Towards a Cinema of Affects: A Manifesto, Part II – Characters, Objects, Plots, Settings
Multiple Iterations: A scene from David Cronenberg's 'Existenz' (1999).
What is the relation of film to our contemporary age? We live in a world today in which our affects, namely, our thoughts and emotions, whether caused from within our without, no longer correspond to the classical unities of the past. No longer do we feel like unified subjects, no longer do we chase unified objects, or act in unified plots or in unified settings. Rather, these are all shattered, and recomposed in new transvidual composites, the logics of which we are only beginning to understand. We need a cinema that can give use affects to match those we experience in our times, and to help us imagine film-worlds which can help point the way, which can help us orient in our actual life-worlds.
Science-fiction films, films of madness, amnesia, horror, dreams, drug-states, and time-travel, all these films have lead the way. They have given us the films that best capture the affective states relevant to our postmodern times. And yet, they so often seem to need to justify the structures whereby they produce these affects with tropes such as high-tech machines that allow time travel, or magical portals, or ‘it was just a dream’. These films have pushed the traditional plots to their breaking points, and yet, often feel the need to recapture what they have shown us within something that can reconnect with more traditional film-logics. But what if we made films that directly attempted to speak to the affects relevant to our age, without having to justify themselves via reasonings tied to the limitations of the ‘real world’? Or what if we at least gave ourselves the option?
A film-world does not need to follow the limitations of the world, and it can impact this world even if it does not share these limitations. The history of film is full of examples of powerful films that dispense with aspects of the real world. Why not aim to produce affects directly, and structure films around them, rather than only producing them openly when we can justify a link to ‘the real world’? The cinema of affects does not need to imagine it is inside the mind of a mad person to produce a cinema like madness, or to imagine there are time travel machines to produce a cinema like time-travel. For to live in the world today, to hope and dream and remember, is already a form of time travel, a form of madness, it feels like this, and we can think these sensations even without the scaffolding provided by plot devices like madness or time-travel machines. Which is not to denigrate such films, for they are those which speak to us now most powerfully. But we need to learn from these films, and not be limited by the aspects of them which are swiftly seeming out of sync with the needs of the times.
Some have decried the first stirrings of the cinema of affects, the loose character formations, dissociated settings, and plots ever more baroque, as precisely that which should be resisted. And yet often these films speak more truthfully to the needs of our age than those films of the so-called ‘real world.’ Isn’t film supposed to speak to the world we live in, rather that of the past?
Take a film such as Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000). Is not the short-term memory loss of the protagonist not an incredibly apt metaphor for what it feels like to live in our post-modern age? And yet, rather than decry the death of memory, we need to wonder, why might it not be possible to find a love, a poetry, within such a world. The protagonist in Memento learns in the end to gain agency over his seeming powerlessness, but does so in a brutal manner. But might it not also be possible to find a way to love in such a situation as well? Rather than yearn for the past, might it not be possible to wonder if there might not be room for new forms of goodness and love in such a world? And might not film be able to begin to show us how this could be possible?
Too long film has been held hostage by the notion of the character, and the main character, or protagonist, in particular. This is not to say that film does not often become more powerful when it is focused by means of a unifying perspective, a single film-consciousness that serves as a tour guide through the film-world being portrayed. Alternately, a few such perspectives, or a series thereof, may serve as a focusing device. However, these tropes should be seen as means, not ends in themselves.
While a unifying perspective of some sort is often helpful in promoting identifications of various sorts, and for unifying the filmic experience, it is important to keep in mind that these functions do not need to necessarily be anchored to a character that resembles a person in the so-called ‘real world’. Why does our protagonist always need to wear the same face? Be played by the same actor? Have the same voice? Use the same name? Live in the same house? Work at the same job? Have the same set of memories, or the same set of character traits or dispositions for dealing with the world?
A character in a film is not a person in real life. A character is a means for creating a unifying perspective in a film which can orient the viewer and potentially serve as a site for potential identifications of varying sorts. A character is a function, composed of a set of variables, such as a name, a face, a voice, a point of view, a set of actions, a set of memories, each of which can remain static or change over the course of a film. In traditional cinema, a unifying perspective is always tied to the same body, voice, set of dispositions, memories, etc. In the cinema of affects, however, these all may be varied, associated or dissociated, depending upon the film-world in question.
For example, imagine two characters lying in bed with each other, making love. When they cease, and begin to speak again, we realize that they have switched names. And as they rise from the bed, they put on each others clothes. They go to each others jobs, and seem to have switched roles in life. Why is this not a possibility for cinema? It speaks to us emotionally, and we can make sense of it intellectually in a wide variety of ways, even as we realize our world does not work like this. But this does not mean we cannot be powerfully transformed by having seen such a film.
The question shouldn’t be if it is realistic that people can switch like this, but rather, what it makes us think or feel, and how this resonates with aspects of the world beyond the film. So-called ‘realism,’ the ‘reality’ that resonates with a dominant image of the world, is only useful to film to the extent that it serves the production of affects. For the goal of cinema is not to reproduce the world, but to affect us. This has always been the case, and while the cinema of affects may choose at times to harmonize with dominant notions of ‘reality’ when it serves its needs, it also must free itself from thinking it must follow so-called realism simply because it must.
Otherwordly and semi-worldly art and theory have been incredibly powerful throughout history. The history of religions and ideologies, arts and philosophies, all this is evidence enough. Why should film do any less? No painting has ever been true, nor any novel or film. The desire to make film true is the only way to make it lie.
Likewise, the only way to make a true film today is to make it deviate from the traditional notion of the character. For example, so many of the powerful films produced today have characters which are multiple sides of the same character, shattered in fragments. A film like Death by Hanging (1967), by Nagisa Oshima, is a clear precursor of this notion. Oshima fragments the general psyche of the post-war Japanese nation into an ensemble cast so he can play the parts off each other. A character has amnesia, the others try to restore his memory by teaching him about his past, they enact it, but find they eventually need his help, the scene degrades into parody, others from outside are recruited, but then reenacting violence leads to real violence. The whole troupe shifts locations as if transported through space and time into the streets of Tokyo, onto the top of a building, then back indoors where they started. Some now see a murdered woman, others don’t, then some that didn’t originally see her begin to. She starts out as a victim of murder, but then she wakes up, and begins to call the protagonist brother, but why then does she act as if she wants to make out with him? If one tries to make sense of the film as one of madness, it is impossible to tell exactly who is mad, or perhaps if what we are seeing is some sort of collective, transindividual madness. But why then would they all have such an odd hallucination? And why do so many of them act so strangely, hyperbolically, as if parodying themselves?
Only as the fragmented shards of the Japanese national psyche dealing with the guilt and fear and recriminations and denail of the post-war period can the film begin to make sense. The film affects us powerfully, its statements sear our brains, its psychological probing calls postwar Japan to task to deal with its past, and yet, what we see cannot be unified with the so-called ‘reality’ of any individual character. For in fact, we are watching probably one of the earliest examples of a truly transindividual film. And no attempt is made to justify how it is that we are magically transported to different locations in space, whether this is reality or fantasy, or many other details whereby the film seems to deviate from so-called ‘reality.’ We never learn why the woman just appears inside the room with them after they first hurt her outside. And yet, the film is not in anyway incoherent. Rather, it follows an immanent logic so tight that it could not have been any other way. As transindividual fantasy, one which develops like an organism, the film is completely rigorous, and as such, it affects us’deeply.
How did we get here? Transvidual fantasy in Nagisa Oshima's 'Death by Hanging' (1967).
Such devices can be seen more frequently employed in contemporary film. For example, in David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), two sides of a character change places in the middle of the film, such that one side of the character goes to sleep in a jail cell one night, and the other wakes up in the same cell the next morning. This could subvert the film, for it breaks the link of identification that films usually establish between spectators and a protagonist. But Lynch makes it work, because his film coheres according to a structural logic of its own that allows us to link up patterns between the characters, to derive meanings from the repetitions, mirrorings, echoings. It is not that reality is dispensed with, but rather, there is simply another reality, one with another set of rules. Thus each side of the protagonist chases a separate side of his wife, such that the film has a logic of its own, if one different from so-called ‘reality.’ But one with rules, nevertheless, rules which reveal themselves slowly to us as the film progresses. It is these immanent rules which determine the structure of the film, not the needs of a character, or a stereotypical plot.
If Lost Highway is a binary film, Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) is, in some senses a supra-individual film, for all that we see in the film is a shard of the consciousness of the main-character. Entire characters may be figments of her imagination, or reworked warpings of the world around her, according to a logic which slowly reveals itself to us as the film progresses. At no point in the film can we be sure that what we see is unfiltered reality, there are only scenes which seem more or less real than others. Characters that don’t resemble each other at the start of the film slowly begin to resemble each other more as the film moves towards its primary climax.
Similarly, in David Cronenberg’s Spider (2002), one crucial character slowly shifts to look like another as the film progresses, and it is by means of this shift that crucial information is revealed. In a film such as Oldboy (2004) or Cut (2004, included on the omnibus releaseThree Extremes) by Park Chan-Wook, it is likely that the entire film-world is as if the dream of a character not depicted in these films, which yet needs to be postulated in order to unify the character fragments who compose the ‘characters’ of the film. If Mulholland Drive is a supra-individual film in which some notion of a world beyond creeps through, this possibility seems to vanish in Park’s films, and yet, these films retain their coherence because of the clarity of its mirrorings, plot-twists, and other structuring devices. While these may not be those of the so-called ‘real’ world, they increasingly feel more and more relevant as the world begins to look more and more like aspects of these films.
In another contemporary film such as Sion Sono’s Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005), two of the main characters are young girls who run away from home and begin to work for a firm that rents out actors to play family members for people with no families. Their father tries to find them, and comes to learn that they are now in this line of work, and that due to the dangerous nature of the people who run this organization, the only way to find a way to meet with them is to have a friend hire his daughters, and then show up in his place at the last minute. As his own daughters walk in, everyone pretends to stay in character, even as their real selves begin to leak through. When those who run the organization show up and try to break things up, things get bloody, and each person strains to play the role in the fiction they have created, and yet their original selves begin to merge with these characters, as well as their desire for new selves different from both of these. Without resorting to time-travel or amnesia, Sono has constructed a film in which there are multiple selves inside each self, fighting with each other, shattering the subject, even as these subjects are intertwined within group subjective dynamics. It becomes hard to tell individual from group subjects from parts of subjects. The film is incredibly powerful, and speaks to so many aspects of our times, such as the disintegration of the family, the attempt to develop new avatars, the need to find ways of connection in and despite our multiple selves. And it does so through and beyond traditional notions of character.
Some may say that such a film is terrible, for it destroys human subjectivity, reducing people to mere placeholders for emotions and thoughts and words which transect them. And yet, what if such a film is also exploring the potential for new forms of subjectivity? Might we simply be fearing change? Might there not be a way to make a film like Noriko’s Dinner Table, not themed around horror, but rather, around love?
Perhaps the start of such an endeavor can be seen in a film such as In Love (2001), by Patty Chang. In this short two-channel video installation, one channel has Chang and her mother, the other Chang and her father. Each pair eats a raw onion together, from two sides, eventually kissing deeply as they devour the final parts of the onion. Both video-loops are played backwards, however, so that the onion emerges from their kissing mouths slowly, via reconstruction. The faces move from pained unity and uneasy intimacy, eyes burning with tears, to much safer isolation. The installation is intimate and powerful, and expresses the shared love and pain of a family, each member of which eventually becomes as many sides two onions, two channels, one experience shattered in twos and threes. The installation is nevertheless, quite short. What would a longer, more complex film of this sort look like? And might it not be necessary to fully dispense with the dynamics of development which a narrative, fictional or real or in-between, might bring?
Transvidual Affect: Patty Chang's 'In Love' (2001).
None of these films dispense with all structure to their characters. But neither are they constrained by the rules which would apply to so-called ‘realist’ cinema. In the cinema of affects, there are always rules, but immanent ones, ones not imposed upon the film from without, but rather, which rise from within a film’s own structure. Some of these films may opt for more poetic, metaphorical, or intellectual linkages between aspects, while others opt for narratives, plots, developments, repetitions, mirrorings, similarities, etc. No matter what sort of unity a film opts form, we should judge a film not by its accordance with some pre-concieved notion of reality, but rather, what it makes us feel and think. Such is the criteria which governs decisions in a cinema of affects.
Cinema does not only have unifying perspectives. It also has entities, film-objects. These entities may be parts of unifying perspectives, or they may be relatively autonomous. Objects may be relatively inert, in which case, they are rarely distinct from settings, or they may be profound, filled with meaning, like HItchcock’s objects, spiritual objects, magical objects, desired objects. Characters desire objects, fight for objects, destroy objects and desire each other as objects. Objects may warp cinematic space, draw us to them, repel us, force actions on characters, create events. Objects are the exterior reflections of characters, and the concretization of the tensions in settings.
An actor picks up a knife, with intent to kill. The perspective that the character provides us with makes the act of picking up a knife feel real to us, and we can identify with his world by seeing through his eyes. The character is dynamic, the knife relatively passive, and yet it is also as if, in some sense, the knife transforms the actor, and a change comes over him.
Now, imagine the same scene, we see the actor, and then the camera closes in on the knife. But as the camera pulls back, we see that the actor has changed into a different actor now that the knife is in hand. Rather than assume that characters retain the same body over time, the knife has changed the body of the character, from a pre-murderer into a murderer. Why not express this change in this way? What prevent us from doing this? Ini the real world it is not possible to change body as one changes life-mode, but why constrain ourselves? Here the function of the character may include continuity of action, but not of body/actor.
Another possibility, often used in the films of Cronenberg, is to have an object slowly mutate from scene to scene, as if it were nearly alive or possessed by a force from beyond. Maya Deren presents perhaps one of the earliest examples of this by means of the mutation between knife, shard of mirror, and key in Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). We see something similar yet more nuanced happen in Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), as the protagonist’s gun-hand mutates each time we see it.
Things may not be what they seem: a labyrinthine play of mirrors provides structure to Christopher Nolan's 2006 film 'The Prestige.'
