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Original Article

Reading Deleuze and Guattari through

Deligny’s theatres of subjectivity:
Mapping, Thinking, Performing
Aline Wiame
Department of Philosophy, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Avenue F.D. Roosevelt
50 – CP 133/02, Brussels B-1050, Belgium.

Abstract This article aims to show how Fernand Deligny’s thought and practices
with autistic children, as well as his impact on Deleuze and Guattari, offer a paradigm of
subjectivity that in turn rests upon an aesthetic and political account of what we can
shape and share in common with autistic people. Well known by French educators and
followers of alternative psychiatry, Fernand Deligny remains quite unknown in English-
speaking parts of academia (a first translation of some of his texts should be published
in 2015) despite his influence on the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Nevertheless,
Deligny’s proposals are of great interest for renewing how we think about subjectivity.
Subjectivity (2016) 9, 38–58. doi:10.1057/sub.2015.18;
published online 17 December 2015

Keywords: Fernand Deligny; Gilles Deleuze; Félix Guattari; (performance) philosophy;

cartographic thought; theatre

This article aims to show how Fernand Deligny’s thought and practices with
autistic children, as well as his impact on Deleuze and Guattari, offer a paradigm
of subjectivity that in turn rests upon an esthetic and political account of what we
can shape and share in common with autistic people. Well known by French
educators and followers of alternative psychiatry, Deligny (2015) remains quite
unknown in English-speaking parts of academia (a first translation of some of his
texts has been published in 2015) despite his influence on the work of Deleuze
and Guattari. Nevertheless, Deligny’s proposals are of great interest for renewing
how we think about subjectivity. He defines modes of thought and action that
are not based on language, symbolism or psychoanalytic concepts, but on
images, gestures and journeys. Deleuze and Guattari, for their part, insist on the
cartographic, immanent and performative dimensions of Deligny’s approach of
subjectivity. An inquiry into Deligny’s work thus is situated at a double

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Mapping, thinking, performing

intersection: (i) between performance and philosophy, in a way that, as I argue

below, is of relevance to the emerging field of ‘performance philosophy’ (see
performancephilosophy.ning.com/; Cull and Daddario, 2013) and its concerns for
interdisciplinary, reciprocal captures and (ii) between esthetics and politics, especially
in the shaping of a space to share with autistic people, an activity that in turn raises
questions about what and who has a right to visibility and audibility.
Indeed, the very strength of Deligny’s work lies in its attempt to revisit our
modes of thought and subjectivation through the spectrum of autistic modes of
being, feeling and thinking. As I will discuss below, taking autism as a starting point
to reshape philosophical accounts of the formation of subjectivity will raise many
questions about definitions, about ethics and agency, and about the history of
medicine and historical context. For now I would like to stress that Deligny’s thought
does not treat autism as a medical category and does not, foremost, carry therapeutic
purposes. Deligny was above all interested in the kind of co-presence, of ‘living-with’,
that resulted from a life spent with autistic persons and mute, psychotic children and
young adults (Alvarez de Toledo, 2001; Querrien, 2006; Mozère, 2007; Tardits,
2008). The ‘common’ (le commun, literally meaning ‘what is common’) Deligny
aimed to shape with autistic children thus remains very distant from the institutional,
socio-medical history of autism in France and abroad.
The very incongruousness of Deligny’s thought on the international scene of
autism treatment signals his importance for contemporary debates. I am writing
from a country (Belgium) whose public health policies concerning autism are quite
similar to (although better funded than) France’s: there are not enough places for
autistic children in caring facilities (not to mention what becomes of them when they
are adults); psychiatry- and psychoanalysis-based treatments have long been favored
(and behavioral treatments are currently objects of controversy).1 As a result, ‘autism
activism’ or ‘Autism Rights Movements’ can sound almost like oxymorons. Chamak
(2010) notes that activist organizations in France are almost exclusively made up of
parents of autistic persons (and not the autistic persons themselves); they do not push
back against the medical representation of autism as such, but rather ask for better
public assistance for autistic people and their families. In such a context, Deligny’s
proposals can be seen emancipatory: they try to tackle the specificities of autistic
ways of thinking and being on their own terrain. Nevertheless, it is easy to see how
Deligny might sound quite out of tune with some aspects of the Anglo-Saxon autism
debates. I would thus argue that Deligny’s very estrangement from both the ‘French’
and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ traditions can serve to stage an encounter for an epistemological
and philosophical discussion regarding accounts of autism in the interstices between
those different traditions.
But let us begin historically, with what is shared in the debate. Although
retrospectively identifiable in centuries-old medical texts (Silverman, 2010), autism
was first diagnosed and defined in 1943 by Kanner as, in its main symptoms, ‘an
extreme autistic aloneness; abnormal speech with echolalia, pronominal reversal,
literalness and inability to use language for communication; and monotonous,

