free indirect speech-acts

“Pasolini had a profound insight about modern cinema when he characterized it by a sliding of ground, breaking the uniformity of the internal monologue to replace it by the diversity, the deformity, the otherness of a free indirect discourse” (Cinema 2, 183-184)

“If the filmmaker assimilates himself to his character and, through him, tells a story, or represents the world, he cannot have recourse to that formidable instrument of differentiation which is language. His operation cannot be linguistic, but stylistic…The fundamental characteristic of the “free indirect subjective” is therefore not of a linguistic nature, but of a stylistic one.” (Pasolini, “The Cinema of Poetry”)

That the question of “who speaks” in film remains irreducible to linguistic models of identification makes transpositions of “free indirect discourse” onto the cinematic particularly awkward. In its literary incarnation, free indirect discourse hinges predominantly on the idiosyncracies of personalized speech, staging the slippage between distinct voices by performing one from the vantage point of an other. Particularly effective as an admixture of commentary and description, free indirect discourse represents another’s idiom just enough to conjure a position outside it: think, perhaps, of the several times the Austenian narrator dips momentarily into Mr. Woodhouse’s consciousness to poke fun at his dietary eccentricities or inefficacy as a patriarch. Ventriloquy here shows its own hand: we are not meant to take the reported thought for its actual enunciation, but to recognize the oscillation between the thought itself and its representation, reproduction, or parody. The indirectness of free indirect discourse—“representation of thought rather than an expression of it” Frances Ferguson writes—references the misalignment of speaker and utterance, carving out a zone of indistinction from which the narratorial voice briefly dons the perspectival coordinates of another subjectivity.

Central to analysis of FID, then, is an ear for the multiplicity of voices in a single enunciation, the ability to register in this enunciation one voice (or several voices) too many. The absence of discriminating markers for enunciatory personalities in cinema seems to complicate such recognition: to the extent that linguistic indices of specific (and distinct) subjectivities remain unavailable, the challenge of cinematic FID becomes that of inserting the subjective, the notion of distinct subjectivities, at all, of alerting viewers to the presence of an intervening consciousness or intercessor. Because premodern(?) takes the interchangeability of author and character for granted (what Deleuze refers to as the “unity of the author, the characters and the world guaranteed by the internal monologue”), making the question of who is speaking (or, more accurately, whose consciousness images are filtered through) apprehensible as a question at all becomes the first hurdle. How and when does the subjective, as rupture in the author-character-world continuum Deleuze locates under the regime of the internal monologue, enter without being conveyed discursively?

Pasolini’s answer, it seems, bears little attachment to the discursive. Having established the filmmaker’s lack of recourse to that “formidable instrument of differentiation which is language” (7), he effectively substitutes for free indirect discourse what he terms “free indirect subjectivity”—FID minus the discourse. Stylistic rather than linguistic, free indirect subjectivity is FID without recourse to codified sign systems, FID in a more inchoate, and thus stylistically flexible, form. Ultimately, this turn from the linguistic to the stylistic enables a reading of free indirect subjectivity that folds back into internal monologue, capitalizing on an indiscernability between author and the alternate subject position she has taken up in order subsume the latter under the former. If free indirect discourse in Ann Banfield’s formulation (Unspeakable Sentences) refers specifically to utterances that are neither communicative nor expressive (neither addressed to a “you” nor tethered to a speaking “I”), the techniques cultivating “free indirect subjectivity” ultimately become in Pasolini radically expressive. Free indirect subjectivity affords the author “poetic liberty”—the author avails herself of characterological perspectivalism/the free indirect subjective in order to take this “stylistic exercise as inspiration.” For Pasolini, the emergence of an intervening or alien consciousness becomes mere “pretext,” “enabling the author to speak indirectly — through some narrative alibi — in the first person.”

But the free indirect remains a lurking potentiality in Deleuze—defamiliarization, or rather, subjectivization, can infiltrate any moment of seeming internal monologue, such that instances of direct style preserve kernels of an “indirect origin and does not allow itself to be fixed with the first person” (Cinema 2, 248) For Deleuze, the coherence of internal monologue is not recovered in free indirect discourse’s cinematic analogue, but “shatters into anonymous debris.” “Stereotypes, clichés, ready-made visions and formulas took away the outside world and the interiority of characters in the same decomposition.” (Cinema 2, 187) Whereas Pasolini collapses free indirect subjectivity back into a first person that subsumes all under authorial, Deleuze maintains the irreducibility of incompossible subject positions—the interstice at the heart of FID. “The author takes a step towards his characters, but the characters take a step towards the author: double becoming” The disassociative force of free indirect discourse no longer begs the question how one voice will be reconciled the other, but the disjuncture between utterance and the position from which it is uttered.

