Chapter 2: Becoming-street: In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni as cinematic dérive
[Dispute 2: The use of genres, categories, and series:
The cinematic image—static stalemate or somatic checkmate?]
“Perhaps thinking’s lot is just to bear witness to the rest, to the untameable, to what is
incommensurable with it. But to say witness is to say trace, and to say trace is to say inscription.
—Jean-François Lyotard, “Domus and the Megalopolis”1
“Behind the infatuation with technology a revealed truth lies hidden, and as such is unquestionable: we
— Raoul Vaneigem, “Comments against Urbanism” 2
The second phrase dispute in the différend that is modern cinema is the use of pre-existing cinematic
genres, categories and series as practiced in the films of Guy Debord. In this dispute, Debord rendered
the cinematic image as not static. As opposed to Godard’s work, Debord seeks to extend the cinema
outside of its iconic representation. The conflict, therefore, is unlike Pasolini’s dispute, where the
fiction of a film rendered the camera as its own subjective point of view. This conflict provokes a film
into literalizing movement, one that places the image as a leak effect that extends beyond the film’s
Guy Debord’s sixth film In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni made in 1978 is one that literalizes
movement.3 Movement as dwelling, as a “corporation.” In its use of appropriated images from various
films of the city of Paris to Debord’s own footage filmed in the Venice canal, In girum disengages the
medium of film from its static confines as mere image. In girum asks of the viewer to literalize
movement in order to engage in a response with what lies outside of In girum’s own film frames. I try
to argue that In girum acts itself out as a pedestrian encounter, and, in so doing, formulates a mode of
In this essay, I place In girum as a film that functions more like the Situationist practice of the dérive
rather than the détournement. In its alliance with the dérive, In girum acts as psychogeographical—a
film as an encounter that marks the spectator as an “inhabited” subject. Before treading into the
Situationist notion of the psychogeographical, dérive, and détournement, a brief explanation into what I
term “inhabited” should be clearly stated. By a subject being “inhabited,” I read the viewer in this essay
as encountering a critique that is provoked by the visual-textual “experience” of a film, and the
necessity of extending that very relation it creates towards the social world that it indexes. 4 Inhabitation
not in the sense of a mimetic corporalization, but as a coexistence, a corporation. Moreover,
“experience” should be understood as a process by which subjectivity is constructed through forms of
affect rendered from discursive formations of social practices. Rather than being fixed, experience,
located in the flux of social interaction, discursively challenges, shifts, and/or changes a subject.
To inhabit is to dwell with others (an other is also an image), to be, as Jean-Luc Nancy argues, in the
singular-plural—the “I” amongst the “we” in our present turmoil.5 In this essay, therefore, the medium
of film is a social phenomenon, and the cinematic image is understood as a social arena where the body
is virtually placed. The inhabited subject, however, does not identify with the cinematic image as a
mirrored likeness of him/her self, as Christian Metz reads it. 6 Inhabitation is not identification, it is,
rather, a co-presence with the cinema. It is within and between the experience both internal to the film
(as a medium) and outside of it (as a critique of its very own sociality) that an inhabited subject is
placed—the instances lodged between the cognitive and the somatic. It is in these two instances that an
inhabited subject is defined as a social subject that rubs against and intersects with the cinema.7
For the Situationists, the psychogeographical was related to psychogeography, or the “study of the
specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and
behavior of individuals.”8 To encounter the psychogeographical was to practice a dérive, which entails
a group or individual inhabiting the terrain by chance. As Debord outlined in “Reports on the
Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency’s Conditions of Organization
and Action” in 1957, the dérive was a “rough experimentation toward a new mode of behavior.” It is “a
practice of a passional journey out of the ordinary through rapid changing of ambiances, as well as a
means of study of psychogeography and of situationists psychology. But the application of this will to
playful creation must be extended to all known forms of human relationships, so as to influence, for
example, the historical evolution of sentiments like friendship and love.”9
Whether in a group (the Situationist’s preferred method) or as an individual, whether set between
specific timeframes that last for several hours (preferred method) or several days, whether by foot or
car, the dérive engaged the participant in the process of familiarizing (or de-familiarizing) him or
herself with the elements of urban landscapes customarily seized as habitual representations. To dérive
was to absorb the city in order to witness it as a phenomenon that crafts interactions—to thrive with its
multiplicity of relations (whether human, geographic, or architectonic). In practicing a dérive, a single
individual or group mingled with the elements and arrangements of a city to become attuned to its
sensations. The dérive revolves around a playful and constructive behavior which calls on the subject to
“drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and
let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.”10
The dérive involved a release from preconceived notions that are held within a topographical and
geographical landscape, and thereby recognizing the instability and chance that pervades a terrain by
the pedestrian relationships one encounters on the street. The dérive is linked with urbanization and its
effect on social relations within architectural landscapes, but it also incorporates the “emotional
disorientation” that is involved with sudden experiences that an individual or group encountered during
that voyage. It was an experience of movement, transience, and contingency—the dérive renounced life
as a static image.
As Debord formulated in The Society of the Spectacle, the “modern conditions of production”
accumulates itself as “spectacle” and, furthermore, makes everything that was lived “become mere
Images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream, and the former
unity of life is lost forever. Apprehended in a partial way, reality unfolds in a new
generality as a pseudo-world apart, solely as an object of contemplation. The tendency
toward the specialization of images-of-the-world finds its highest expression in the
world of the autonomous image, where deceit deceives itself. The spectacle in its
generality is a concrete inversion of life, and, as such, the autonomous movement of
By practicing a dérive, the Situationists sought to restructure the “non-life” inherent in the autonomous
image of a ready-made society. It was a means to stamp a form of alternative existence within the
ambiance of the street. The image of the map, with its abstract, detached, and non-existential
underpinnings, was re-appropriated to counteract the city as image, as mere representation.
With the aid of old maps, aerial photographs and experimental dérives, one can draw up
hitherto lacking maps of influences, maps with inevitable imprecision at this early stage
is no worse than that of the first navigational charts; the only difference is that it is a
matter no longer of precisely delineating stable continents, but of changing architecture
Besides the possibility of encountering a “possible rendezvous” and experience a “loose lifestyle” with
“certain amusements” during a dérive, one was also to discover the unity of an ambiance embedded in
the city that was heretofore separated and unarticulated. In the process of chance movement, one also
finds the city’s “principle axes of passage, their exits and their defenses.”
One arrives at the central hypothesis of the existence of psychogeographical pivotal
points. One measures the distances that effectively separate two regions of a city,
distances that may have little relation with the physical distance between them.14
By engaging in the practice of the dérive, the participant found a unitary urbanism that held hidden
meanings left by its residents or its architecture. Unitary urbanism is the process of merging practices
of the arts with other procedures to construct an environment whereby the dérive and
psychogeographical experimentations can coalesce as a critique of the very separation urbanism
entrenched. In combining two separate sectors of the city and incorporating a lived experience filled
with chance and ambiguity, the dérive dislodged the map as static representation.
To Dérive: Index and Haecceity
To dérive was to shatter the iconic hold of the city as image in order to playfully and directly meander
against the static formulation that very image espouses. In this light, Charles Sanders Perice’s triadic
conception of an images materiality must be bore in mind. Peirce’s triadic conception of the sign —
icon, index, and symbol—can help illustrate the dérive and détournement. A sign that is a symbol is
governed by rules, conventions, and custom uses, such as a visual or oral language. An icon bears a
distinct similarity between the object signified and its sign. Icons directly resemble the object they
signify, even though they are not directly connected to the object they represent. An index, on the other
hand, must directly be connected to the object, it must root itself in its existential and singular
uniqueness. Unlike icons, indices, since they are attached specifically to an object, must leave traces,
but those traces will never resemble the indexical object they signify.
A rap on the door is an index. Anything which focuses the attention is an index. Anything
which startles us is an index, in so far as it marks the junction between two portions of
experience. Thus a tremendous thunderbolt indicates that something considerable happened,
though we may not know precisely what the event was. But it may be expected to connect
itself with some other experience.15
The index is without content unless it is attached to a temporal and existential object, it is a “hollowed-
out sign.”16 As Mary Ann Doane argues, “[t]he index is reduced to its own singularity; it appears as a
brute and opaque fact, wedded to contingency. In this way, Peirce theorizes the index as potentially
outside the domain of human subjectivity. It is pure indication, pure assurance of existence.” 17 It is akin
to the mid-evil theory of haecceity, developed by John Duns Scotus, that differentiated individuation as
a non-qualitative property.18 Each object has a this-ness that individuates it from others of its own kind.
In Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari extend the notion of haecceity to encompass more than
just an individual object or subject, but an aggregate. “It should not be thought that a haecceity consists
simply of a décor or backdrop that situates subjects, or of appendages that hold things and people to the
ground. It is the entire assemblage in its individuated aggregate that is a haecceity… .”19 In this respect,
Deleuze and Guattari allow for a more open reading into the uniqueness of haecceity, it can be rendered
as a block rather than a strict unique individuality. By extracting from haecceity the notion of an
“assemblage” of individuation, Deleuze and Guattari are thus able to render the concept as more than
just a “person, subject, thing, or substance.”
As aggregates that secret their own individuation, haecceities are capable of initiating movement and
can direct a “metamorphosis of things and subjects.” As such, they produce becomings, blocks of co-
existence. Becomings are an alliance, a becoming-ness of something in particular—a women, a child, a
wolf, a street. “Becoming is involution, involution is creative. To regress is to move in the direction of
something less differentiated. But to involve is to form a block that runs its own line ‘between’ the
terms in play and beneath assignable relations.”20
As Deleuze and Guattari highlight, becomings are not imitations, nor are they mimetic identification.
Rather, becoming “is a verb with a consistency all its own; it does not reduce to, or lead back to,
‘appearing,’ ‘being,’ ‘equaling,’ or ‘producing.’”21 It is a non-relation that becoming propels, not
identification but corporation—to co-exist in a latitude. In this effect, it is a zone of proximity or a
copresence. As an unnatural alliance, becoming is a proximity that is “at once topological and quantal,
that marks a belonging to the same molecule, independently of the subjects considered and the forms
determined.”22 Situating “becomings” within Debord’s cinematic practices engages the image with a
notion of reciprocity and mutuality with the street. Rather than being a fixed and entrenched image, the
notion of “becomings” wrenches the cinematic experience away from the notion that the film medium
is ensconced as a monologic entity. By “becoming,” the image moves towards a somatic encounter
with the viewer through corporation and inhabitation—a becoming-street or a becoming-cinema.
Like the existential trappings of the Peircian index or the becoming of a haecceity, the dérive connects
the traces and shadows of chance occurrences and events in a city. For the Situationists, the city was
Paris of the 1960s, a city that the Situationists experienced as drastically changing due to urban
planning. In “Comments Against Urbanism,” Raoul Vaneigem stressed the effects of urbanism and
industrial technology as a form of alienation. “Alienation within easy reach: urbanism makes alienation
tangible.”23 Henri Lefebvre, instrumental in the formation of many Situationist thoughts before being
ousted from the group in 1963, developed his whole critique of everyday life by drawing out Karl
Marx’s notion of alienation.
For Lefebvre, alienation arises out of an “uneven development” when technological modernity
intervenes into every matrix of existence. Through the rise of new housing, appliances, television, and
cinema, the quotidian is altered into an alienating experience—an experience that seeps into the daily
routine of living (be they habits, gestures, or social interaction themselves). Rather than remain within
the confines of denigration, alienation, as it manifests itself vis-à-vis modernity qua industrialization,
can turn against itself when one engages in a critique of everyday life.
Far from suppressing criticism of everyday life, modern technical progress realizes it.
This technicity replaces the criticism of life through dreams, or ideas, or poetry, or those
activities which rise above the everyday, by the critique of everyday life from within:
the critique which everyday life makes for itself, the critique of the real by the possible
and of one aspect of life by another.24
Working within this line of thought, the dérive extracts from the industrially evolving city a form of
existence and connects it with a concrete lived experience. The activity focused on a group or
individual who left new traces within an urban environment by becoming an aggregate with it, by a
corporation: a becoming-street. The dérive was situated in the historical present for the Situationists:
not posterity, but contemporaneity. As Vaneigem extrapolates:
The layout of a city, its streets, walls, and neighborhoods form that many signs of a
strange conditioning. What sign should we recognize as our own? A few graffiti, words
of rejection or forbidden gestures, hastily scrawled, in which cultured people only take
an interest when they appear on the walls of some fossil city like Pompeii. But our cities
are more fossilized.25
Palindrome(s): In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni
Working with the image as an accomplice in shattering the formation of static representation, In girum
re-situates the viewer within the geography of the street through the medium of film. Like the dérive, it
travels through mediated images in order to leave a mark within the narrative of the cinematic
spectacle. The film itself can be seen as a topography of the cinema, as a playful stroll through the
medium. A pedestrian walkway of sorts, comprised of images that Debord re-threaded for the viewer to
enact a non-arbitrary relation with the cinema—that is, a viewing relation that tears the veil of social
mediation from the image as constructed by the cinema. In girum moves outside the centrality of the
image as an icon to establish an expanded voyage that extends beyond the screen. In girum is a “rap on
the door” that connotes an existence that must be stumbled on outside of the theatre and effectively in
the streets. The film, therefore, formulates a mode of existence.
In girum’s title is an anonymous medieval Latin palindrome, “We turn in the night and are consumed
by fire,” which can denote either the ever-identical sameness inherent in the spectacle or the necessity
of retrenching and repeating the act of viewing in order to play out the films demand for recuperating
what has been lost from the “society of the spectacle.”26 The film is an autobiographical account of
Debord’s activities with the Situationists, and a retrospective look into the times and places they
inhabited.27 By recounting such an “important subject” as himself, Debord emphasizes that he “cannot
produce a cinematic ‘work’ in the usual sense of the term.”28 The film, one that “disdains the image-
scraps of which it is composed” of, is a paradox—the author of The Society of the Spectacle is using
spectacular images created by the culture industry in order to shatter their totalizing effect on society.
The film, unlike his previous five, is strictly about “real life” not the spectacle. The extended use of
appropriated films within In girum “interrupt the discourse … to support it [the theme of real life]
positively, even if there is an element of irony.”29
The voice-over narrative within the film, read and written by Debord, is superimposed with filmed
images of Zorro, the comic book character Prince Valiant, and the use of films, such as Marcel Carné’s
Les Visiteurs du soir and Les Enfants du paradis, Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, and Carol Reed’s The Third
Man. Unlike his other films, Debord also filmed portions of the images and wrote the text specifically
for the film.30 As such, In girum plays with the notion of cultural authenticity and détournement—a
playful provocation that seeks to undermine the spectacle.
The process of détournement, which has been anglicized rather than translated, connotes a detour, an
abduction, a hijacking of culturally produced images and refurbishing them with another code. It is a
process of negating the negation of their original meaning—a negative dialectic. By détourning pre-
fabricated cultural images and words, a “synthetic organization of greater efficacy” that mutually
interferes their original meaning is implemented.31 It was conceived of as a “parodic-serious” stage in
the formation of culture, where “the accumulation of détourned elements, far from aiming at arousing
indignation or laughter by alluding to some original work, will express our indifference toward a
meaningless and forgotten original, and concern itself with rendering a certain sublimity.”32
Détournements are wedded to the icon of which they refer. For instance, the aesthetic of the widely
distributed genre of the comic book was used by the Situationists in their practice of the détournement.
In order to saturate the image with another meaning, while still being attached to the very icon of that
medium, the genre’s speech bubbles were incised by the Situationists with critiques relating to the
spectacularization of society.33 In this respect, the détourned content found in the speech bubbles bind
themselves to the comic book genre, they are enmeshed with the icon of which they refer.
One aspect of the practice that tried to distinguish itself from the images or words that were détourned
was “ultradétournement” or the use of gestures, words, and actions that operated in everyday life. With
the specific use of ultradétournement, the Situationists wanted to place the practice outside the flat field
of the image and into the vernacular . Therefore, it may not be such a great stretch to parallel the
practice of ultradétournement with the dérive. And if the practice of the latter entails the “changing
landscapes from one hour to the next,” thereby resulting in a “complete disorientation,”
ultradétournement can be seen as a physical embodiment of the détournement.34
Détournement was a practice in “sublimity” and a “parodic-serious stage” within the cultural landscape
that exposed the indifference of meanings images held when circulated widely. While culturally
produced images were signs of a desublimated “happy consciousness,” as Herbert Marcuse would
define them,35 they simultaneously disregarded the spectator as the signifying referent—a fundamental
aspect of spectacular society that Debord insisted upon. As Debord reiterated, the “spectacle is not a
collection of images: rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”36
The establishing image of In girum is a shot of a movie audience photographed from the screen. The
spectator of the film is effectively staring at themselves, with Debord reiterating that “nothing of
importance has ever been communicated by being gentle with a public, not even one like that of the age
of Pericles; and in the frozen mirror of the screen the spectators are not looking at anything that might
suggest the respectable citizens of democracy.”37 If the experience of witnessing a film within a theater
is immediately détourned as an image to comment on the cinematic experience, Debord then goes
further and projects images that extend outside of that particular ambiance and into daily inhabitation.