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repetitive behaviors with an “anxiously, obsessive desire for the maintenance of the
sameness” ’ (Kanner, 1943; Wolff, 2004, p. 203). If awareness of the autistic
condition has subsequently led to a widening of the definition of autism to envelop
a large range of ‘autistic spectrum disorders’ (Wolff, 2004; Chamak, 2013),2 Deligny
always described the autistic children living with him as perfect ‘matches’ of Kanner’s
first definition, insisting particularly on their ‘obsessive desire for the maintenance of
the sameness’ and going as far as speaking of ‘speechlessness’ (mutisme) instead of
‘abnormal speech’. Speechlessness: the word is particularly strong. In Deligny’s
writings, it means that the world of these autistic children is not shaped by (and for)
linguistic categories and does not function according to symbolic logics. Nevertheless
the qualification of speechlessness raises a set of ethical questions regarding the
different contemporary situations of autism worldwide.
As French philosopher Bertrand Ogilvie underlines, ‘Deligny raises a wholly
different question in the contemporary debate on autism, a question that
“therapies” do not answer and do not even address: what kind of social bond
can be established with a speechless being?’ (in Alvarez de Toledo, 2013,
p. 413). In order to approach this ‘wholly different question’, which is nothing
but a radical interrogation about the shaping of what is held in common, I first
give a short account of Deligny’s quest for mediations that could make the
specificities of the autistic experience visible and audible beyond autism. I then
turn to Deligny’s most famous experimentation, the mapping of the journeys
and gestures traced in space by autistic children, and I analyze, from the point of
view of human geography and of Félix Guattari’s ‘schizoanalytic cartogra-
phies’, the modes of thought and action that this mapping promotes. I next
explore the direct impact that such mappings of subjectivity can have on
philosophy, arguing that the political questions they ask about the shaping of
the common also imply a kind of metaphysics that takes into account the non-
linguistic specification of ideas. This kind of metaphysics is akin to what
Deleuze calls ‘dramatization’ and ‘theatre of repetition’, thus leading us to
conceive Deligny’s proposals as drawing a kind of common theatre that is both
political, philosophical and esthetic – in the spirit of this common theatre,
I translate Deligny’s expression le commun as ‘the common’. In the last part of
this article, I consequently turn to the performative dimensions of this theatre,
examining what a scenic conception of subjectivity means and how the
emerging field of ‘performance philosophy’ could enrich the debate. Finally, to
conclude, I make some suggestions on how the esthetic-political shaping of the
common advocated by Deligny’s, Deleuze’s and Guattari’s works can play a
part in the contemporary debate about and with autism.

Deligny’s Quest for New Modes of Expression3

Fernand Deligny (1913–1996) could be described as a French educator, but

only if ‘educating’ does not mean ‘normalizing’, that is, directing someone to a

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classical, standard mode of life. If Deligny was an educator, it was in order to live
and learn from people on the margins, not to extract them from the margins that
were their world. For this reason, after having begun a career as a primary school
teacher shortly before World War II, he quickly pushed to specialize in care for
mentally disturbed and delinquent children. From that moment on, he never left
this universe of ‘margins’, both for intellectual reasons (margins are as disturbed as
disturbing for the kind of classical psychoanalysis and philosophy he learnt at
university) as well as political ones (the ‘common’ he wanted to co-create with
these children being attuned to his unorthodox communist views). In 1948, he
created ‘La grande cordée’, an association experimenting with alternative modes of
caring for and curing unstable teenagers. The demands of the association led him to
leave Paris and to engage in a nomadic and deliberately rudimentary mode of life in
the countryside. When ‘La grande cordée’ encountered too many difficulties in
1965, he was invited by Jean Oury and Félix Guattari to the Clinique de La Borde,
an important place of experimentation in French antipsychiatry. He left La Borde
in 1967 to establish himself and his team in the Cévennes, a mountain forest in
the center of France. He lived there until his death.
Deligny was not alone in the Cévennes: he was there with some ‘colleagues’,
defined as ‘close presences’ (présences proches) for the children. They quickly
created a network for welcoming autistic children, for a short stay or, even, for
life, as in the case of Janmari, an autistic person who would become a major
character of Deligny’s work. Deligny even summarizes his life commitment as
‘living in the close presence of Janmari’ (Deligny, 2007, p. 641; quoted in
Manning, 2013, p. 276). In the Cévennes, Deligny would learn to approach the
world of autistic persons just as the autistic children would try to fit into the
network’s world. It is worth noting that this experiment in the Cévennes was
totally marginal in the French landscape of autism care. Not only did Deligny
not seek particularly to have a therapeutic effect on the children (see Manning,
2013, p. 200), but furthermore he was also quite critical of any psychoanalytic
approach – even if Françoise Dolto and Maud Mannoni sent him the first
children who stayed in the Cévennes. As psychoanalysis has been for decades
the privileged mode of therapy for the care of autistic disorders in France
(Chamak, 2013; Douville and Wacjman, 2013), Deligny’s refusal to consider
the unconscious or the Symbolic order as effective concepts or tools to
understand autism (Deligny, 2003) may partly explain why he is forgotten by
French scientific literature on autism (Tardits, 2008, pp. 215–216). Deligny’s
network experiments are mostly a major source of inspiration for his desire to
re-think the ‘common’ and for his own intellectual purposes (reshaping what
we understand as human), whether it implies filming (Deligny prefers his
neologism ‘camering’), drawing maps or writing.
Deligny (2007) wrote prolifically; the French edition compiling most of his
books and articles is almost 2000-page long. The sheer volume can be surprising,
since Deligny’s life with autistic persons led him to shy away from treating

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language and the symbolic world as the main constituents of humanness. His
writing is thus the occasion for the invention of another language, one which
remains symbolic but which tries to avoid certain traps. To this end, he makes
important use of neologisms and avoids reflexive pronouns (Deligny replaces the
French third-person reflexive pronoun ‘se’ by the neutral demonstrative pronoun
‘ce’), as autistic humans, he argues, do not live in a universe articulated around
reflexive consciousness.
Deligny’s (2007, p. 1161) distrust of language is one of the primary markers of
his life and work; he describes his retreat in the Cévennes as an attempt to
destitute language. What remains, though, if we do not trust in language, and
language alone, to approach this common human background we share with
autistic persons? Deligny’s answer to these question would probably be: images,
and images as traces. In a letter from 1987, he writes:

Having been close to “autistic” children for more than twenty years […],
I have experienced that language – this language which is ours and with
which we are equipped – does not allow to escape it. “It” being this very
world that language creates.
Some people place their trust in this obviousness; it has always disturbed me
since PEOPLE [on] began to speak (to me).
I have thus tried to escape it, while even ethologists seem to be satisfied that
this verbal tool is enough to evoke a whole world, the animal one – which
often forces them into surprising linguistic acrobatics.
Here I am – and have been for fifty years. A tool is missing. I hoped that the
infinitive could fit the purpose. Even the infinitive does not go that far.

