Slowness as a Pure Form af Time: Tsai Ming-Liang’s Stray Dogs

In recent years, the term “slow cinema,” often circulated simply as a buzzword for a trend of global art cinema, has been theorised in more sophisticated ways. Despite the differences in their focuses, the recent theories of slow cinema have a common tendency to highlight how slow cinema, by slowing down the pace of life and restoring the supposedly insignificant details of life, challenges the accelerated pace of global capitalism and thereby renders the viewing subject more contemplative. While this form of challenge is significant, however, it runs the risk of endorsing the neoliberal packaging of slow life. Is slow cinema now subsumed under the economy of global cinema, albeit under its niche market? Would it be possible to rethink the notion of slow cinema in a way that undoes neoliberal economy and at the same time creates a new mode of affective life?

This paper retheorises slow cinema by resituating Deleuze’s philosophy of cinema in the context of his theory of the three syntheses of time, as well as in the historical context of neoliberalism. In this retheorisation, I show how the limitations of recent discourses on slow cinema can be attributed to their exclusive reliance on the Bergsonian second synthesis of time and how slow cinema at its most radical can be theorised as a type of time-image characterised by the Nietzschean third synthesis of time or its pure form of time. In this alternative theory of slow cinema, I would argue, slowness is no longer regarded as the degree to which the plenitude of life is restored, but rather as that to which time returns the power of becoming and dissolves the homeostasis of life. In this sense, slow cinema ceases to serve the neoliberal valorisation of affective life and instead produces, in Deleuze’s terms, a pure form of time that can bring affective life beyond (or below) this valorisation. From this perspective, I also argue how Malaysian Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang’s recent film Stray Dogs (2013) radicalises this power of slowness. By comparing an impoverished family’s and an upper-middle-class family’s slow life, the film debunks the packaged “mainstream” slow cinema and, instead, suggests alternative images of slowness in a way that resituates Glauber Rocha’s aesthetic of hunger in the context of neoliberalism. This alternative slowness is especially embodied in the impoverished family members’ instinctual bodily attitudes, such as those of sleeping, eating, urinating, and weeping, as they are shown in excessively extended durations. This excess enables slowness to break with the second synthesis of time and, instead, to constitute a pure form of time that forces the viewer to cross the limit of neoliberal governmentality against the now “mainstream” slow cinema’s tendency to compel the viewer to “contemplate” life in its economic sense.


Deleuze, Gilles. 1989. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Athlone.

—. 1994. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lazzarato, Maurizio. 2015. Governing by Debt. Translated by Joshua David Jordan. South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e).

Lim, Song Hwee. 2014. Tsai Ming-liang and a Cinema of Slowness. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Rocha, Glauber. 1997. “An Aesthetic of Hunger.” In New Latin American Cinema, edited by Michael T. Martin, 2 vols., 1:59–61. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Schoonover, Karl. 2012. “Wastrels of Time: Slow Cinema’s Laboring Body, the Political Spectator, and the Queer.” Framework 53 (1): 65–78.

Perversion in Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty

To understand the way Deleuze thinks about perversion is to understand the specificity he sees in masochism—its difference from sadism. It is to understand how he reads Masoch from the critical point of view, showing that Masoch takes the phantasm as a genuine double of the world and how literature therefore arises as its ideal realisation. Sade creates a literature of reason, of the cold thought where rigorous demonstrations show that reasoning itself is violence, that demonstration itself is violence. Obscene descriptions give the sadistic the power of showing themselves apathetically all-powerful. Masoch is the inventor of the phantasm, the author of the imagination that multiplies the denials as a proceeding of his art of suspense. He denies reality in order to incarnate, in suspense, the dialectic ideal phantasmé. He proceeds by multiplication of the denial as an ascending path towards the intelligible. He creates pedagogical trials of initiation to this path in order to reach his ideal. Sade’s obscene language and detailed description, on the one hand, and Masoch’s suspense and suggestive setting, on the other, both serve to conjugate literature and sexuality—this is, both clinical and critical plans.

Among Deleuze’s work, Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty has perhaps the most clinical literary approach, in which critical aspects cannot be understood without their clinical mirror. This book is an experience of reading the art of the novel as a perverse affair. Deleuze always considers Sade and Masoch to be major writers, so literature becomes a thought on the world’s epiphanies and novelistic configurations. In this book, for the first time, Deleuze gives a clinical function to artistic creation and takes a writer as an example of the intrinsic link between literature and life, of what he will say lately: literature as a health affair. And all the analysis of Masoch’s and Sade’s literature is done within a conception of the phantasm as dark precursor.

On the Concept of Creal: Ethical Promises of a non-Teleological Creative Universal

The French novel Paridaiza (De Miranda 2008a) describes a totalitarian digital duplication of our planet. A small group of rebels subverts the hedonistic-fascist system in which millions of players are imprisoned. The liberators implant a virus within the code of the immersive world in the form of a disruptive signifier. Five combined letters function as the grain of sand in the gears: “Créel,” a portmanteau for créé-réel, “created-real”—therefore “Creal” in English. In a simultaneous essay on Deleuze (De Miranda 2008b), republished in English (De Miranda 2013), the generic term “Creal” qualifies the kind of non-anthropocentric and non-teleological universal proposed by modern process ontologies: “Creal” designates what Deleuze and Guattari (1994) called the “chaosmos” or “plane of immanence,” what Bergson ([1911] 2007) called “duration,” “creative evolution,” or “life,” and what Whitehead ([1929] 1976) called “creativity process,” adding that “creativity is the universal of universals characterizing the ultimate fact.” Castoriadis (1986), faithful to the Pre-Socratic tradition, spoke of the dual unity of “Chaos/Cosmos” (and “Physis/Nomos”) in a two-sided cosmology.

