Hans Bellmer and the Body without Organs

Gilles Deleuze defines the “Body without Organs” (BwO) as a de-organised body, in opposition with an organism, governed by thresholds of levels, by a rhythm that “plunges into chaos,” substituting temporality and diegesis. The BwO is an unformed matter, occupied and populated by intensities that circulate through it; the organs aren’t necessarily absent from the body, but they lose their predetermined functions, they become unstable, changing their position, their functions, and they “sprout everywhere.” I shall decline the Deleuzian concept of the BwO in order to apply it to the artistic works of the German artist Hans Bellmer. His surrealist hyper-sexualised dolls seem to proliferate organically as their body parts—such as legs, breasts, and joints—multiply frantically. For instance in Bellmer’s “Doll” (1934) one can observe that the ball-joints that hold the doll together are defunctionalised as the limbs that should be attached to the joints are absent. Yet, through those absent limbs the body reaches its end, while the roundness, fullness, and prominence transforms the joints into sexualised body parts. In other works, such as the  “Doll” (1935), the ball-joints form a conglomerate that engulfs the body and “sprouts” beyond its limits. Their defunctionalisation goes even further, as some of the smaller ball-joints are no longer attached to the doll, thus suggesting a continuous process of germination and re-organisation.

The substitution of organs and bodily functions can also be observed in the graphic sketches that Bellmer created to illustrate his small book Petite anatomie de l’image. The sex organ re-territorialises different parts of the body; it becomes a line of flight, a smooth space along which it can extend in any direction. In one of the sketches, one can distinguish that the trunk of a woman’s body becomes a phallic shape that protrudes from it and at the same time behaves as a part of it. In another, one can see the legs in the place of the arms, the space between them functioning both as an armpit and as the intimate area of the sex. These sketches account for the contamination of tissues, while Bellmer’s accompanying writing describes the migration of the bodily functions—the sense of smell relocates in the heel; sight is lost only to be exerted by the tip of the nose and through the left lobe of the ear.

Sue Taylor, in her book, Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety (2000), interprets his works from a psychoanalytical perspective, considering them as a manifestation of rebellion toward the father figure, consistent with the Oedipus complex. Taylor also details Bellmer’s occasional cross-dressing and identification with female sexuality in his writings as signs of castration anxiety and a homoerotic attachment to his father.

By addressing the problem of the BwO in Bellmer’s work, I shall attempt to deconstruct this psychoanalytical interpretation through schizoanalysis (a method Deleuze introduces in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia), in order to restore the artist’s heterogeneity rather than reduce it to the conflict with his father or the political regime that classified his works as decadent.


Taylor, Sue. 2000. Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.