The next frame is an establishing shot of “neo-dwellings” or homes, followed by a mother giving a bath
to her son, then a tracking shot towards a bed in the same room. The subsequent shot projects a crowd
of movie goers waiting to enter a theater which quickly segues into panoramas of factories and the
waste they produce. Debord wastes no time in détourning images in order to interfere with their
mediated meaning. As these images flash on the screen, Debord comments:
The advertising manipulators, with the usual impudence of those who know that people
tend to justify whatever affronts they don’t avenge, calmly declare that “People who
love life go to the cinema.” But this life and this cinema are equally paltry, which is why
it hardly matters if one is substituted for the other.38
In the opening sequence of the film, Debord stresses through visuals that the cinema is bound to an
outside that is itself undifferentiated within the spectacle of exchange. The wastes of a factory are
likened to the cinematic products that audiences wait in line to view. Furthermore, such waste is also
transposed into the home of the mother and child; such “characters” become leveled within the one-
dimensional market of spectacular mass consumption. They are therefore woven into the equal
equation of a paltry exchangeability. As Thomas Y. Levin articulates in regards to this specific
sequence within the film: “According to Debord, the mimetic appeal of a cinema based on the principle
‘when one loves life one goes to the movies’ stems not from the supposed ‘realism’ of the depiction but
rather from the fact that, since this cinema is just as impoverished as the real world, both film and
world are similar in that they are contemplated with the same indifference.”39
While these introductory images locate themselves towards the outside, they still refer back to the
image as icon. They are détourned images that are fixed and contiguous with their icon as pure
resemblance. Because they are icons, they do not need to existentially refer back to the image
reproduced. And in order to surpass this one-dimensionality of détournement, Debord positions In
girum as a movement.
As Debord made explicit, the central themes in In girum are grounded in movement.
The entire film (including the images, but already in the test of the spoken
“commentary”) is based on the theme of water. Hence the quotations from poets
evoking the evanescence of everything (Li Po, Omar Khayyam, Heraclitus, Bossuet,
Shelley?), who all used water as a metaphor for the flowing of time.
Secondarily, there is the theme of fire; of momentary brilliance—revolution, Saint-
Germain-des-Prés, youth, love, negation in the night, the Devil, battles and “unfulfilled
missions” where spellbound “passing travelers” meet their doom; and desire within the
night of the world (“note consumimur igni”).40
Debord’s direct regard for a kinetic synthesis in the film, between the image and the spectator, is also
mirrored in the structure of In girum. The beginning sequence that détourned images in order to break
the hold of iconicity traverses over into a visual dérive. At one moment within the film, and one which
signals a drastic shift from détournement to the dérive, Debord uses a complete theatrical preview for a
Western. However, at the end of the exposition, Debord adds: “What needs to be proved by images?
Nothing is ever proved except by the real movement that dissolves existing conditions—that is, the
existing production relations and the forms of false consciousness that have developed on the basis of
The shift from a critique of imaging within the realm of the spectacle—imaging as an affective process
that foregrounds forms of subjective identification through iconic signification by means of
technological reproduction and agglomeration—is displaced into the social world where these images
are produced rather than re-produced.42 This visual move, one that is stressed by Debord not only as
theme but also, as I see it, as visual structure, is emphasized with no less than the following: tracking
shots from a boat in Venice; Zorro’s movement within an action film; images of Colonel Custer
engaged in war; still images of maps of Europe; aerial photos, stills, and tracking shots of Paris; and
external and internal shots of people moving within the public realm.
It is in the streets, as participants of everyday life, that the Situationists wished to efface the
acquiescence of spectacular culture.
We did not seek the formula for overturning the world in books, but in wandering.
Ceaselessly drifting for days on end, none resembling the one before. Astonishing
encounters, remarkable obstacles, grandiose betrayals, perilous enchantments—nothing
was lacking in this quest for a different, more sinister Grail, which no one else had ever
And as with life, so with cinema. Debord reiterates that In girum does not want to perpetuate the
language of film, but rather preserve from the medium “the reverse shot of the only world it has
observed and a tracking shot across the fleeing ideas of an era.”44
Debord continues his narration with the following sentence, superimposed with a tracking shot of
troops landing on a beach, “I pride myself on having made a film out of whatever rubbish was at hand;
and I find it amusing that people will complain about it who have allowed their entire lives to be
dominated by every kind of rubbish.”45 In girum has a heavy militaristic tone, one which connotes new
strategies for fighting against spectacular society. Debord’s board game invention, based on
Clausewitz’s theory of war, “Kriegspiel” (War Game); appropriated scenes taken from Michael
Curtiz’s The Charge of the Light Brigade; a navel battle sequence shot during WWII; and images of the
American Civil War all reflect the strategic and militaristic tone of In girum. As Debord reiterates
within the film: “It’s a beautiful moment when an assault against the world order is set in motion.” 46
In girum and the Naked City
Whereas the beginning of the film directly references the use of the détournement, the rest of the film
incorporates a visual dérive. It places seemingly incoherent topographical and geographical images of
Paris, including appropriated cinematic images of the city such as Carné’s Les enfants du paradis, as an
urban environment. These moments designate movement, and, furthermore, serve as a visual cue to
inhabit such desperate separations. Debord’s work The Naked City, a frequently reproduced image
consisting of cut-up sections of a map of Paris with arbitrary arrows pointing in many directions,
illuminates his cinematic practice in In girum.47
The work fragments the city in order to find an active, yet hidden, unitary urbanism that thrives within
the geographical landscape. The Naked City, and many other constructions created by Debord and
Asger Jorn that dissected the map as a medium in order to reassemble the mediums totality as a
signified of individual separation between different locales, sought to unite the split that various sectors
of the city were undergoing due to major new projects of urbanization within Paris. Constructions of
such maps were one step towards the actual implementation of a dérive, whereby groups or individuals
transformed such disconnections by inhabiting the terrain through a “critique of separation.”
While The Naked City directly references and emphasizes unitary urbanism through the use of the
dérive as a practice to counter a gentrified and repressed urban landscape, the title is appropriated from
an American film that, as Tom McDonough has demonstrated, treats the city as a social body that is
denuded of its power through the use of its own architectural symbols.48 That is, those very visual
manifestation that signify displacement within a city can also be used to replace that very separation
they signify—neighborhoods, quarters, edifices as molar emblems of economic, social, and cultural
separation. As Debord described in “Theory of the Dérive,” the map can function as an ulterior
dismantling of fixed representations associated with abstract representations of city streets and city
Today the different unities of atmosphere and of dwellings are not precisely marked off,
but are surrounded by more or less extended and indistinct bordering regions. The most
general change that the dérive leads to proposing is the constant diminution of these
border regions, up to the point of their complete suppression.49
The Naked City sought to place movement and existence as inhabited—that is, as a call towards placing
the body within the very separation that urbanism was in the process of disjuncturing. As Vaneigem
would stress: “The capitalist training of space is nothing but training in a space where you lose your
shadow, and end up losing yourself by dint of seeking yourself in what you are not.”50 Placing one’s
shadow back into the very space where it is lost was to re-affirm the existence of resistance against
such a loss. The Naked City functioned as one manifestation towards the implementation of moving
one’s shadow towards the location where such loss is signified. And one can argue that, as The Naked
City underscores a dérive, In girum also pulls its viewer closer to a viewing movement rather than
Urbanization and technology, coupled with the quixotic tendencies of spectacular society, were in the
process of ravaging the urban and socio-cultural landscape that Debord signified in In girum. The
haphazard mélange of aerial and bird’s eye views of Paris and the Île de la Cité, alongside Debord’s
own filmed portions of In girum shot from a boat in the canal’s of Venice, and the images of café’s,
streets, and public areas, are threaded so as to re-cuperate action, that is, to inhabit them.
These images are as vast as they are hollow, to the point that they engulf the film frame—annihilating
and over-saturating the frame and screen with their presence. Within their anonymous and hallowed out
significance, they incessantly signify somebody, a body, to inhabit the frame or the locations to which
they point. These images are not a “stoppage,” as a suspension between image and meaning, but
images as leakage, as an incurving outsource from the unseen to the seen and back again. The title In
girum is, after all, a palindrome. If a “capitalist training of space” subtracts the shadow (rather the
existence!) of subjectivity, In girum re-tacks the movement of the body in the cinematic sphere—
theatre, narrative, and imaging as other forms denoting a “capitalist training of space” —in order to
incorporate the indexical trace of inhabitation within the visual landscape.
