“Consequently it is very conceivable that the sense of guilt produced by civilization is not perceived as such either, and remains to a large extent unconscious, or appears as a sort of malaise [Unbehagen], a dissatisfaction, for which people seek other motivations.” (Freud, Civilization and its Discontents 99).
In his introduction to Cinema 2, Deleuze famously describes a shift from pre- to post-war cinema (from movement-image to time-image) as the crisis of the “cinema of action.” Throughout, Deleuze persists in attributing the cause of this crisis to the figure of the broken “sensory-motor link,” which, if un-broken, signals the correspondence of incoming sensation and action, in short, the ability to register and react to stimulus. Commenting on his choice of the war’s end as a point of demarcation between these two periods, he says that “in fact” the postwar consists of an increase in “spaces which we no longer know how to describe.” It’s not clear whether the post-war as described is cinematic or real; for Deleuze this ambiguity is constitutive of becoming. Such is the ambiguity that inheres in the “I,” the lyric speaker, of postwar poetry. The problem of this speaker is not just one of speaking or representation, but one of being seen, of being observed. The crisis is typically assumed to be traumatic, but as Deleuze’s construction shows us, the crisis of the subject is one of description, not experience.
Deleuze’s own descriptive discourses of these “any-spaces-whatevers” highlight questions for action in general. Such “empty or disconnected” (272) spaces—“deserted but inhabited, disused warehouses, wasteground, cities in the course of demolition or reconstruction (xi)—are alternately referred to as situations: the “rise of situations to which one can no longer react” (272). The disturbance of reception and reaction marks the breakdown of the “sensory-motor” relationship in indescribable spaces and situations which foreground the impossibility of reaction. This crisis of describing and reacting involves exchanging action for perception, hence the breakdown of the “sensory-motor” apparatus. This breakdown and exchange occurs at the level of the character, but as we will come to see in Deleuze and elsewhere, the postwar is qualified by the difficulty and confusion of identifying and differentiating oneself from this omniscient character.
For Deleuze, the war marks a break in filmic modes—not by staging the dictum of writing after Auschwitz, but by reading these broken, postwar “spaces” as the positive introduction of a new subject, a “mutant” character who “does not act without seeing himself acting” (6). In these “any-spaces-whatever,” he states, “a new race of characters was stirring, kind of mutant: they saw rather than acted, they were seers” (xi). A similarly eerie perceptiveness is present in Civilization and its Discontents. But this perceptiveness—the coincidence of observing and being observed—is not ascribed to characters and spaces, but first to the meta-critical faculty of the super-ego. Freud notes that the super-ego, conscience, and the “sense of guilt” are different aspects of the same thing: “the perception which the ego has of being watched over in this way” (100). Freud orders them topographically, or primordially, describing how the super-ego comes before conscience, and the sense of guilt before the super-ego, such that the sense of guilt is primary. Perhaps Freud later becomes more occupied with how the conscience and super-ego function and how they exercise their critical powers, but for now his most astonishing connection is between the “sense of guilt” is misrecognized, that it appears as “a sort of malaise [Unbehagen].”