picture: Alice in Wonderland. Walt Disney 1951
The following short essay is excerpted from a collection of texts by Gilles Deleuze entitled Critical and Clinical. Deleuze described the mathematical shift from the depth to the surface achieved by Lewis Caroll through his work. It is also interesting as he write about the smile without the cat, that will serve Slavoj Zizek several years later in order to illustrate his counter-Deleuzian concept of Organs Without Bodies (in opposition to Deleuze and Guattari’s Bodies Without Organs).
In Lewis Carroll, everything begins with a horrible combat, the combat of depths: things explode or make us explode, boxes are too small for their contents, foods are toxic and poisonous, entrails are stretched, monsters grab at us. A little brother uses his little brother as bait. Bodies intermingle with one another, everything is mixed up in a kind of cannibalism that joins together food and excrement. Even words are eaten. This is the domain of the action and passion of bodies: things welded together into nondecomposable blocks. Everything in depth is horrible, everything is nonsense. Alice in Wonderland was originally to have been entitled Alice’s Adventures Underground.
But why didn’t Carroll keep this title? Because Alice progressively conquers surfaces. She rises or returns to the surface. She creates surfaces. Movements of penetration and burying give way to light lateral movements of sliding; the animals of the depths become figure on cards without thickness. All the more reason for Through the Looking-Glass to invest the surface of a mirror, to institute a game of chess. Pure events escape from states of affairs. We no longer penetrate in depth but through an act of sliding pass through the looking-glass, turning everything the other way round like a left-hander. The stock market of Fortunatus described by Carroll is a Mobius strip on which a single line traverses the two sides. Mathematics is good because it brings new surfaces into existence, and brings peace to a world whose mixtures in depth would be terrible: Carroll the mathematician, or Carroll the photographer. But the world of depths still rumbles under the surface, and threatens to break through it. Even unfolded and laid out flat, the monsters still haunt us.
Carroll’s third great novel, Sylvie and Bruno, brings about yet a further advance. The previous depth itself seems to be flattened out, and becomes a surface alongside the other surface. The two surfaces thus coexist, and two contiguous stories are written on them, the one major and the other minor: the one in a major key, the other in a minor key. Not one story within another, but one next to the other. Sylvie and Bruno is no doubt the first book that tells two stories at the same time, not one inside the other, but two contiguous stories, with passages that constantly shift from one to the other, sometimes owing to a fragment of a sentence that is common to both stories, sometimes by means of the couplets of an admirable song that distributes the events proper to each story, just as much as the couplets are determined by the vents: the Mad Gardener’s song. Carroll asks, Is it the song that determines the events, or the events, the song? With Sylvie and Bruno, Carroll makes a scroll book in the manner of Japanese scroll paintings. (Eisenstein thought of scroll painting as the true precursor of cinematographic montage and described it in this way: “The scroll’s ribbon rolls up by forming a rectangle! It is no longer the medium that rolls up on itself; it is what is represented on it that rolls up at its surface.”) The two simultaneous stories of Sylvie and Bruno form the final term of Carroll’s trilogy, a masterpiece equal to the others.
It is not that surface has less nonsense than does depth. But it is not the same nonsense. Surface nonsense is like the “Radiance” of pure events, entities that never finish either happening or withdrawing. Pure events without mixture shine above the mixed bodies, above their embroiled actions and passions. They let an incorporeal rise to the surface like a mist over the earth, a pure “expressed” from the depths: not the sword, but the flash of the sword, a flash without a sword like the smile without a cat. Carroll’s uniqueness is to have allowed nothing to pass through sense, but to have played out everything in nonsense, since the diversity of nonsenses is enough to give an account of the entire universe, its terrors as well as its glories: the depth, the surface, and the volume or rolled surface.
Gilles Deleuze. Lewis Carroll in Critical and Clinical (translated by Daniel Smith and Michael Greco). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1997