Like The Naked City, and the film of which the title refers, In girum “lays bare” the division between
reality and film as illusion. It forsakes visual complacence towards the image and encourages a visual
representation of its own alienation. As movement, as a dérive, In girum annexes the cinematic
spectacle from its confined relation to an elsewhere that is located where-ever, and places it in the
geographic of existence as inhabited by individuals. In girum demonstrates that the cinematic landscape
requires moments that are lived as movement within a visual geography. The film re-inscribes a
shadow or trace of existence that was stolen from the spectacle by creating the film as dérive—much
like bodies cast shadows on the street.
Appropriately enough, in In Girum, Debord appropriates Carol Reed’s canonical image of Orson
Welles in The Third Man, and other images of shadows, while discussing Ivan Chtcheglov—author of
“Formulary for a New Urbanism” written in 1953 at the age of 19. The text greatly inspired the Lettrist
International and their subsequent reincarnation as the Situationist International. Chtcheglov was
arrested while attempting to destruct the Eiffel tower, and was subsequently committed to a mental
hospital where he remained for many years. As Debord testifies in In girum, while an image of
Chtcheglov’s blurred face is marked on the screen:
But can I ever forget the one whom I see everywhere in the greatest moment of our
adventures—he who in those uncertain days opened up a new path and forged ahead so
rapidly, choosing those who would accompany him? No one else was his equal that
year. It might almost have been said that he transformed cities and life merely by
looking at them. In a single year he discovered enough material for a century of
demands; the depths and mysteries of urban space were his conquest.51
Perhaps the loss of Chtcheglov’s identity and physicality from society left a mark within the city, a
trace of existence, that cannot be removed from the urban landscape. Coupled with the strategic tone of
the film, Chtcheglov’s presence in In girum demonstrates the need for imprinting ulterior forms of
lived experience within the city. Debord continues his dialogue as follows:
The powers that be, with their pitiful falsified information that misleads them almost as
much as it bewilders those under their administration, have not yet realized just how
much the rapid passage of this man has cost them. But what does it matter? The names
of ship-wreckers are only writ in water.52
The movement of water is referenced again, a reference taken from John Keats and adopted by Percy
Shelley, and one that seeks to undermine concrete historicity based on stable facts in favor for a
remembrance inhabited by fluid experience. While Debord’s formulation of spectacular society can be
read as a social and cultural entity that eliminates corporality, Debord positions movement, action, and
presence in In girum as instances that undermine such a subtraction.
And it is here where we find the importance of a person’s, and in this case Chtcheglov’s, imprint onto
the sphere of social relation as existence, as a shadow that cannot be rubbed off from the reality of
inhabited everyday living. This shadow (Chtcheglov’s? Viewer’s? Passer-by?) leaves an indelible mark
on the social terrain—be it on celluloid, by memory, or on the sidewalk. In girum acts as a cinematic
index, with all its existential connotations, as that which recuperates such un-recognized and un-
articulated moments within lived experience. It holds shadows in order to cast them outside. Physical
corporality may be extinguished within the imaging mechanisms of cinema as technological apparatus,
and likewise within the leveled relations taking place in a ravaged form of capitalist urbanization, but
shadows still lurk within the public sphere of everyday life and, by extension, in the cinema.
Chtcheglov’s inclusion within the film acts as an indexical trace. This sequence, filled as it is with
allusions to shadows, announces a shift in the viewer’s positionality as one which must be inhabited
beyond the screen—it veers away from an emplotment fixated within the frame and spreads its relation
to an else-where that connects itself with some other experience. Haecceity as an aggregate (becoming-
street) and as an indexical trace, In girum turns the imaging mechanism of the cinema into a relation,
always already mediated, which engenders a coexistence between image and its inhabitation—from
consequent to antecedent. The body as a prehensile activation, not a strict corporalization, but an
implicit corporation—coexistence as becoming-street as becoming-social which film seemingly
subtracts. The viewer is situated within the topography of cinematic reproducibility through images that
connote an existence that is waiting for a body to attach itself to its shadow.
Leaking in In girum
In an essay devoted to Guy Debord’s films, Giorgio Agamben asks what are the conditions of
possibility, or transcendentals, for montage. Agamben notes two: repetition and stoppage.53 Repetition,
according to Agamben, “restores the possibility of what was, renders it possible anew; it’s almost a
paradox. To repeat something is to make it possible anew. Here lies the proximity of repetition and
memory.”54 Agamben argues that Debord places repetition “at the center of his compositional
technique, [he] makes what he shows us possible again, or rather he opens up a zone of undecidability
between the real and the possible.”
The other transcendental for montage is stoppage, and works as a “prolonged hesitation between image
and meaning. It is not merely a matter of a chronological pause, but rather a power of stoppage that
works on the image itself, that pulls it away from the narrative power to exhibit it as such.” 55 As
Agamben asserts, what lies next to both of these transcendentals is the capacity to “de-create the real.”
In signaling these two transcendentals as imperatives within Debord’s cinematic practice, Agamben
follows the aesthetic prescriptive set out by Jean-Isidore Isou, a founder of the Lettrist International
whose theories on the cinema, and art in general, greatly influenced Debord. Isou differentiates two
trajectories that the artistic medium can advance: the phase amplique (amplic phase) and the phase
ciselante (chiseling phase). As Thomas Y. Levin has demonstrated, the phase amplique “refers to the
period during which an art form is elaborated, develops its stylistic vocabularies, and employs them to
explore and give expression to subjects other than itself. In cinema this would correspond to the
development of narrative techniques (flashback, subjective camera), the evolution of various genres,
the exploration of the camera’s documentary capacities, and so on.”56
The phase ciselante, however, acknowledges that the phase amplique has run its course and has
become defunct and “bloated,” as Levin terms it borrowing the word from a Lettrist film titled Traité
de bave et d’éternité.57 In other words, the medium becomes a form of its own “decadent excess,” and
the phase ciselante rejects anything that lies outside of the medium itself. With this phase, a “self-
reflexive involution” occurs with the aesthetic medium and, as a consequence, all the basic and formal
tendencies that a particular medium bases itself on is “subjected to a radical interrogation.”58
As the term suggests, ciselante denotes an effacement of the image and finds its corollary with the
Situationist practice of the détournement. Agamben correctly suggests that this stoppage or chiseling
practice, this détournement as it were, is the “power to interrupt” to break the hold between an image
and its meaning. Agamben further articulates that the “image worked by repetition and stoppage is a
means, a medium, that does not disappear in what it makes visible. […] The image gives itself to be
seen instead of disappearing in what it makes visible.”59
By practicing a détournement, an image’s iconicity is coded with another meaning, it is not shattered.
Détournement requires the icon of which it refers, and it is only when the original image is understood
as such, precisely as a by-product of imaging, that détournement works effectively. While Agamben’s
articulation of repetition acts itself out in In girum, the notion of stopping or stoppage does not. With In
girum acting as a dérive one must invert the notion of “stopping” and “interruption” and understand it
rather as the “bloating,” as an excess, associated with, although removed from, the phase ciselante.
If we follow Debord’s theme of In girum as “water,” as a “flowing of time,” the film holds these
images, of the city, of streets, and of movement as action, in order for them to burst, and subsequently
leak. If we go even further, Debord reiterated that In girum was not a film on the spectacle but about
“real life.” As such, the “medium” which is being channeled in the film is the social world of the street,
of the sidewalk, of the world. In girum deploys “real life” with a “radical interrogation” that flows,
rather tumults, out into the open where these images are subjected—causing a fissure with their
entrenched emplotment in lived experience and a focusing on their necessity of inhabitation.
The retrospective problem in Deleuze’s work that I have been trying to express through Pasolini’s
thoughts on Godard since the last chapter is reconciling the non-relation of a film with a relational link
to the actual author of a film. As I am trying to demonstrate, both Debord and Pasolini categorized
Jean-Luc Godard’s aesthetic as one that already held a certain territorialized relation to a certain
audience. Debord argued that Godard represented “formal pseudo-freedom,” while Pasolini was
adamant that his work was already codified and therefore did not induce a new relation to thought. In
both cases, there was already, by the mid-1960s, a certain resistance to what Deleuze would later term
the “time-image”— precisely because that very image, according to Debord and Pasolini, was already
codified or territorialized. Therefore, Deleuze’s reading of Godard’s work, as aesthetically and
philosophically exemplifying the time-image, has certain stakes in the formation of modern cinema.