Such progressive mutation is part of the very fabric of the world in his later film Existenz. In Existenz (1999), there are multiple iterations of characters, scenes, actions, objects. This film as video-game about a video-game tracks the serial aspects of our contemporary world like few others. Here the video-game system which serves as the central conceit of the film serves as a device whereby to explore forms of fragmentation that speak to our contemporary life world. One could imagine such a film without the video-game device, and we should not think this would make the film better or worse, merely different. But we should also realize that if we extract the ways in which such a film deals with iteration as such, this becomes yet one more tool to be used in cinema, whether or not we justify by means of plots devices such as extremely powerful video-game consoles.
No longer should we have to ask whether or not a cinematic technique is allowed, but rather, what it produces. Why not have all the objects in a film evolve in this manner, or reflect aspects of the character? Why not change the objects in a film to reflect aspects of the action? We see some aspects of this in the manner in which directors since the begining of color film have coded some characters with a particular color of clothing, or matched the clothing of a character with that of an object in a room or aspect of a setting. Why not extract these tools and consider them all fair game? Whether or not we tie them to plot devices like time-travel or dreams is up to us, but we should acknowledge the power that mutating, multiple objects have on us today. In a time of iPhones and iPads, of objects that seem to feel and think, does it surprise us that our film-objects have become uncanny, multiple, powerful, labile?
One critic's depiction of the time loops that structure Shane Carruth's 2004 film 'Primer.'
A plot is a series of events, and events are transformations in situations. A film begins, and a situation is laid out for us, composed of parts like setting, character, desires, etc. Minor actions may occur, but an event transforms the balance of entities and forces in a film-situation. A character shifts from being good to bad, the world is rocked by an earthquake, a murder occurs, the situation changes. These are events, and we string them together into plots.
And yet, in postwar film, we see how plots may not only be linear, but rather, may be a crystal of event-parts. Time-travel films, films of madness, science-fiction, films of the amnesiac, these films scramble the linearity of traditional plots. An amnesiac exists with no past, then slowly begins to remember, just like in our postmodern age we are so overloaded with narratives and information it is as if history has disappeared. We constantly need to reconstruct it from fragments, like the amnesiac. And in a world in which the past seems mutable, and the future composed in relation to such a past, doesn’t time-travel speak to the way we feel living in the present, wondering how to change who we are so as to harmonize our now seemingly multiple pasts, presents, and futures?
By means of films of time-travel and amnesia, as well as films with similar temporal structures composed of loops and other figures beyond the straight line, we have staged what it feels like to live in our postmodern age. Seeing our uncanny double stealing our memories speaks to us more vividly, in the age of Facebook, than a cowboy shooting a bad-guy on a dusty plain. We need twisted plots in which we meet our own clones, and our clones are more real than we are, and then these clones produce clones which turn out to be amnesiacs. In a hall of mirrors, which Deleuze calls the crystal-image, before and after becomes relative, and time ceases to be linear, but is more like a knot, gem, or four dimensional sculpture.
Only these sorts of films feel real to us today. This is not to wish for simpler times, for even clones can fall in love, or have radical politics. Evolution does not go backwards, nor should it. Just as uni-cellular organisms learned to work together to produce more complex life forms, humans can work together to produce transvidual entities, like language, or Wikipedia. And increasingly, this is becoming the rule, transindividuality is a radical series of new potentials for our future, even if it can also go radically wrong. Like all futures, there is great potential for good or bad. And we must learn new forms of love and solidarity for fragmented times. We live in an age in which we are all time-travelers, schizos, amnesiacs, space-travellers, if metaphorically. The question is not about going back, but learning how to make the new world livable, ethical, and just.
For as the digital age has fragmented everything it has touched, unleashing potentials for radical good and bad, so cinema must respond by finding new languages of fragmentation which speak to the needs of the times. Why must a plot follow a main character? Why not follow instead the permutations of a unifying phrase? We long to see dynamics and change, this is how a plot hooks us, we learn a situation, then we become curious to see how it will develop its potential for change. But we need not follow the old plots based on traditional characters overcoming traditional obstacles.
The time-travel machine from 'Primer': Strands of time emerge in many directions, or, does the same device simply ingress in multiple moments in time?
Take once again a film such as Mullholland Drive. The pull of curiosity that keeps us glued to this film is not the overcoming of some pre-established obstacle, but rather, to learn how the film will eventually cohere from the set of fragments which have been presented to us. What a better way to hook to the desire of a spectator to a film? Curiosity about the structure can supplant the traditional form of narrative plot. And just because the characters blur and fade into each other doesn’t mean we don’t care about them. The scene in the middle of the film, in which the singer on the stage collapses, is one of the most powerful in the film, and yet, we see this character for only this scene. We need to understand the power which such suspended moments, outside linear plot, can present to us.
A film is nothing more than a collection of film-elements composed so as to create a whole. Film-elements unify to form film-situations, and these are modified by film-events which link up to form film-plots. But these plots need not be linear, they can be looped and twisted via strands of time, moving forwards or backwards or something more or in-between, creating spatio-temporal short circuits in a wide variety of ways, blasting events open as they are criss-crossed multiple times by plot lines and become multiple. And as characters, objects, and settings multiply and mirror each other, short-circuits are produced, in which the very continuity of any object, character, or setting can be seen as a repetition laden with difference in a film which is fundamentally crystalline, providing multiple pathways in time, of which linearity is only one option amongst many.
Or perhaps we could even say that the same entities, objects, time-travelers and time-travel machines, perhaps stand still, and ingress in multiple moments of time, dipping into multiple strands of time like one would dip a toe into a stream? Might repetition from one perspective be multiplication from another? Many scientists have argued that perhaps there is only one photon, one light particle, in the universe, which simply bounces between many moments of spacetime. Why should film not be as strange as our realities?
And even as objects, characters, and settings may repeat, why not even events, with or without a justificatory device such as time travel? Bergman first did this in Persona (1966), when we see the same discussion from two different perspectives. In ‘the real world’ this cannot happen, but in the film world it not only can happen, but in this film, it must happen, for we see the conversation from two different sides, the two sides whose uneasy difference-in-sameness, sameness-in-difference, is precisely that which is investigated by the film. And in Bergman’s film, we are never quite sure at which point the film actually veers off into memory, fantasy, or dream, for in fact, the point of departure is multiple. The film does not suffer from this, but rather, is infinitely stronger. For this very multiplicity is precisely the film-world which Bergman wishes to create, and which gives the film its power, that speaks to the increasingly multiply fantasmatic nature of our times. Our lack of ability to pin-point, as viewers, the boundaries between dream, fantasy, and reality in this film, all this mirrors the inability of these characters to distinguish themselves from each other. The film is a complete, interdependent gesture, and yet, it moves beyond the limitations of traditional film. Persona is a clear precursor to a contemporary cinema of affects.
Or, take a film in which there are even three takes on an event. Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) presents us with three takes on the same incompossible set of events. Unlike Persona, we cannot simply see the film as two views of the same events, for these events cannot exist in the same world together. For Deleuze, a film like this is one of the earliest examples in film of what he calls the powers of the false. And beyond this, we can even imagine a film which is little more than a series of modifications of the same event (ie: the interruption of dinner, in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie, 1972), such as we see in many of Bunuels later films.
Are these films any less powerful for being tangential to the so-called real world? For what could be more true to the reality of the period right after WWII than people who had seen the same reality, but seem to have read its meaning so radically differently? Rashomon expresses the disjuncture within reality that was part of the post-WWII age. And what expresses the futility of routine in the age of industrial capitalism, with its creepy mechanizations, better than Bunuel’s absurd comedies? Life under mechanization is like a dinner party that can never come to fruition, even as it repeats its failure once and again. Comparing industrial production to dinner, this is metaphor, the very stuff of artistic creation. It is what transforms the world into film-world, and creates affects. Of course, Bunuel’s film may be about much more than dinner, or industry, and here we see the polyvalent capacities of metaphor. But either way, we see how a plot can be non-linear yet potentially speak more powerfully to us than linear plots could.
Or take a more contemporary film, such as Sean Caruth’s time-travel film Primer (2004). As multiple characters start to travel backwards in time, producing a doubles of themselves each time, the world begins to proliferate with doubles which emerge from the future, with knowoledge of what is to come, trying to change the past. In an age in which we can see copies of ourselves recorded on digital film or video from so many different points in our lives, always looking different than we remember, might this film be more real than ‘reality’? And yet, this film is ultimately about more than just time travel, for it pursues the dissolution of trust between the protagonists in and through the use of time-travel, a world like the multiplicitous world of the present, in which selves multiply faster than we can keep track.
We see a related trope in The Prestige (2006), Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending film which may or may not involve a machine that makes copies of people, or people who simply learn very skillfully to disguise themselves as one another. Which is it? The film pushes indeterminacy to the limit, as doubles proliferate. Pairs, series, lines, solids of reflections and refractions.
But is this not closer to what it feels like to be alive today? For are there not so many people like us in the world, our doubles and triples? Variations on a series of themes? Might it not be possible to find someone else with nearly the same Facebook profile as you, who likes the same music, the same books, the same politics? The world multiplies permutations on a series of themes. And in today’s multi-mediascape, might we not encounter our doubles or triples at some point? Can we trust them? And can my favorite novels trust the favorite movies of my close friend that I’ve known for years?
Even clones can have trouble recognizing themselves: three faces of the same, Sam Rockwell in Duncan Jones' 2010 film 'Moon.'
Or take a film like Moon (2009), by Duncan Jones. This film is able to produce intense feelings between two characters who slowly come to realize they are each other’s clones. The plot of the film is wound around a repeating cycle of birth and death lived by new clones in succession, until two of the clones accidentally end up in the same place at the same time, figure out that despite the changes one has gone through that they are ultimately multiple iterations of the same person, such that one of them then tries to get out of this loop. What type of plot could be more real than this in today’s postmodern times?
Such a film is more truthful, more real, than anything contrived plot of a film up for an Oscar this year, a film with a plot just like the others. Such films are the real clones, zombies that drain our potential for what’s realer than real. As Slavoj Zizek has argued, what is truly real is the fantasies which determine the ways we imagine our relation to the world. On such a level, films like Moon or Primer are infinitely more real than a film like The King’s Speech (2010). Such films pretend to depict so-called ‘reality’, and yet what they really depict is tired old genre conventions repackaged in new clothes. And yet, if reality is not these genre conventions, and never was, why do we cling to them so strongly? These are yesterday’s fantasies, we need those which speak today. While nostalgia has it’s place, if we want to understand the future and present, we need more films like Primer and Moon, not The King’s Speech.
To the cinema of affects, therefore, rather than ask whether or not the plot of a film is realistic, we should ask, what affects does it send into the world? How does a film make us feel, make us think? We do not need to have easy answers for these questions. But a good film will make us feel and think much, and we limit ourselves unnecessarily by relying upon the outdated unities of character, plot, object and setting to do this.
Some films may continue to use devices such as cloning and time-travel, and be strong because of this, but some films may eventually dispense with these devices completely. Either way, so long as the film is structured around the affects it creates, rather than correspondence with outside criteria, it is an example of the cinema of affects.
The zone: a world radically remade, from Tarkovsky's 'Stalker' (1979).
What is a setting in a film? A background upon which unifying perspectives and functions and events and plots intertwine and unfold. Why does a character have to open a door and end up in the next room? Film has freed us from this need. Why not end up in the same room as one started in? Or in a forest? Just as we need to realize that plot and character are artificial unities when it comes to film, so it is with setting. Why does the same room need to always have the same furniture? Why not change it to fit the mood of the scene or the characters?
This is not to say such shifts are necessary. But they are possible, and whether or not we develop a plot device to justify such shifts (the character is insane, the character is dreaming) is up to us. A film which uses such shifts continually may be called magical realist or dreamlike, a film which never uses them may be called traditional, and those in between, that use such shifts highly selectively and in relation to highly constrained criteria might be called fantastic (ie: a quantum fluctuation machine creates transportation between locations, but only the machine is able to do this). These three forms are all modalities of filmic creation. For a cinema of affects, these are all tools in the toolbox, tools which may be used depending upon their ability to create affects.
Of these, films of the fantastic, ones which take aspects of the dominant so-called ‘reality’ and warp them or modify them in various ways have perhaps the greatest potential for the cinema of affects. For example, in a film like Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), we see an ordinary industrial wasteland transformed into an alien landscape, simply by means of camera angles, and the strange tale told by the character known as the Stalker. His belief is transferred to the other characters, so that it becomes difficult to tell whether this strange landscape truly has powers in the film-world, whether there is a mass dream or hallucination of sorts, or whether the Stalker is able to influence the minds of the others by the sheer power of his belief. Either way, the setting feels completely. A set of weeds become incredibly dangerous, full of hidden powers, such that rituals are needed to cross them without disaster occuring. An ordinary doorway in a room in an abandoned building becomes the site for the deepest wishes and fears of the main characters to come true.
Or take a film like Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), in which one can open a door and see a forbidden sexual act from the past. Such a spatialization of time transforms setting as much as it transforms plot. For example, as Deleuze has argued, we see such a device employed in Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (1961), in which the multi-doored hotel room spatializes time, each room holding what Deleuze calls separate ‘sheets of the past,’ even as the characters seem to jump between points of the present which never seem to line up with each other into a coherent flow.
When setting is loosed from the stabilities of the so-called ‘real world’, vision is liberated with it. The cinema of affects shatters the world to bits. And so it aims to suspend us before what it presents to us, to suspend its viewers judgment, so that they cannot know upon first viewing what it is they see and hear. In so many films by Tarkovsky, for example, we only learn what it is we see early on in the film once we have gotten to the end, for it is only at the end of his films that we begin to understand the lenses through which we are supposed to understand the opening segments of his films. And thus, we find that while we see and hear in the early parts of his films, he teaches us what it is to see without seeing, hear without hearing, or rather, to see and hear without knowing WHAT one sees or hears. Where does one divide between parts and wholes, foregrounds and backgrounds? Which aspects will be significant later? Nature in Tarkovsky’s films seems to pulse with hidden powers, powers to give birth to the racically new, and unleash within us a second sight, a multiple-sight of radical becoming. Tarkovsky is the prophet of a radically secular religiousity of the visible world. More than anyother filmmaker, Tarkovsky has taught us how to see differently, and most powerfully, to see nature differently. Never has an earthly landscape seemed more alien than that depicted in the opening scenes of Solaris (1972). And after the first viewing, never has nature seemed to be more than it was, a vision beyond vision, a vision made radically multiple, its productivity lurking between the strands of reeds, blades of grass, a holiness beyond any religion, a holiness of this world. Tarkovsky releases more than any other filmmaker the power of the film-world to transform everything. His settings are allegories for the radical power of film.
