In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Deleuze and the Various Faces of the Outside
  • Stephane Symons (bio)


At a certain moment Fritz Lang’s film ‘M’ shows how a whole city becomes so obsessed with finding a serial killer that the two most powerful forces of a town develop, independently from each other, their own strategy to track him down: while the police department proceeds with its investigation by focusing on his apartment, his habits or the brand of cigarettes he supposedly smokes, the underground forms its own complex network by summoning homeless people and beggars to keep track of whatever is happening in the streets of the town and warn each other when the serial killer is approaching a new victim. In contrast with a police department where one message over the radio can inform a whole squad in a single instant, the underground, though characterised by its own hierarchy, lacks real centralisation - that makes up its very essence- or an all-encompassing structure in which everything is organized. It rather proceeds by dividing itself into different entities that co-exist but never really co-operate. Likewise, in ‘M’, the homeless people and beggars that populate the streets are one by one informed of their task to stay on the look-out for the killer since there is no central organ capable of organizing the operation. In fact, if a group of homeless people and beggars is able to spread itself over the area of a whole city, blend in with the environment and thus become a very efficient instrument to discover the identity of the killer, it is only to the extent that it lacks any real organisation and never really becomes a community. Without any doubt, one of the movie’s most beautiful paradoxes consists precisely of the way in which this group of people, usually referred to in relation with danger or threat, is here being depicted as a factor working toward the return of safety and stability in a city. It is indeed one of the beggars who spots the murderer and, again by approaching only one person at a time, will be capable of assembling enough people to finally capture the murderer. What seems so characteristic for this quasi-community of beggars is their remarkable invisibility; it is only because they are fully part of the street that they do not stand out and are able to keep an eye on what is happening around them, while nevertheless escaping the gaze of other people themselves. It is their very ‘homelessness’, their a-centrality, that allows them to ‘inhabit a space’ just like nomads ‘attach themselves to the steppe’1 and lose their history, be it only in order to gain a geography2. Moreover, it is only because they remain immobile themselves that beggars can attain what Deleuze calls ‘the absolute speed’ necessary to take part in processes of becoming and, as it is characteristic for the rhizome, retain their rootlessness and irreducibility, precisely by blending in with the environment. This way in which they go unnoticed is, as such, exactly what keeps them from ever disappearing at all. It is nothing less than their invisibility which renders them ever-present. Hence, in ‘M’, it is for that reason that, when the murderer, on the verge of abducting a new victim, is spotted by one of the beggars, the latter is able to approach him and mark the back of his coat with a clearly legible ‘M’. This manner of becoming imperceptible oneself in order to make the mark that renders something visible, this process of remaining immobile in order to participate in the speed that allows for the creation of a radically new situation, is of course in sharp contrast to how the police, as a harmoniously co-operating whole, proceeds. Focusing on a set of particulars (house, neighbours, cigarettes...) they do not take part in any process of becoming whatsoever. Their sole activity consists in waiting for the supposed killer to come home. The police, therefore, does not make any progress in actually catching the murderer or, for that matter, in establishing whether he actually has anything to do with the previous murders and is about to...

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.