Deleuze’s conception of Godard’s re-linkages within a film, the re-linkages of series or categories that
characterize appropriations from existing genres of cinema, is one that merits discussion, only because
it is exactly these appropriations that the Situationist International leveled against Godard. In discussing
their criticism against Godard, and in light of Deleuze’s philosophical placement of this tactic as
exemplifying the time-image, a brief discussion on the time-image would shed light on the differences
between Godard’s and Debord’s film practices. In highlighting the disjunctures between Godard and
Debord, my aim is to resituate the influence of Debord’s film practices within cinematic discourse. As
Thomas Y. Levin argues:
Godard’s indebtedness to Debord, from whom he learned a great deal, itself merits a
particularly detailed examination. In what appears to be a rather marked instance of
unacknowledged appropriation, an inordinate amount of Debord’s concerns reappear in
later works by Godard, both in terms of iconographic or thematic concerns and on a
formal level as well.60
By 1969, Godard would admit in an interview, “You know. I more or less agree with the Situationists;
they say that it’s all finally integrated; it gets integrated in spectacle, it’s all spectacle.” 61 Indeed, after
Le Weekend (1967), Godard would drastically disengage from the films that categorized him as an
auteur in the nouvelle-vague and begin his endeavors with Jean-Pierre Gorin and Anne-Marie Miéville
in the Dziga Vertov Group. The group, which basically consisted of Godard and Gorin, aimed to
document and analyze socio-political tensions of the period à la Dziga Vertov—not to make political
films but to make films politically. Tout va bien’s postscript film Letter to Jane of 1972, where Godard
and Gorin go so far as to analyze and deconstruct the infamous picture published in L’express of Jane
Fonda (“Hanoi Jane”) visiting Vietnam “element by element,” especially recalls Debordian tactics of
the cinema: montage of a newspaper image of Fonda, stills from the cinema (that is Godard and
Gorin’s Tout va bien), and sound images that impound the spectator (much like the appropriated sound
elements Debord abducted into his own films).
In 1966, Susan Sontag would profess: “Godard’s films are particularly directed toward proof, rather
than analysis. Vivre sa vie [released in 1962] is an exhibit, a proof, a demonstration. It shows that
something happened. Not why it happened. It exposes the inexorability of an event.”62 By 1968 the
reverse would hold true, Godard analyzes rather than show proof. In other words, rather than place the
image as pure consequent and nothing but consequent, by the late 1960s, and well into the 1970s,
Godard would go from the consequent of the image to its antecedent by analyzing what the image does
in fact mean. Letter to Jane is one extreme example of this shift, as well as the Dziga Vertov Group’s
Ici et ailleurs that was commissioned by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), a film that
documents Palestinian culture and its people by undermining the static representation of the culture as
filtered by the press. Not proof, but analysis: a dramatic shift in Godard’s oeuvre that displaces many of
his cinematic concerns from the 1960s.
But before such a shift, Godard remained focused on the image as proof. And it is in this period of
Godard’s cinematic output that Deleuze formulates his notion of categories and series as being an
element of free indirect discourse in the time-image. These categories and series, beyond just being
cinematic genres, can also encompass words, things, acts, people, which mark a discontinuity from one
another, thereby inducing reflection—as a radical interrogation in the belief of this world.
In Deleuze’s conception of cinema, the historicity of the time-image is rooted in post World War II
cinema, and its aesthetic was ushered in by that historical trauma. A break occurred within the
experience of witnessing images, a brake from causality and ontology. Subsequently, this break
constituted a new perceptive encounter with cinema itself. The time-image cuts the advancement of
meaning based on the causality of sensory-motor links. The progressions of visual and aural
manifestations are no longer mediated by movement, but through time as witnessed by that ineluctable
trauma. “The image had to free itself from sensory-motor links; it had to stop being action-image in
order to become a pure optical, sound (and tactile) image.”63 The movement-image, the cinema of
action, was dependent on movement in all aspects—from montage, camera framing, narrative, and
What used to be extended into action in the movement-image becomes transposed as optical and aural
manifestations that require full exposure for themselves.64 The pure state of time manifests itself as
disjunctured—continuity in montage is now discontinuous; speech is divorced from the body to
become its own image; and the protagonist is no longer an actor but a seer.
These are pure optical and sound situations, in which the character does not know how
to respond, abandoned spaces in which he ceases to experience and to act so that he
enters into flight, goes on a trip, comes and goes, vaguely indifferent to what happens to
him, undecided as to what must be done. But he has gained in an ability to see what he
has lost in action or reaction: he SEES so that the viewer’s problem becomes ‘What is
there to see in the image?’ (and not now ‘What are we going to see in the next image?’).
The situation no longer extends into action through the intermediary affections. It is cut
off from all its extensions, it is now important for itself, having absorbed all its affective
intensities, all its active extensions. This is no longer a sensory-motor situation, but a
purely optical and sound situation, where the seer [voyant] has replaced the agent
[actant]: a ‘description.’65
Deleuze foregrounds his analysis between the audio and the visual as two diverse autonomies within
the time-image.66 The audio-visual techniques of films are bound by “heautonomous images” which
plunge into each other with a “fault, an interstice, an irrational cut between them.”67 The disjuncture
between the visible (what we see) and the articulable (what we say) is therefore sundered.68
Deleuze places the visual field of a film as an archeological and stratigraphical layer that constitutes a
non-discursive practice. This non-discursive representation of space is diffuse, in the Foucaultian sense,
both as representation and as topographicality within the film. These stratigraphical layers are
presented by irrational cuts or as depth-of-field shots that indicate “any-space-whatevers” in the form
of abandoned landscapes and non-figural space juxtapositions (a film frame entirely engulfed by white
steam or black night) in a given visual series. These spaces that insert themselves as if out of nowhere
connote pure relations exhibited as optical presences for themselves. They describe layers of time that
are disconnected in space, and, therefore, must be read in order to effectuate a layer of virtual memory.
Meanwhile, the speech-act becomes a discursive practice when sounds are disembodied and
decarnalized. Sounds now float freely without an orator and without justification in the time-image.
They are there for themselves as exhibitions of pure sound. They therefore become forms of resistance
in their own right as distilled aural images in the guise of “story-telling,” a going beyond between the
dichotomy of the real and fictional, within a time-image. The speech-act becomes a free and indirect
relation either from the author, the character, and/or spectator.
Borrowing Pasolini’s distinction of free indirect discourse, Deleuze foregrounds his argument by
placing this cinematic tactic as intervening between the director as author and the characters within his/
her film or, conversely, between the character and him/her self. “There is formation of ‘free indirect
discourse’, or a free indirect vision, which goes from one to the other, so that either the author
expresses himself through the intercession of an autonomous, independent character other than the
author or any role fixed by the author, or the character acts and speaks himself as if his own gestures
and his own words were already reported by a third party.”69 There is, in other words, an
indiscernibility between fiction and reality, an abyss that creates a time-image that blurs objectivity and
subjectivity. The auteur and protagonist are now folded into a film, but simultaneously remain removed
from it as well.
Since the time-image is predicated as an a-synchronous juxtaposition between optical and sound
situations, the relations between past/present/future are all obliterated as signifying powers. The
irrational cut that develops between an a-signifying visibility and a decarnalized sound image is a
confrontation with thought that naturally conceives of chronological time and geographical space as
resolving each other in movement. The time-image, therefore, cuts this resolution completely.
The interstice between the visible and the articulable manifests the powerlessness of thought in
achieving an any-harmony-whatever. It is a relation to a non-relation that cannot be commensurable.
The disjuncture between the visible and the articulable underscores the tension between thought and
being—the power to confront what lies beyond representation, what lies in the unthought of our own
thought. As a result, there can be no more linkages, but re-linkages that highlight the aberrant,
arbitrary, and incommensurable gap that characterizes the disjuncture between the visible and the
auditory. It is, in other words, a disjuncture with a naturally conceived sensory-motor link between
sound and visualities—consciousness plunges into a duration. Therefore, the time-image is a relation to
a non-relation, but one which ultimately depends on and is conceived by an author’s aesthetic.
The multiplicity of sounds and visibilities that proliferate in the time-image explode this internal
monologue of the film into shards of series or categories that are incommensurable with each other,
such as Godard’s appropriations of genres and their juxtapositions. There are only false continuities
that must be constituted in order to achieve a confrontation between art and the creation that lies on the
cinematic screen as a series of non-metaphorical and literal images that impound the viewer with
For Deleuze, Godard’s use of snatching categories and genres from cinematic practices, such as
musical and dance in Une femme est une femme (1961) and the café scene in Bande à part (1964),
makes the images and sounds of these films reach their limit as genres therefore evoking reflection.