A cinema of affects must learn from this, it must seeks to suspend knowledge for potential, to show viewers the potential for worldmaking within each and every shot, within ever bit of sound and vision. As Tarkovsky has said, we must feel the pulsing of time in every shot, and if we read this through Deleuze, we can say that we need to be able to see the power of pure difference within each shot, for difference and becoming (not to be confused with more tame forms of time) are two sides of the same. Tarkovsky presents us with a pedagogy and a prophecy in his films, in which each aspect of each image has the potential to give birth to film-aspects and film-worlds to come.
So it often is with the films of Lynch. Time invades the very atoms on the screen, for you never know where it will make a cut in reality from the future, which aspects will become meaningful in retrospect, often not due to one reversal, but perhaps many. Or what of Memento, in which every ten minutes our relation to the past reworks? Or a film like Nolan’s The Prestige (2006), in which there are so many plot reversals, that each time we thought we understood how to read the past, things are once again reshuffled, until we learn to navigate the plot, as well as the relations between objects and characters, in a mode of radical suspension which opens us onto the power of a radical futurity in the present. All of these powers of film need to serve as raw materials for a cinema of affects.
Towards a Cinema of Affects: A Manifesto, Part I – From Film-World to Film-Art
A scene from Tarkovsky's 'Mirror,' (1975).
The use of audio and visual stimulation to impact, or affect, spectators/participants indicates one of the most powerful media formations of our era. Cinema, or film, is one of the primary ways in which this is done.
Film creates film-impacts, or film-affects, in spectators. Film-affects come in two forms, namely, film-thoughts, and film-emotions. Film-thoughts and film-emotions occur when the images and sounds in a film impact spectators in particular ways. Film-affects are always in-between, they are born of the intertwining of images and sounds and spectators. Film-affects describe the emotions and thoughts which occur when spectators and film interact in the act of spectatorship.
For too long cinema has treated the traditional means whereby film-affects have been produced as ends in themselves. These means, of which characters, objects, plot, and setting are the most important, have dominated the production of most film in our century. Thus, it is often assumed by many that for a film to affect spectators, it needs a main character, a stable plot, and solid objects and settings.
Avant-garde film, of course, does away with these means completely. And yet, avant-garde film, which often produces a pure cinema of the eye and ear, divorced from character, objects, plots, and setting, is often marginalized for being too abstract. Avant-garde films are often, though not exclusively, short, and generally have small audiences. And by dispensing completely with character, objects, plot, and setting, avant-garde film dispenses with incredibly powerful means for creating affects.
What if there were a middle path? If film is constructed so as to emphasize the construction of affects, it could hardly dispense with the four means described above. But it would not be bound to these tools as ends in themselves, but view them merely as means towards the ends of the production of film-affects. Rather than constants, character, objects, plots, and settings can function as variables, each composed of sub-variables. Such a middle path could be called then a cinema of affects.
A cinema of affects would neither allow itself to be dominated by character, plot, objects or setting, nor would it dispense with these notions. Rather, it’s goal would be the production of affects, namely, thoughts and emotions, in spectators. Characters, plots, objects, and settings may serve to assist this end, but they are ultimately secondary to the affective complex which the film works to articulate.
In what follows, the outline of a cinema of affects will be articulated. Before getting to the specifics, namely, the issues of characters, plots, objects, and settings, however, we will describe the larger frame, namely, the theory of film which is presupposed by the call for a cinema of affects. Thus, we will describe what, from the perspective of the cinema of affects, is the relation between film and world, film and art, and film and contemporary times.
What is the purpose of a cinema of affects? Each film that is produced takes the world around us and fragments it, warps these fragments, and then recomposes them into a new, synthetic aggregate. Rather than an image of the world, film presents us with a film-world. The film-world is the world as it appears in a particular film. That is, a film-world is the aggregate of the fragmentations, warpings, and recompositions of the world in a film.
Each film world is an abstraction of the world in which it is produced. As such, it can be thought of as a transformation, a process, which is enacted upon the world at a given location in time and space to create a given film-world. This process of transformation, composed of fragmentation, warping, and recombination, can be thought of as a lens, or film-lens, that transforms the world into film-world by means of the process of flimmaking. Such a transformative process is composed of many sub-processes. Thus, there is a film-lens specific to a given film, which is little more than the the complex aggregate of the film-lenses of each of its aspects, each of which is a transformed part of part of the world into film-world.
Film-worlds present us new worlds which are possible sub-worlds of the world we live in. As abstractions, and static ones at that (for film is not a continuous flow in the manner of television, nor interactive in the manner of the internet or video games), film-worlds present us with finite productions. In the process, they give us views on to new ways in which the world can be. As temporary abstractions, they present models, which can impact the ways in which we dynamically abstract aspects of the world in order to interact with it on a daily basis.
As such, films can teach us how to view the world with new lenses, film-lenses. While a film directly presents us with the film-world of its creation, it indirectly presents us the film-lenses which make this film-world possible. These film-lenses are transformations, processes, which can be applied to new material in the world beyond the film.
In this manner, film can teach us how to see the world with new eyes. For each film-world is a possible world constructed from the world beyond film. And each film-lens that creates a given film-aspect can then be applied elsewhere, to the world beyond the film. Film gives us new eyes and ears, it teaches us again to hear and see.
Many film-lenses cannot be directly transferred to the world beyond film. In films, we see people cast spells, dive into portals between worlds, and do many other things which are difficult to directly integrate into our everyday life-worlds. But films that break with so-called ‘reality’ can still affect us powerfully.
These film-affects, which are emotions and thoughts produced by films, can lead to modifications in our world-lenses, that is, the lenses whereby we fragment, warp, and reconstruct the world into our own life-worlds, the worlds of our daily experiences. For each of us lives in a life-world which is to the world itself just as film is to this world. We are all filming, in a sense, if differently from the camera, simply to live our daily lives.We all fragment, warp, and recombine aspects of the world simply to live in it. Film is therefore analogous to life, parallel to it. In some senses it can be thought of as another life, and one which can affect us deeply. And just as life exceeds film, so film exceeds life, for the camera has potentials which exceed that of our bodies, just as our bodies have potential which exceed that of the camera.
There are many ways in which film-affects may impact the way we lens the world around us. Films may affect the construction of our life-world directly, in that we may integrate aspects of film-lenses with our world-lenses, such that we see the world partially in a way that was revealed to us by film. This occurs when film-affects impact us deeply, we absorb aspects of film-lenses, and then fragment, warp, and recombine them with aspects of our current world-lenses.
However, it is also possible for film-affects themselves to make us modify our own world-lenses without the absorption of film-lenses from the film. In such a case, the emotion or thoughts produced by a film lead us to alter our film-lenses on our own, without a process of absorption of the film lenses. Often a film will present us with film aspects which violate the norms of so-called ‘reality’, but which nevertheless may affect us powerfully. Such films can alter our world-lenses in a variety of ways.
For example, dream and fantasy are powerful tools which can impact the ways people see the world in a wide variety of ways. Dream and fantasy can teach us new ways to desire, remember, hope, fear, think. Films can make us want to change the world or ourselves to be more or less like aspects of the film-world. It would be a mistake to throw away any aspect of the tools of world-creation which film presents to us. For by means of film, we imagine new possible ways of seeing, hearing, and doing in the world.
A cinema of affects would use all the tools at its disposal to create powerful film-affects. It must not be dominated by the tropes of so-called ‘reality,’ for this would be to abdicate the power of cinema to create new worlds, rather than simply reproduce old ones. Nevertheless, a cinema of affects must also realize that to completely dispense with forms which have dominated the past is also an abdication of the clear power such forms have had.
In between these poles, a cinema of affects would look to maximize the power of its affects to create powerful film-worlds, and therefore, it will use any and all tools at its disposal towards this end. For cinema is one of the most powerful ways to make the world new, and to make sure that the past does not dominate the present and future, but merely serves as a foundation upon which change can occur. When film does this, it works hand in hand with the larger goal of a democratization and constant renewal of the world.
Each film-world is a perspective on the world. These perspectives function as ideals, for they are abstracted and separated from the flux of life. These ideals re-enter the world of change and flux, however, when they affect us.
Abstraction, separation, and ideality are both gains and losses for film. As that which is abstract and ideal, film has the possibility of presenting forms of wholeness and completion, harmony and beauty, or even dissolution and debasement, beyond what we see in the physical world. For the physical world needs to harmonize a great deal of elements, while the film-world only needs to harmonize those aspects it selects from the world. This is why film can provoke such strong affects in us, such as wonder or disgust. Film inspires us to see the world anew, and yet, it always presents an abstract ideal. When this abstract ideal is beautiful, even if because of the harmony of its forms of putresence, we call it art.
Film-art, as with all art, may impact us either because it is well crafted, or beautiful, because it is powerful, or sublime, or thought-provoking, or intelligent. Each of these may create strong emotions and/or thoughts in us, namely, film-affects, which may lead to a wide variety of potential actions. The result is world-poetry and world-prose with potentially wide ranging affects beyond film itself.
We cannot know, as filmmakers, the extent to which the affects a film creates in us will be those it creates in others. The most we can hope for is resonance. And yet, because so many of us were formed under similar conditions, there is much in common between us, despite our myriad differences. The most we can do is form film-worlds that affect us, and which we believe will affect others similarly.
Film-art production is a form of self-therapy. It is a way to envisage forms of harmony between our continually shifting pasts and potential futures and our perpetually disjunctive present. What functions for filmmakers as self-therapy may also become other-therapy. This is the hope of towards which all filmmakers strive, namely, that their own forms of artistic production can help not only themselves harmonize with their worlds, but others as well. And we need not think of the production of harmonization with our world as passive. To harmonize with one’s world is in fact to necessarily be active, to mutate that world as it mutates you.
Filmmaking, the production of film-art, can be a large part of this. Thus we make film-affects, and aim to make more powerful film-affects, so as to more powerfully sculpt our relations with our world, to harmonize with its greatest circuits. For the more a film harmonizes with the world, the more it furthers the project of a deep sync with what is. Such a notion of sync would be far beyond adaptation, for it would be a transvidual world-becoming.
Film-art is a part of the world envisioning itself, in and through us. The more powerfully we create, the more our film has resonances beyond ourselves, resonances with the deep structure of what is. That is, the more a film resonates with the deep structure of the world, the more it is affected by the world through its creators, and therefore, the more it has the power to affect more than just the filmmaker, but also the world around it. And thus, the filmmakers must be able to be powerfully affected by the world, so as to powerfully affect it in turn. Filmmakers can become lenses themselves, part of the world’s own perpetual re-envisioning.
And our world is changing. Most recently, in the postmodern era, we have seen many of the unities of the past, unities often depicted in films by means of characters, objects, plots, and settings, starting to fragment and rework in radical ways. This needs to impact the ways in which we make films. For if film finds its power in its ability to create affects, why would we limit ourselves to the traditional film of characters, objects, plots, and settings, particularly if these forms are increasingly being reworked in contemporary society? Or conversely, throw these all out for a pure cinema of the eye and ear?Neither form speaks to the needs of our age as much as those which seem to cut in between and beyond these constraints, those which speak to the radical ways in which subjectivity, objectivity, narratives, and settings in our life-worlds are being reconfigured today.
Might there not be more possibilities than films which tell stories, and those which show us a pure vision of the world? And perhaps might we also be able to create films which exist between and beyond these two poles, but also between the others which have structured film? These include the poles of fiction and documentary, porn and art, essay and entertainment, narrative and spectacle, and likely many more. A cinema of affects would reject all these polarities as limiting its potential to create film-art, film-worlds, and film-lenses to create film affects. Rather, it would see all of these as means rather than ends, and seek to push beyond limiting polarities.
The cinema of affects therefore dispenses with the need for the traditional stabilities surrounding character, plot, objects and setting, even as it also dispenses with the pure cinema of the eye. It dispenses in fact with all such limiting binaries. Therefore, it also dispenses with the distinctions between fiction and fact, narrative and spectacle, eros and art, etc. In doing so, it absorbs many of the radical and avant-garde devices made use of by experimental cinemas of the twentieth century to explode characters, plots, objects and settings from within, while riding the boundaries between and beyond genres of the past, so as to make them serve the affective needs of the film itself, rather than the other way around.
Reading Cinema II, Part III: Noosigns, Lecto-signs, and the Cinematic Worldcreating for a People Yet to Come
[Final installment of my series on reading Deleuze’s Cinema I & II. I’m planning to hopefully turn many of these posts into part two of my future book project The Networked Image, but first I need to finish the other network books which come first. But I wanted to write these thoughts down between now and then so I don’t forget!]
If Orson Welles is in many ways the hero of the first part of the sections on the powers of the false, Jean Rouch is in many ways the hero of the second part, and with that, of the Cinema books as a whole. The trick is understanding why. Let’s start off where we left off in the preceding post, discussing the powers of the false, picking up with the third power, namely, the cinema of thought.
The Cinema of Categories: From Genre to Noosign
Deleuze begins his analysis of the third power of the false with a discussion of what he calls the cinema of categories in the films of Godard. From his discussion of series of objects in the cinema of gestures (second power of the false), we move to that which connects powers represented in series into categories. Thus, a tree blowing in the breeze (a cinema-body exhibiting a power over time) is recognized as a member of a category of objects, for example, images of nature. But how are cinematic categories, that which helps us recognize objects, characters, actions, etc., produced?
In traditional cinema, we have the issue of genre, and there are genres of many types of things, genres of kisses, guns, entire film types, etc. Thus we have the Hollywood car chase, the Western, the slasher, the vampire, all these are genres, cliches, if you will, which can help us to recognize images as belonging to a category.
Godard is the cine-thinker, however, who plays with categories more than any other. Some of his films are devoted to producing a parody of a given genre, some of his scenes parody those of other films. Some of his films use inter-title cards to announce a category, and then show us a series of images that seem to only vaguely relate to the category just announced. Godard liberates categories from cliche, shows us the process of linkage underneath them, shows us the male ability of cinema-categories.
