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Hamlet the difference machine.

Our task, lest the rest become statistics and a mere matter for computers, is the labor of difference. Hamlet, the failure, did not achieve it, this is his crime.

--Heiner Muller, "Shakespeare a Difference" (1)

As Heiner Muller declared in his 1988 presentation to the Weimar Shakespeare Festival, Hamlet (the eponymous dramatic character extracted from "his" play) is Shakespeare's emblematic failure, unable to break free of "all hitherto existing culture" (SD). Hamlet is emblematic of atemporal failure, which for Muller is the structural failure of both intellectual discourse and revolutionary change, his--Hamlet's and Muller's--discourse itself confessing its own failure to produce action. How must we see this ubiquitous disappointment, which must seem at first a curious, even impossible, criterion for failure, particularly in light of the fact that in "Shakespeare a Difference" Muller's exemplar of "success" is Hamlet's opposite, Caliban, referred to by Muller as "the new Shakespeare's reader?" But this Hamlet/Caliban dyad is itself unsettled since, as Caliban "reads" Shakespeare (presumably including Hamlet), "he" is also doomed to Hamlet's failure; clearly, Muller is concerned with cultural technics, the mechanisms by which the repetition compulsion of culture drives ahead, on the one hand suspended between Caliban and Hamlet, "beast and Overman," as for Zarathustra and his tightrope walker, and on the other situated between soma and tekhne, as we are generically for Deleuze and Guattari. (2) This is the core of Muller's astonishing distillation of Hamlet: in both guises, as Shakespeare's Hamlet and Muller's actor-Hamlet, theatrical exploration of the human dilemma consists of a "labor of difference" amounting to nothing less than the technical work of meaning-making as the ground of culture-formation. In Hamletmachine Muller attempts an amalgamation of the synchronic and diachronic critique of revolutionary cultural change; the play is the result, the condensed product, of this labor of difference, a difference-machine rotating around the circular question of the historical meaning and value of human action. Hamletmachine shows us a perpetual motion machine of eternal return, both in and out of time. His 1988 Weimar speech, "Shakespeare a Difference," provides an essential blueprint to Hamletmachine, Heiner Muller's masterpiece of condensation; I want to use that blueprint to explore Muller's Shakespeare-derived strategy of meaning-making in his constructing of the Hamletmachine: the play, Hamletmachine, is itself a technology, a skilled technological structure of fragmented references to other (literary and historical) machines such as the state and its apparatus, and the drama and its supporting technologies. Thus, Hamletmachine is also "the Hamletmachine."

In order to understand the nature of meaning-making in Hamlet-machine, we must return to the early modern worldview that so strongly influenced Heiner Muller when he first encountered Hamlet in his school library as a thirteen-year-old. Muller had what he calls an instinctive reaction to the play: "I suspected more than I understood; the leap drives experience, not the step" (SD). In this regard, Muller receives his inspiration from more than Hamlet itself; he reacts to Shakespeare's manifested conflict in Hamlet between "providence" and something that might be called "free will," as the play explores in each of its characters the dynamics of constructing a worldview. Indeed, for the eight central characters in Shakespeare's play this complex conflict leads to destruction, not construction) Hamlet is caught in a transition from a stultified, rigid medieval framework to a humanist one, with all the problematics of the corruption inherent in the latter as seen from the former. Claudius and Gertrude, in their violent subversion of medieval behavioral codes (regicide, but more importantly, the violent wresting of control over their autonomy relative to the power structure they murder along with Hamlet pere) are emblematic of the then-current threat to a rapidly disappearing feudal sense of the world and its proper order. For his part, Hamlet is emblematic of this transitional dynamic in his confusion regarding the question of order itself; in his early response to Gertrude--"Seems, madame? Nay it is. I know not 'seems"' (1.2.76) (4)--Hamlet addresses the nature of the disjointed reality in which he finds himself.

While on the one hand, human "providence" is indeed predetermined--it always results in death--on the other, Shakespeare indicates that the modes of operation one adopts (chooses) in response to this determinism are not fixed. In the theocentric medieval European worldview cosmic order is a function of the tautological approval and justification of, through, and by a god whose emanation consists of an ordered hierarchical "chain of being" unifying the cosmos in a vertical structure of correspondences. Disruption of that order--chaos--is not to be found in its Greek sense, "undifferentiated plenitude," rather lawless anarchy. If the time is out of joint for Hamlet, it is not simply because of his father's death but because of the chaos, the disorder implicit in Claudius's regicide and usurpation. (5) Because of the nature of correspondences, chaos in the earthly realm must mirror (or manifest) pre-godly chaos on a cosmic scale: Shakespeare's inspiration in and for Hamlet, the worldview he breathed in as part of his cultural milieu, was suspended between a medieval doctrinal model and the increasing emphasis on human agency, between godly perfection and human venality, order and chaos, acquiescence and resistance.

Although Shakespeare never uses the word "metaphysical" in Hamlet (only in Macbeth), its faceted dialectics are evident in the construction of each central character. Though Shakespeare was not a "transcendental thinker" as Michael Witmore, among others, suggests, (6) he was in fact suspended between the residue of spiritualism still extant around him and the materialism just emerging there. Thus, it is fittingly a specter, the emblem of the problematics of "being" and "seeming," as Derrida points out in Specters of Marx, (7) that catalyzes the action in Hamlet; the specter launches both the anamnesis and the destruction of control in the play's central figures. This is what Maher calls a "kairos moment" (8) that seen in simple dyadic terms is the struggle between the "mad power" of physis and technes inherent structural stability, but which, in fact, is more complex: in Hamlet Shakespeare disassembles reality at many levels and refabricates it through the eyes of each protagonist with full justification from that perspective. Further, each instance of this strategy involves not just dialectics--this or that--but multiplicity; that is to say, Shakespeare was not just a materialist nor just a Neoplatonist nor just a transcendental thinker, but all of these. As Witmore says, "distinctive forms of being fail to be bounded within the edges of a physical body, taking shape rather in an ensemble of actions," (9) indicating that for Shakespeare diverse factors and forces inhabit each character, and each is engaged in an ongoing struggle with that diversity. Nietzsche puts it even more strongly: "where the plant 'man' shows himself strongest one finds instincts that conflict powerfully (e.g., in Shakespeare)" (10) It is the energy of this conflict that interests Shakespeare in each of his plays but in Hamlet quintessentially. If the poet, actual and fictional, is enjoined to create a "nature" differing from that of the traditional world, the raw material of that creation is the diverse world itself, a world of drives and instincts. In this regard, Shakespeare manifests the disparate thinking of his time.

