‘Brazil’

It is not sufficient to define bureaucracy by a rigid segmentarity with compartmentalization of contiguous offices, an office manager in each segment, and the corresponding centralization at the end of the hall or on top of the tower.–Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 214

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil envisions a world defined by bureaucracy and its oceans of paperwork, terror-inducing government forms identifiable by their jumble of numbers, letters, and backstrokes, and inefficient, inflexible administrative mechanisms. Gilliam’s bureaucratic future is indeed nonrigid and noncompartmental, and there exists nowhere in the film a central office, either at the end of a hall or the top of a tower. Bureaucracy’s internal operations are diffuse, mostly nonhierarchical, nonlocalized. But the film’s molar lines don’t interact with other lines, leaving a critique that targets only bureaucracy’s inhumanity and lack of compassion.

For at the same time there is a whole bureaucratic segmentation, a suppleness of and communication between offices, a bureaucratic perversion, a permanent inventiveness or creativity practiced even against administrative regulations. If Kafka is the greatest theorist of bureaucracy, it is because he shows how, at a certain level (but which one? it is not localizable), the barriers between offices cease to be “a definite dividing line” and are immersed in a molecular medium (milieu) that dissolves them and simultaneously makes the office manager proliferate into microfigures impossible to recognize or identify, discernible only when they are centralizable: another regime, coexistent with the separation and totalization of the rigid segments.

The contours of bureaucracy in Brazil that determine the molar elements (classes, the state, male or female, etc.) largely leave untouched the molecular lines, what Deleuze and Guattari call the “flows and particles eluding those classes, sexes, and persons.” It’s not just that the wealthy continue their banquets while their restaurant is bombed by terrorists, but that the micropolitical exists autonomously from the molar–even the poor and destitute, ostensibly the victims of bureaucracy’s operations, are untouched by them, out of reach of its logic and processes.

For Gilliam, the hero’s fantasy, his (day)dream of slaying the monster, rescuing the girl, and making an escape, is his line of flight. But this line of flight is free of all of the “problems” that Deleuze and Guattari identify with lines–most specifically, it is a line that attempts to operate by transcendence. For Deleuze and Guattari, “[l]ines of flight are immanent to the social field…. No one of them is transcendent, each is at work within the others.” In Brazil, the hero’s fantasy is merely that, a line that never engages with or is affected by the molar and molecular lines, and so it is impotent from the start.

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5 thoughts on “‘Brazil’

  1. “For Gilliam, the hero’s fantasy, his (day)dream of slaying the monster, rescuing the girl, and making an escape, is his line of flight. But this line of flight is free of all of the “problems” that Deleuze and Guattari identify with lines–most specifically, it is a line that attempts to operate by transcendence. For Deleuze and Guattari, “[l]ines of flight are immanent to the social field…. No one of them is transcendent, each is at work within the others.” In Brazil, the hero’s fantasy is merely that, a line that never engages with or is affected by the molar and molecular lines, and so it is impotent from the start.”

    Why not go one step further and argue that this (day)dream or phantasy is precisely what keeps him locked into the system or what attaches him to the system. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the film, but is there evidence that he enacts versions of this phantasy in his day to day bureacratic dealings? For instance, does he sometimes behave as if he’s fighting a monster in doing this or that particular ordinary job? A parallel might be the mid-level corporate executive who steals all sorts of minor office supplies that he doesn’t need. The schizoanalyst might be inclined to treat this as a line of flight, tracing a path of escape from the molar organization of the bureacracy he works in. By contrast, another point of view would hold it that this is precisely how he draws jouissance from the molar and what thereby allows the molar to sustain itself. In this regard, transgression, far from undermining the system, is its obverse support that helps to maintain it. A parallel would be when I use mild obscenity in the classroom, causing my students to chuckle. One might suggest that I’m bucking the system and my molar identity, but this little violation of the rules all the more effectively ties the students to me.

  2. Sinthome, sorry for the lag in response time–16 hours, practically a lifetime in blog temporalities–as I enjoyed a fun evening out with the kiddos and have had to–grumble, grumble–actually work at my job this morning.