And in doing so, Godard presents us with a true cinema of thought. Deleuze describes cinema-thought as truly inaugurated by Eisenstein. Eisenstein, for example, in the famous section ‘On God and Country’ in October, shows us how a series of images could link together to produce a visual argument, simply by what was linked together in sequence, to produce a dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. For Deleuze, what unites these images in series is ultimately the film-spectator, not shown on screen. But this spectator experiences the shock produced by these images, and must think, is forced to think, about what links them together.
Thus film can force us, as spectators, to think. When this happens, what we think is partly determined by the film (hence the force and shock aspects), yet part of it is also free. This conjunction of freedom and necessity puts us in a state like that of a trance, in which we have freedom (spirituality) and compulsion (automation), converting us into what Deleuze calls a ‘spiritual automaton.’ Film spectators in the process of thinking are precisely this, spiritual automatons. And since cinema is simply, for Deleuze, a special case of what it means to exist in the world, this is what we all are when we think. Each one of us in the world experiences a series of images on any given day, and the shock of the images we encounter forces us to synthesize them. We find ourselves between compulsion and freedom, we are spiritual robots. We think.
For Deleuze, there is a two-way motion here. Images in series are linked together by montage horizontally, yet thought which unites them comes to be on a higher level, vertically, so to speak. Thought can be extracted from a series of images in this manner. However, thought can also come before the images, such as we see when a filmmaker has an idea first, and then decides to try to find images to match them. This creative action shows in the ‘ingression’ of thought in the world. And here we see how it is that Deleuze attempts to recast the sensory-motor schema of perception, affection, and action, yet outside the limitations of the human. Film-thoughts and film-actions. Yet is it possible to think a film-body, namely, that physical entity which does the thinking and acting?
Sometimes a film will not only show us images, but also show us that which thinks a series of images. When this happens, we have a representation, via an image, of a physical body which synthesizes other images as a spiritual automaton, that thinks. A thing that thinks, for Deleuze, is what he calls a brain. Cinema can depict thought in two ways. It can have thought off-screen, in the form of an implied spectator, which presents us with one indirect imaging of thought, or noo-sign. But cinema can also present us with a body that thinks, and image thought as a noo-sign by means of this body. Thus, we have characters in many films that seem to think, that is, to process other images and synthesize them. Traditional film characters are, in this sense, brain-signs, or noo-signs.
But not all direct noo-signs of this sort are human. Deleuze describes how it is that non-human thought can be presented to us in film. In many of Kubrick’s films there are non-human actors that seem to think. For example, in The Shining, it is as if the mountains seem to think, to have an ability to process the world in a non-human manner, such that the architecture of the hotels corridors become like the twisting of the folds of a human brain. The same with the obelisk in 2001, which contains multiplicities of images inside it. These are noo-signs which are brain-signs. And the ultimately brain-sign, of course, is the cinema screen itself. This is why Deleuze says, famously, that “the brain is the screen.” For the screen is an object, a regular object, upon which many images can be projected which are then synthesized by us, this brain’s neurons. We are the neurons of the giant cinema-brain which is the screen, just as the complex of screens in the cinematic apparatus spread across the world are neurons in this larger, global cinema mediascape brain.
Exploring a giant Cine-Brain: One of Kubrick's Noosigns in 'The Shining'
Brains are always topological, for Deleuze, and here we see an engagement with Lacan. Non-orientable figures in the mathematical discipline of topology indicate shapes that contain paradoxes within them, that make sense mathematically, and can even be sometimes physically constructed, and yet, disorient our normal sense of what it means to be a shape in some manner or other. The Moebius strip and Klein bottle are two classic examples, and Lacan uses them both pretty extensively to describe how it feels to experience time, as well as the continual whac-a-mole we play with our unconscious (basically, it is always already wherever our conscious thoughts are not).
Deleuze isn’t one to let Lacan get away with any cool insight without warping it to his own ends, exploding it from within, making it multiple. Thus, for Deleuze, a brain-image is an object which is the obverse, so to speak, of the thought which it performs. It is the container for the process of thought, and when we image it we can image either the images which produce the thought itself (ie: Godard) or the thinking object (ie: the monolith), but it is nearly impossible to image both without some sort of trick, a split screen or something to this effect. For in order to image both the thinker and thought, there would need to be a topological twist, for the two are like two sides of a Moebius strip. Certainly if one wanted to image the brain within a flow of images being synthesized by it, then it could only emerge as a stain or gap, in the manner theorized in Lacanian visual theory. For the brain is what is missing from thought, and yet also what allows it to occur. This means that the brain is closely related to the notion of the unconscious in Lacan. Deleuze works hard to show his models can do everything that Lacan’s can, but then also more.
M.C. Escher's wonderful 'Moebius Swans
How does he do this? In many senses, the brain is an attempt to image the unconscious, that which forces thought to come into being, and in some sense, twist the brain on a Moebius strip, and you get a series of images, twist this, you get unconscious thought, twist this yet again, you get conscious thought. A moebial Moebius strip, perhaps? A four-dimensional moebius strip. Deleuze doesn’t quite systematize things like this, but he implies much. Either way, it seems pretty obvious that in his discussion of topology and the outside of thought, he is aiming at Lacan, trying to imagine how it might be that there could be thought beyond the human, yet without giving up the insights provided by Lacanian theory, when properly exploded and made multiplicitous from within. In the section on the cinema of thought, some of the most complex in the cinema books (and that’s saying a lot!), we see Deleuze’s most intense engagement with Lacan since Anti-Oedipus and The Logic of Sense, even though he fails to mention Lacan by name in these passages.
He does, however, mention films in which characters seem to speak in a voice from beyond, act like zombies or mummies, vessels for a thought beyond the human. And this seems to be Deleuze’s dream. Not to destroy the human. But rather, to go beyond it. Might we be able to imagine a thought from beyond, new types of brains, new types of cine-thought? More on what this would be below . . .
Lecto-Signs, Disjunctive-Synthesis, and the Cinema of Reading
The fourth power of the false is what Deleuze calls the cinema of reading. What does it mean to read an image in a film? We read film images all the time, we see an image in a film and we say, oh, that is a bad guy, that’s a car, that’s an ocean. We carve aspects of the film image into meaningful parts. We do this by means of language, and in the section of the book in which Deleuze discusses lecto-signs (from the ancient Stoic notion of lekta), images of reading in films (images which can be read, are read, or demand to be read), he discusses dialogue, music, and noise. But this should not be interpreted as meaning that he feels one needs sound to read images in film. For in fact, it is an accident of history that we have used sound as the material to anchor our reading of the world of images, as sign-languages have demonstrated beyond doubt. And it is for this reason that Deleuze describes in depth the manner in which we ‘read’ silent films before the advent of sound. For entities still had meaning before the advent of sound. Verbal language was indirectly present in silent film, encoded in the ways actors acted in relation to things.
You can still read this guy quite well without sound: an early lecto-sign, or image which can be read, is read, or demands a reading
What does it mean to read an image, in film or beyond? It means to see it as something, as something other than merely what it is. It is to see a knife and see it not only as shiny, metallic, sharp, but also as a weapon of potential murder. It is to link objects beyond themselves in relational series beyond those presented by the physical world. It is to see object beyond the way they are seen by (most) animals, and see them as more complexly meaningful, as united by a system or complex code which can function in the manner of language.
What Deleuze is getting at here, though it is quite difficult to tell from the way he writes about it in his chapter on the lecto-sign, is that hero of so many of his other books, the concept known as disjunctive-synthesis (also sometimes referred to as double-articulation). For in fact, as one reads the lecto-sign chapter, there are increasingly Hjelmslevian qualities to his statements, even if Deleuze only provides us with hints as to the fact that this is where he’s going with this. For Deleuze, double-articulation, also known as disjunctive-synthesis, is the means whereby layering of entities in a systematic manner can give rise to meaning. Group a bunch of sounds together according to divisions marked by graphic squiggles, and you get letters in the alphabet. Take sets of letters and group them together according to a series of rules, and you produce a new layer, words. Group sets of words together according to sets of rules, and you get meaningful sentences, or language. In each case, carve up the world into sections, use rules to put these together, and you’ll get a second layer that produces meaning from the first. Layer this up enough times, and you get language, or meaning, from matter.
From such a perspective, we can begin to see, how disjunctive synthesis was on Deleuze’s agenda all the way. Link bodies together and you get meaningful series. Link series together and you get genres, or categories, which can give meaning to objects, subjects, etc. And link these categories together (ie: the car chase, the murder weapon, the romantic kiss), and you end up with a master-genre, a master-category, which is able to structure an entire film. Such a meta-category is generally called a film’s plot. Plots give meaning, and derive their meaning, from all the other aspects of a film. They are the category of categories in a film, so to speak.
Film plots, for Deleuze, come in two primary forms. There are films in which the we know how the film will end after seeing just a few scenes, films in which everything is predetermined. Of course, we can’t know for sure, because some films cite genre conventions precisely to subvert them. But when you see a film start with a standard Hollywood style car chase, you can generally tell that at the end of the film, the hero will likely dispense with the bad guy (usually after giving him some sort of last chance to redeem himself), and then get the girl. These are films that proceed as if deducing a theorum. These film-theorums are like solving math equations. Given an equation, there’s only one, at most two, possible answers.
What does this man see? 'It's only stars', a noo-sign which shows us why the brain is the monolith is the screen.
But then there are films which present to us film-problems. These films search for their own structure, create their own plot-genres, as they go. Such films are sui generis, they create problematics, fields upon which new problems, new questions, can be asked of the universe. Such films teach us how to read differently. For they do not employ pre-made film meanings, but create a language of meanings all of their own. A gun may be a murder weapon, but it may also be a message from the gods. No meanings are predetermined before the film starts. Everything can and must be read by the immanent criteria developed in the film itself. A new film-language is necessary to understand such films. Watching such films, one needs to always ask oneself when presented with an image, but what am I really seeing? I know that I am seeing, but what could it mean?
The lecto-sign, for Deleuze, is an image that can be read, is read, or demands to be read. Some lecto-signs present themselves without a premade reading provided, such that we must search the film for the immanent categories whereby to give the image in question meaning. We can perhaps call these fabulatory lecto-signs, signs which demand to be read, but which require the film itself to give birth to new meanings in order for this to occur.
While Deleuze uses films which experiment with sound to discuss these issues, such that he advocates experimentation with various aspects of film-sound and noise in these chapters, it seems to me that he is going after much, much more. For in fact, the production of new film-meanings, new film-language, has been what his goal has been since the start of his discussion of the powers of the false.
Giving Birth to New Film Worlds as a Image-Language for a People Yet to Come
This is why it seems to me that the final power of the false, the production of a cinema of reading, must be tied not only to his reflections on the cinema of reading in his lecto-sign chapter (Chapter 9: The Components of the Image), but Deleuze’s reflections on political cinema and language earlier in Cinema II. Deleuze’s writings on political cinema towards the middle of Cinema II are possibly the most powerful and poetic in both books. They hit me as the climax of these books, and hence, the insights that really belong towards the end. And they are, as I argue here, the end of his conceptual development, in both senses of the word ‘end’, for a new political cinema, it seems to me, is Deleuze’s true goal in writing these books. That is, Deleuze seeks to free cinema from the sensory-motor schema of human action, and even from the time-images that present human types of thought. What he wants is a post-human cinema. But the reason for this is because he wants to unleash the powers of the world, in order to produce, as he calls it, a language for a people yet to come.
In his discussion of minor cinema, and Jean Rouch’s films in particular (above there’s a clip from his collaboratively produced 1967 film, Jaguar), we see all the powers of the false employed. We see characters that go beyond the individual forgers of the late Welles’, and which engage in a form of radical collective storytelling which he calls fabulation. Such collective becoming is like a sort of radical reality-television, in which reality is altered by the collective process of producing new legends in film. The process of making a film puts into action a process of collective becoming, a process which can then model this sort of process for others. Thus this collective becoming can act as a collective myth which can give rise to new ways of looking at the world, new meanings, new actions, new ways to produce meanings. As such, film can act as a new language to articulate new desires, new worlds, and it can do so for a collective audience, beyond those depicted in the original film. For a people yet to come.
In a film such as Jaguar, for example, we see Rouch teach people who had never used a camera before how to document their lives. He helped them tell their story. Together he and the storytellers sat watching the film they had recorded, and developed a collective soundtrack somewhere between narration, fictional storytelling, commentary, and legend-making. Rouch gave the power to world-make to people who didn’t have that power before, and in return, they gave him a new vision of the world. Mutual co-becoming, and with radical implications.
Do I know how to read what I see? The power of a fabulatory disruptive lecto-sign in Cronenberg's 'Existenz'
Thus we see the production of a people yet to come produced in a radical between. Rouch engages in cine-becomings as way to unlearn his western prejudices which he was raised in, to learn new ways of seeing, hearing, thinking, meaning, and collective acting in the world. His co-creators, from West Africa, engage in cine-becomings to produce new ways of seeing, hearing, thinking, meaning, and collective acting in the world which may be able to help them imagine ways out of the domination which Rouch’s culture have imposed upon them. Together, beyond the privilege-disprivileged binary, we see a potential for radical collective becoming. Cinema becomes a practice of which the production of films is simply a byproduct. The goal is collective becoming, and cinema becomes a way of acting which can give rise to new meanings, new language, to a people yet to come. And in fact, it can bring that people about, as subject-object of its own auto-production, its self-imaging into the world. Here we see a proto- yet hyper-radical reality TV, an improvising with reality, between fiction and documentary, in which the camera makes the world itself a laboratory for new ways of living, and in a manner that can be shared with others. The camera is passed around, it becomes difficult to tell who is observer and who observed, roles reverse continually, mutate, the anthropologist becomes the subject of study, jokes, new tall tales, and in the process, everyone learns, and changes. Mutual collective radically democratic multi-transformation becomes the story we watch unfold in Rouch’s deconstruction of the ethnographic film. And in this, we see a potential for a radical political cinema of the future, a reality-TV in which the whole world becomes laboratory for an attempt to imagine a path to a more egalitarian, democratic, and anti-oppressive future.
The cinema of reading as political cinema, the world-making powers of the false, that which is able to reimagine subjects, objects, thoughts, and meanings, is that which is able to create the world anew, and in a more radically democratic way, in a way that unleashes the democracy of the universe. This, it seems to me, is the dream of the cinema books. Now we merely need to go out into the world and do this.