PS: The IMAGE would remain – on the condition that the word itself does
not mean anything.
(Deligny, 2001)

When Deligny writes that the word ‘image’ should not mean anything, he does
not turn to any kind of mysticism. Rather, he points out that a thought which
would function by images could avoid being trapped in the world structured by
language – and by symbolic meanings. Of course, images can be shaped,
structured and read as a language, but this kind of image is not the one that
interests Deligny (2007, p. 1671): He compares standardized images with
domesticated, force-fed geese, while free images are like wild geese flying in the
sky. Wild images, like wild geese, do not aim at representing anything. Deligny
especially turned to cinema in order to find some of these wild images. He worked
with François Truffaut on the script of The 400 Blows and entertained a
correspondence with Truffaut from 1958 to 1975. Janmari, living with Deligny
in the Cévennes, even became a source of inspiration for The Wild Child. Deligny
also (co-)directed three movies: Le moindre geste (The Smallest Gesture),

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Ce gamin, là (That kid, there)4 and Le Projet N (The N Project). Presented at the
Festival of Cannes in 1971, Le moindre geste was not released until 2004.
These three movies are characterized by one of Deligny’s obsessions: the substitu-
tion of ‘camering’ (from the French neologism camérer) for ‘filming’. While ‘filming’
implies a narrative and a preexisting project, ‘camering’ is the unfiltered recording of
images as traces of what is in the making – the camera functions on its own.

Camering would consist in respecting what does not mean anything, does not
say anything, does not address. In other words, camering escapes the symbolic
domestication without which there would not be a story, since stories require
a consciousness – whether it is an individual or a collective one.
(Deligny, 2007, p. 1744)

Camering constructs movies that are made of those images that a film director
would cut because they do not fit in plotline. Crucially, Deligny draws a parallel
between what camering shows and that in which autistic children are interested.
Autistic children, Deligny argues, watch us living as if we were the characters of a
never-ending TV soap opera, but their eyes are never more vivid than when they
look at water and reflections in the water. As Deligny (2007, p. 1745) says:
‘Becoming water seems more tempting for them than becoming like us. Some people
are surprised by that; it is nevertheless understandable’. Although provocative,
Deligny’s opposition between stereotypical social conventions and autistic attention
to the mineral world does not aim at all at devaluing the autistic experience. On the
contrary, Deligny tries to highlight that another sense of importance arises from
autistic experience, a sense that intensely connects with non-human elements that
make a life more vivid. Indeed, autistic activist Baggs (2007) actually makes a
similar argument in her Youtube video ‘In My Language’, where she asks us to re-
think language as a set of interactions with the material world. Being with an autistic
child who is facing the sea is a silent experience that can indeed displace the borders
framing our understanding of ‘human attention’.
Some images, some artifices, can thus help us approach autistic persons’ ways
of being, which are not structured by language. Among these images-artifices, we
can count the maps that Deligny’s team invented and that fascinated Deleuze and


A non-verbal cartography: Drawing traces

Jacques Lin was a former laborer who worked with Deligny in the Cévennes; he
was what Deligny calls a ‘close presence’, living day and night with the children.

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In 1969, Jacques Lin spoke to Deligny about his anxiety when he saw children
biting themselves or banging their foreheads against stones. Deligny suggested
that, rather than name one child or another, Lin think in terms of spatial
experience, that he set down what he sees on a piece of paper rather than
speaking about symptoms that do not fit what the children feel (Alvarez de
Toledo, 2013, p. 5).
This (maybe legendary) scene gives us the motto of Deligny’s maps: do not
say the symptoms, but keep traces of what happens in your territory. Thus,
people working in Deligny’s network began to draw maps of the journeys
performed by the autistic persons with whom they lived. Typically, they
proceed as follows: at first, they trace a basic map of the living-place, organized
around points of reference from everyday life (bed, kitchen, well, woodshed …).
Second, they put a tracing sheet on the map; it is used to describe the move-
ments performed in the territory in the course of a day. On this tracing sheet,
some lines are traces of the close presences’ movements: they are generally
straight and show a practical interest (for example, cooking). Other lines –
curved, repetitive, going nowhere precisely – are traces of the children’s
journeys and are often drawn with Indian ink. Deligny calls these non-
utilitarian lines lignes d’erre (wander lines)5 – a concept that will catch Deleuze’s
and Guattari’s attention.
Wander lines generally occupy a large part of the tracing sheet. They are
accompanied by different graphic signs such as, among many others: a dark
flower or a small spider-like shape that designate a swaying movement; some
‘binding joists’ (chevêtre, literally meaning a piece of timber laid horizontally)
that indicate spots where the lines belonging to the close presences and the
children’s wander lines meet to open a common space, drawn as a ‘Y’ on the map.
The lines can also be adorned with a fuller tracing, indicating the ‘exaggeration’
proper to some children’s gestures – an exaggeration that close presences can
imitate in order to have their own gestures noticed by the children (for more
examples, see the glossary in Alvarez de Toledo, 2013, pp. 12–14).
Once several tracing sheets are completed, they can be superimposed on the
map in a multitude of possible combinations. These combinations allow us to see
patterns or limits in the wander lines. They may also afford an esthetic experience
(the compilation of maps in Alvarez de Toledo, 2013 looks like an art catalog).
But their purpose is certainly not to explain something that could be re-coded into
verbal, clinical language. Deligny’s maps are not representations; they are tracks
and traces, they are acts. Tracing does not allow any kind of self-reflexive
representation; tracing only evokes (Deligny, 2007, p. 1139). Tracing wander
lines on paper is a way to approach the tracks whereby children draw their
singular territory in a symbiosis with human and non-human elements: the
cartographical tracings are then themselves a collaboration between the network
and the autistic children and ‘become incipient cartographies of an associated
milieu that builds on the way movement and life-living interrelate’ (Manning,

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2013, p. 191). The maps thus open a new space and a new time to the close
presences who draw them: cartographic gestures are considered as the re-
enactment of the mode of being performed by autistic children.

