist not only the infant’s sometimes violent handling, but also resist being fully assimilated by their affects, concepts, and even us. It has, if you will, a certain thingness. In Winnicott’s words: “it must seem to the infant to give warmth, or to move, or to have texture, or to do something that seems to show it has vitality or reality of its own” (PR, 7).

It has a life of its own.

A parenthesis: the topic of aliveness also plays a crucial – and also rather more sinister – role in the way Winnicott frames the relation between mother and child in terms of the negotiation between presence and absence. If the mother is away for too long, and cannot be made present, “she is dead from the point of view of the child. This is what dead means. It is a matter of days or hours or minutes. Before the limit is reached the mother is still alive; after this limit has been overstepped she is dead” (PR, 29). In a series of Peanuts strips from 1965, Linus’s security blanket comes to life and starts attacking Lucy after she threatens to throw it in the trash burner. The aliveness of objects has been an obvious source and ingredient in the horror genre3.

But let us return to the list of traits of the transitional object, and to one that is particularly relevant: “it must never change, unless changed by the infant”, and thus, “[t]he mother lets it get dirty and even smelly, knowing that by washing it she introduces a break in continuity in the infant’s experience, a break that may destroy the meaning and value of the object to the infant” (PR, 232)4.

As I see it, this emphasis on continuity, on the resistance to breaks, neatly sums up what is at stake in the term “transitional”. Earlier, I emphasized the transitional as an intermediate area between the subjective and the objective, but it also, and perhaps primarily, designates the space between baby and mother (or mother-figure), in the process of the infant’s movement from dependence to autonomy. To repeat a phrase I used earlier: it is the space for the careful, “healthy”, negotiation between holding on and letting go. One particular clinical example offers an eloquent illustration of this: a boy who obsessively joins together pieces of furniture using a string. Winnicott’s diagnosis is that he was “attempting to deny separation” (PR, 23). Strings were a sign of a “perverted” attachment.

Takeshia Kosugi, Anima I & Ben Vautier, Attaché de Ben & George Maciunas, Solo for Violin. Simultaneous performance, May 23rd 1964, by Ben Vautier and Alison Knowles (not pictured) during Fluxus Street Theatre as part of Fluxus Festival at Fauxhall, New York City. Photography by George Maciunas.

Takeshia Kosugi, Anima I & Ben Vautier, Attaché de Ben & George Maciunas, Solo for Violin. Simultaneous performance, May 23rd 1964, by Ben Vautier and Alison Knowles (not pictured) during Fluxus Street Theatre as part of Fluxus Festival at Fauxhall, New York City. Photography by George Maciunas.

The transitional, then, is precisely the space for the “management of separation and loss” (that perennial trope of psychoanalysis most famously described by Freud through the fort-da game, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle). Yet, while there is a dialectics at work here, between connection and separation, it is an uneven one, as connection – or continuity – is in fact unquestionably valued. The dialectic is thus defused. The key, for Winnicott, is for one to remain attached, in separation: through some kind of wireless, stringless technology:

[t]he baby’s confidence in the mother’s reliability, and therefore in that of other people and things, makes possible a separating-out of the not-me from the me. At the same time, however, that separation is avoided by the filling in of the potential space “with creative playing, with the use of symbols, and with all that eventually adds up to a cultural life. PR, 147 (emphasis mine)

The crucial element here is “continuity (in time) of the external emotional environment and of particular elements in the physical environment such as the transitional object or objects” (PR, 18). The passage quoted above already hints at the larger stakes of Winnicott’s theory, which reach well beyond pediatric psychology. Indeed, Winnicott would later extend the notion of “transitional space” to the space between individual and society or the world (PR, 139). Insofar as “the task of reality-acceptance is never completed, that no human being is free from the strain of relating inner and outer reality, and that relief from this strain is provided by an intermediate area of experience” (PR, 18) we might say that not only culture but society itself – if all goes well – will function as transitional. The narrative for which transition is the keyword is that of a seamless passage from the domestic scene of social reproduction, between mother and child, to another, society itself. While transitional objects themselves are gradually decathected, the emotional investment or attachment they bore is expected – if all goes well – to spread out to the cultural field. You can perhaps see that, albeit in a very desexualized and ultimately rather normative manner, Winnicott is to some extent reversing the process whereby the infant’s “polimorphous perversity” is localized – “territorialized” – in specific erogenous zones. It is a question of multiplying connections.