Part I: Towards a Direct Imaging of Time to Crystal-Images
An early crystal-image in Welles’ ‘Lady from Shanghai’
[Here’s a continuation of my series on reading Deleuze’s Cinema I & II . . . ]
If the greatest impediment to understanding Deleuze’s concepts in The Movement-Image is confusion over what he means by the word image, then a similar roadblock occurs in The Time-Image in relation to his use of the word time. Understand what he means by the word image, and Cinema I is a massively easier read; understand what he means by the word time, and the same thing happens for Cinema II.
Bergson’s Critique of Clock-Time
Deleuze’s conception of time in Cinema II is taken almost directly from Bergson, and with Bergson, it’s easiest to start out by describing precisely what time does not mean for both of them. Bergson’s philosophy finds its genesis in the critique of clock time, and in favor of the lived time of duration. Clock-time, for Bergson, is a way of spatializing time, and as such, it really isn’t time, it’s a form of space. When we think of the time captured by clocks, we think of each moment as a self-contained entity, complete unto itself, separate from the others. Time is then best diagrammed as pearls on a string, with each pearl a separate moment. With each tick of the clock, we move from one pearl to the next.
Time is not like this: Bergson and Deleuze critique clock-time
For Bergson, this is a highly misleading and ultimately false image of time. Lived time, time that endures, is time that flows, time in which the past and future penetrate into the present in the form of memory and desire. Time stretches when it seems to move more slowly (ie: when bored), and compacts during moments of crisis, and we seem to dip deeper into memory at some points (ie: moments of dreaming, fantasy, reverie), and more shallowly during moments of action.
Between Virtual and Actual
For Bergson, the present is a dynamic interpenetration of past and future. The aspect of our lived world that is here for us right now, in the present moment as that which ‘feels most real to us’, is what he calls the actual. When I hold an object in my hand, say, a coffee mug, it feels more real than the memory of a coffee mug, or an image of a coffee mug on a TV screen. That feeling of being more real is what allows us to tell an actual coffee mug from one which is less real, so to speak, or more virtual. An image of a coffee mug in memory, or in a film, is thus a virtual image, while the one we hold in our hand at any given moment is an actual image (and remember, everything is an image for Deleuze, because when he says image it is, for him, and following Bergson, a way of saying a ‘slice of the world’). Worldslices, or images, come in many shades of actuality, and some are more actual and less virtual, or more virtual and less actual, than others.
During periods of stress, in which we are focused on action, we find ourselves immersed in the present moment, it’s needs and exigencies. At this point, we exist mostly in the actual, there is very little virtuality in our world. Since the past and the future, represented in our present as memory and desire/fantasy/anticipation, are relatively weak at this moment, we can say that when concentrating on action, we exist mostly in the actual.
But as we dive deeper into memory and/or fantasy, that is, the realm of the virtual, we leave the present and its needs ever more behind. This is why it is perhaps best to equate the actual with the present, and the virtual with the past/future, or future/past, whichever you prefer. Because the actual will always feel more real, more present, than aspects of the past/future (except for in cases of hallucination). So, at least for humans and in relation to issues of time, the virtual is the past/future, and vice-versa. This isn’t to say that there may not be other examples of the virtual. For example, for Deleuze, an actual coffee mug produces a virtual image when reflected in a mirror. But as we will see, for Deleuze, images in a mirror have a peculiar temporal relation to the actuals they reproduce, more of which will be said in a bit.
Why Time is Freedom
Here we also see why it is that Bergson and Deleuze equate the virtual with freedom. For my dog, a creature of instinct, the actual almost always leads directly to a preprogrammed action. But for me, an actual impression may lead to an instinctual action, or reverie or fantasy or recollection, and with a much greater degree of latitude than my dog. When my dog sees his food, he is unlikely to be thinking of Proust the moment afterwards, while humans have this happen all the time. Which is why we only sometimes do what our instincts tell us, because the past may interrupt the present, and present novel ways of reading the present which may influence our future. Likewise, we may have all sorts of desires which draw particular aspects of our past into contact with our present in ways that disrupt the chain of instinct. The virtual past/future infused into the actual is what produces freedom from being enslaved to the moment. If rocks are fully enslaved to the moment, plants slightly less so, animals a little freer, only humans, as far as we know, can gain significant freedom, and this is because of our complex brains. Brains which store our futurepasts so as to use them to increase our options.
To sum up, the present is more or less the actual, and the past/future is more or less the virtual. Thus, there are two axes to time, not only. Yes, time presses ever further into the future, and we know this because our stores of memory increase over time. This could be thought of as the movement of time horizontally. Such movement, however, isn’t like moving from one pearl to another along a string of pearls, but rather, as a sort of increase in the memory store of the past as the future flows into it via the doorway of the present. However, in addition to a horizontal axis to time, there is also a vertical axis. The closer one is to the present, the closer one is to what in math would be the x-axis, the line of horizontal movement along which past, present, and future are distributed. But the further one dips into the virtual, the past/future, the more one expands upon the y-axis.
Let us say, for example, that in the middle of an action, for example, a morning walk, you encounter some animal you’ve never seen before. What is that, you wonder. As you dip into past memory to search for something that resembles this, you finally find some memories that seem to fit. This is the process of recognition. Recognition that is relatively automatic, and becomes habit, requires less depth of digging around in the past, but when you need to dig more deeply, there is a greater degree of the virtual in the present (more expansion on the y-axis). While it may also take more time to dig around in memory like this (and hence expand on the x-axis), this is not always necessarily the case.
Three Basic Time-Images: Recognition, Recollection, and Dream
Recognition is the lowest level of digging into the depth, so to speak, of the present, and into the future/past. Recollection is the next level of depth, in which one keeps a more tenuous connection to the present, but dives into memory to reconstruct a scene from yesterday, or last year. One is less present in the present moment, so to speak. And finally, when one is dreaming, or fantasizing, one has barely a connection to the present at all. We get lost in reverie, for example, and we may trip as we walk because we are caught up in our memory-fantasies. Or when we get totally involved in a dream, we find that we are sleeping, with barely any connection to the present at all. Bergson even hypothesizes that perhaps death is what happens when the cord is fully disconnected, breaking the link between virtual and actual completely.
Such images of negation are perhaps on the cusp, in between images of movement (and all things in the universe are these) and time-images.
It’s important to note that the virtual is not merely the past, and memory, but also the future, and fantasy. For when we fantasize about something, say, we imagine what food we want for dinner, we do so by assembling memories into aggregates. I imagine a wonderful dinner, but the image I have of this that anchors my fantasy is composed of bits and pieces of memories hauled from the past. Likewise, when I recollect something, this is as much a recreation, and hence, full of fantasy and the future and present as much as the past. Memories wouldn’t distort were this not the case. Furthermore, even the present moment of recognition is infused with the future. For when I recognize something in front of me, I use not only memory, but desire, namely, the desire that impels me to action. When I walk down the street, my desire is what impels me, what reaches into my store of memory to retrieve images to meet the present and help me recognize what is in front of me. The past can’t be activated without the future dipping into it. The virtual is this interpenetration of the past and future by means of the present.
It is for this reason that Bergson and Deleuze also describe the virtual as the potential for difference, for creation, for the radically new. The actual is in a sense dead, it can only be what it is. But the virtual is the opening of what is onto the possibility to be different in the future, to have been different in the past, and for desire and memory to impact the present so as to alter it’s relation to itself and the world around it.
Thus, we can come up with a semi-equation to help us. The virtual=past/future=freedom=the new/creation=difference=time, while the actual=the present=necessity=the same=repetition=space.
Now as any who’ve studied some Deleuze know, the distinction between difference and repetition is essential to him. The virtual is associated with difference, pure difference, and the actual with that which repeats, which stays the same, with repetition.
What is a Time-Image?
What then is a time-image? A time-image, for Deleuze, is an image which is infused with time. That is, it is an image which is different from itself, which is virtual to itself, which is infused with past/future. What types of images are these?
Humans use time-images all the time. We call up images in our memories or fantasies to help us navigate the world. We don’t think these images are as real as those provided by our senses at the present moment, but they exist for us nevertheless. When I recognize a coffee mug on my table, I do so by pairing it up in my mind with virtual images of mugs and cups past. Recognition is the pairing of virtual and actual images. Habit occurs when this process becomes semi-automatic, but whenever I encounter something new or different, the process becomes more extended. Any image I draw from the past and/or synthesize with others so as to help me with my process of recognition is called by Deleuze, following Berson, a recognition-image. Were I to drag fragments of memory out of my past to reconstruct an entire scene, for example, of what I did when I last saw my friend two years ago, the image I created of the past, a flashback, essentially, would be a recollection- image. And were I to dream of that meeting, and perhaps then have fantastic things happen, like we meet a cartoon character for dinner later that night, we would have a dream-image.
Such images are never merely images, for Deleuze, That is, they are images which stand for, or in relation, to other images. This is why these images also function as signs, virtual signs of actual images from the present which calls them up in the first place. This is why in Cinema II we see, for the first time, images referred to as signs. Deleuze calls recognition and recollection images forms of mnemo-signs, basically, memory signs. And he calls dream-images types of oneiro-signs. (It is worth noting that relation-images, proto-time-images discussed towards the end of Cinema I, show relation but not via consciousness, and are in a sense ancestors of op- and son-signs . . . )
In film, we often see the process of recognition, recollection, or dream depicted for us. If someone in a film sees something, and then we see a memory of the past flash on screen, followed by an act which shows that now the character recognizes the object in front of them, the image drawn from the past functions in the film in question as a recognition- image. When a flashback occurs in a film, it provides us with recollection-images. And when someone falls asleep and dreams, or hallucinates, we have dream-images.
What distinguishes these three types of images from the more actual images of Cinema I is that they are always not fully what they are. That is, they are virtual, they function as signs. An image of an object in a dream is not ‘fully real’, because it is just a dream. We know it is just a dream because in some other part of the film, we are told this, or this is somehow indicated. When we see the person wake up from the dream later in the film, or go to sleep before, this context is virtually present in the dream-images, and this virtual presence makes these images feel less real to us. Thus, the images in a dream are more virtual, and less actual, than others, because they are suffused with context, with that which is not themselves. That is, they are suffused with difference, otherness, they are only partly there. And here we see why it is that context, difference, time, representation, and relation are all linked to the notion of virtuality for Deleuze.
Any image which functions like this, which helps us recognize, recollect, or dream, is a type of time-image. And there were time-images before WWII, in the period of cinema that was dominated by the movement-image. But after WWII, time-images become ever more prevalent, particularly in avant-garde or non-mainstream, non-Hollywood film. Hollywood film remains stuck in the action-image, while film that really explores new potentials for both filmic and human consciousness began to explore the time-image directly. For the time-image in fact showed itself in two forms before WWII. The first is in prewar recognition, recollection, and dream-images. But there was also the indirect imaging of time via montage. Attempts to capture and image movement used cuts, and cuts indicate a form of pure difference which registered and impacted the images they connected. This is why Deleuze says that montage is an indirect image of time, a version that speaks through the movement-image. Pre-war recollection, recognition, and dream images are direct images of time, yet weak ones. For in fact, they are filtered through human forms of consciousness. They are in a sense cloaked or clothed (to use terms employed by Deleuze in Difference and Repetition) by the sensory-motor schema that dominates the cinematic image before World War II. Thus, we see flashbacks, and dreams, but they are always clearly demarcated. The only odd exception, for Deleuze, are films which depict fantastic worlds that are like dreams, but aren’t dreams as such. The prewar musicals of Busby Berkeley and Vincent Minnelli are prime examples of the world as dream (a form which takes off in the immediate post-war period with the uber-trippy Powell and Pressburger opera-spectacle film from 1951, Tales of Hoffman).
The Post-War Context, and the Direct Image of Time
But after World War II, non-mainstream cinema begins to explore direct-images of time in a manner which is free from the relation of time to action. Films depict dreams and fantasies and memories in abrupt fashion, often not indicating to us we are in dream or fantasy till much later in the film, suspending our ability to tell what is actual or virtual until later. But then there are time-images which simply aren’t tied down to human consciousness. Such direct time-images are uncloaked, so to speak.
We see these first, Deleuze argues, in two early non-Hollywood contexts, namely, the films of Italian neo-realism, and the films of Ozu. In neo-realist film, we often see the camera linger on the scenes of destruction which serve as the setting for many of these films. It is as if the camera is attempting to process these images, but it cannot, so it lingers, and registers the trauma of the image in its pure form, the difference of the image from our ability to integrate it into our world. In Ozu, we often see his famed ‘pillow shots’, in which we pull away from one of his domestic dramas, and Ozu provides us with an image which seems to metaphorically comment upon the scene at hand, but which floats, as it were, outside the direct consciousness of any particular character. Such images which seem to lift up out of the consciousness of the characters in the film, but which also are beyond the traditional establishing shot, are examples of what in literature would be called ‘free-indirect discourse’, namely, something between the voice of the narrator and of the characters. Deleuze taps this term, and uses it to describe these moments of what can ultiamtely be called ‘free-indirect’ camera or vision. These moments Deleuze describes as those of opsigns and sonsigns, or optical and sound images which cannot be integrated into either pure objective or subjective frames.
Deleuze is a bit unclear as to whether or not traditional recognition, recollection, and dream-images should be considered direct images of time (though he does refer to them as time-images, hence my use of the term ‘cloaked’ to make a distinction here). But he is very clear to say that if montage indirectly imaged time via the movement-image, then the op- and son-signs give us direct images of time.
Mirror-Images: From Hyalo-signs to Image Crystals
Beyond this, however, there are also time-images which are further removed from the sensory-motor schema whereby the perception, affection, and action of human bodies in movement dominated film. There are films in which we see mirrorings of various sorts. Mirrors provide us with virtual images of actual entities. A person seeing their actual face in the mirror sees a virtual image of their face. What is the temporal status of their face? It seems as if the time of the mirror exists in a perpetual past-future, or future-past of the present of the actual image if reflects. From here, we see Deleuze develops his notion of the hyalo-sign, or glass- or mirror-image.