A philosophy of tracing
This TRACING/from before the sign/I will never cease to see in it/what no
gaze/would it be mine/will ever see • the human is there/perhaps/quite
simply/with no one in the end/without voice • those/TRACINGS/are from
my hand which borrowed the manner of handling/the style of this janmari
who speaking is not • and everything that I can write from this/TRACING
that all the writings of the/world have no chance of drying up.
(Deligny, 2007, p. 813; quoted and translated in Alvarez de Toledo, 2013,
p. 5)

This text, composed by Deligny in 1975, clearly points to the idea we have just
encountered: tracing and mapping the tracing are specific modes of thought. The
act of tracing maps is the act of developing a pre-individual and pre-historical
mode of knowing and thinking. There is nothing astonishing in the fact that the
children’s wander lines and the close presences’ attempts to escape language meet
up in this ritual tracing of maps. Lines perform: they can command a disciplinary
function (do not cross the border) or they can cultivate pathways to yet
unexplored space-times (Olsson, 2007; Gerlach, 2014). As Ingold (2007, p. 84)
argues, most of the maps that have been drawn by human beings are not
mathematical representations, but rather the gestural re-enactments through lines
of movement of journeys actually made. Mapping is thus a performance that
makes us embody a kind of knowledge, and the eye follows the lines of the map
much as it would follow a gesture. Tracing such maps means drawing along with
the evolution of a gesture, and not drawing across a surface.
Obviously, not all maps are of this kind or can allow a gestural, performative
thought. Modern Western cartographic maps are not traces of a gesture and their
lines are drawn across the surface. They are abstract lines directed toward the
conquest of a rationalized space: ‘[they] signify occupation, not habitation’
(Ingold, 2007, p. 85). While a cartographic way of thinking objectifies rational
and purposeful connections from one pre-determined point to another, traces of
wander lines on Deligny’s maps do not function according to the logic of
conquest; they follow the gesture of an act. Wander lines that are re-enacted
along the surface of the maps are like what Ingold calls flowing lines that proceed
through a succession of places. They are like wayfaring: ‘neither placeless nor
place-bound, but place-making’ (p. 101).
If Deligny needs all these maps of wander lines, it is because they are place-
making: they make room for an un-conscious thought of the ‘common’. The wander
lines express a cosmos without points of view (referred to an individual subject) but

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with points of viewing (freed from an individual origin). There is no doubt that lines
create room and create a space that is not superimposed on our ‘normal’ one.
Wander lines’ space-making rather operates as a ‘minoration’ process, leading the
‘normal’ (when not ‘normopathic’) persons we are to a singular, ‘virtual’ form of
experience. Deligny (2007, p. 1367) suggests that the form of life he developed in the
Cévennes with autistic children is similar to the one of societies not structured by a
consciousness led by purposes of appropriation and conquest.
There is indeed a quite striking convergence between the pre-symbolic and pre-
individual dimensions that make up Deligny’s idea of the common and current
interest in geography in what Gerlach (2014) calls a ‘vernacular mapping’ that is
concerned with the non-representational, ‘virtual’ vectors of cartography. Verna-
cular mapping, Gerlach says, emphasizes the mundane, extra-institutional,
participative cartographic practices that do not represent the world as it is, but
rather add something more to it. The cultural turn in geography (see for instance
Olsson, 2007) has led to a study of the performative powers of maps to transform
the world through abstractions, not only to represent the world but also to make
new lines and possibilities happen. Such a focus goes with a strong interest for the
virtual defined as ‘the sensing of something yet to come (Manning, 2009), a
cartography of speculative pathways; “the pressing crowd of incipiencies and
tendencies” (Massumi, 2002, p. 30), generative of potential’ (Gerlach, 2014,
p. 34). The virtual – the ‘yet to come’ of speculative pathways – makes feel
potentialities that are not actualized but whose insistence is nevertheless real non-
representational practices of mapping thus become a way of thinking through the
generative power of the virtual, leading to a kinesthetic approach to ethics and
politics (McCormack, 2003) and to a new esthetic approach to the way
a common world is creatively shaped.
Deleuze and Guattari mention Deligny’s mapping in A Thousand Plateaus
because of this creativity: these maps, like rhizomes, have multiple entryways, no
predefined centers, no Signifier or structural assignments – they are generative of
new potentialities traced in a common space (Deleuze and Guattari, 2005, p. 203).
Guattari, who worked with Deligny at the Clinique de la Borde, frequently needed
such maps in his own writings in order to explore existential territories that
overflow individuals and their bodies (Querrien, 2008, p. 109). Maps thus become
instruments for going beyond one’s own individual, infantile history and joining up
with social and common machineries (Querrien, 2008, p. 115). Guattari’s text
Équipement collectif et assujettissement sémiotique – written before the publication
of A Thousand Plateaus although it was only published in French for the first time
in 2011 – clearly shows that it is Guattari who promoted the insertion of the
problem of mapping in A Thousand Plateaus: for him, a pragmatic mapping
avoids the psychoanalytic tendency to fold unconscious productions back upon a
signifying structure. Mapping requires nothing less than a biological, sensitive,
perceptual semiotics; thought functioning with images, categories, gestures,
verbalizations; political and social fields; and formalized writings, arts, music,

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refrains (Guattari, 2014, p. 267). In short, maps are vectors of multiplication that
are not re-absorbed into a standardized unity; they promote an intensification of
common experience. For those reasons, Schizoanalytic cartographies will theorize
maps as ‘existential circumscriptions’ (Guattari, 2013, p. 18) that are protected
from ‘the ideal of scientificity that ordinarily prevails in the “psy” domains’ and
that are ‘similar to the aesthetic disciplines, by [their] modes of valorization, [their]
type of truth and [their] logics’ (p. 32). Maps make exist multiplicities of
dimensions that allow an esthetic creativity regarding the ways through which we
(give) sense (to) the world – and the fight for preserving these multiplicities from
unification cannot be anything but political.