Marcel Duchamp, Sixteen Miles of String (1942).

Marcel Duchamp, Sixteen Miles of String (1942).

What I’d like to insist on, though, is a particular – and particularly telling – notion of Winnicottt’s: the transitional as a “relief” from the “strain of separation”. In the idea of strain we once again find a semantic connection to continuity, and perhaps a specific link to strings (maybe even to the social fabric, the social as an elastic but frail fabric). It is in this sense that we can speak of a “strategy of containment”, to draw once again on Jameson’s term. Winnicott’s “potential space” – which he also calls the space of “Play”, a significant term in itself, but one I do not have time to properly address – does not operate on the premise of a “lost object” of desire, another perennial topic of psychoanalysis, or on an originary lack, but it is still haunted by loss as disconnection and lack as hiatus. Hence the idea of “filling”: “separation is avoided by the filling in of the potential space with creative playing, with the use of symbols, and with all that eventually adds up to a cultural life” (PR, 147). One has to accept separation, to cut the strings, but only insofar as the air itself is soaked with connections (material and immaterial), in very much the same way as ether was said to fill in the blanks between known substances. Ether was the medium, the in-between. And the medium is indeed the message, the whole point of the transitional. Winnicott’s “Play”, both in terms of clinical practice and more generally, has a kind of phatic function: to prolong communication, to keep the lines of communication open.

One might say that with the notions of “Play”, or “the space of play”, which Winnicottt also names “potential space” – Winnicott refers to a zone of indistinction between the purposive and non-purposive. Arguably, by extending this arena beyond the clinical and the familial, he removes action from a teleology of means and ends in ways that bear some relation with Agamben’s notion of Play5. But the differences are decisive. Winnicottt’s non-purposive is ultimately reconciliatory, developmentalist, and personal – geared towards recognizing and accepting reality, “constructing a life”, to “fulfilling one’s promise”, to “removing obstacles to development”, being “in charge of oneself”, to use some of his phrases.

Children's School Book Plates, Prints - from Primary Readers (1930s-1950s).

Children’s School Book Plates, Prints – from Primary Readers (1930s-1950s).

The injunction hidden in the transitional is: Not to hold on, not to let go. Or rather: to let go enough for there to be room for change, to hold on enough for change not to break anything.

The transitional is, then, a resistance to ends and beginnings. It is, in other words, an anti-utopian apparatus, inasmuch as utopia – and, of course, revolution – is often coded as “the loss of everything we know” (Jameson, Seeds, 18). Rather than breaking the thread of filiation, it is filiation by other means.

The call of the outside

One of Deleuze and Guattari’s great achievements, already hinted above, is certainly, as Jameson put it, the “breaking down of the barriers between the subjective – narrow concepts of desire and libido – and the allegedly objective – the social, the political, the economic” (Jameson, “Marxism”, 403).

Even if Gilles Deleuze only mentions Winnicott briefly, in his influential paper on Nietzsche, “Nomadic Thought” (1972), it is apparent that he was, for him, a key example of this much needed demolition job. Félix Guattari, in turn, also makes only a passing reference to Winnicott, and to the concept of transitional objects, in his essay “The three ecologies” (Guattari, “Three Ecologies”, 136). It seems, however, that Guattari’s notion of “mediating object” draws quite directly on Winnicott. In “The Three Ecologies”, where Guattari follows a line of argument with some similarities to that of Deleuze’s “Nomadic Thought”, the reference to Winnicott comes in the context of a defense of a logic of intensities as process, as opposed to system or structure: “it is a logic of intensities, the logic of self-referential existential assemblages, engaging non-reversible duration; it is the logic, not of the totalized bodies of human subjects, but of part objects in the psychoanalytical sense – Winnicott’s transitional objects, institutional objects (‘subject groups’), faces, landscapes” (Guattari, “Three Ecologies”, 135-6).