For example, Une femme est une femme exasperates the limits of the cinematic genre that is the
American musical. Supposedly a musical, Une femme est une femme is not, by any means, a musical at
all. Throughout the film, the identity of the musical genre is sundered by the startling eradication of a
natural progression from one sequence to the next. In one sequence, while Angéla, played by Anna
Karina, is walking on a Parisian street, music crescendos and swelters as if in preparation for either a
song or dance number. Nothing of the two ever coalesces within the film, all sequences that are meant
to signify the makings of either song or dance abruptly stop to make way for ambient noises relating to
the what is actually signified: whether a street, a strip-club, or an apartment. This, in Deleuzian terms,
is an irrational cut, one that transforms the nature of cinema’s very own essence.
While Une femme est une femme seemingly appropriates the musical film genre, it in fact retaliates
against that very genre. In this case, Godard’s appropriation and quite literal banalization of a specific
film category, the musical, forces that very genre to double against itself. The viewer, holding onto the
notion of Godard’s film as a musical, is caught within the net of reflecting on the very being of cinema
and his or her prior engagement with it. The stable ground that delineates and therefore defines the
formation of categories is destabilized.
Following Deleuze’s argument, the pre-existing notion that one is going to witness images and sounds
of a musical are all flushed towards a reflection on the meaning of cinema itself. As a director,
Godard, too, uses the musical genre to indirectly assert a free, indirect position with film itself.
Godard, as a cinematic author, is intent on banalizing the existing roles and definitions that films are
grounded on by turning the musical genre against itself. The structure of the musical genre therefore
acts as the active agent in realizing “free indirect discourse.” Godard directly appropriates key
characteristics of the musical genre in order comment on the topoi of film. In shifting, and thereby
underscoring, established cinematic categories, he remains in the film through the voice of the genre
itself. In Une femme est une femme, Godard is folded into the film as another in the guise of genre
while remaining outside of the film still intact as the actual director.
Three years later, the work of Michel Legrand, who wrote the original score to Une femme est une
femme, reappears in Bande à part as the composer as well. In a particular sequence of the film, where
Odile uses the restroom in the café where she performs the “Madison” with Franz and Arthur, Godard
snatches Legrand’s musical score from another prominent French film, Jacque Demy’s Les Parapluies
de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). Released as Bande à part was beginning to shoot,
Godard’s use of Legrand’s work in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is played as an homage to their
previous work together in Une femme est une femme and Vivre sa vie. After Bande à part, Godard and
Legrand would cease to have a working relationship, and the opening credits of the film mirrors that
end, the composers name is presented as: Et pour la derniëre fois (?) à l'ècran... Michel Legrand ('And
for the last time (?) on the screen: Music by Michel Legrand').
Within this framework, the musical appropriation from Cherbourg therefore remains within the
internal logic of the film itself. While reality and fiction are blurred, the suggestive pun of the
appropriation, in a Situationist reading of this sequence, does not possess a critique on the cinema as
such. Rather, it remains within the arbitrary logic of Godard’s career. One can argue with the
Situationists that Godard is circumambulating within the fictive universe of his own making.
For Deleuze, Godard’s use of genres, categories, and appropriations exemplifies a “new synthesis”
with the cinema by incorporating a “reflective status of genre” which, in turn, “constitutes the limit of
images which do not belong to it [genre] but are reflected in it.”70 Deleuze continues: “Losing its
capacities for subsuming or constituting in favour of a free power of reflection, genre [in Godard’s use
of it] may be said to be all the purer for marking the direction of pre-existing images, more than the
character of the present images.”71 On the other side of this spectrum, for the Situationists, Godard,
rather than inducing a “new synthesis” or “reflection,” represented “formal pseudofreedom” and a
“pseudocritique of manners and values.”
In Godard the repetition of the same clumsy stupidities is by definition breathtakingly
innovative. It is beyond any attempt at explanation; the admirers consume it as
confusedly and arbitrarily as Godard produced it because they recognize in it the
consistent expression of subjectivity. This is true, but it is a subjectivity on the level of a
concierge educated by the mass media. Godard’s “critiques” never go beyond
innocuous, assimilated nightclub or Mad magazine humor. His flaunted culture is
largely the same as that of his audience, which has read exactly the same pages in the
same drugstore paperbacks.72
While for Deleuze Godard initiated a moment of “plurilingualism” and therefore induces not final
answers but “reflection on the image itself,” the Situationists thought otherwise. Godard’s success as a
filmmaker who appropriated such a vast popular vernacular into the cinema encroached onto the
Situationist practice of détournement. They were aware of it, and responded to the fact that Godard’s
use of appropriation was one that combined devalued neutral elements, rather than dialectically
devaluing/revaluing the elements with an ulterior ambivalent and playful meaning. In other words, for
the Situationists, Godard toyed with elements that were too obvious, and therefore neutral, to even
begin a critique on whatever element he so happened to engage in, such as the musical genre. “This
acceptance of devaluation [in collage as détournement] is now being extended to a method of
combining neutral and indefinitely interchangeable elements. Godard is a particularly boring example
of such a use without negation, without affirmation, without quality.” 73 As the Situationists saw it,
“Godard’s ‘critical’ art and his admiring art critics all work to conceal the present problems of a
critique of art—the real experience, in the SI’s [Situationist International’s] phrase, of a
‘communication containing its own critique.’”74
Returning to Sontag’s 1966 reading of Godard’s films as providing proofs rather than analysis, we can
see why the Situationists intensely argued against his form of appropriation. For Sontag, “proof differs
Proof establishes that something happened. Analysis shows why it happened. Proof is a
mode of argument that is, by definition, complete; but the price of its completeness is
that proof is always formal. Only what is already contained in the beginning is proven at
the end. In analysis, however, there are always further angles of understanding, new
realms of causality. Analysis is substantive. Analysis is a mode of argument that is, by
definition, always incomplete; it is, properly speaking interminable.75
While Sontag is explicitly referring to Godard’s Vivre sa vie, she does not contain her reading only to
that film. Indeed, as she mentions of all his films created up to the point of the writing of her essay in
1966, “Godard’s films are particularly directed towards proof.”76 As such, its not the “why it happened”
that is put in relief, but the “that something has happened”—the “inexorability” of the event as Sontag
Vivre Sa Vie, for example, is about a woman who, because of her economic depression, turns to
prostitution and is subsequently killed in the melodramatic finale. No analysis (political or otherwise)
of any kind, strict proof—proof of an image. The presence of the protagonist Nana, played by Anna
Karina, immediately begins the film. Godard introduces her to the audience by keeping Nana as a
profile, as a mug shot (from left, right, and back, front), as an image of herself. This act places Nana as
a document, as a documentary image that will be sustained throughout the film. As such, there are
indeed no justifications for her actions within the narrative. Nothing is explained, everything happens
haphazardly. Nana is a “seer,” an “actor-medium” as Gilles Deleuze formulates the use of character in
A new type of character for a new cinema [time-image]. It is because what happens to
them does not belong to them and only half concerns them, because they know how to
extract from the event that part that cannot be reduced to what happens: that part of
inexhaustible possibility that constitutes the unbearable, the visionary’s part. … A new
type of actor was needed: […] capable of seeing and showing rather than acting, and
either remaining dumb or undertaking some never-ending conversation, rather than of
replying or following dialogue.77
Why is Nana leaving her husband? Why does she not have any money? Why won’t her friends give her
money? Why in fact does she become a prostitute? Godard does not give answers. Put another way, in
Vivre Sa Vie he does not analyze, he only gives proofs for the story to unfold.
The inescapability of the events that constitute Nana’s life catapults the viewer into pure surrender.
There is no redemption for the spectator, no saving grace. In episode XI of the film, a conversation
between her and a philosopher (recited by Bruce Parain) foreshadows her death at the finale. Both
speak of language, its futility or necessity, and Parain begins to discuss the death of Porthos who, after
running from dynamite he had planted, began to question the notion of walking and subsequently was
killed by walking into that very dynamite.
In this scene, Nana looks fixedly into the camera frame. The point of view of this frame, one can argue,
is that of a witness (corporeal or not). The glances exchanged between Nana and the camera are non-
reciprocal—there is no sense of exchangeability. The use of the point of view shot locks Nana as a
character that must show herself as document— as an irretrievable distance between the witness and
his/her complicity in her death. A complicities affair that cannot commensurate any sense of action—a
distilled gesture that equals death. Film cannot change fate, only provide the proof of its existence. In
that moment of exchange between Nana and the camera, a somatic stalemate coalesces. Masochistic at
best, the cinematic joy of looking leaves the viewer enmeshed within the diegesis of Vivre sa vie.