Tracing the common as a political philosophy

As seen in the previous section, alternative kinds of mappings, whether they are
stated as ‘vernacular’ or ‘pragmatic’, carry strong political implications, notably
by refusing the compartmentalization into subject–object or human–non-human
relations (Gerlach, 2014). Those ethical and micropolitical concerns are already
present in the pre-individual dimension traced in Deligny’s maps, in which he
advances a notion of the ‘un-conscious’ as a political experiment of what is
‘common’. In the seventies, when Deligny began to think about the common
(and, in particular, about what is common to us, ‘normally individualized
persons’, and to autistic children), he found that all ideologies seemed to be
structured by this notion – from the Christian communion to communism, with
community experiences in between. Deligny’s (2007) comments refuse some of
the ideological traps of the time: ‘I will perhaps surprise a lot of people: I have
never been attracted to “collectivity” or to what goes one step further, “commu-
nity” ’ (p. 1111). He asks for a reevaluation of what the experience of a world not
primarily organized by linguistic and symbolic categories might bring to the
debate. The common then must be what ‘persists to precede anything in an un-
conscious way’ (Deligny, 2007, p. 1110). In other words, if the common precedes
the conscious symbolization of what a ‘person’ is and means, then the common is
the state in which we are deprived of the grammatical persons. In the ‘common’ –
the un-conscious as defined above – there is neither ‘I-me-my’ nor ‘He/She-him/
her’, nor is there the opposition of One and the Other (and given Deligny’s
Lacanian background, this absent Other is to be taken as the lack that Lacan
considered the condition of symbolic access to the Real). The common is what we
find when tracing wander lines and has nothing to do with persons. If there is a
common body, it can only be the one that is drawn in the maps. Deleuze and
Guattari (2005) acknowledge as much in A Thousand Plateaus: ‘Deligny invokes

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a common Body upon which these lines are inscribed as so many segments,
thresholds, or quanta, territorialities, deterritorializations, or reterritorializa-
tions’ (p. 203), establishing in the next sentence a clear link between this
‘common Body’ and their own concept of ‘Body without Organs’. This Body is
for Deligny (2007) a ‘primordial We’ (p. 1059) and is radically political insofar as
it calls for a revision of the extent of thought and also of subjectivity: how do we
think and make exist what we are in common without referring to already
individualized persons and entities?
Here we have to dig deeper into this question of a common Body. Ogilvie, one of
the most prolific commentators of Deligny’s work, argues that the ‘other thought’
that the autistic universe develops is political because it deals with the question of
bodies without an (instituted) language. In classical thought – and also in different
kinds of thought inspired by psychoanalysis – the very idea of founding any kind of
political philosophy outside of language can sound scandalous as ‘psychoanalysis,
with Lacan following Heidegger, has even made of language the sine qua non
condition without which there would supposedly be nothing to think’ (Ogilvie,
2011, p. 82). By developing maps expressing the effects of language’s ‘other’,
Deligny, according to Ogilvie, interrogates ‘the condition of the condition’ (the
condition of language itself), which is frequently denied and repressed. And this
condition has everything to do with bodies themselves insofar it involves ‘the
denegation of the body without language by the language without body’ (p. 84).
In classical political philosophy, a body without language is a slave’s body while a
language without a body is a master’s language that uses the slave’s body as its own
prosthesis (p. 84). Hence the importance of institutionalizing a common space that
would make room for an ‘other’ with respect to whom we can consider ourselves a
variation, rather than a space polarized by an a priori norm that assign positions
and hierarchized functions (p. 91). In other terms, what is at stake in Deligny’s call
for a ‘common Body’ is the promotion of forms of space-making that allow
singular processes of emancipation, whether this emancipation concerns what
Western thinking has recognized as a Subject or not.

Dramatizing thought

Such a radical reshaping of the esthetic and political borders of our common
world needs to be strengthened by an appropriate epistemology, not to mention
by a solid metaphysical support. I would like to explore one metaphysical
support suggested by Ogilvie (Ogilvie, 2011, p. 91; Alvarez de Toledo, 2013,
p. 411), namely what Deleuze describes as a dramatization process. Two aspects
of Deligny’s project make it close to the Deleuzian dramatization: (i) it is a
thought without a subject, a thought that thinks on its own, without being
thought, without reflexively thinking itself; (ii) this ‘other thought’ is made up of
acts which academic philosophy usually considers as comments or examples,
such as gestures, images, moves and spatial organizations.

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Deleuze first theorized dramatization as a method and as a process in the Sixties,