In Deleuze’s “Nomadic Thought”, one reads that Winnicott “truly occupies the limit of psychoanalysis”, insofar as he breaks with the contract whereby the patient brings “lived experiences” and the psychoanalyst translates them into “fantasy” (Deleuze, “Nomadic”, 254). Winnicott’s “Play”, from Deleuze’s point of view, not only places objects within a field of immanence but this leads to a clinical practice somewhere gladly beyond interpretation, translation and judgment – in other words, it can be seen as being in line with Deleuze and Guattari’s famous statement, in Anti-Oedipus (published in that same year, 1972): “The question posed by desire is not ‘What does it mean?’ but rather How does it work?” (AO, 119). “Transitional space”, says Deleuze, is a “shared space”, a space in-between: “beyond any law, any contract, any institution” (“Nomadic”, 255).

Rube Goldberg, Simple Alarm Clock.

Rube Goldberg, Simple Alarm Clock.

For Deleuze and Guattari, then, extrapolating a little, Winnicott’s in-between blasts open the Oedipal “intimate theatre” – Freud’s “family romance” of “daddy-mommy-me” –, coming close to the notions of assemblage and of the unconscious as something that “spills everywhere around us” – indeed, in L’Inconscient Machinique, this formulation by Guattari is soon followed by a definition of Schizoanalysis that makes explicit reference to Winnicott’s concept: it is “aimed at individuals entering into changing relations and moving in multiple directions, by way of always partial adjacencies, and transitional objects, without ever solidifying anything” (IM, 36). The escape from the Oedipal triangle, it should be noted, an escape out into the open social field often draws, not incidentally, on a theatrical language. The refusal of the Oedipal triangle is an explicit destruction not only of the closure of the bourgeois family sphere, but of representation itself. This continues a line of argument we find in Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, where he pits “theatre of repetition” against the “theatre of representation” (DR, 10). A particularly significant passage reads: “Difference must be shown differing. We know that modern art tends to realize these conditions: in this sense it becomes a veritable theatre of metamorphoses and permutations. A theatre where nothing is fixed, a labyrinth without a thread (Ariadne has hung herself). The work of art leaves the domain of representation in order to become ‘experience’, transcendental empiricism or science of the sensible” (DR, 56).

It should by now be clear that I am not conflating Winnicott’s use of the concept of transitional with that of Deleuze or Guattari. Deleuze and Guattari appropriate, reconfigure, and radically re-function the concept. I cannot fully address the extent of these transformations here. Suffice it to say that there is in Winnicott, softly but persistently, a quite emphatic endemophilia, the valorization of a sense of being at home within one’s place and culture. And this “home” is ultimately portrayed as a pacified world, with no hint of antagonism, no strain in social relations or material dispositions except in the shape of a general sense of frustration – i.e., of the world’s resistance to our desires and ambitions – which needs to be contained, or managed. Although Winnicott’s notion of Play at times pulls in the direction of the non-teleological, as I’ve suggested above, this impulse is ultimately folded back into the notion of the healthy, fully-functioning, socialized individual, grounded on a conservative notion of development rather than on any “liberated zones of intensity”.

To sum up, Deleuze and Guattari “call of the outside”, the invitation to produce the unconscious, to “make connections”, is certainly a long way off from the conservative management that ultimately defines Winnicott’s transitional. It is transition, no strings attached. I believe theirs is, in many ways, an illuminating gloss on the concept and, at the same time, a useful corrective to it. Still, this detour through the transitional leads me back to my initial question: how do we get out of here? And it also leads me to propose a less thrilling, although hardly cozy, form of displacement. My conclusion, to which I now move, is then a tentative negation of both Winnicott’s and Deleuze and Guattari’s notions of the transitional – the “territorializing” and “deterritorializing” versions, you might call them.

Non-transitional space

Michelangelo Antonioni, Still from L'eclisse (1962).

Michelangelo Antonioni, Still from L’eclisse (1962).