The extended sequence of Nana watching Carl Dreyer’s Passion of Jeanne d’Arc is one other example
in the film (as well as the Edger Allan Poe sequence, in which Nana’s lover recites Poe’s short story
The Oval Portrait, actually recited in a blatant voice over by the artist—as cinematic painter—Godard
himself). As Harun Farocki explains about the former example where Nana watches Dreyer’s Jeanne
The parallels between Nana and Jeanne seem more diagetic to me. Nana knows that she
is in a crisis, but she doesn’t entirely understand why. She goes to the movies in the
hope of finding out; after all, Jeanne d’Arc is also a woman in trouble. But in fact this is
not a situation in which art comments upon life, but only one in which life imitates art.78
For the Situationists such “imitations” are not without their consequence, “imitations” which they
adamantly tried to denounce by practicing the dérive and the détournement. And the appropriation of
Dreyer’s Jeanne d’Arc as a literal transposition for Godard’s Nana is also without its consequences,
but these causal connections of “imitations” are eliminated. The “modernity” of such severed causal
links are what Deleuze would term the “time-image.” Yet the Situationists could not sever that link,
precisely because that link was a form of acquiescence into the spectacularity of cultural mediation. In
other words, Godard’s “appropriations” remain within the narrative logic of each film rather than
displace those very appropriations outside of the frame.
Likewise, in Bande à part, many of the cultural references, such as the namesakes of the three main
protagonists, Arthur (eluding to Rimbaud), Odile (taken from Raymond Queneau’s novel Odile), and
Franz (that is Kafka), rely on the fictive atmosphere of the narrative itself. The infamous gag within
the film (one which eerily resembles a dérive), has Arthur, Franz, and Odile try to “do better” than the
American who experienced the Louvre in under 9 minutes and 45 seconds. This sequence is placed as
an homage to other cinematic works, namely Paris in Five Days and The Kiss. Such cultural
references do not analyze, or as the Situationists said it, they “conceal the critique” of cinema—that is,
its power as a form of communication to elicit an affective and existential index to the actual, existing
street outside. Rather, Godard’s cinematic references are hermetically sealed within that tale, as iconic
puns that cinema cognoscenti must decipher.
Indeed, it is here that the break between “action” and “thought” as articulated by Deleuze as the
“movement-image” and “time-image” become apparent. For if we couch the two Deleuzian concepts
of “actor” and “seer” in Situationist terms, such concepts would be inimical for what is at stake for
cinema—to engage in a somatic response. For the Situationists, Godard’s critique is lodged within the
parameters of the film’s narrative, it does not analyze the social world through cinema’s own inherent
communicative aspects. His images leave their imprint within the ground of the film rather than
shifting it to the realm of the street (which Godard used profusely in many of his films). Godard
snatches appropriations from the world and leaves them to remain as discontinuous, they do not
diffuse “out” but rather remain “in,” as evidentiary notations embedded within the filmic narrative.
Opposed to the discontinuity dependent upon cinema as a closed system, Debord’s In girum points to
an external “this,” a haeceeity or index as it were, that acts as a corporation, a becoming-street. As an
aggregate that forms a block of corporation, In girum is a possible rendezvous with the street: a cinema
of banality and of the vernacular rendered through “image-scraps” that are iterations of a production
rather than re-production of movement. Between Debord’s re-binding of aberrant images that recollect
the body as that which undergoes a flow or leak-effect, In girum recuperates the index of the actual
street through its virtual counterpart on the screen. The viewer lies between the fold of these two
instances, as the embodied signifier that effectuates a moment of leakage—an embodied seer at the
junction of action, thought as somatic. A somaticization of viewing, the cognition of moving, or, more
precisely, moving from the cognitive.
The film as a dérive does not use images as a détournement, they are not signified icons that revert
back to themselves. Rather, they mark their meaning form the external referent that an index, as an
empty sign, must acknowledge: the assurance of an existence that progresses from outside of the
screen. Precisely for this reason, In girum formulates a mode of existence: it attaches the trace of the
external, within and without the film, in order to collapse the distinction between interior and exterior,
seen and unseen. It is a continuum, one that is grounded with an externality marked by the film as
dérive. A corporation that leaks from the film’s surface to the street, from the screen to the body, and
from the physical body to its shadow imprinted “out” there.
1 Jean-François Lyotard, “Domus and Megalopolis,” in The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, trans.
Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991) 197.
2 Raoul Vaneigem, “Comments against Urbanism,” in Guy Debord and the Situationist International:
Text and Documents, trans. John Shepley (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002) 126.
3 Debord’s films cannot be seen, they must be read—the films are therefore at a remove from the
spectacle but are also enmeshed with its connotations. After the assassination of Gérard Lebovici,
Debord’s friend, publisher, and producer, Debord removed all his films from circulation as a protest.
After the murder, the French press would insist that Debord was involved in the assassination even
though it was clear that he was not. Debord sued several newspapers for libel, and was eventually
successful in legally exonerating himself from the associations the media forced onto him. He would
later write comments on the media assault in Considerations on the assassination of Gérard Lebovici,
trans. Robert Greene (Los Angeles: Tam Tam Books, 2001).
4 Critique should be read here in the Foucaultian sense. See Foucault, “What is Critique?” in The
Politics of Truth, ed. Sylvère Lotringer, trans. Lysa Hochroth (New York: Semiotext(e), 1997) 32. “I
will say that critique is the movement by which the subject gives himself the right to question truth on
its effects of power and question power on its discourses of truth. Well then!: critique will be the art of
voluntary insubordination, that of reflected intractability. Critique would essentially insure the
desubjugation of the subject in the context of what we would call, in a word, the politics of truth.”
5 Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural, trans. Robert D. Richardson and Anne E. O’Byrne
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000) 1-99.
6 See Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier, trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster,
and Alfred Guzzetti (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982) 42-57.
7 See Teresa de Lauretis, “Semiotics and Experience,” in Alice Doesn’t: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema
(Bloomington Indiana University Press, 1984) 158-186.
8 Situationist International, “Definitions,” in Situationist International Anthology, ed. and trans. Ken
Knabb (Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981) 45.
9 Debord, “Reports on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency’s
Conditions of Organization and Action,” in Anthology, 24.
10 Debord, “Theory of the Dérive,” in Anthology, 50.
11 Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books,
12 Ibid. For a critique on Situationist ideologies that revolve around this “former unity of life” being
“lost forever,” See Jacques Rancière The Politics of Aesthetics, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London; New
York: Continuum Press, 2004) 9-11; and Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural, 47-73. For a more
affirmative reading of Debord and the Situationists, see Giorgio Agamben, “Marginal Notes on
Commentaries on the Society of the Spectacle,” in Means Without End: Notes on Politics, trans.
Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000) 73-89.
In Politics, Rancière seeks to circumvent the “nostalgia” that afflicts aesthetic thinking (aesthetics
understood as a “specific regime for identifying and reflecting on the arts”) that leads it to a
“deliberation on mourning” which he sees is reflected in Situationist ideas that refer to a “unity” lost
Likewise, in Being Singular Plural Nancy seeks a trajectory of “being-with” as a plurality of co-
existence that is not “lost,” but rather achieved continually through a contact of “being-together.”
Nancy treats the Situationist critique of the spectacle as a “symptom,” and therefore this “being-
together-at-the-spectacle” “understands itself as an inversion of the representation of itself, which it
believes to be capable of giving itself as originary (and lost)… .” (51)
Being gives itself as a singular plural and, in this way, organizes itself as its own stage.
We present the “I” to ourselves, to one another, just as “I,” each time, present the “we”
to us, to one another. In this sense, there is no society without the spectacle; or more
precisely, there is no society without the spectacle of society. Although already a
popular ethnological claim or, in the Western tradition, a claim about the theatre, this
proposition must be understood as ontologically radical. There is no society without the
spectacle because society is the spectacle itself. (67)
Nancy’s’ use of “spectacle” here should not be taken for or confused as strictly pejorative. It is the “co-
appearance” of a simultaneity between being-singular (“I”) and plural (“we”) at one and the same time:
“being-with” each other in the singular plural. “[C]o-appearance forms a stage that is not a play of
mirrors—or rather, how the truth of the play of mirrors must be understood as the truth of the ‘with.’ In
this sense, ‘society’ is ‘spectacular.’” (68)
13 Debord, “Theory of the Dérive,” in Anthology, 53.
15 Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles S. Peirce, ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul
Weiss, vol.2: Elements of Logic (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932) 267.