Deleuze doesn’t limit hyalo-signs to mirror images in film. Rather, two characters which are similar to each other, that resemble each other, are often referred to as mirror-doubles, particularly in psychoanalytic film criticism. And here we see Deleuze take on psychoanalysis, and show that he is able to outflank it. Mirrorings in film disrupt the otherwise linear flow of time in a film, they create temporal short-circuits. For if time is generally marked by entities like clocks, which use the difference physical difference presented by the world around us to mark relative degrees of change in space, what happens when space starts to resemble itself? Mirrors disrupt time. And when there is a hall of mirrors, which Deleuze calls a crystal (for a crystal is little other than an object made of many little shards of reflecting surface), then we have an entity in which notions of before and after start to literally break down. Films in which parts of the film mirror each other, which are full of short-circuits of this sort, he calls image crystals, or crystal-images.
Time travel films of all sorts are image crystals, as are films which literalize fantasy, hallucinations, and dreams so as to create repetitions of various sorts. Films full of mimicry and doubling might not have overt time-travel in them, but they produce odd temporal short-circuits nevertheless. These are all, for Deleuze, crystal-image films.
I’ve discussed image crystals in several other posts, so I’ll stop here. But needless to say, crystal-images are the way in which Deleuze is able to emphasize the aspect of the virtual which is truly that of difference, beyond any human notion of time. The virtual is difference as such, becoming, and time, particularly human time, is merely one of its forms.
This is why Deleuze says that time-images bring montage into the image. They are pure difference inside an image. When we see crystal image films, we very often will not know, on first viewing, what exactly an image means. One thing you learn watching image crystals is to suspend your judgment of images, because you will never know which aspect of an image will be selected for radical reworking later in the film. In this manner, each image becomes suffused with past/future, time, context, relation, and difference. It becomes virtual, less directly present, pure difference lurks between the very pores of the aspects of the image. What is present is an imaging of time, a depiction of time, of pure difference, in the image itself.
A direct imaging of time.
Part I: The Deleuzian Notion of the Image, or Worldslicing as Cinema Beyond the Human
[This is the first of a series of posts which form a reading guide to Deleuze’s Cinema I & II. For the rest of the posts, see the sidebar of this website, where all the posts are listed on their own menu]
What precisely does Deleuze mean by cinema, and with it, the image? And why should a philosopher, or filmmaker, care? It seems to me that his radical notion of the image, straddling both philosophy and film, is so incredibly powerful, if often misunderstood. Many find his cinema books impenetrable, but once one understands precisely what he means by the term ‘image’, these books just open up. It’s like putting on glasses, or at least, for me it was. What does it mean, for Deleuze, to do cinema, to image an aspect of the world?
For the start of the reading guide, skip a few paragraphs down to the section called ‘The Deleuzian Notion of the Image’, but first, a little context.
The Strange Case of the Cinema Books: Some Context as an Introduction
I’m currently teaching Deleuze’s Cinema I & II, once again, to my students. And I think part of the reason I keep teaching these books, aside from the fact that at an art school they are so incredibly relevant, is that they are so incredibly, polymorphously fertile texts.
I find also that I am drawn to texts that are singular, so odd that one wonders how they came to be in the first place, even as these texts are too brilliant to be ignored. Texts like Leibniz’s Monadology, Spinoza’s Ethics, Bataille’s early essays, Bergson’s strange phenomenology, etc. In order to even begin to understand how they came to be, one often has to do arduous work of reconstructing the situation of the philosopher-artist who put them together. And I find this research to be of such a fruitful nature, it forces you to reconstruct the gesture behind a text, and in the process, come to understand what might be at stake to give birth to something singular as well.
Few know exactly what to make of Deleuze’s two volume Cinema I & II. Philosophers often ignore them as being about film, and film-makers are often baffled by their dense, philosophical prose. Straddling genres, Deleuze’s cinema project is truly a queer beast (and I use both terms here lovingly, and with all potential meanings!). And these books are texts I’ve written about before, including here and here, because, well, I’m fascinated.
Despite the fact that they are often overlooked, for being difficult, strange, and ‘between’ familiar genres, in so many ways, it nevertheless seems to me that this two volume monster is the crowning work of Deleuze’s late philosophy. For philosophers to overlook these texts is to overlook the culmination, in many respects, of his life-work.
And for filmmakers to ignore these books because they are forbidding is just sad. Even if one doesn’t understand fully what he is getting at philosophically, Deleuze always argued his books were meant to be used, put into assemblage with other modes of production. It’s not a matter of getting them ‘right’, its a matter of being affected by them. Deleuze wanted his books to spur novel becomings, creativities on multiplie levels of scale, breaking up of psychic and social blockages.
And this is why these texts are so fundamentally in-between. For they ask the question what it might mean to think of philosophy cinematically, and cinema philosophically, and each as one and the same yet also different. Deleuze’s project is a becoming-cinema of philosophy, and becoming-philosophy of cinema.
But even if you don’t get all that, these books can still serve as a source of endless inspiration for philosophers and filmmakers alike. The random insights on each page spill off in every direction, even as the global structure lies under it all in its incredibly slippery brilliance. Whether you come for the surface insights or the deep-structure, these are great books, ones I never tire of spending time with, a source of continual inspiration, continually between the categories in which we traditionally divide our lives, and hence, perfect tools for thinking-outside.
Anyway, what follows is much of the content of what I teach my students to help them with these books.
Hope it’s helpful!
The Deleuzian Notion of the Image: From Image to Imaging
So, let’s dive into Cinema I: The Movement-Image. One of the greatest difficulties in understanding Deleuze’s massive text, a difficulty that often makes it difficult to understand even a single sentence or phrase, is that his notion of the image often confuses people. What does he mean by ‘the image’?
Deleuze gets his notion of the image from Bergson’s Matter and Memory, itself a difficult text. In the process of explaining Bergson, however, he radically expands the potential of Bergson’s original idea. He spend several pages describing what he means by this notion (starting on pg. 57 in the Univ. of Minnesota version of the text). And while these pages present us with glimmering, inspiring prose, they are not necessarily clear. Poetic, yet not always accessible.
The entire universe is interconnected, but any individual aspect, any part of it, is an image. My body, a single atom, the planet Earth, the Sun, a dog, these are all images. This may seem like an odd usage of the word, but whenever confused, you can replace this word in your head with its verb form ‘to image’. For each of these individual entities – my body, the Earth, an atom, etc. – these all depict or image the rest of the cosmos. They are refractions of the rest of what is.
This is why whenever I teach these books to my students, I explain to them the translation issues presented by the terms Deleuze uses such as ‘movement-image’, or ‘perception-image’. Due to the ways in which adjectives are used in French, it would be equally as correct to translate these terms as ‘image-OF-movement’, image-OF-time’, ‘image-OF-perception.’ I’ve found that whenever the meaning of what Deleuze is getting at in a passage baffles me, I can simply replace the version in the English translation with this equivalent, and usually it becomes so much clearer. Better yet, I try to remind myself that he means image as a verb, as an imaging. So, replace the word ‘movement-image’ with ‘IMAGING-OF-movement’, and you see what he’s getting at.
A very famous perception-image from the news:
A Congressman's self-photo in the mirror which loses him his job.
His perspective is foregrounded, framed in the frame, a perception-image of a perception-image.
Namely, that anything in the world – my body, the Earth, a dog – these are imagings of the movement which is our cosmos. Even that which stands still, like a book on a table, is actually continually moving at the quantum level, as well as hurtling with the rest of us on Earth around the Sun at an incredible pace. Any entity or object is a slice of the movement of the universe. And it is an active slicing, because anything that appears solid to us is actually a verb, a continual action that repeats itself while things stay the same, and modifies when things become different. Deleuze argues elsewhere in his works that we need to think of all nouns as verbs, a green thing as a ‘greening’, a tree as a ‘treeing’. The same goes with the term image, it is an imaging.
A Slice of the World
And so, an image is a slice, a slicing which gives us a slice of the cosmos. And there are many ways to slice up the world. Everything in the world is a slice of it. But there are different ways to slice the world, giving us different types of slice.
Deleuze says that an “IMAGE=FLOWING MATTER,” and since all that is is flowing matter, an image is nothing more than a world-slice, a cosmos-slice, a universe-slice. But some ways of slicing emphasize some aspects of the universe over others.
Some ways of slicing the universe do so in a way which display the moving aspects of the universe, and these are called ‘movement-images’. To make it easier for ourselves, however, let us replace this with ‘imaging-of-movement’, or even better, ‘movement-slice’. Sounds strange, but it can really be helpful in understanding this text. Try it on a passage, I swear it works!
And so, if you emphasize the perceptual side of the world when you slice it, you produce a ‘perception-slice.’ Slice the world so as to emphasize its temporal dimensions, and you have a ‘time-slice.’
World-Cinema, or Cinema-As-World: Or, Cinema=Worldslicing
And here we start to see the sheer power of Deleuze’s concept of cinema. Any time the universe is sliced, we are imaging, and hence, doing cinema. When I grab a handful of dirt from the ground, by separating out a handful from the rest of the Earth, I am framing that handful, cutting it from the background, an hence, imaging. For each aspect of the world is a reflection-refraction of all the rest, for all is ultimately interconnected. The handful of dirt in my hand could not exist were it not for the gravity and other forces exerted upon it by the rest of the cosmos. This handful of dirt IS the rest of the cosmos, or at least, a reflection-refraction of it. And hence, it is a foregrounding of some parts of the universe over others, a framing. Just as one would move a camera to present a slice of the world to viewers, when I grab a handful of Earth from the ground, I am doing cinema, I am slicing the world, imaging the whole cosmos in one part.
A Walk Through my House as Deleuzian Cinema
Cinema=worldslicing. It is framing a part of the flowing matter of the universe, and then connecting that with others. Each of our days, as we go through life, is a film, a slicing, framing, and connecting of aspects of the universe. I leave my computer, walk into my bedroom, and the flowing matter presented to my vision changes. I move from the close-up of staring at my screen, to the medium shot of my bed. I am slicing up the world by means of the framing devices of my eyes, so similar to that of the camera which was abstracted from it.
And then I sit down to watch TV. I watch an image presented to me in another frame, a frame within the frame presented by my eyes. The TV news is on. They present me with a clip of video taken by an eye witness. I realize I am seeing an image seen from the perspective of another. I am viewing an image which is an imaging of perception, a slice of the world which emphasizes, by its relation to other images, its perceptualness. I am viewing a perception-image.
I then find myself wanting a cup of coffee. I put a pot of water on the stove. I begin to see how the fire impacts the water, how the bubbles begin to emerge in the whole pot of water, how parts and wholes begin to interact, negotiating, which will boil off, which will settle down, which patters of bubbles will emerge, all as the fire affects the water, causing it to change amongst itself. I see the agony of decision ripping apart the water, forming new wholes, new parts, distorting, warping it. The perception of the flame by the water creates an attempt at motion, an attempt to flee the pot into a gaseous state, a consideration of an action. But between perception and action, there is affection. The pot of water as it starts to boil presents to my eyes an affection-image.
We must not think that each slice is only one thing, however. For the view of the boiling water presented to my eyes as affection-image is also clearly viewed from my eyes, and hence, represents me, if indirectly, my perspective on the world. It is a perception-image OF an affection-image. And both are movement-images, because they are images of the world which represent a transition, a movement, in the world. Any image, ultimately,. is a movement-image, that is, an image of the movement of the world. Perception, affection, and action images are simply types thereof.
As the water begins to boil, I see wafts of steam rise from the water. Rather than the framing of a perception-image, or the intertwined warping of an affection-image, I see a separation, distinction, as gas separates from liquid, one goes one way, one the other. I now have before me an action image. I pour the boiling water into my coffee cup, I see it mix with my (admittedly patheticly instant coffee) grinds, filling the cup, I see the volume of the cup is now full of dark liquid, all these are images of action in the world.
An affection-image, an imaging of the way in which heat affects water.
I mix milk now into my coffee. I see the strands of milk intertwine slowly with the coffee, patches of light and dark. I see before me that some of these strands last longer than others. The relative differences present a slice of the world which images the ways in which some processes of change endure longer than others. I am presented with an image of change, or difference, intertwined with duration, or sameness. I am presented with an image of time, a time-imaging, a slice of the universe which images time. This is a time-image.
This time-image reminds me of a similar scene in a Godard film. I see the image from that film, reconstructed in my mind’s eye. I have a ‘recollection-image’.
And then I am yanked back into my everyday life by the perception-image presented to me by my tongue: the coffee is too hot. I am reminded, not all images are visual! The heat felt by my tongue is a condensation of all the universe into a single sensation, framed from the rest of the universe by the perspective on it provided by my body, the tip of which is my tongue. The tip of my tongue is like the frame provided by my eye or a cinema camera, it slice up the world based on its ‘perspective’ on it, and in doing so, allows certain sensations, certain slices of the world, to be foregrounded over others.
Another famous affection-image cited by Deleuze: imaging how pain affects a face in Dreyer's 'Passion of Joan of Arc'
As I am still reeling from the heat of the coffee, I hear a bird chirp out the window. A perception-image provided to me by my ears, based on how they frame the world, slice it, the perspective on the world they provide me. I feel an emotion well up in me in response to that bird-song, I feel the waves of emotion, an affection-image, which calls up to my mind a memory of other birds at other times, a recollection-image.
A complex action-image: An image of movement, yet also an imaging of perception (the camera's, the human who took the photo's), an imaging of affection (the face of the man being hit, for example), and an imaging of the action of the body of one man on another.
A Deleuzian Typology, or the Crystal of the Universe
The universe is nothing but a crystal of images, reflecting and refracting each other. Each entity, by slicing the universe up in its own way, produces its own cinema, framing and cutting, slicing and imaging, producing perception-images of movement-images. When these lead to negotiations between multiple potential states, these perception-images lead to affection-images, which can lead to distinctions, or action-images, images of action-distinction. For if a perception image layers images as ‘the same(yet different)’ by virtue of being in the same frame, and affection-images show images colliding, transforming into each other as powers or qualities impacting each other, the same yet different by virtue of negotiating the same part-whole, then action images show differences being actually distinct, becoming distinct, acting up each other distinctly, etc. Difference has now come to the fore. And as Deleuze argues, as we get closer to time-images, we see how difference in the image is precisely what time is, the more difference present directly in an image, the more it captures time, the more it directly images not merely spatial movement, but the radical differing relation of movement to itself that humans have called the passage of time.