    One of the “problems” with the hero’s fantasy is that it specifically is not a part of his bureaucratic dealings; the fantasies are sleeping dreams and daydreams he has away from his job, and they usually are invoked when he imagines or sees The Girl. This is part of why I noted that the lines in Brazil are always separated and why, as you say, the fantasy “attaches him to the system.”

    I hesitated to say this probably was for polemical reasons, namely, that there’s an aversion in much leftist/social/Marxist thought to fantasy, imagination, creativity. Which is to say, the “real work” is done by activists on the ground, engaging in physical, material work (“organizing”) that the languages of desire and imagination simply distract from. I stubbornly didn’t want to concede too much ground.

  3. “I hesitated to say this probably was for polemical reasons, namely, that there’s an aversion in much leftist/social/Marxist thought to fantasy, imagination, creativity. Which is to say, the “real work” is done by activists on the ground, engaging in physical, material work (”organizing”) that the languages of desire and imagination simply distract from. I stubbornly didn’t want to concede too much ground.”

    This is a great observation! Certainly those feet would never get on the ground if there weren’t collective desires and imaginings that motivated them to be there, and certainly collective fantasy is a potential site of resistence that can be turned against attachments to whatever system one might happen to be embodied in.

    Am I right in assuming you’re in Texas? I’m in the Dallas area.

  4. A few years ago I briefly belonged to a group dealing with the “Palestinian issue,” and we began every meeting with a “discussion.” People would use this time to discuss whatever they wanted, and some people spoke generally, that is, imaginatively, about hopes and desires, and even about larger political events, but certain people–not to name names, but they were ISOers usually–would get very fidgety and were the first to suggest that we “move on,” presumably to “actual” issues and the work we should be doing. It always made me laugh, this desire to not talk about desire, when it didn’t make me sad.

    Yep, I live in Texas. Even though I’ve lived here for 15 of my 37 years–more than any other place–I still don’t get it and am continually perplexed by the ways in which it operates. Oh, I live in the Austin area.

  5. Only two comments or suggestions on what you have said:

    “Peter Hallward’s new book challenges the hegemony of Deleuze’s work, aiming to go right to the heart of his philosophy. It engages with the central idea that informs virtually all his work: the assertion of an unlimited creative power…. the problems of conflict and solidarity are effectively dismissed in Deleuze’s work — as is the possibility of any political transformation.

    … once and for all that the Deleuzian century is over. If we want to change the future we need to look elsewhere.””

    One place to look elsewhere closely is the great essay of Jean Baudrillard called ‘Forget Foucault’… the best so far (I think) of the dsimantaling of last century’s ideas. Ironically he did this LAST century!!

    Also, I have not read this writer’s book mentioned here… but the idea of unlimited creativity power is not his originally, it is Nietszche’s and he got it from the greeks (specially Heraclitus). Except he doesn’t reduce everything to it. Political transformation through overcoming the self as in the human, is what he aims at. The idea remains that all we have left now is the carcass of what language has left us to deal with, dead language; a language not up to the task of explaining or describing reality. We have used this tool to try to describe a thing of which we know nothing about in its essence; we talk of ‘power, force, production,etc’ when the terms are not fully understood or defined. This leaves thinkers in an awkward position since that is all they have and so are forced to change the meaning of those terms to suite their needs and so sometimes the adjustment is small but in cases it is big. To such an extent that it would be better to create a new word to explain such things or situations or relations. But the problem there becomes one of precisely the limits

    Also Deleuze does reduce a lot to it… but that is a “problem’ all writers have. Even Nietzsche was accused of it with his Will to Power, Plato to his shadows and allegorical views, etc. The ones escaping such situations are the thinkers who concentrate on describing complex things or situations or relations; and even then only to some extent. In the sense of reduction I would say it goes back centuries since the first recorded thinkers were trying to find ONE cause to which all else could be reduced: water earth, fire, etc.
    Sorry this got a bit long… I have a lot more to say, but that is probably a problem readers who think about what they read and try to make sense of it in relation to everything else have in general. Sorry.

    Yours — GG

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