Anagram, Gestalt, Game in Maya Deren: Reconfiguring the Image in Post-war Cinema


This article examines the relationship between the film work of American Avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren and Cold-war science, particularly the sciences of Gestalt psychology, cybernetics, game theory, and anthropology. The central concern is to link Deren's investment in time and in transforming the cinematic image with contemporaneous developments in science, technology, and politics. Using her engagement with the cybernetician and anthropologist Gregory Bateson as a frame, the essay demonstrates that Deren's attitude to temporality and representation is both similar to and radically different from that emerging in psychology, anthropology, communication science and game theory after the war. This cinema excavates the probabilistic and reflexive nature of time, as understood in both art and science during this period, to create new associations between subjects, screens, and life. However, Deren's work produces associations and potentials that the game theories and technologies with which she is concerned do not. Her work utilizes the discourse of temporality and representation taken from these sciences, while refusing to repeat without difference, and so blocking a return to older discourses of objectivity, authority, and knowledge.