Why He Really Doesn't Get Her: Deleuze's Whatever-Space and the Crisis of the Male Quest

Niels Niessen


In this essay I argue that the crisis of action in postwar narrative cinema as it has been conceptualised by Gilles Deleuze in his Cinema books is linked to a crisis of the male quest. I will approach this double crisis primarily through Deleuze's concept of the whatever-space (l'espace-quelconque), a decentered narrative site that stands in a relation of mutual determination to its wandering protagonists. Through a discussion of different types of whatever-space in Italian neorealism and 'post-neorealism' (De Sica, Antonioni, and Bertolucci) as well as films by Godard, Hitchcock and Polanski, I argue that the crisis of action not only consists in a loosening up of 'the sensory-motor schema', but also in a breaking down of the bond between male desire and narrative structure, or what Teresa de Lauretis calls 'Oedipal structure'. In this double crisis the whatever-space is transformed into a site of narrative impotence, and thereby comes to resemble its archetypical form, that of the Wasteland. In 'post-Italian-neorealism', examples of which are Antonioni's Zabriskie Point and Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris, the whatever-space is reinvested with meaning and transformed into an escapist site of imagination that unites wandering and the encounter. This encounter, which is by definition ephemeral, forms the condition of the image, a product of cinematic love that comes at the price of the forfeited male quest for the Holy Grail.


Deleuze; neorealism; desire; narrative

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