If Shakespeare takes a position in Hamlet regarding metaphysics it must be seen as a metaposition from which vantage point he then explores and critiques the subsets arrayed "below" it: Claudius (and Hamlet) interrogate conflicts related to nature and power, Gertrude to fidelity and maternity, Polonius to intellect, and so forth. Each of these inquiries is suspended between medieval spiritualism and what will become Baconian "naturalism," inquiries into discovery of the most general reasons or laws governing apparently natural events. This major shift in meaning-making, while seeing itself as a "rebirth"--a renaissance--was actually a roiling transitional period away from the doctrinaire and toward the eclectic, breaking down formerly rigid boundaries among the theological, the philosophical, and the political. As Leon Craig (following Allan Bloom and others) points out, (11) for Shakespeare the political and the philosophical are inseparable, given that those in power must frame their actions in terms of political philosophy in order to avoid "Machiavellianism"; in the Neoplatonist spirit in which Shakespeare frames such dilemmas, in Hamlet as much as in Claudius, for example, Craig shows how Shakespeare embeds ontological conundra within the political philosophy focused on the details of certain characters' diurnal experience, from which generalizations and conceptualizations are abstracted. Craig's "detective" strategy mirrors Shakespeare's, further reorienting the physical and metaphysical, the phenomenological and the theological worlds. The dialectic--which is not a Platonic dialogue--between a former Christian world and that of humanistic reflection is clear from the outset in Hamlet, as is clear in the exchange between Marcellus and Horatio in act 1, scene 2, well before Hamlet's entrance on the scene:
   Marcellus: Some say that ever, 'gainst that season comes
   Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
   The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
   And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
   The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
   No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
   So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
   Horatio: So have I heard and do in part believe it. (1.1.157-64)

Horatio "in part" "believes" in Marcellus's presentation of the world as he sees it: given Horatio's vital place at the end of Hamlet (and the renaissance of Hamlet), he must not believe it wholly, must face the future differently. Marcellus's Christian worldview frames the first sections of the play and persists in part to the very end, (12) though it is the character of Hamlet himself who registers the transition from cosmic certainty to cosmic doubt. This is the quintessential Elizabethan dilemma: the sensitive character finds himself suspended between Christian certainty and stoical doubt, which is but one degree removed from something like resignation or even nihilism. Despite the obsession throughout Hamlet with what happens to humans after death--a central Christian concern--by the end Hamlet no longer maintains any faith in an afterlife, let alone redemption or salvation.

I. Hamlet Fails

What, then, does this mean in terms of the construction of Hamlet as a prototype for Hamletmachine? The fact is that Hamlet fails to sustain a worldview that can clarify his own issues with (his) history or belief and certainly not with his "nature." These turn out to be the very terms that Muller's Hamlet/Actor borrows from Shakespeare's Hamlet. In becoming, during the course of the play, a secular humanist concerned with his ongoing narrative rather than a doctrinaire Christian concerned for his soul, Shakespeare's Hamlet shifts the meaning of death and of its relation to lived experience: "man" as Bertrand Russell points out regarding Hamlet, "is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving," (13) and for whom only a narrative trace remains to contradict any other nascent or extant philosophy. Hamlet's failure is not simply to step outside his Christian framework, but rather to step outside tragedy altogether. This is another vital element extracted by Muller from Shakespeare in the claim that the latter is a difference engine. Given the transductive nature of Hamlet's world, his avoidance of the tragic--his failure to be or to become a tragic "hero"--is at the core of Muller's declaration that Hamlet is "a miscarried play" (SD) whose strength, rather than weakness, is that the ostensible tragic collapses into irony. Hamlet is, finally, a puzzle, but not one devolving from any kind of grand, Aristotelian, tragic vista. Just as Aristotle's hamartia was Christianized into the famous "fatal flaw," which of course is always the sin of pride, so too Hamlet's hamartia is the much more accurate, genuinely Aristotelian "missing the mark" (the word comes from archery), being "off-target" or "misdirected." Hamlet's mistake is that he has a vague sense that the out-of-joint world can be "set right," and that he can do it. In fact, the world is right in being what it is in its nature (physis). Hamlet intuits that no grand Christian metanarrative of sin, guilt, and redemption is to be found, but that he is a player in a kind of cosmic joke:
The time is out of joint--/O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right! (1.5.188-89)