I think I’ve made it clear that my divergence is built around a fundamental agreement. An expansive, deterritorializing setting-in-motion has a role to play in displacing us. And I certainly agree with the need to find ways to move beyond representational space. What I don’t agree with is with the way in which we are given a false choice between the “trap of representation”, on the one hand, as a closing off, and immanence and the inclusive disjunctions of the and, on the other, as the only way out.

Instead, I want to insist on drawing a line, rather than tracing a line of flight, between the present and something else. If the transitional suggested a saturated space – a full space, or a space that we need to keep filling –, my suggestion is, in the simplest terms, that we need to cut up that space to make room for something else to appear. Of course our spaces are already cut, namely by the lines drawn around property. We need to cut them differently, to cut through the cuts, rather than throw away our knives and leave. We need, in short, to find ways to deactivate the material and affective processes through which subjectivity is produced and reproduced. Not out of some ascetic impulse. This interruption may well be geared towards a re-animation of agency, to the rise of unsuspected valences, but at this point it is equally urgent to find ways to stall the affirmative powers that bind us to the aliveness of the world, to decathect the objects through which our relations are mediated, to interrupt the medium through which our attachments subsist. In the name of what might be otherwise, the idea of the “non-transitional” suggests a need for provisional formalizations – a line, perhaps a stage – to break off the fabric of the sensible and the factory of the social.

Scene from Heiner Müller's Quartet, directed by Robert Wilson.

Scene from Heiner Müller’s Quartet, directed by Robert Wilson.

Being in the middle of things, it seems we’re always too early, or too late, to start anything. But it is precisely because we’re caught in the middle that I think we need an operative fiction of our separation. This is certainly no dream of a simple, natural, down-to-earth life – for this too jumps too quickly over the interruption, driven by a will to reconnect which already presumes to know what we should attach ourselves to. It is, rather, the first bar of a prolongation of the breakdown, of the moment between disconnecting and connecting again. We need to experiment with a medium. A medium which does not let things continue as they were: does not let things transition. We need to clear space and to make time6. We need to open a new, non-pedagogical, theatre of estrangement – strategic processes of formalization that will allow us to loosen the hold of our entanglements.

Part of the argument implied here, but not adequately developed, is that the element of interruption, in Brecht as well as in Walter Benjamin’s writings about Brecht, can be separated from Brechtianism as a pedagogical apparatus. The various elements of epic theatre, as outlined by Benjamin, and which can be roughly summarized in the idea of treating “elements of reality as though it were setting up an experiment”; as a form of “damning of the stream of real life” (Benjamin, UB, pp. 4 and 13, respectively) are indeed approaches to what I call the “non-transitional”.

Again: to loosen the hold of our entanglements.

Other entanglements will surely follow.

Trisha Brown in Roof piece (1971).

Trisha Brown in Roof piece (1971).

Even framed by the theatrical, there is a close relation between the non-transitional and the intransitive. The intransitive verb is, of course, one that has no direct object. The non-transitional would then be an experimental grammar, where action has not yet assigned a place for its objects. The line (the frame and the stage, also) is, in this sense, non-representational. But it also means to experiment with and in the space of representation: it is a mise-en-scène. It is a deictic and cartographical abstraction that brings into being something not already there. It is where you think from.

From there we can – and need – to begin the hard work of a new distribution of bodies, of building something out of the wreck of a world drenched of its colours. Like an Atget’s photograph of an empty street – the city “cleared out, like a lodging that has not yet found a new tenant”, in Benjamin’s reading. The “scene of a salutary estrangement between man and his surroundings” (“Little History”, 519). A thin line, a missed beat. And then we go out into the open. The crossing of this line is nothing if is not a collective experiment. But, however light we may wish to travel, I’ll be sure to pack my dialectical tool-kit.

Eugène Atget, Hotel de Sens, rue de l'Hôtel de Ville, Paris (early 1900s).

Eugène Atget, Hotel de Sens, rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, Paris (early 1900s).