The Creal is not teleological, as it tends to explode in all possible (and virtual) directions. The Creal might be historically post-anthropocentric (coming after Descartes and Hegel), yet it is ontologically pre-anthropocentric and constantly ante-historical (there is an analogy between the Creal and what science today calls dark energy). According to Creal ontologies, humans cannot be said to create fully: they edit, “institutionalise,” coordinate, direct, channel, co-realise, or shape a small portion of Creal. Creal is the dynamic differential core of the flesh of the world, “such stuff as dreams are made on” (Shakespeare, The Tempest 4.1). The less I act or control, the more I am creal—this was the main finding of the surrealists (Alquié 1965). As long as we posit an absolute that is defined as a non-Protagorean and non-teleological constant renewing, we become less inebriated with our overestimated human power to create.

This paper will show how most Creal-cosmologies tend to defend an “agonal” (or agonistic) conception of creation, at the risk of inoculating an essentialised notion of eternal struggle in their ontology. Henri Bergson ([1946] 1992) spoke of cosmic creation as an emotive machine that produces worlds and gods via a constant combat of spirit against matter; for him, the Creal is an “immense efflorescence of unpredictable novelty,” and the Real is the solidified and somewhat zombified side of life. Deleuze and Guattari (1987) spoke of “esprit de corps” as the spirit of seditious plural bodies that constantly decode the binary Real. A world is an agonistic compound of Creal and Real: it is a “creorder” (Nitzan and Bichler 2009).

Yet, precisely because of their intrinsic agonism, Creal-cosmologies contain a clear ethical promise. Here, the rationale shall be Lacanian, following a study (De Miranda 2007) of Lacan’s Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1997): to be sustainable a structure, an order, and a discourse all need a totemic absolute situated at the invisible core of the chain of signifiers. The invisible universal around which realities are constructed maintains their cohesion as an axis mundi. If we accept this to be true, we realise that postmodern attempts to construct durable worlds or communities without an explicit contractual absolute contain a formal fallacy and a political risk. It might be that the only way for polities to avoid the menace of totalitarianisms is to agree by a global social contract on an absolute that shall take the place of less plural and less democratic absolutes. I argue that, logically, creation is the only absolute that can constantly self-destroy and systematically recreate the respect for alterity. The Creal is an ethical absolute, not a scientific one. It can be understood as an open common ground to overcome the general devaluation of postmodernism, the over-evaluation of capital-humanism, and the menace of imperialistic state religions.

In De Miranda’s L’Art d’être libres au temps des automates (the art of freedom in the era of automatons) (2010), an essay on the philosophy of the digital, the term “ordination” defines the form of agency that humans can deploy to order and actualise a zone of Creal. The growing computational protocolisation of societies are not necessarily a threat, and we must continue to facilitate the self-empowerment of “people to come” with active digital literacy. Humans are “ropes over an abyss,” as Nietzsche (1974) said, bridges between Creal and coordinating machines. Our contemporary equivocal position in the middle of a chaotic universal, on one side, and an algorithmic universal, on the other, is our ethical chance: by identifying neither with the Creal nor with any ordered world, we maintain a position as arbitrators in agonal societies. To conclude, I shall propose that “agonistic pluralism,” a political theory inspired by Hannah Arendt ([1958] 1998), might be the most compatible with the Creal hypothesis. As Chantal Mouffe (2000) writes: “While we desire an end to conflict, if we want people to be free we must always allow for the possibility that conflict may appear and to provide an arena where differences can be confronted. The democratic process should supply that arena.” Perhaps, once we remember with Nietzsche, Lacan, Spinoza (Deleuze 1988), or Sade (Lacan 1989) that conflict is but the anthropocentric perceptive on the perpetual and multiple Creal becoming, we might become immature enough to abandon the paradigm of agony and replace it with a Heraclitean idea of childish creative play: “Eternity is a child playing, playing checkers. The kingdom belongs to a child” (Heraclitus quoted in Levenson and Westphal 1994). However, politics are not made by children …


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Arendt, Hannah. (1958) 1998. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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—. (1946) 1992. The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics. Translated by Mabelle L. Andison. New York: Citadel Press.

Castoriadis, Cornelius. 1986. Crossroads in the Labyrinth. Translated by Kate Soper and Martin H. Ryle. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1988. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. Translated by Robert Hurley. San Francisco, CA: City Light Books.

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

—. 1994. What Is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell. New York: Columbia University Press.

De Miranda, Luis. 2007. Peut-on jouir du Capitalisme? Lacan avec Heidegger et Marx. Paris: Punctum.

—. 2008a. Paridaiza. Paris: Plon.

—. 2008b. Une vie nouvelle est-elle possible? Deleuze et les lignes. Paris: Nous.

—. 2010. L’Art d’être libres au temps des automates. Paris: Max Milo.

—. 2013. “Is a New Life Possible? Deleuze and the Lines.” Deleuze Studies 7 (1): 106–52.

Lacan, Jacques. 1989. “Kant with Sade.” Translated by James Swenson. October 51, 55–104.

—. 1997. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1950–1960. Translated by Dennis Porter. London: Norton.

Levenson, Carl Avren, and Jonathan Westphal. 1994. Reality. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Mouffe, Chantal. 2000. The Democratic Paradox. London: Verso.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1974. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin.

Nitzan, Jonathan, and Shimshon Bichler. 2009. Capital as Power: A Study of Order and Creorder. New York: Routledge.

Whitehead, Alfred North. (1929) 1978. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. Edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. Corrected ed. New York: Free Press.