while he was writing Difference and Repetition (Deleuze, 1994, pp. 216–221;
Deleuze, 2004, pp. 94–116). The crux of the method of dramatization could be
summed up as follows: a concept being given, look for the drama behind the
logos. Stabilized, actual concepts are not born from evidence or thought’s good
will; they are rather the results of a process of differentiation, of a battle of forces,
of unbearable spatio-temporal determinations, of a passage through ‘cruelty’ in
Artaud’s understanding of the term. Beneath the traditional theories of intuition
and induction, the method of dramatization finds ‘the dynamisms of inquisition
or admission, accusation or inquiry, silently and dramatically at work, in such a
way as to determine the theoretical division of the concept’ (Deleuze, 2004,
p. 99). If concepts are given in the actual sphere of representation under the
regulation of the logos, they are moved by virtual Ideas that are specified by
dramas: ‘the role of drama is to specify concepts by incarnating the differential
relations and singularities of an Idea’ (Deleuze, 1994, p. 218).
Why is this process of specification called ‘drama’? One could say that,
etymologically, a drama is an ‘act’ – the method of dramatization is thus what
finds the element of acting beneath the given. But there is more, and Deleuze
clearly underlines that the drama he thinks about is theatrical: ‘the world is an
egg, but the egg itself is a theatre; a staged theatre in which the roles dominate the
actors, the spaces dominate the roles, and the Ideas dominate the spaces’
(Deleuze, 1994, p. 216). The readers of Difference and Repetition have already
encountered this strange theatre in the preface of the book: ‘The search for new
means of philosophical expression was begun by Nietzsche and must be pursued
today in relation to the renewal of certain other arts, such as the theatre or the
cinema’ (Deleuze, 1994, p. xxi). In the introduction, Deleuze goes further by
defending what would be a philosophical theatre, a theatre of repetition, opposed
to the false theatre of Hegelian representation, the latter functioning by abstract
mediations. ‘[Hegel] represents concepts instead of dramatizing Ideas: he creates
a false theatre, a false drama, a false movement’ (p. 10). If Kierkegaard, Nietzsche
or Péguy have introduced new means of expression into philosophy, it is,
according to Deleuze, because they thought as men of theatre, posing the highest
of theatrical problems: ‘the problem of a movement which would directly touch
the soul, which would be that of the soul’ (p. 9). And the theatre they had to
invent in philosophy would be un-representational, developing what we could
qualify as a mix between Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and the theatre of ghosts
and strangeness proposed by Strindberg or Ibsen:

The theatre of repetition is opposed to the theatre of representation, just as

movement is opposed to the concept and to representation which refers it
back to the concept. In the theatre of repetition, we experience pure forces,
dynamic lines in space which act without intermediary upon the spirit, and
link it directly with nature and history, with a language which speaks before

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words, with gestures which develop before organized bodies, with masks
before faces, with specters and phantoms before characters – the whole
apparatus of repetition as a ‘terrible power’.
(Deleuze, 1994, p. 10)

Although Deleuze’s theatre of repetition would deserve further comment, we

now have enough elements to understand why the ‘drama of Ideas’ is intrinsically
theatrical – and why it can be connected to Deligny’s experiments with an ‘other
thought’. It is a theatrical style, indeed, which directly moves our conception of
philosophical problems by embodying in gesture the cruel specification of Ideas
before they become frozen into the representation of concepts. This theatre is
philosophical (we could speak of a deterritorialization–reterritorialization pro-
cess, from theatre to philosophy), but it shares with theatre the question of
staging, of organizing spaces, differences, forces and gestures in a way that
escapes the traps of disembodied representation.
These theatrical specificities only make dramatization closer to Deligny’s ‘other
thought’. ‘Pure forces’, ‘dynamic lines in space which act without intermediary
upon the spirit and link it directly with nature and history’, ‘a language which
speaks before words’, ‘gestures which develop before organized bodies’, ‘masks
before faces’, ‘specters and phantoms before characters’: all that could adequately
describe the autistic universe Deligny tries to approach, with its virtual, place-
making wander lines, with its non-verbal language, with its emphasis on gestures
rather than on persons, with its refusal of the classical subjects as well as of the
grammatical persons.
Both what Deligny call ‘the other thought’ and Deleuze’s method of dramatization
point in the direction of a thought that is produced in its own right before
representation could mediate it. In both cases, this sphere of thought is by itself
unbearable for so-called ‘normal’, ‘well-individuated’ adults. But in both cases again,
the effects of this sphere of thought can be made to have an impact through
experiments of expression. In this way, Deligny’s thought in its full esthetic and
political scope finds its metaphysical support here in the junction between the ‘other
thought’ and the method of dramatization. And the expressive experiments it gives
rise to lead us to envisage more deeply the performative aspect this mode of thought.


Subjectivity as performance

To begin with, I should point out that both the political and the metaphysical
thinking just considered are not a posteriori intellectual conceptions but are part
of an ‘affective stratum’ – a pre-individual, virtual (in the sense defined above)

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Mapping, thinking, performing

field that functions as a potential of actualization for ideas as well as for bodies.
The stage of dramatization set out by Deleuze in Difference and Repetition thus
echoes what A Thousand Plateaus will define, 12 years later, as a milieu of non-
individual affects. While feelings are subjective, Deleuze and Guattari (2005)
argue, affects are pre-individual and asubjective: ‘Affects transpierce the body like
arrows, they are weapons of war’ (p. 356). Affects are becomings, as they do not
fix individuated beings but take them into a milieu of exteriority (p. 256). The
pre-individual, asubjective field of affects is precisely what Manning calls
‘enthusiasm’ when she describes the contribution of autistic experience to under-
standing creative processes:

Enthusiasm is the name I am giving to the tremulous field of expression itself,

to its exuberance, especially when this field percolates at the very limits of
expressibility in the before of the subject or object, in the before of image or
form. Enthusiasm as a movement-with that colors expressibility, giving a
certain allure to the coming-to-expression. “I” is not enthusiastic – the shape
of worlding is enthusiastic, in-forming toward an act without predecessor, an
act always yet in the trembling “where memory echoes from the future”.
(Manning, 2013, p. 186)

For Manning, the autistic experience as it is described by Deligny is a privileged

way to approach life in the making and world in the shaping, before the
separation of human-actor and object-receptor. The performance and the very
agency of the autistic lie there, in the shaping of enthusiasm, in the opening of
possible worlds held in the pre-individual, affective field of experience. The
thought that Deligny’s maps perform is thus pre-subjective although essential for
grasping the co-construction of a milieu and its subjects: ‘for the autistic, to be in
the world is to world, to experience the unfolding, in all of its complexity, of the
commingling of all drops of experience’ (Manning, 2013, p. 128). ‘To be in the
world is to world’: this idea is the key to the performative approach to
subjectivity I want to follow here. It is also the primary reason for which Deleuze
and Guattari mention Deligny in A Thousand Plateaus: his approach to autistic
persons through their wander lines breaks the classical structure of the subject in
favor of the lines it performs.