1 The phrase “the Great Outdoors” (“le Grand Dehors”) is from Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, Trans. Ray Brassier (London and New York: Continuum, 2008).

2 Cathexis is the mental, emotional or libidinal investment in a person, object, or even idea from the Greek kathexis, holding, from katechein to hold fast, occupy, from kata + echein to have, hold. This pseudo-Greek term was first introduced by Freud’s translator/editor James Strachey, as a translation for the German Besetzung (from besetzen, to fill, to occupy).

3 See, for example, Evan Calder Williams, Hostile object theory, Mute Magazine (February 2011).

4 The smelliness of the transitional object could easily take us down a Proustian path, but I want to open a more anecdotal parenthesis, to say that we can think about what real estate agents call patina as fulfilling a similar function, providing the reassuring depth and density of the lived or lived in. Still, a fruitful digression here would be to think about transitional objects through the topos of “material imagination” – that is, to go in the direction of Bachelard’s psychoanalysis of matter, Roland Barthes’ writings on Michelet, or Jean-Pierre Richard’s on Proust. Indeed, in Proust et le Monde sensible (Paris: Seuil, 1974) Richard employs the phrase “l’imagination de la matière” (308) and later goes on to discuss the cybernetic quality velvet in Proust’s work, its “voluptuous saturation of connection [rapport]” (290-1). One could say that the notion of connection and familiarity through habit, a term that plays such a crucial role in La Recherche, is also at work, more subtly, in Winnicottt’s writings. For a useful summary of the term “material imagination”, see Steven Connor’s 2002 paper Isobel Armstrong and the material imagination.

5 Cf. Giorgio Agamben, “In Playland: Reflections on History and Play” in Infancy and History. Trans. Liz Heron (London and New York: Verso, 1993).

6 I draw this particular formulation (as well as some of the arguments in this conclusion) from Evan Calder Williams’ discussion of the barricade, which is one particular, but perhaps exemplary, manifestation of the non-transitional. In Calder William’s own words, in a talk entitled “A recusa da cidade” (“The refusal of the city”), in Lisbon, April 10 2012: “The barricade, then, is a sabotage of the city in a particular way: it ruins the city by using its materials against its function as a conduit of circulation, it wrecks the city in order to drive a wedge between what it is and what it is supposed to be, in the name of what it might be otherwise. In other words, it turns the materials of the space designated city against the figure of the polis and the attached forms of citizen, politics, and civil society. (…) So both in calling attention to the city as barricaded and in making it halt, it is a deictic form, the production of a separation around which the critique of separation can take very material form. (…) The barricade opens a break in time – a pause, a halt – and a suture in time. It literally produces time”.



Understanding Brecht (London: Verso, 1998).
“A Little History of Photography”, in Selected Writings vol. 2, 1927–1934 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1999 [1931]), pp. 507–530.
“Short Shadows (I)” in Selected Writings vol. 2, 1927–1934 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1999 [1929]), pp. 268-272.

Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (New York: Zone Books, 1992 [1968]).
“Ethology: Spinoza and us”. In J. Crary and S. Kwinter (Eds.), Incorporations (New York: Zone Books, 1994): pp. 625‐633.
“Nomadic Thought” in Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953–1974. Edited by David Lapoujade; Trans. Mike Taormina (New York: Semiotext(e), 2003 [1972]): pp. 252-261.
Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (London and New York: Continuum, 2004 [1968]).

Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and schizophrenia (London: Continuum, 2004 [1972]).
Mille Plateaux: Capitalisme et Schizophrénie 2 (Paris: Minuit, 1980).
Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986 [1975]).

“The Three Ecologies”, new formations 8 (SUMMER 1989), pp. 131-147.

“Beyond the Cave: Demistifying the Ideologies of Modernism”, The Ideologies of Theory 2 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988 [1975]), pp. 115-132.
The Seeds of Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).
“Marxism and Dualism in Deleuze”, The South Atlantic Quarterly 96:3 (Summer 1997), pp. 393-416.

Playing and Reality (London and New York: Routledge, 2005 [1971]).


Miguel Cardoso escreve, ensina, ensaia, etc.

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