Even at this early juncture, immediately after his confrontation with the ghost, Hamlet does not invoke Christian imagery but rather the enigmatic notion of "cursed spite" as the cause of the uncanniness of the time. "Spite," derived in the fourteenth century from "despite" (i.e. "malice"), is in fact multiply curious as a causal factor in the disruption of Hamlet's world. On the one hand, the "spiteful," though malicious, petty, insignificant, and no more than irritating, is certainly not tragic; on the other, "spite" means "grudge," one step from Nietzsche's ressentiment, resentment mixed with gnawing envy. In this respect "spite" is indeed cursed, not least because Hamlet believes that he can "set it right" and "hit the mark" which, of course, he cannot. This is not merely a matter of the failure of will; the chaotic nature of nature itself, in this transformative moment, shifts tragedy into chiasmic irony. Faced with a world in which belief in the power of human beings to control that world dramatically confronts one apparently controlled by the forces of "nature" (very much including human nature), Shakespeare presents an irresolvable conundrum. Meaning is constructed within a specific contextual sense of his role in the world, not outside it: even life-or-death struggles are meaningless. The cursed spite that would rectify "time" by reversing or correcting its out-of-joint-ness involves much more than revenge for a murdered father and tainted mother (though Hamlet is a cornucopic version of a revenge play), more than responding to a grudge against or envious resentment for a murderous uncle; it is an impish tale of nature rediscovered in a deeply worrying form, freed of its long subjugation to Christian metaphysics. Time in Hamlet is "off the tracks," careening out of control across fatal events; human beings can be agents (unlike in Sophocles, for example), but not causal ones: in Hamlet's world events have contiguity without causality.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Hamlet's dilemma is his complex relationship with logocentrism. Language is everything to Hamlet. He introduces himself to the reader/viewer through puns and wordplay ("more than kin, less than kind"; "I am too much in the sun"; "I know not 'seems'" (1.2.65, 67, 76), (14) but even more importantly, his relationship to the veracity, or even the plausibility, of narrative itself oscillates during the course of the play. He believes and does not believe the ghost to be his father's, believes and does not believe the ghost's account, believes Claudius is genuinely praying when he is not, dismisses the words in the learned texts to which he has committed his life ("words, words, words"; 2.2.192), is amazed at the ability of the Player to orchestrate both language and emotion, spars with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern over the power to manipulate language and its place in human relations, lies to Ophelia ("I never gave you aught"; 3.1.113)--then casts his entire historical lot into the radical charge to Horatio:
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story. (5.2.335-38)

At his death Hamlet declares that his "story" is his legacy and his ongoing existence. Logocentrism is revealed as pharmacological in the sense in which Bernard Stiegler adapts it from Derrida (and from Plato): (15) it can be restorative and it can be poison. Hamlet wants--needs--to believe in the power of his story to "set it right" though the logon can never do so. In the play, Hamlet's story is always at play, missing the mark. Hamlet's failure is his trust in narrative to transmute itself into a metanarrative, a story, as a singular performative entity, when in fact it is chimerical, merely performance. Finally, it is indeed Horatio who will perform, summarily preparing to speak
   of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts;
   Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters;
   Of deaths put on by cunning and forc'd cause;
   And, in this upshot, purposes mistook
   Fall'n on th' inventors' heads. All this can I
   Truly deliver.

   Fortinbras: Let us haste to hear it,
   And call the noblest to the audience.
   For me, with sorrow I embrace my fortune.
   I have some rights of memory in this kingdom
   Which now, to claim my vantage doth invite me.

   Horatio: Of that I shall have also cause to speak,
   And from his mouth whose voice will draw on more.
   But let this same be presently perform'd,
   Even while men's minds are wild, lest more mischance
   On plots and errors happen. (5.2.398-413)

Horatio's is not only an account of bloody and unnatural acts (in fact, they are all-too-natural), but of succession itself. The "forc'd cause" to which he refers is the regicide of which, for better and for worse, both Claudius and Hamlet are "guilty"; both are caught in the story of kingship, divine right, and agency. The "forc'd cause" within which Horatio claims that Claudius acts is Hamlet's central theme as well, though he fails to realize it: his cause seems natural (articulated in a ghost story that he himself does not trust), but is in fact suspended between a narrative of nature and one of will. I have cited the entire final exchange between Horatio and Fortinbras in order to bring back to memory the "rights" Fortinbras claims there: rights of memory. His ascendancy in Denmark is itself a function of his story, of narrative memory as "forc'd cause." Horatio, for his turn, will speak with a trace of Hamlet's voice in order to "draw on more," to "fill in" the picture of the events leading to Hamlet's death and those of the many others littering the theatrical stage on which the remaining characters are speaking. This is not the stage to which Hamlet will be borne (and on which he will be reborn as the one "likely ... to have prov'd most royally"): Hamlet's story is already a function of multiple memories, misrememberings, and the forc'd causes of narrative itself. Horatio will certainly not "truly deliver" Hamlet's story.

II. Muller Fails

It is in this light that Heiner Muller takes up the Horatio-role of delivering--as though it were a distinct narrative, a kind of package--Hamlet's "true story"; this is, after all, Hamlet's injunction to Horatio. Like Shakespeare but with the advantage (or disadvantage) of the radical intervention of the political, philosophical, and linguistic evolutions on which he draws (e.g., "the long march through the Hells of the Enlightenment, through the blood-swamps of the ideologies" [SD]), Muller understands the ironic chiasms of Shakespeare's/Hamlet's/Horatio's narrative, (16) and indeed adopts this chiasmic irony in his own writerly life. In fact, Muller acted as his own Horatio, adopting numerous "carefully-constructed alter egos," (17) pseudonyms providing license for self-creation. Jonathan Kalb claims that Muller "has the dubious distinction of being the first artist of lasting significance to ground a historical identity and claim to originality specifically on dependence and indebtedness ... by 'weakness"':
   My concern is only with strong poets, major figures with the
   persistence to wrestle with their strong precursors, even to the
   death. Weaker talents idealize; figures of capable imagination
   appropriate for themselves. But nothing is got for nothing, and
   self-appropriation involves the immense anxieties of indebtedness,
   for what strong maker desires the realization that he has failed to
   create himself? (18)