As Deligny says, it should be borne in mind that these lines mean nothing. It
is an affair of cartography. They compose us, as they compose our map.
They transform themselves and may even cross over into one another.
(Deleuze and Guattari, 2005, p. 203)

Deleuze goes further in Essays Critical and Clinical, judging that the carto-
graphic paradigm suggested by Deligny could be an alternative to the Freudian,

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psychoanalytic one, which is archeological. For Freud, the work of a psycho-

analyst is similar to that of an archeologist: discovering, interpreting and
translating the meaning of ruins, of pieces of stone that lie on the earth and are
clues to reconstructing old buildings that have disappeared (Freud, 1989, p. 150).
While the archeological paradigm takes a vertical direction (the clues lead us to
what is hidden deep under), the cartographic one is horizontal: we are and we
express ourselves through what we do and how we play in space – immanently.
A cartographic construction of subjectivity should also help us conceive that
subjectivity is not primarily a matter of persons, but of milieu. Following
Deligny’s suggestions, Deleuze writes:

The trajectory merges not only with the subjectivity of those who travel
through a milieu, but also with the subjectivity of the milieu itself, insofar as
it is reflected in those who travel through it. The map expresses the identity
of the journey and what one journeys through. It merges with its object,
when the object itself is movement. Nothing is more instructive than the
paths of autistic children, such as those whose maps Deligny has revealed
and superimposed, with their customary lines, wandering lines, loops,
corrections, and turnings back – all their singularities.
(Deleuze, 1998, p. 62)

What we are facing here is a cartographic paradigm that describes subjectivity

as an arrangement inclusive of both humans and non-humans. As Guattari
(1995, p. 22) would have said, this cartographic paradigm decenters the question
of the subject onto the question of subjectivity. Hence it takes into account
everything that defines a subject performatively (its milieu, its moves, its rituals,
its gestures …) instead of seeing it as a pre-existent entity that bestows sense on its
whole world.
It seems clear now that the cartographical approach developed by Deligny and
taken up by Deleuze (and Guattari) conceives subjectivity as a kind of
performance – leading to what could not be better described than as a theatre
of subjectivity. By ‘performance’, I am not only referring to the performative
aspect of the fabric of subjectivity; I also want to underline that the way
subjectivity is produced and expressed is akin to theatrical performance in itself.
Tracing, space-making, finding a language before the words, inventing qualita-
tive experiences of time, gesturing and moving in order to express a presence
rather than a preexistent self: all these stylistic postures are components of
contemporary artistic performance.
Theatre is literally a laboratory of expressions of subjectivity. This theatre is
immanent and directly philosophical, as it implies a metaphysics of dramatization
and a political ontology. The term ‘implication’ does not mean that the
performance of subjectivity is predetermined by a theoretical frame but, on the
contrary, that practice and theory are shaped together by the cartographic

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Mapping, thinking, performing

performance. It is really in and through the lines we perform that we are mapping
and thinking, and expressing subjectivity.

Performance philosophy

In the political and esthetic reshaping of ‘the common’ that Deligny calls for,
subjective performances do not take the concept of subjectivity only as an object,
but also and most of all as a specific mode of thought. This mode of thought is both
philosophical and performative – the full meaning of the term being implied here.
That is why I want to underline the possibilities opened by an encounter between
Deligny’s cartographic definition of subjectivity and the emergent field called
‘performance philosophy’. Historically, this emergence can be explained by a
‘theatrical turn’ in philosophy that began at the end of the nineteenth century
(Puchner, 2010, pp. 122–123) and the very recent ‘philosophical turn’ in theatre
and performance studies (Cull, 2012). Distinct from both performance studies and
philosophy, ‘performance philosophy’ is also the name of an interdisciplinary
research network launched in 2012 that, like other structures such as the ‘Labo
LAPS’ in France,6 is concerned with the encounter between performance and
philosophy without making any presumptions about what the relationship between
performance and philosophy should be (Cull and Lagaay, 2014). Understandings of
the field can vary greatly, ranging from a conception of philosophy as performance
and of performance as philosophy to the idea that this is precisely the gap between
those two practices that makes their encounter creative (see a summary of the
different positions by Cull in Cull and Lagaay, 2014, pp. 19–31).
What is more certain and better established is that which performance
philosophy does not want to be: a fixed method, an ‘application’ of philosophy
to theatre in which performance (and, in particular, theatre texts, as it has long
been the case when philosophers quote drama) would merely be an ‘illustration’
of a pre-existing theory (Cull, 2012). Working on the encounters between
performance and philosophy rather aims at challenging existing concepts of
‘performance’ and ‘philosophy’ (Cull and Lagaay, 2014, pp. viii–ix), thus
encouraging a ‘reciprocal capture’, a ‘dual process of identity construction’
(Stengers, 2010, p. 36; quoted in Cull, 2012, p. 23).
In the interstice opened by this reciprocal capture, Deligny’s cartographic
subjectivity is place- and space-making. Mapping is thinking and is performing at
the same time: ‘put simply, to question how a map performs is to ask the same
question of what it is’ (Gerlach, 2014, p. 24). As we have seen, the performance
of maps implies a deep encounter with non-human constituents of our world-in-
becoming – and this is still truer of Deligny’s maps – and thus can be set into
dialogue with performance philosophy’s noteworthy suggestions regarding the
‘posthuman’ question. Performance itself thinks, whether we speak of a perfor-
mance from everyday life or of an artistic one, through and with non-human
elements, through and with things thinking (Cull, 2012, p. 26), and this very fact

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opens up multiple possibilities of reciprocal capture between a cartographic

conception of subjectivity and the field of relations that constitutes performance
Deligny’s suggestions provide more than just open possibilities for this
reciprocal capture: if we take seriously the fact that the maps produce a non-
personal, performative subjectivity that makes a claim for emancipation in a
reshaped ‘common’, then this performative subjectivity should be more than a
possible object of study among others. It is one condition for the emergence of the
‘performance philosophy’ field; its claim for an enlarged space of emancipation
makes the reciprocal capture between performance and philosophy particularly
urgent for the re-launching of theaters capable of producing creative, ‘enthusias-
tic’ (in the sense of Manning) forms of subjectivation.