The tree-rings from Hitchcock's 'Vertigo': The trees rings are an image of time, of time/change/difference in the image, which I've remembered to use here because of the image of recollection of this scene I experienced earlier which made me think to make use of it.
Any movement-image has the potential to be any of the other types of images Deleuze describes. Any perspective allows any movement-image to become a perception-image, and from there, all the other are possible, depending on the manner in which they are intertwined.
Deleuze’s cinema of the universe is post-human, he believes the universe is cinema, a continual self-refracting producing radical difference from within it, continually producing new perspectives upon its ever changing self. This does not mean that humans are perhaps not particularly adept cinematics. For we are a particularly complex intertwining of images, our bodies allow us to recognize, say, a given image as similar to another in the past, and by linking them together via our memory, despite the fact that they are radically separated in terms of their contexts, we produce a very abstract form of image, a recollection-image.
And yet, we are hardly the only entities in the universe with images of time. Deleuze makes clear analogies between the ways in which human brains work, and the ways in which the complex of cinema screens in the world are like a giant brain, each screen like a neuron, helping cinema view itself in its world-thinking. And each screen is like a mini-brain, linking together all the cameras and humans that produced it, like its neurons in turn helping it think one larger film-thought.
And yet cinema screens are created by humans. But what about the natural world? View the rings on a tree. Each ring links up all the growth in a tree which happened in a given year. Slice open a tree and you see an image of time presented in the rings. But it takes something as complex as the human mind to associate these rings with the time that produced them. The tree may have a direct image of time, but a relatively simple one. A tree has rings, and yet, isn’t able to use them to link up with different time periods, because it doesn’t know that it has an image of time. Only animals, as far as we know, and potentially some computers, can combine time images like this via recollection-images, and produce complex circuits such as recognition, association, dreaming, etc.
A Relational Image-Cosmos
It should not be thought that any particular image, however, means any particular thing. Take any clip of film, say, the image of my coffee cup on my table. Surround it in a film, before and after, with a shot-reverse-shot of my face, and the image of the coffee-cup on my table becomes a perception-image. Now take the same slice of film, and surround it by a different set of images. Show me asleep, then show the same clip of the coffee cup on the table, then me waking up. And now that clip of the coffee cup on the table, simply by being surrounded by different other images, becomes a dream-image, a variant of a recollection-image.
Images become different, become other than what they are/were, simply by being woven together differently. And this is why, for Deleuze, we must learn to “believe” once again in the world, and cinema can show us how to do this. For Deleuze firmly believes that the universe is not, like Nietzsche argues in some places, like a set of legos, made up of finite parts, and hence with a finite number of combinations. No, for Deleuze, there are infinite potential recombinations of our world, because entities, or images, are not like legos. They can be infinitely divided and redivided. And hence, there are infinite potential combinations and recombinations.
For Deleuze, the world is much more than just legos, it is infinitely divisible and redivisible, which is why we must always relearn, via cinema in all its forms, to believe in the world, believe in its potential to be radically new, and infinitely so. With infinite divisibility, there is infinite recombination and hence possibility . . .
Cinema is the practice of world dividing and redividing. The more intricate the relations, the more variety of ways we can relate and rerelate to our world. Cinema on screen can help us see new ways to view our world. It rearticulates the world, and in doing so, shows us potentially new ways to live life. For life and cinema are two sides of the same. Cinema is life, and life is cinema.
And it can always be done differently, in an infinite potential number of ways.
BETWEEN CINEMA & PHILOSOPHY
There are ideas in cinema that can only be cinematographic. These ideas are engaged in a cinematographic process and are consecrated to that process in advance”
– Deleuze, What is a creative act?
[…an excerpt from an essay on Deleuze, Godard, and control societies…]
In 1987 Deleuze delivered a talk on the topic of the creative production of works of art; specifically regarding creative acts as engendered in cinema and their difference from other creative endeavors such as philosophy and science. In this lecture, Deleuze develops a framework around the question of creative acts and their instantiation in different domains of activity through the language of “having ideas in” cinema, philosophy, etc., as opposed to having ideas about the works produced in each discipline. It will be clear from what follows that having an idea in cinema and philosophy amounts to combatting a set of habituated expectations (audience) and produced art objects (artist). If it is already well known that regarding philosophy Deleuze attributes the creative element of Thought to its antagonism against dogmatic Images of Thought (all those bad habits of cognition that treats reflection and recognition as synonymous with Thought and a thinking of difference-itself); regarding film, and aesthetics more generally, the creative element of artistic production combats ready-made images, the narrative presentation of images insofar as it is communicative and informative, and the celebration of the rote and banal development of the narrative structure at the expense of using cinema as a medium to present, interrogate, and pose questions that contain the force of necessity for both filmmaker and audience alike.
However, insofar as having an idea “in” cinema is not the same as having an idea “in” philosophy, for example, Deleuze intends to signal that cinematic ideas are necessarily bound up with the cinematographic process. However having an idea “in” cinema isn’t simply a solution to questions such as: How does one go about filming a society of control? What does this world look like? How best to present the lived reality of the citizens of Alphaville and the stranger who visits this city? Simply put, the having of ideas “in” cinema is irreducible to, and cannot be confused with, the solutions to technical problems regarding the cinematographic process.
In addition, says Deleuze, to have an idea “in” cinema is not the same thing as communication or the transmission of messages between screen and audience: “to have an idea is not of the order of communication” (p. 104). For Deleuze, the communication and transmission of information is the circulation of order-words; the circulation of the fundamental elements of certain discursive regimes of power, which polices and/or attempts to render us normalized subjects vís-a-vís the process of Faciality. How does this relate to the ideas specific to film? Precisely because there is a difference between, on the one hand, a movie that produces its audience by means of positing what is most necessary and profound in the film. And on the other hand, a film that produces its audience by communicating information regarding plot and character development while jettisoning the opportunity to address the problems that the films characters encounter as the most profound and urgent questions that act as their raison d’etre. That is, by formulating the problem of necessity in film, filmmakers create the sufficient reason and significance that pertains to a specific set of problems encountered in both cinema and the everyday aspects of social life as such.
Thus, to have an idea “in” cinema means the fabrication, creation, or formulation of that which is most urgent and therefore most necessary regarding the film itself. For Deleuze, it is the fabrication and formulation of what is most necessary and profound that guarantees films designation as a creative activity: “A creator is not a being that works for pleasure; a creator does nothing but that which he has need to do” (p. 102). In order to see how it is possible to have an idea “in” cinema and not simply about cinema (opinion), Deleuze provides two examples of what it means to formulate and engaged with the question of necessity, or what presents itself as the most urgent problem in the world.
A). The Seven Samurai
Deleuze offers us the example of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai as it relates to themes taken up, in novel form, by Dostoyevsky. For both the filmmaker and the novelist; and what brings them into relation; their main characters live in a world where they constantly find themselves assailed by urgent situations. Whether it is the urgency of Dostoyevsky’s character who is called to tend to his dying beloved or it is Kurosawa’s samurai who find themselves torn between fulfilling their duty of defending a village or devoting their attention to the discovering the meaning of the samurai-in-itself, we find character’s in a world of necessity and urgency who are being weighed down by another, and more prior, preoccupation. This is a preoccupation with what is merely urgent and important, but with what is the most urgent, and the most necessary. As Deleuze writes
“The characters of the The Seven Samurai are taken by urgent situations. They have agreed to defend a village yet they are taken by a more profound question… “What is a Samurai? What is a Samurai, not in general, but what is a Samurai during this epoch?”…and throughout the film, despite the urgency of this question that is deserving of the Idiot – which is in fact the Idiot’s question: We Samurai, what are we? Here it is – I would call it an idea in cinema, it is a question of this type” (p. 103, my emphasis).
Here we see the idea proper to Kurosawa’s film: ‘What is a Samurai, today, in this historical context?’ Deleuze continues:“If Kurosawa can adapt Dostoyevsky, surely it is because he can say, “I have a common cause with him; we have a common problem; that exact problem.” Kurosawa’s characters are exactly in the same situation. They are taken by impossible situations. “Yes, there is a more urgent problem, but I have to know what problem is more urgent” (p. 103). Thus, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai confirms our earlier distinction between a film that produces its audience by means of necessity and a film that produces itself and its audience through the communication of information as the story develops along a plot line. Unlike The Seven Samurai that poses the existential and social question of the socio-historical function that is satisfied by the Samurai as social category, in films that operate by way of transmission follow a different logic:
“One communicates information, which is to say that we…are held from believing or not from believing, but to make believe that we are believing. Be careful: we are not being asked to believe. We are just being asked to behave as if we believe. This is information that is communication. And at the same time…there is in fact no communication. There is no information; this is exactly the system of control” (p. 105, emphasis added).
B). Between Speech from Image
Another instance of a cinematographic idea, can be found in the films of Sylberberg, Straub, or Marguerite Duras. What is common to these filmmakers is the following: each filmmaker creates “a disjunct between the visual and sound” (p. 104). It is through this incongruous relation of the audio and visual elements of film where we have, says Deleuze, “a purely cinematographic idea” (p. 104). This disjunction is a properly cinematographic idea insofar as it is something only cinema can accomplish. For example, Marguerite Duras’ Agatha and The Limitless Readings confronts its viewers with a dialogue between a woman and her brother on the one hand, and the images of beaches, avenues, and so forth, where the two characters in dialogue are completely absent from the screen. Unlike The Seven Samurai that makes explcit the gravity of the question ‘what is a samurai?’ Duras’ film engenders an idea ‘in’ cinema by doing something only cinema itself can accomplish – posing the problem of necessity, or presenting that which is of the utmost urgent/important matter for the characters, implicitly and without having to present the audience with the characters themselves. Regarding Duras’ work, Deleuze remarks:
“Simply stated, a voice speaks of one thing and we show something else…That which one is speaking about is actually underneath that which one is showing…To be able to speak simultaneously and to then put it underneath that which we see is necessary…The great filmmakers had this idea…That is a cinematographic idea” (p. 104).
For Deleuze, one can have an idea ‘in’ cinema in (at least) two ways. Either, by means of explicating the problem of necessity as we saw with Kurosawa, or by creating a disjunction between speech and image; by disrupting what we habitually expect in terms of a film’s audiovisual synchronization; disrupting our expectation of a one to one correspondence between speech and image (as seen with Duras).
Thus, if it is through cinema’s acts of creation; acts that are said to be acts of resistance according to Deleuze; when can we say the ideas created by filmmakers are also acts of resistance against the image of cinema as communicating information to an audience? It is clear that having an idea in cinema resists the cases where cinema falls back on the transmission of order-words; a situation where we are asked to behave like something other than the command to normalize and obey those commands is being communicated. This is the paradox of societies of control that Deleuze highlighted: it is a society based on the communication and transmission of information, where what is passed on is without content and simply an order, a command, or opportunity for the normalization of deviant subjectivities. If cinema can reasonably aspire to be an act of resistance against control society, it is because, following Deleuze’s remarks on Straub’s Not Reconciled,
“Her [the old schizophrenic woman] trace makes me realize the two sides of the act of resistance: it is human, and it is all an act of art. This is the only kind of resistance that resists death and order words, control, either under the guise of the work of art, or in the form of man’s struggles” (p. 107).
C). Two Kinds of Resistance: Political & Aesthetic
While it may be intuitive for our all-too Western sensibility to identify an act of resistance as something that appeals to, and defends, some set of inviolable characteristics that constitute a humanist emancipatory politics, it still appears odd (on first glance) that acts of resistance can qualify as resistant to control societies in terms of their simply being a ‘work of art.’ That is, as it appears in his talk, acts of resistance have at least two poles: the political and the aesthetic. The former aligns itself with the various forms of ‘man’s struggles’ against violence and subjugation while the latter aligns itself with the presentation of necessity through different mediums. Thus, and to briefly end on this question of the aesthetic category of resistance, it is instructive to turn to what Deleuze says regarding the paintings of Bacon and the painters tension with clichés:
“Clichés, clichés! The situation has hardly improved since Cézanne. Not only has there been a multiplication of images of every kind, around us and in our heads, but even the reactions against clichés are creating clichés” (The Logic of Sensation, 89).
What Deleuze identified as one more obstacle for Bacon to overcome (the cliché) is already at work in his distinction between a film that poses the problem of necessity for an audience and a film that simply communicates and transmits information to its viewers. The cliché for painters are the order-words for filmmakers. In either case, works of art qualify as aesthetic acts of resistance insofar as they produce their audience in a way that obstructs their reliance on habituated expectations and sensibilities regarding aesthetic experience as such.
The work of art as an act of resistance means the production of aesthetic experience, or an appeal to immediacy of the audible, visual, and sensible, in a manner that forecloses an individuals possibility to simply rely upon and perpetuate habituated ways of encountering a work of art. Thus, whether we consider Bacon’s paintings or the various filmmakers Deleuze makes reference to, what is always at stake is this fight against clichés; a fight against those ready-made, socio-culturally overcoded images, in order to afford us the possibility of thinking, feeling, and ultimately being in the world in a manner other than that encouraged and perpetuated by our present state of affairs. Aesthetic, as well as political, acts of resistance are thus revealed for what they are: a veritable re-education of our affects away from those moments of overcoding, capture, and/or our perpetuation of the violence inherent to norm of Faciality in the name of a collective refashioning of our affects that produces the powers (affect/be affected) of subjectivity in a way that does not require the subjugation of others in advance.
CINEMA IN THE AGE OF CONTROL SOCIETIES
(Incredibly rough draft of part II of an article for Carte Semiotiche Annali 4, IMAGES OF CONTROL. Visibility and the Government of Bodies. Part I can be found here).