In fact, preservation of the disjuncture seems in keeping with a larger set of concerns in the last chapters of Cinema 2: the problem of accounting for non-totalizing relation, of contact without the assurance of organic totality or integration into a whole that is always elsewhere, out-of-field. “The Whole is outside.” What is banished with the break in the sensory-motor link is not just a correspondence between images seen and read/heard, but the very enterprise of linkage–of rendering visible interaction between components belonging to a single set. The speech-act moves, with the collapse of continuity between action/reaction, from the realm of sensory-motor links into the “regime of free-indirect.”

If, for Pasolini, the possibility of relinkage remains, and free indirect subjectivity can ultimately be repurposed to bolster the first person—such that the organizing consciousness escapes into another only to fold this back into an elasticized but ultimately all-encompassing version of self-sovereignty (alterity thus framed as “inspiration” rather than shock or forced thought), Deleuze’s account of free indirect discourse stages an expropriation of voice that echoes expropriation of thought—the “theft of thought of which thought is a constant agent and victim.” Insofar as represented internal monologue becomes internal monologue suddenly encountered from outside, dispossessed of thought also becomes thought turned inside out to reveal the unthought immanent in thought. FID is never coincident with represented thought, but it is also remarkable for how close it is: it does not simply offer dispassionate, clinically detached reportage, but, as Anne Lise Francois writes in Open Secrets, “makes available experiences that may entirely elude their subjects.”

Whereas the first person of internal monologue, the alignment of speaker and utterance that allows “I” to be spoken, posits a consummate and ultimately self-identical whole—“open” and evolving precisely because its incorporative power links together what is only seemingly discontinuous— FID posits the fractured I. Though the irreconcilable heterogeneity that surfaces in FID is framed as the crowding out of the first person through the insertion of a third party—“either the author expresses himself though 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”—it features, more importantly, as internal fissure within the first person. FID, in precluding total identification, becomes not so much the imposition of an external POV on thought as the excavation of noncoincidence from within. Deleuze’s insistence on free indirect discourse (choice, perhaps, to foreground Pasolini’s conception of FID rather than that of free indirect subjectivity) mines the potentiality of FID speech-act—as an act of storytelling, of resistance—to enact splitting. The notion of FID as speech-act refocuses on what is created, generated at moment of impossible enunciation—the performative possibilities of inhabiting both the multiple (proliferation of mutually exclusive and incompossible positions) and the double-bind (the evacuation of possibility, the no-place or impasse).

The sense in which one can speak in an language that does not belong to one, and, inversely, that an idiom can be spoken by one that does not belong to it, makes FID particularly useful in Deleuze’s discussion of the colonized’s relation to language. That speaker and utterance do not belong to one another, but remain suspended in mutual disarticulation, puts FID’s theoretical impossibility to political use. (Important that it features as speech-act: “Daney observed that African cinema (but this applies to the whole third world) is not, as the West would like, a cinema which dances, but a cinema which talks, a cinema of the speech-act.” (229)

In Deleuze’s conception of “minorness,” the refrain the “whole is outside” takes on new valence when placed alongside “the people are missing”: insofar as FID is inevitably collective (or non-individualistic/nonsingular) in its enunciation, this collectivity remains far from resolved or consolidated in the speaking subject. The minor will always be speaking on behalf, or as representative, but in a tongue not their own—even as there is a sense that to speak/write is to be dispossessed in some way, one is driven by the necessity of speaking. As response to the refrain of the “the people are missing,” free indirect discourse performs both proliferation and impasse. The question of who is speaking becomes particularly charged, even as it remains undeterminable. FID’s impossibility as utterance is here twofold: (1) speaking requires a position that doesn’t exist yet—the people are missing; the free indiscursive mode is merely a prefiguration (2) the position that does exist is compromised—utterance and speaker do not belong to one another; dispossession becomes the very condition of speaking, because one can only ever speak in another’s voice.

One thought on “free indirect speech-acts

  1. Well, just add a detailed short example to this and you have a particularly interesting conference paper! First, I really appreciate your introduction of a new set of references that aren’t usually talked about in reference to Deleuze: Ferguson, Banfield, François. This new context is clarifying with respect to some real complexities in Deleuze’s discussion of FID. Second, you are carrying through the thread of discussion about the Outside that is running through all the third notebooks so far, and in addition, looping it back to Taylor’s discussion of collective or multiple subjectivity. I feel I understand both Pasolini and Deleuze in clearer terms. I really like your account of FID as the expression of the “irreducibility of incompossible subject positions” and as the potentiality for “the performative possibilities of inhabiting both the multiple (proliferation of mutually exclusive and incompossible positions) and the double-bind (the evacuation of possibility, the no-place or impasse).” In addition, as you suggest in your last paragraph, these are possibilities of becoming that suggests the intuition of a still unrecognized future (the people yet to come) in the difficult compromises of present discourse.

Leave a Reply