Bellmer in Doll Space: A Note

Perversion defers all conceptual or affective satisfaction; proliferating desire in ways that cannot answer to any settled ecology or ethics. Hans Bellmer’s dolls afford a kind of plastic algorithm for this infinite potentiation  – in particular his celebrated second doll, equipped with its articulating ball joint. In one of the texts from his 1934 book The Doll (Die Puppe) Bellmer describes it as a ‘poetic stimulator’ that subtends antithetic ontological principles (Bellmer 2005, 60). It is inanimate yet given potential for mobility by the ball joints and, more, by the permutations and substitutions afforded by its articulation. The living death of the doll implies a virulent, recombinant afterlife.

bellmer doll 2

In disturbing the principle of life, the doll acquires a transverse cosmological dimension that cannot be reduced to its image or by the pornographic gaze it seems to enlist. For Bellmer, this is allegorized by the second doll’s ball joint. In a surrealist conceit, he argues that this reconciles the principles of concentric motion (since the joint’s inner ball moves around its centre) with eccentric motion, which may always be transferred from the outside, thereby causing it to orbit around an alien centre.

Desire and gaze are extroverted by death – pulled inside-out. Extroversion is illustrated in a later essay where he writes of a man who takes pornographic photos of his female lover, much as Bellmer did with his collaborator and partner, Unica Zurn. The lover comes to identify with her buttocks, deifying them such that, in fantasy, he becomes that fetishized body part (Monnet 2010, 289)

Eventually they resembled her fleeting facial expressions, the blind smile of the two enormous, rounded eyes of that face, which opened like two hemispheres over her rectum. His desire was concentrated solely on that point and he exchanged the male Self with the female Other in order to sodomise his Self in the Other (Bellmer 2005, 125).

As he writes in his essay on the ‘Physical unconscious’, this mutable sexual object ‘resembles a sentence that seems to invite us to dismantle it into its component letters, so that its true meanings may be revealed anew through an endless stream of anagrams’ (133).

Anagrammatic desire, then, is not given subjectively or in intuition. It implies a speculative non-phenomenology of the body that, as George Bataille suggests, is comprehended not in subjective fullness but in deformations, ruptures and collisions. The operational biomorph explicates a non-local potential without depth; revealed, if at all, in the swarming space of dolls.


Bellmer, Hans. 2005. The Doll, tr. Malcom Green. London: Atlas Press.

Monnet, L., 2010. ‘Anatomy of Permutational Desire: Perversion in Hans Bellmer and Oshii Mamoru’. Mechademia, 5(1), pp.285-309.




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