The "anxieties of indebtedness," responses to Harold Bloom's anxiety of influence, result in Muller's fragmentary, highly allusive style in which Muller embeds numerous shards and echoes of previous "strong poets"; in the case of Hamletmachine these include (but are not limited to) the Bible, Buddha, T. S. Eliot, Thackeray, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, Lessing, Artaud, Brecht, Gertrude Stein, W. H. Auden, John Ford, Boris Pasternak, Beckett, Sartre, Dostoevsky, Andy Warhol, James Fennimore Cooper, Holderlin, Joseph Conrad, Randall Jarrell, Federico Garcia Lorca, Karl Marx, Ulrike Meinhof, Squeaky Fromme, Stalin, Honecker ... and numerous direct and indirect graftings from his own work (and it is Muller's own photographic image that is displayed and torn to bits onstage). When Muller says that in order to come to any understanding of, to be capable of any response to, history we must "dig up the dead again," (19) he is referring to those from whom he "borrows" in rather necrophiliac fashion (including himself), "occupying the corpus like a vampire ... in order to explode it from within." (20) This explosive bricolage reaches its concentrated apogee in Hamletmachine, which is a kind of pastiche or collage of other (and others') works that Muller regarded as stimuli for his own work rather than intellectual property. (21)

Clearly, in Hamletmachine Muller is interested in a very particular kind of meaning-making, based on quite radical and kaleidoscopic ideas of difference, diffusion, dissonance. In his review entitled "Cranking Up a Powerful Hamletmachine," Mel Gussow calls the play an explosion of "shell fragments fired into our collective psyche" that "deconstructs Shakespeare in order to contemplate and comprehend the disintegration of civilization." (22) If Hamlet can be seen as the failure of the intellect(ual), through a complex pacifism, to come down on one side or the other of a debate regarding legacy and power, Hamletmachine exposes "the intellectual in conflict with history," (23) and must be seen as the utter ruin of hierarchy and of history. All efforts to effect change fail, and we are left only with discourse, the turning wheel of stasis (like the turntable in Robert Wilson's famous production of the play) itself grinding finally to a halt like the wheels of Ophelia's wheelchair. (24) And if Hamlet has risen to mythic status in the last four hundred years, Hamletmachine critiques that very mythogenesis, as Muller himself proclaims with reference to Hamlet: "mythos is an aggregate, a machine, to which ever new and different machines can be connected. It transports energy, until its ever-increasing acceleration explodes the realm of culture" (SD) (25); for Heiner Muller, aggregation is the mechanics of dis-integration. In stating that "Shakespeare has no philosophy, no sense of history" (SD), he means both that Shakespeare's "Romans are from London" and that the Shakespearean mythic explodes time itself in what Muller refers to in "Shakespeare a Difference" as "the recurrence of the same" that, in Nietzsche as in Shakespeare, is "his sword-dance with ghosts from the future, from the silence of the academies to the red-hot high-wire [act] of history" (SD). The chiasmic references here, echoing other chiasmic juxtapositions ranging from Nietzsche's Zarathustra and his tightrope walker to Macbeth and Banquo's ghost to Marx's (and Derrida's) specter haunting Europe, all crossing and resonating with one another, provide a set of frontiers at which we can begin to assess Muller's difference-machine. (26) In the following, I will briefly glance at several of those difference-machines to try, through a kind of extension to triangulation, to locate Muller's need for and relation to them.

III. The Political Machine

[Hamlet,] a consciously, due to political grounds, confused and obscure text, begun in the reign of Elizabeth, completed after the seizure of power by the first Stuart.

--Heiner Muller, (SD)

Like its Elizabethan avatar Hamletmachine is divided into five "acts"; for Muller the play evolved from a desire to explore Hamlet and his story as a political one and to chart the differences in the "political grounds," separating it from the events in Budapest after the Revolution of 1956, which Muller saw as a watershed moment in the history of European communism. But Muller discovers that he has--that there is--nothing to be said, nowhere to go with the story. What, then, must be done? Muller's decision is to analyze that "nothing" is to be "done," in the form of spectrality. Both stories are haunted, he concludes: Hamlet by the results of regicide and their impact on the political order, Hamletmachine by the results of a failed socialist/communist revolution (the "ghost" communism, haunting nineteenth-century Europe, according to Marx). While in Hamlet the discourse of regicide and succession is interspersed with soul-searching monologues--the play is an alternation between "external" political forces and "internal" psychological ones--in Hamletmachine discourse in any public sphere, let alone any dialectic, does not take place. It is too late for that.

Muller's nine-page distillation of the Hamlet story consists of broken monologues, shards of texts floating by in the historico-political ether:
   The stove is smoking in quarrelsome October
   Cement in bloom walks through the slums (55)

The condensed heap of citations resulting in Hamletmachine is what is left to say about politics and myth in the aftermath of revolution. The shard at the opening of this section, in which Muller calls Hamlet a "confused and obscure text"(52), orients the power relations developed in Hamletmachine within the context of Carl Schmitt's assessment of Shakespeare's unfocused revenge play. Schmitt's political binary, "friend and enemy" which for Schmitt is the basis of all politics, is extended by Muller to the broader range of myth. (27) Schmitt claims that the danger of a pacific, "de-politicized" state is that even if it could be achieved it would be undesirable, since the reduction in political intensity endemic to a pacific state would produce meaninglessness, a world of overconsumption and political lassitude and mass media lobotomization. (28) "Politics" would become an extension of marketing, a perpetual and valueless search for shallow comforts and diversions. In Hamlet and Hecuba, (29) Schmitt critiques the problematics of this political lassitude.

Schmitt's is precisely the flaccid culture Muller is critiquing in Hamletmachine. The revolution has failed; all that is left of the "old" distinctions on which states, as political entities, are formed are fragmented images of a ghostly past, snapshots from an album of a former royal family, Hamlet's, as the "FAMILY ALBUM" opens on the tolling bells of the "state funeral," the obsequies for both Hamlet pere and the state itself. In fact, the family album of which the play's act I consists is closer to a Zapruder film of the state funeral, frame by frame, each a still life of another moment of the state's (Hamlet's, others in Shakespeare and in contemporary Europe's) demise, or the nightmare of a cultural channel-surfer:

