(In)Animate Semiotics: Virtuality and Deleuzian Illusion(s) of Life

Spencer Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


It is well known that, despite his close engagement with cinema, Gilles Deleuze was less concerned with animated film, being somewhat dismissive of its capabilities. In recent years, however, a number of attempts have been made – most notably by William Schaffer, Thomas Lamarre and Dan Torre – to construct Deleuzian positions in animation theory. This article outlines some of these approaches, whilst engaging critically with Torre’s writings. In particular, it foregrounds Torre’s neglect of the post-structural, political dimension of Deleuzian thought through an examination of the concepts of faciality, the close-up, and relation as they occur in Deleuzian and Deleuzo-Guattarian philosophy. This is in part facilitated through a comparison of Stuart Blackton’s Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906) – a work directly addressed by Torre, and Emile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie (1908) – a work which he largely passes by. It is claimed here that, despite a number of apparent similarities, the animations of Cohl and Blackton express a radically divergent series of ontological commitments. Cohl offers the audience an experience of chaotic, mutable, relational complexity that revels in its incoherence, whilst Blackton presents a series of more straightforward set pieces, dwelling for the most part upon object-centric representational form. The tension between representation and becoming that occurs between these works is employed to facilitate a critical engagement with Torre’s process-cognitivism. It is suggested that Torre’s work, though exceptional in its pedagogic value, is likewise expressive of this tension, and that in its effort firstly to combine a series of process-philosophical and cognitivist ideas, and secondly to unpack the radical ideas of Deleuze through the more conservative philosophy of Nicholas Rescher, it runs the risk of falling back into a quasi-Kantian philosophy of generality and representation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-21
Number of pages17
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


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