Conclusion: Deligny Amid the Contemporary Politics of Autistic


I hope that I have made clear at this point how Deligny’s work and its impact
on Deleuze and Guattari makes a plea for a radical re-evalution of the esthetic
and political coordinates shaping a common that would include autistic people.
A strong question remains, though: Does not engaging in speculative philosophy with
Deligny to a certain extent erase the importance of the autistic performative thought
itself, which nevertheless must constantly irrigate our thoughts on this matter?
In other words: can Deligny’s thought play a positive role in the autism debate?
As already mentioned in introduction, those questions only become more vivid
in the gap that exists between the ‘French’ and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ approaches to
autism. Deligny’s suggestions can be seen as progressive on the French side since
they refuse a primarily medical account of autism and adopt a much broader
perspective. Yet they can raise concerns in Anglo-Saxon debates, where autism
activism is a reality shaped by and for autistic people themselves. To take only
one example, could not the fact of describing autistic people as ‘speechless’ (even
if, as I argued, this speechlessness means a world that is not primarily shaped by
verbal and symbolic language) reinforce the ‘fortress’ metaphor popularized by
Bettelheim (Murray, 2008, p. 175) and be offensive to autistic people who are
willing to make their own speech heard?
There is no easy response or synthesis here, but only blaming cultural
differences between a ‘French’ and an ‘Anglo-Saxon’ context would not be
satisfying either. I would rather suggest that the esthetic and political philosophy
emanating from Deligny’s ideas be treated as an epistemological, philosophical
interface between the two milieus and the accounts of autism they promote.
Performative subjectivity and the common to be shaped are place-making in the
continental philosophy tradition; they make room in the debate for autistic and

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‘neurotypical’ voices to be heard equally, both for the sake of radically different
accounts and representations of autistic agency and for structural, improved
public policies regarding the well-being of autistic persons. The very definition of
the common as proposed in this article is that it can be discussed and/or
performed by different voices following different lines; its ambition can only be
to allow a Deleuzian ‘dramatization’ of the ideas specifying the debate.


The author is deeply grateful to all people who helped and encouraged her at
every step in the writing of this paper: two anonymous reviewers; people from the
‘performance philosophy’ working session at the ASTR 2013 conference in
Dallas, TX; staff and students of the Master in Speculative Narration program
at the Ecole de recherche graphique (Brussels); members of the GECo (group for
constructivist studies, ULB-Brussels); Chantal Alexandre; Didier Debaise; Alex
Feldman; Valérie Glansdorff; Ursula Roessiger; and Isabelle Stengers.

About the Author

Aline Wiame holds a PhD in Philosophy from the Université Libre de Bruxelles
(Belgium). In 2013–2014, she was a Visiting Scholar at the philosophy depart-
ment of Penn State University (USA) thanks to a postdoctoral grant from the
Belgian American Educational Foundation. She is now an FNRS Postdoctoral
researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Her main research areas relate
to performance studies, posthumanism and geophilosophy. She is particularly
interested in contemporary French philosophy (Bergson, Souriau, Foucault,
Deleuze) and in American pragmatism.


1 See the controversy raised by the French documentary Le mur (the French documentary Le mur,
released in 2011), which compares behavioral and psychoanalytic treatments of autism, and which
was sued by three French psychoanalysts appearing in the movie. The case is explained in D. Jolly, S.
Novak, ‘A French Film Takes Issue With the Psychoanalytic Approach to Autism’, The New York
Times, 19 January 2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/01/20/health/film-about-treatment-of-autism-
2 The focus on ‘autistic spectrum disorders’ has also increased attention on multiple factors that could
cause or be related to some autistic disorders – see for instance the research on autism and nutrition
(Adams and Conn, 1997; Adams et al, 2011).
3 Deligny’s biographical data are drawn from the following references: Alvarez de Toledo (2001, 2013),
Deligny (2007), Tardits (2008).

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4 The literature about Deligny hesitates about the title of the movie, which is sometimes written Ce
gamin-là, sometimes Ce gamin, là, both expressions being homophonic in French. The first spelling
means ‘that kid’ and the second ‘that kid, there’. Deligny, who voiced the movie, makes us hear at first
the more traditional expression ‘ce gamin-là’, but the intertitle at 4′25″ is ‘ce gamin, là’. This deliberate
confusion is significant as it enacts the displacement, in Deligny’s thought, from a designative,
pronominal conception of subjectivity to a spatial one. See the first 50 min of the movie at www.
5 Lignes d’erre is not easy to translate into English. In French, the verb errer means ‘to wander’, but also
sounds like the substantive aire, which designs an ‘area’ – pointing out the spatial dimension of this mode
of thinking. However, in A Thousand Plateaus, Brian Massumi translates it as ‘lines of drift’, while Hugh
Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam translate the same concept mentioned in the Dialogues as ‘lines of
wandering’ (see Manning, 2011). In the frame of this article, I will stick to ‘wander lines’, which is the
translation proposed in Alvarez de Toledo (2013) although, as Manning argues, the sense of ‘drift’ has the
advantage to refer to non-human activations as well as to human ones.
6 LAPS stands for ‘Laboratoire des Arts et Philosophies de la Scène’ (see labo-laps.com/).


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