The melange of Shakespeare (Hamlet, Richard III) and T. S. Eliot ("Ash Wednesday)" of German and English, in this multilayered pastiche, (30) sets the stage for the information barrage to come. Its politics, echoing the ghostly voices of Brecht and Schmitt (both haunted by Marx), turn toward Waker Benjamin's reading of Schmitt's reading of Hamlet; for Benjamin, Hamlet/hero is occluded behind and within spectacle. No matter how much Hamlet may "want" to be (or not to be) part of what he calls his "drama" as he repeatedly states in Part 4, he can never transcend the sense that he is no more than the tools by which that drama, the play of revolution and artistry, is constructed:
   My head is empty under the helmet, the stifled scream under the
   tracks. I am the typewriter. I tie the noose when the ringleaders
   are strung up, I pull the stool from under their feet, I break my
   own neck. I am my own prisoner. I feed my own data into the
   computers. My parts are the spittle and the spittoon the knife and
   the wound the fang and the throat the neck and the rope. I am the
   data bank.... Oozing wordslime [Wortschleim] in my soundproof
   blurb. (56)

Both revolutionary and artist fail, and continue to fail "better" as the section descends into shards of shards, as Carl Schmitt's worst fears are realized and myth turns into sacrificial/mechanical flesh: "Blood oozes from the refrigerator"(57). Hamlet/Actor betrays his vows of revenge as he "steps into the armor" at the conclusion of Part 4, capitulating to capitalism, that is, the "Ice Age,' his "final" confession, "I want to be a machine," turning him into the ghost of Andy Warhol's hypermediated automaton, (31) but nonetheless a desiring-machine.

IV. Desiring-Machine

The machine remains desire, an investment of desire whose history unfolds, by way of the primary repression and the return of the repressed, in the succession of states of paranoiac machines, miraculating machines, and celibate machines.

--Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (32)

The difference engine of unfolding anti-history toward which Muller directs us in Hamletmachine provides us with one of the play's central ideas: the complexity of difference itself. For the Deleuze of Difference and Repetition, difference identifies itself through "differentials" that, like Schmitt's idea of the political, carry difference to its limits, which occurs in what Hamlet calls "the pale cast of thought" in which action is "sicklied" and undermined (3.1.84). It is in thought that Deleuze sees the violence of innate differentiation, the fracturing of subjectivity. In Anti-Oedipus this fracturing is referred to as "desiring-production" a "universal primary production" (33) that is radically autonomous and creative. But desiring-machines are "binary machines" always coupled with other desiring-machines that, in their pre-subjectivity, naturally conjoin with other binaries; "identity" is the ironic code name for this infinity of differences: desiring-machines "constantly couple continuous flows and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented." (34) In Hamletmachine this phenomenon is more forceful and more difficult to see in Ophelia/Actor than in Hamlet/Actor. The first reaction to Hamlet's "let me eat your heart, Ophelia, which weeps my tears," at the conclusion of Part 1, is to see Ophelia as the "animal" one, flesh and blood, a subject. But before Ophelia can speak in Part 2--"I am Ophelia. The one the river could not hold"--Muller tells us that "her heart is a clock"; by the conclusion of the short scene she will "wrench the clock that was my heart out of my breast": she is clearly not playing the anticipated role. In fact, Ophelia's "heart" is a major presence in the play, itself an engine of difference between discourse and action: Ophelia's heart is a binary machine, natural and unnatural, a biological clock and the organless clock of a desiring-machine. Ophelia/Actor, like Hamlet/Actor, is what Deleuze and Guattari call the "body-without-organs," (35) that is, "desire; it is that which one desires and by which one desires.... Even when it falls into the void of too-sudden destratification, or into the proliferation of a cancerous stratum, it is still desire." (36) Defining the body-without-organs as a multiple productive-machine, Deleuze and Guattari provide an understanding of Hamletmachine that foregrounds a realm of interminable becoming "beyond" subjectivity but that can never be entirely separated from the systematicity in and through which it must be articulated, however strong that desire for escape might be. These are precisely Hamlet/Actor's and Ophelia/Woman's dilemmas. The body-without-organs echoes a Nietzschean sense of the body and of language (as articulation) in which all polarizations transmute into infinitely heterogeneous multiplicities. How straightforward Hamlet's desire for revenge appears in the face of Hamlet/Actor's and Ophelia/Actor's different desire which, unlike the desire defined by psychoanalysis, must focus on its object (and thereby make the desirer a subject), is indifferent, as Muller points out: "with my last play Hamletmachine ... [n]o substance for dialogue exists anymore because there is no more history." (37) As Muller clearly shows, the desiring-machine of cultural discourse, and of all the figures within it, is in a perpetual state of dissolution and dissemination. Deleuze and Guattari insist that "desiring-machines work only when they break down, and by continually breaking down." (38) Muller's desiring-machines, which are both the figures within Hamletmachine and the play itself, are "only reached starting from a certain threshold of dispersion that no longer permits either their imaginary identity or their structural unity to subsist"; (39) that "threshold of dispersion" introduces Part 5: "Fish, debris, dead bodies and limbs drift by" (58).

In terms of the problematics of meaning-making in a world Muller (like Warhol and Deleuze/Guattari) portrays as radically in-different, one more difference-engine must be mentioned here as "primary process" in Hamletmachine, whose title itself springs from an amalgamation of Warhol's technics, Deleuze/Guattari's desiring-machine, and Marcel Duchamp's Machines celibataires. (40) "Bachelor" or "celibate-machines" (we have already seen them referred to directly by Deleuze), which have become a quasi-genre of their own since being "invented" by Marcel Duchamp in 1913, pick up, ironically, on a long tradition of absurdist imagery salient to what will become Hamletmachine's central theme. Kafka's writing/killing machine in "The Penal Colony" and Raymond Roussel's "Locus Solus" are good examples of the machine celibataire. (41) The bachelor machine can be identified through certain repeated characteristics, as defined by Michel Carrouges:

1. Each bachelor machine is a system of images composed of two equal and equivalent groups, one sexual and one mechanical;