16 Mary Ann Doane, The Emergence of Cinematic Time (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002)
17 Ibid., 94.
18 See Gary S. Rosenkrantz, Haecceity: An Ontological Essay (Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic
19 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-
Imperceptible…,” in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) 262.
20 Ibid., 239.
22 Ibid., 273.
23 Vaneigem, “Comments Against Urbanism,” in Texts and Documents, 123.
24 Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, trans. John Moore (London: Verso Books, 1991) 7; see
also 69-83 and 178-80. Kristin Ross’ interview with Lefebvre retraces his involvement with the
Situationists, see Ross, “Lefebvre on the Situationists: An Interview,” in Texts and Documents,
267-283. The architectural works of Constant Nieuwenhuis contemporaneously evolved from the
dialogue inspired by Lefebvre and the Situationists on the alienation effect industrialization had on city
life. See The Activist Drawing: Retracing Situationist Architecture’s from Constant’s New Babylon to
Beyond, eds. Catherine de Zegher and Mark Wigley (New York: Drawing Center; Cambridge: MIT
Press, 2001). Also, Mark Wigley, Constant’s New Babylon: The Hyper-Architecture of Desire
(Rotterdam: Witte de With, Center for Contemporary Art: 010 Publishers, 1998).
25 Vaneigem, “Comments Against Urbanism,” in Texts and Documents, 121.
26 The last image on the screen, before Debord reiterates that “[as] these final reflections on violence
continue to demonstrate, for me there will be no turning back and no reconciliation. No wising up and
no settling down,” is a subtitle that reads “[to] be gone through again from the beginning.” See, In
girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, in Guy Debord: Complete Cinematic Works, trans. and ed. Ken
Knabb (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2003) 193.
27 As Thomas Y. Levin has pointed out, when first planning a film on the activities of the Situationists
in 1964, Debord proposed a more telling title: Eloge de ce que nous avons aimé (Homage to the Things
we Loved). See Thomas Y. Levin, “Dismantling The Spectacle: The Cinema of Guy Debord,” in Texts
and Documents, 408.
28 Guy Debord, In girum, in Complete Cinematic Works, 150.
29 Ibid., 223.
30 Debord’s previous films, Hurlements en faveur de Sade (1952); Sur le passage de quelques
personnes à travers une assez courte unité de temps (1959); Critique de la séparation (1961); La
Société du Spectacle (1973); Réfutation de tous les jugements, tant élogieux qu’hostiles, quit ont été
jusqu’ici portés sur le film “La Société du Spectacle” (1975), all used pre-existing images and texts
using the activity known as détournement which will be discussed below.
31 Debord and Gil J. Wolman, Methods of Détournement, in Anthology, 9. The practice of
détournement is further split into three categories: minor détournement, deceptive détournement, and
ultradétournement. Minor détournement uses elements that have no importance in themselves, such as
press clippings and comic books, and derives its meaning from the new context in which it is placed.
Deceptive détournement, also known as premonitory proposition détournement, is the détournement of
an element that is intrinsically significant in itself, such as using film sequences by Sergei Eisenstein
and D.W. Griffith. Ultradétournement are “tendencies for détournement to operate in everyday social
life,” such as gestures, secret codes, passwords, and languages.
33 For an example of a détourned comic book, see Debord’s Panegyric: Volume 2, trans. John McHale
(London: Verso Books, 2004) 117.
34 Chtcheglov, “Formulary,” in Anthology, 4.
35 See Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial
Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964).
36 Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 12.
37 Debord, In girum, in Complete Cinematic Works, 133.
38 Ibid., 134.
39 See Levin, “Dismantling the Spectacle,” in Texts and Documents, 405; original emphasis.
40 Debord, “Themes of In Girum,” in Complete Cinematic Works, 223; original emphasis.
41 Debord, In girum, in Complete Cinematic Works, 144-145; emphasis added.
42 On cinema’s imaging and iconicity, see de Lauretis, Alice Doesn’t, 37-53.
43 Debord, In girum, in Complete Cinematic Works, 172.
44 Ibid., 146.
46 Ibid., 178.
47 Debord and Asger Jorn began producing such images in Mémoires, see Debord, Mémoires:
Structures Portantes d’Asger Jorn (Paris: Jean-Jacques Pauvert aux Belles Lettres, 1993). For an
interesting analysis between the Situationist practice of using maps and Conceptualist art’s
appropriation of the medium, see Peter Wollen, “Mappings: Situationists and/or Conceptualists,” in
Rewriting Conceptual Art, ed. Michael Newman and Jon Bird (London: Reaktion Books, 1999) 27-46.
48 See Tom McDonough, “Situationist Space,” in Texts and Documents, 245. Perhaps the nearest and
most literal connection between the map as an image, the dérive as the practice that denudes its
authenticity, and the cinema as an index of affective existence within these two parameters, is found on
the cover of the original publication of Debord’s complete cinematic works published in 1978—the
dust jacket is a détourned map of Paris’ Métro. See Oeuvres cinématographiques completes,
1952-1978 (Paris: Editions Champ Libre, 1978).
49 Debord, “Theory of the Dérive,” in Anthology, 53.
50 Raoul Vaneigem, “Comments against Urbanism,” in Texts and Documents, 121.
51 Debord, In girum, in Complete Cinematic Works, 170-171.
52 Ibid., 171; emphasis added.
53 See Giorgio Agamben, “Difference and Repetition: On Guy Debord’s Films,” in Texts and
54 Ibid., 316.
55 Ibid., 317.
56 Levin, “Dismantling the Spectacle,” in Texts and Documents, 338.
57 Ibid., 338. Levin’s appropriation of the term “bloat” to connote the phase ciselante, in Isou’s
cinematic practice, is more striking when he cites the entire passage from Traité de bave et d’éternité.
The protagonist speaking, Daniel, is explaining his thoughts on the cinema to members of a “ciné-club
I think first of all that the cinema is too rich. It is obese. It has reached its limits, its
maximum. The moment it attempts to grow any further cinema will explode. Suffering
from a case of congestion, this pig stuffed with fat will rip apart into a thousand pieces. I
announce the destruction of cinema, the first apocalyptic sign of disjunction, of the
rupture of this bloated and pot-bellied organism called film.
58 Ibid, 388. The phase ciselante can also serve as a precedent for what Rosalind Krauss describes as
the “post-medium condition” in reference to Marcel Broodthears in “A Voyage on the North Sea”: Art
in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999).
59 Ibid., 318.
60 Levin, “Dismantling the Spectacle,” in Texts and Documents, 425-426.
61 Cited in Anthology, 385.
62 Susan Sontag, “On Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie,” in Jean-Luc Godard: A Critical Anthology, ed. Toby
Mussman (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1968) 89.
63 Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1989) 23.
64 Deleuze borrows from Alain Robbe-Grillet the notion of a fixated opticality that structures the
noveau-roman’s insistence on the presence of objects as that which makes the significant endure in an
objects very presentation. See Robbe-Grillet, “A Future for the Novel,” in For a New Novel: Essays on
Fiction, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Grove Press, 1965) 20.
65 Deleuze, Cinema 2, 272.
66 See Deleuze, Foucault, trans. Seán Hand (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988) 65.
“As long as we stick to things and words we can believe that we are speaking of what we see, that we
see what we are speaking of, and that the two are linked: in this way we remain on the level of an
empirical exercise. But as soon as we open up words and things, as soon as we discover statements and
visibilities, words and sight are raised to a higher exercise that is a priori, so that each reaches it own
unique limit which separates it from the other, a visible element that can only be seen, an articulable
element that can only be spoken. And yet the unique limit that separates each one is also the common
limit that links one to the other, a limit with two irregular faces, a blind word and a mute vision.
Foucault is uniquely akin to contemporary film.”
67 Deleuze, Cinema 2, 251.
68 Deleuze, Foucault, 64; and Deleuze, Cinema 2, 279.
69 Deleuze, Cinema 2, 183. The implication of Deleuze’s use of Pasolini’s “free indirect discourse” is
elaborated on in the previous chapter.
70 Ibid., 184.
72 The Situationist International, “The Role of Godard,” in Anthology, 175.
73 Ibid., 176.
75 Sontag, “On Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie,” 88.
76 Ibid., 89.
77 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2, 19-20.
78 Kaja Silverman and Harun Farocki, Speaking About Godard (New York: New York University
Press, 1998) 11.