2. A bachelor machine is a fantastic image that transforms love into the mechanics of death.

3. The machine is impossible, useless, incomprehensible, delirious. (42)

Hamletmachine echoes each of these characteristics: two "equal and equivalent" discourses occur at a number of levels. The most obvious is the pseudo-characters, Hamlet and Ophelia, but as important is their mutual "internal" division between life/sexuality and death/machinics: their discourse itself is a desiring-machine, each in its own right and in their (non)dialogue. The bachelor machine is its own doppelganger, a doubled instance of difference. Just as Duchamp's "Large Glass," of which the bachelor machine is the lower portion, is a multilayered collation of shards, so Hamletmachine collects shards of texts from a wide variety of sources, juxtaposing them as hard-edged facets crossing languages--German and English--and literary genres: it is quite literally a "scrapbook" that "explodes the realm of culture" (SD). Ironically, this album is patently nonsystematic, its "equivalency" a mockery of balanced discourse. As a "fantastic image," Muller's bachelor machine both transcends and cancels the body: Hamletmachine opens with its own snapshot/epitaph ("I was Hamlet," [56]) (43) and consists thereafter of a seemingly endless heap of fractured images in which love and death mechanically shift from one to the other. Muller concludes "Shakespeare A Difference" with Caliban's "You taught me language, and my profit on 't / Is that I know how to curse" (1.2.363-64), perhaps the clearest line in Shakespeare of the useless: language allows for nothing more or less than an ability to rail against meaning; the language-machine, itself a bachelor machine of fantasy transformation, both invents and subverts the very meaning of meaning.

Insofar as Duchamp's bachelor machine served as a central inspiration for Muller, it seems to focus on the Hamlet-figure; however, clearly the Ophelia-figure dominates the play's dynamic confrontation of seeming and being: Hamlet was; Ophelia is ("I am Ophelia. The one the river didn't keep" (58). The impossible fantasy-machine of culture, in its timeless imagery, finds its double in Ophelia, the destroyer, and her declared rejection of the cultural homicide to which "the women of Europe" are subjected. But Ophelia, too, who could be the main character other than Hamlet, as Muller points out (51), is a desiring-machine, the everywoman who operates in the present tense, doing (verbal) violence to the oppression by which the Europe of men define her; yet, she is not only the one the river didn't keep but in the end herself "the petrification of a hope" (57): "Ophelia remains on stage, motionless in her white wrappings," (44) Ophelia, too, is subject to the suspended transformation of love into death, the impossible, useless, incomprehensible, delirious explosion of the psychopolitical. For Deleuze and Guattari, the bachelor machine "form[s] a new alliance between the desiring-machines and the body without organs," (45) but for Muller this alliance is always suspended. It is potentials-as-differences of the Duchampian body without organs that fascinate Deleuze and Muller; while for Duchamp the bachelor machine is an endless experiment with the myriad possibilities that the Hamlet/ Actor may embrace in his becoming-Hamlet, and the same is true for the Ophelia/Actor, the in-difference intruding entropically on the play as it spins on its (Nietzschean) axis, (46) circling around the fact of both infinite potentials and no choices whatsoever, is an impossible juxtaposition.

V. Impossible Theater-Space

Hamletmachine is not merely "postdramatic" theater; it is impossible theater, the res extensa of Nietzsche's eternal return, a circling dissemination flattening out entropically as text. Nietzsche's point of view regarding Hamlet "opened onto a divergence of series it affirms" (47); in Hamletmachine the splinters of countless events are juxtaposed with all others in "synthetic disjunction," (48) a difference-machine and the stasis of meaningless out-of-joint-ness. This binary is not only true of Hamletmachine's central theme but of the play itself. Hamletmachine is not "the undecidable"; it is rather "the impossible," a paradigmatic instance of what Blanchot calls "the writing of the disaster," (49) writing as the fall--the des-astres, falling down from "the stars," from order, conceptual perfectibility--the necessary failure of the desiring-machine to write itself. Thus, as Blanchot points out, "inspiration" and "desire" fall together. (50) What does this mean for Hamletmachine? I want to claim that it means an impossible reading and impossible theatricalization of a text that acts out Blanchot's "Noli me legere" (Do not read me). (51) Blanchot claims that
   A book, even a fragmentary one, has a center which attracts it.
   This center is not fixed, but is displaced by the pressure of the
   book.... Yet it is also a fixed center which, if it is genuine,
   displaces itself, while remaining the same and becoming always more
   central, more hidden, more uncertain and more imperious. (52)

This fixed/unfixed center, Blanchot goes on to claim, is the actual center of the book, the section in which he explores Orpheus's turn toward Eurydice, the moment in which she disappears. The "Orphic moment" is a cornucopic revolution, a "turning center" from which "the book" emanates. (53) This Blanchotian conceptualization lays out a powerful reading strategy for Hamletmachine. Though at first it seems that the play must be read sequentially in the customary way, its five sections (Hamlet, Ophelia, Hamlet/Ophelia, Hamlet, Ophelia) unfolding temporally in an asymmetrical format, what if we attempt to read the play (noli me legere!) spatially, as an exemplum of this Nietzschean/Blanchotian circularity? Seen as a Shakespearean difference--that is, read differently, as a necessary failure--the play opens out from its center, in both directions. It cannot be read. This is an essential part of Muller's "play" with and within the text: as is the case for Blanchot, and for Mallarme, Jarry, Borges, and others, the text itself defeats time by circling around it, subverting the linearity of standard reading. Hamletmachine intimately swirls about stories of coequal and intermingled figures not just of Hamlet and Ophelia but of Man and Woman. But with a difference: in its Blanchotian conception, Hamletmachine must be read outward from its center, from Part 3, "Scherzo," then (simultaneously) Parts 2 and 4, then Parts 1 and 5. The four paragraphic sections of "Scherzo" are read outward from their center, the empty space between Ophelia's "Do you want to eat my heart, Hamlet?" (55) and Hamlet's "I want to be a woman" (55). In this impossible reading (though ironically it would be possible to stage the play in this way, or to have it read aloud), "Scherzo" now the first scene, begins with "The university of the dead. Whispering and muttering" (55) and ends with "The breast cancer radiates like a sun" (55), which must also be read. This conception frames Hamletmachine as a pentych folding out from its central "panel." Were one able to read the play in this fashion one would first confront the coequal Ophelia/Hamlet (Part 3), then Ophelia (Part 2)/ Hamlet (Part 4), then Hamlet (Part 1)/Ophelia (Part 5). This "circular" or "centrifugal" reading would compound the hypermediated confusion of fragments and emphasize the chaotic nature of infinitely layered textuality. The read stage directions, made visual, would produce another layer of sensory overload. In fact, even read conventionally Hamletmachine finds its center point in the centrifugal force of "Scherzo": the tanzentod with which the movement (as it clearly wants to be called) begins is a preface to the play and its vectors as a whole. All the salient figures, ghostly and otherwise, gather here in the "lively" tarantella of death that frames the central theme of the life-death machine to which Muller (like Shakespeare) is pointing. If Hamlet is, in the end, a play about life and death in a world caught between Christianity and doubt, Hamletmachine--as evidenced in "Scherzo"--revolves about the life/death dance with no doubt whatsoever: in a machine-world both are meaningless without the mechanical narratives of revolution and genealogy that attempt to infuse them with dynamism while the machine continues to turn:
      The university of the dead. Whispering and muttering. From their
   gravestones (lecterns), the dead philosophers throw their books at
   Hamlet. Gallery (ballet) of the dead women.... Out of an upturned
   coffin, labeled HAMLET 1, step Claudius and Ophelia, the latter
   dressed and made up like a whore. Striptease by Ophelia. (54)

In this new Hamletmachine, Hamlet begins with the most dramatic "turn" possible: "I want to be a woman" (55), followed by a series of ekphrastic language snapshots in which his wish is fulfilled as he and Ophelia mutually change his gender; s/he simultaneously dances with Horatio the storyteller and his "DISASTERS IN THE SUN" (SD). But reading the play in this new order, this gender change is only the first of many unfoldings-out. From "I want to be a woman" the Hamlet/Actor proceeds directly (Part 4) to "I'm not Hamlet. I don't take part anymore. My words have nothing to tell me anymore. My thoughts suck the blood out of my images" (56). And read in this chiasmic way, out from the center, Hamletmachine can do what Hamlet cannot: it fails dis-astrously, continuously falls out with and back in on itself. (55)

This is Shakespeare's inspiration for Muller. If mythos (Greek for "plot") is "an aggregate, a machine," as Muller claims it is, then Hamletmachine is the perfect/imperfect perpetual-motion machine which, as a desiring-machine, attracts "ever new and different machines" (SD), and "the terror emanating from Shakespeare's reflections is the recurrence of the same," the "sword-dance with ghosts" as difference. That dis-aster amplified by Muller is the confession that in the age of "the new Shakespeare's reader" Caliban, meaning and meaning-making are revealed as that space between Hamlet and Ophelia, Orpheus and Eurydice, inspiration and desire.

Claire Trevor School of the Arts, University of California at Irvine


(1) Speech given at the Weimar Shakespeare Festival, 23 April 1988, trans. Dennis Redmond: henceforth SD. The text can be found at; it is published online without pagination.

(2) See Part 1, "The Desiring-Machines" in Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 1-50.

(3) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are included in this number since they are thematically central to the worldview-construction in which Hamlet struggles; their own choices lead to their destruction, as do the (other) protagonists'.

(4) All quotations from Hamlet are taken from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

(5) See E. M. W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Order (New York: Macmillan, 1946).

(6) Michael Witmore, Shakespearean Metaphysics (New York: Continuum, 2008), 124.

(7) Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1996), 6.

(8) Jimmy Maher, "Another Take on the 'Problem Play': Hamlet Read through the Lens of Greek Tragedy" (,n.d.)

(9) Witmore, 2.

(10) Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1968). Reference is to fragment number 507.

(11) Leon Craig, Of Philosophers and Kings: Political Philosophy in Shakespeare's Macbeth and King Lear (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003). Craig only indirectly addresses Hamlet: he does so frequently throughout Philosophers and Kings; the points Craig makes are entirely applicable--perhaps even more so--to Hamlet's dilemmas.

(12) As in Ophelia's "by Gis [Jesus] and by Saint Charity" (4.5.58) and in Hamlet's own "by Saint Patrick, but there is" (1.5.136), in the Claudius theme of sin, and in the ubiquitous thematic of the restless soul.

(13) Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917), 47.

(14) Each of these introductory comments has numerous overtones: "kin" is "less than" "kind" (by one "d"); Hamlet is akin to Claudius but not of his kind; the "sun" reminds us of Macbeth's "heat opressed brain'--and Hamlet is indeed "the sone," with all of the genealogical reverberations this reference floods into the play only to remain unresolved there; Hamlet claims that he "is" what he appears to be, not that he "seems" anything he "is not"--and yet he will spend most of the play feigning madness and simultaneously undergoing a fundamental change ("I know not 'seems"); as a difference-machine he has no access to it.

(15) See Bernard Stiegler, Ce qui fait que la vie vaut la peine detre vecue: De la pharmacologie (Paris: Flammarion, 2010), and Taking Care of Youth and the Generations, trans. Stephen Barker (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010).

(16) For a sense of Muller's relationship to self-narration and his role as self-performer, see the introduction to Jonathan Kalb's The Theater of Heiner Muller, "Muller as Muller" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 1-21.

(17) Ibid., 14.

(18) Ibid.

(19) Ibid., 15.

(20) Ibid.

(21) Muller was sued (or so he claimed) for plagiarizing the Hamletmachine text itself; various "true deliveries" of this story have circulated. Virtually any "fact" about Muller must be seen either as provisional or as both true and false.

(22) Mel Gussow, "Stage View: Cranking Up a Powerful Hamletmachine," New York Times, 25 May 1986.

(23) Heiner Muller, Hamletmachine and Other Texts for the Stage, trans. Carl Weber (New York: PAJ, 1984), 50. Subsequent parenthetical citations are from this translation.

(24) Our ironized cultural memory must here recall Hamm's final stasis, in his wheeled chair, at the end of Beckett's Endgame, written twenty years before Hamletmachine.

(25) Jose Enrique Macian (

(26) By this point it is clear that the "difference-machine" is really also a "differance-machine." In fact, as Giancarlo Siciliano points out, "all works of art are linked by constraints imposed by what Derrida calls 'artifactuality," the condition of information-deformation during its dissemination in mediatic space" ("Le theatre musical de Heiner Goebbels: Frayages vers une economie poetique au singulier pluriel (,n.p.). On the other hand, it is Muller who inspires the "spectro-poetic."

(27) Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, trans. Tracy B. Strong (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 27.

(28) Ibid.

(29) Schmitt published Hamlet or Hecuba: The Intrusion of the Time into the Play (New York: Telos, 2009), his foray into literary criticism, in the year of the Hungarian Revolution, 1956. Schmitt critiques Hamlet on the basis of its juxtaposition of myth and history, concentrating chiefly on Gertrude's "treacherous" breaking of taboos and on Hamlet as the ineffective revenge-taker. According to Schmitt, the synchronic nature of myth forms the basis for all diachronic historico-political forms. For Schmitt, all politics is built on vertical axes, while mythos is not. In "Shakespeare a Difference" Muller is simply citing Schmitt's central contention regarding Hamlet: that the "break-in of time into the play" introduces the violent discourse of politics into that of mythos which is, as Schmitt and Muller maintain, "an aggregate, a machine" (SD).

(30) "Family Album" itself consists of five "sub" albums: 1. "I was Hamlet"; 2. "I'M GOOD HAMLET"; 3. "Here comes the ghost who made me"; 4. "SHALL I"; 5. "Enters Horatio." Each of these contains numerous snapshots ("cels" if one follows the cinematic metaphor, "channels" if one prefers the televisual). In its own ways, each of the five sections of Hamletmachine is a distillation of the piece as a whole; the piece as a whole is a distillation of the mediated culture Carl Schmitt critiques: Hamletmachine is an exercise in imitative form.

(31) Andy Warhol, quoted in G. R. Swenson's "What is Pop Art?" (Art News 62, 26 November 1963), Warhol says that "the reason I'm painting this way is that I want to be a machine and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do." The Warholian art-machine destroys subjectivity entirely, has no "personality," no emotions; it is action itself. Warhol's studio, appropriately called "The Factory," was an industrial-production assembly line where silkscreens of extant images appropriated from mass media, not done by Warhol himself but by assistants-laborers, were transferred by a photomechanical process onto canvas with little or no manual interference. As Hamlet/Actor says at the conclusion of Part 4, "no pain no thoughts."

(32) Gilles Deleuze and Fe1ix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 2 vols., trans. Robert Urley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 1:38.

(33) Ibid., 5.

(34) Ibid.

(35) Ibid., 149.

(36) Gilles Deleuze and Fe1ix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 2 vols., trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 2:165.

(37) Kalb, 107.

(38) Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 8.

(39) Ibid., 322-23.

(40) Kalb, 107.

(41) See also the catalogue for the exposition "Les Machines Celibataires" at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1976,

(42) Ibid.

(43) In this regard, the theatrical is always an epitaph, as Roland Barthes points out in a series of parallels with Hamletmachine: "We know the original relation of the theater and the cult of the Dead: the first actors separated themselves from the community by playing the role of the Dead: to make oneself up was to designate oneself as a body simultaneously living and dead.... Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead" (Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography [New York: Hill and Wang, 1981], 32-33).

(44) When the Hamlet-figure utters this line in Part 4, he is referring to Stalin, the "man who made history, enlarged a hundred times." Thus the image of Stalin is laminated to Ophelia's theatrical image, her mummification--a literal petrification--dialectically "balancing" Hamlet's reference.

(45) Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 17. Deleuze then goes on: "the subject, which is produced as a mere residuum alongside the desiring machines, confuses himself with the bachelor machine, and thus the autoeroticism of the bachelor machine gives birth to the subject. The bachelor machine produces pure intensive qualities" (17).

(46) The Nietzschean connection, which runs beneath Muller's entire project in and beyond Hamletmachine, is nicely applied to Hamlet's treatment in both Deleuze and Derrida by Tamsin Lorraine in "Living A Time Out of Joint" in Between Deleuze and Derrida, ed. Paul Patton and Paul Protevi (New York: Continuum, 2003), 30-46.

(47) Ibid., 38

(48) Ibid., 41.

(49) Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995). Blanchot opens the book with "The disaster ruins everything, all the while leaving everything intact" (1). "The demand of the fragmentary," Blanchot asserts, "is exposure to these two kinds of risk: brevity does not satisfy it; in the margins or the background of a supposedly complete discourse, it reiterates this briefness in snatches and, in the mirage of the return, knows not whether it is not giving a new assurance to that which it extracts from certainty" (33-34). The mirage of the (eternal) return marks both Hamlet/Actor's and Ophelia/Actor's "final" moments.

(50) Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982).

(51) Ibid., 23-24.

(52) Ibid., epigraph.

(53) This theme in Blanchot is discussed extensively by Derrida and others, notably by Robert McGahey in The Orphic Moment: Shaman to Poet- Thinker in Plato, Nietzsche, and Mallarme (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994), 127-35.

(54) I have consulted both the Carl Weber (PAJ) and Marc yon Henning (Faber and Faber) translations of Hamletmachine, and the Dennis Redmond translation of "Shakespeare a Difference" (55).

(55) Read in this alternative structure, Hamletmachine offers a radical new way of seeing the Hamlet-esque relationship of being to seeming: no matter how one reads Muller's play, it cannot do more than seem.
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Date:Sep 22, 2012
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