Given our critique of the affirmationist interpretation, and while Godard’s Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie) is Patton’s exemplar of something that approximates a Deleuzean ethico-political program, we should turn our attention to Godard’s 1965 sci-fi noir film Alphaville as the measure (and critique) of this affirmationist reading. Turning to Alphaville is crucial since it is the film where Godard achieves in cinema what Deleuze himself would only put down to paper towards the end of his life: the problem of how one makes revolution from within the contemporary paradigm of control societies. Not only were societies of control emerging as the latest form of capitalism’s ongoing globalization in Deleuze’s own life time; specific for our purposes here, what Deleuze understands as the technical and material conditions of control societies is precisely what Godard explores through the figure of an artificially intelligent computer (Alpha 60) that regulates the city of Alphaville as a whole with the aim of ensuring ‘civic order’ and dependable (i.e., predictable) citizenry. It is Alpha 60 who surveils, polices, and determines the guilt or innocence of the citizenry; that is, this AI form of governance is the perfect instance of those cybernetic machines at work in capitalist-control societies. Additionally, this emerging problem of control was a consequence of the shift from the ‘movement-image’ to the ‘time-image,’ as Deleuze notes. It is a shift to the paradigm that “registers the collapse of sensory-motor schemes: characters no longer “know” how to react to situations that are beyond them, too awful, or too beautiful, or insoluble…So a new type of character appears” (Negotiations, 59).
However, what Deleuze leaves implicit and under theorized in his concept of the ‘time-image,’ is the following: after the second world war, where we see a shift from the ‘movement-image’ to the ‘time-image,’ there was a simultaneous shift in how nation-states began to conceive of the role of global strategies of governance. During and after the war, information theorists, scientists, and academics were employed by the American government to develop the technological means for establishing a certain degree of civic order in a world that has proven itself capable of succumbing to the ever looming threat of global war. It was this emerging group of scientists and academics that would construct the very means for actualizing societies of control (Deleuze) and were the real world correlates for the social function of Alpha 60 (Godard):
“the very persons who made substantial contributions to the new means of communication and of data processing after the Second World War also laid the basis of that “science” that Wiener called “cybernetics.” A term that Ampère…had had the good idea of defining as the “science of government.” So we’re talking about an art of governing whose formative moments are almost forgotten but whose concepts branched their way underground, feeding into information technology as much as biology, artificial intelligence, management, or the cognitive sciences, at the same time as the cables were strung one after the other over the whole surface of the globe […] As Norbert Wiener saw it, “We are shipwrecked passengers on a doomed planet. Yet even in a shipwreck, human decencies and human values do not necessarily vanish, and we must make the most of them. We shall go down, but let it be in a manner to which we make look forward as worthy of our dignity.” Cybernetic government is inherently apocalyptic. Its purpose is to locally impede the spontaneously entropic, chaotic movement of the world and to ensure “enclaves of order,” of stability, and–who knows?–the perpetual self-regulation of systems, through the unrestrained, transparent, and controllable circulation of information” (The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends, p.107-9).
In the last instance, whether we speak of the paradigm of control in contemporary modes of governmentality or Alpha 60 in Alphaville, both Deleuze and Godard are concerned with the possibilities for the radical transformation of social life from within this context of cybernetic governance. Thus, it is against the background of societies of control that Patton’s affirmationist interpretation, and the politics that logically follows, will be measured and tested; if only to underscore how the affirmationist’s Platonism demonstrates that the application of metaphysical and epistemic truths into the domain of politics culminates in a praxis that is impotent at best and reactionary at worst.
I. AGAINST ALL FUTURE ACCIDENTS, or CINEMA IN THE AGE OF CYBERNETICS
Godard’s 1965 sci-fi noir film, Alphaville, tells the story of secret agent Lemmy Caution, a resident of the ‘Outlands’ whose journey into the town of Alphaville (officially, he is on a government organized trip with the objective of tracking down a certain Dr. von Braun) and his encounter with the cities seemingly mindless and one-dimensional inhabitants. The citizens of Alphaville are individuals who have been made to feel contented in indulging their drug habits, who have been assigned the social task of providing ‘escort’ services (predominantly women) for business persons and citizens alike (who are predominantly men); or those who, and they appear to be relatively few in the film, were former secret agents (like Lemmy himself) but have succumbed to the demands of life in the city. It is a place where even something as trivial as the conventions surrounding everyday language accord to the following maxim: “No one ever says ‘why;’ one says ‘because’” (00:50:06-00:50:10). And as Lemmy’s former colleague (now ex-secret agent) Henri Dickinson, remarks: “Their ideal here, in Alphaville, is a technocracy, like that of termites and ants” (00:23:23-00:23:32). In Alphaville, the citizens are governed such that they are treated as parts of an organic whole, who require attention and support only to the extent that all individuals can fulfill their social function, much like a worker ant relative to its queen.
Early into the film we learn alongside our main character the reason for this ideal of technocracy: Alpha 60, an artificially intelligent computer program, monitors Alphaville’s inhabitants with the aim of maintaining a certain order and stability in the city as a whole. Alpha 60 is the police, government, judge, and jury whose authority stems from its superhuman capacity for computational analysis. Regarding this form of cybernetic governance, Alpha 60’s sole interest lies in determining which individuals of the population are capable of being socialized into civil society and which individuals are unassimilable and therefore must be exterminated. If Alphaville has something in common with Deleuze’s concept of control societies it is with regard to the question of contemporary forms of governance whose means are becoming less those of confinement and more so those of ensuring the aggregation of information, its transparency, in order to better surveil and control populations. We can see Godard’s concern with the set of problems of control and governance, of resistance and ordered obedience, in the conversation between Lemmy Caution and Alpha 60 towards the end of the film:
Alpha 60: You are a menace to the security of Alphaville.
Lemmy Caution: I refuse to become what you call normal.
Alpha 60: Those you call mutants form a race superior to ordinary men whom we have almost eliminated.
Lemmy Caution: Unthinkable. An entire race cannot be destroyed.
Alpha 60: I shall calculate so that failure is impossible.
Lemmy Caution: I shall fight so that failure is possible. (01:17:45-01:18:32)
In light of this final dialogue, two things are worth noting. First, the antagonism between Lemmy Caution and Alpha 60; between the symbol of liberation from cybernetic governance and the symbol of control societies; takes the form of a struggle over what is deemed as possible and impossible. That is to say, not only is it the case that cybernetic governance is a form of control since it seeks to pre-emptively foreclose the possibility of the radical transformation of society. More importantly, and regarding the relation between Deleuze and Godard, it is precisely in the domain of the existence or inexistence of possibility that Deleuze locates the radical potential of both cinema and political change. As Deleuze writes in his now oft cited passage,
“Which, then, is the subtle way out? To believe, not in a different world, but in a link between man and the world, in love or life, to believe in this as in the impossible, the unthinkable, which none the less cannot but be thought: ‘something possible, otherwise I will suffocate.’ It is this belief that makes the unthought the specific power of thought, through the absurd, by virtue of the absurd” (C2, 170).
If ‘belief’ is the concept that offers the potential for freeing ourselves from control societies, it must be understood in the terms of the debate between Lemmy and Alpha 60. Determining what is possible and impossible becomes the contested site of politics, where the revolutionary, reformist, or reactionary character of one’s politics is but to the tested and ultimately revealed. In terms of Alphaville, it is clear that Lemmy Caution is a symbol of belief; the one who struggles for what is calculated as an impossibility from the perspective of the society of control regulated by Alpha 60 itself.
Second, and regarding the relationship between Alphaville and the emergence of cybernetics as form of governmentality in general, one cannot be faulted for thinking that Godard himself created Alpha 60 simply from the aims and ambitions of the marriage between cybernetics and government as outlined by the French Information theorist Abraham Moles:
“We envision that one global society, one State, could be managed in such a way that they could be protected against all the accidents of the future: such that eternity changes them into themselves. This is the ideal of a stable society, expressed by objectively controllable social mechanisms” (cited in ‘The Cybernetic Hypothesis,’ Tiqqun).
Given this situation of control as the dominant form of governance in both Alphaville and contemporary capitalism, of what use could we make of Patton’s affirmationist politics? Does Alphaville and the present control society violate his reading of a Deleuzean vitalist principle of the ‘inherent creative powers of life’ and obstruct the experience of joyous encounters? In other words, with control societies as well as Alphaville, do we encounter an organization of social life such that there is an obstruction/violation of the essential productivity that defines the nature and structure of reality as well as the highest virtue for living beings as such?
For Patton, the answer is straightforwardly affirmative: whether we consider Alphaville or societies of control, what we can be certain of is the ongoing violation of the creative powers of individuals in society and an obstruction of the possibility of living a life defined by joy as opposed to sadness. And it is precisely in this affirmative response that we see how Patton’s reconstruction of Deleuze’s metaphysical and epistemic commitments undercut any possibility for an ethico-political paradigm that can make good on the aspiration of the fundamental transformation of capitalist society into full communism as such: when what is understood to be metaphysically true (inherent creativity/productivity of life) is then used as the socio-political means to resist capitalist control, one may very well end up with a politics that privileges affirmation and creativity but it would not be a politics that necessarily coheres with that of Deleuze. For example, as Deleuze and Guattari state in the very first pages of Anti-Oedipus, this vitalist principle of continuous productivity and creation may be metaphysically significant but cannot be blindly projected as a program for political intervention. As they write, “There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together” (AO, 2). Or again:
“Even within society, this characteristic man-nature, industry-nature, society-nature relationship is responsible for the distinction of relatively autonomous spheres that are called production, distribution, consumption. But in general this entire level of distinctions, examined from the point of view of its formal developed structures, presupposes (as Marx has demonstrated) not only the existence of capital and the division of labor, but also the false consciousness that the capitalist being necessarily acquires, both of itself and of the supposedly fixed elements within an overall process. For the real truth of the matter [is]…everything is production” (AO, 3-4)
Thus, and while it remains true at the level of the nature of flows and becomings that there is some creative capacity to which human society and economic production remains intractably subject to, it is clear that the simple valorization of creativity/productivity as such does not provide us with the means to discriminate between different political orientations.
Patton’s affirmationist interpretation, which collapses its metaphysical claims into its political prescriptions, fails to account for Deleuze and Guattari’s own principle that everything is production; and this initial principle necessarily includes qualitatively different organizations of society (e.g., capitalism, communism, fascism, libertarian). By equating what is essential for ‘life as such’ with what is desirable in the domain of politics, Patton precludes any possibility of deciding between competing political alternatives to presently existing capitalism. For Deleuze and Guattari, every social organization of society is productive in its own manner just as power produces more than it represses a la Foucault. Thus, if the criteria for the affirmationist position is the ‘freeing up of productivity wherever it is stymied,’ then the politics that stems from this principle affirms any and all organizations of social life necessarily since every form of society must be said to be productive, necessarily, though in its own particular manner.
Thus, one of the major consequences of such a position is that Patton subtracts our capacity for proposing alternative visions of the world in relation to present circumstances. In depriving ourselves of the capacity for proposing an alternative to our present, not only does Patton’s political position exacerbate the very problem Deleuze took as the problem posed to the project of revolutionary transformation; Patton’s position also appears as a deviation from the very category of creativity that Deleuze himself valorized in the domains of art, philosophy, and ultimately, politics: “We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present…Art and philosophy converge at this point: the constitution of an earth and a people that are lacking as the correlate of creation” (WP, 108).
If Deleuze retains some place in his political framework for the category of creativity, it must be understood not as the most general feature of reality and rather as the construction of an alternative to the present. In order to create something that is against one’s present and one’s time, one requires the capacity of discriminating between alternatives and this is precisely what Patton’s interpretation forecloses from the outset. By ignoring this specific use of the category of creativity in the realm of politics, Patton affirms, by necessity, everything (since everything is productive) and therefore prescribes a politics devoid of content/prescriptions, and abandoned to the machinations of the present. In this case, not even a nostalgia of the past ‘creativity’ of May ’68 can save Patton since, as Guattari notes:
“Capitalism can always arrange things and smooth them over locally, but for the most part and essentially, everything has become increasingly worse […] The response to many actions has been predicted organized and calculated by the machines of state power. I am convinced that all of the possible variants of another May 1968 have already been programmed on an IBM” (‘We Are All Groupuscules’).
Jean-Pierre Léaud and Anne Wiazemsky, La Chinoise (1967)
THE AIM OF THIS ESSAY IS TO INTERROGATE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN IDEA-PROBLEMS, CREATIVITY, AND THE SOCIETY OF CONTROL AS UNDERTAKEN BY DELEUZE (WITHIN PHILOSOPHY), GODARD (WITHIN CINEMA), AND PAUL PATTON (PHILOSOPHY AND CINEMA). IT WILL BE SHOWN HOW DELEUZE’S UNDERSTANDING OF THE RELATION BETWEEN IDEAS, CREATIVITY, AND CONTROL DIFFERS IN IMPORTANT WAYS FROM PATTON’S INTERPRETATION OF DELEUZE’S THOUGHT ON CINEMA. ON PATTON’S READING, THE PESSIMISM GODARD EXPRESSES REGARDING GENDER ROLES IN SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE) IS MERELY A PRETEXT FOR A REDEMPTIVE READING OF A BECOMING-WOMAN, WHICH PRESCRIBES AN ETHICO-AESTHETICS OF AN “AFFECTIVE OPTIMISM AND AFFIRMATION OF LIFE. (ADDITIONALLY – IT IS BECAUSE PATTON APPLIES DELEUZEAN CONCEPTS TO SAUVE QUI PEUT, THAT I TERM THIS AN ‘AFFIRMATIONIST’ INTERPRETATION). THUS, WHAT IS ESSENTIAL ACCORDING TO PATTON’S READING OF DELEUZE’S THINKING REGARDING CINEMA IS THE FOLLOWING ASSERTION:
“Deleuze and Guattari accord an ethical and ontological priority to those modes of existence which allow the maximum degree of movement, for example, forms of nomadism or rhizomes. In this sense, their philosophy embodies a vital ethic which affirms the creative power of life, even if this is something a non-organic life tracing the kind of abstract line we find in art or music.” (Patton, ‘Godard/Deleuze: Sauve Qui Peut‘)
As we will see, Patton’s interpretation of Godard, and use of Deleuze, simply reintroduces Platonism back into the heart of Deleuze’s thoroughly anti-Platonist commitments – whether considered within the domain of philosophy, art, science, or politics. By grounding Deleuze’s vitalism on the principle of life’s inherent creativity, Patton proposes a “Deleuzean” ethics and politics whose fundamental aim is the application of these metaphysical, social, and aesthetic principles (becoming-x, lines of flight, and so on) within the domains of art and politics. And it is precisely this idea of taking what is metaphysically True as the means and application what is aesthetically and politically Good, that is the trademark of Platonism. It is for this reason that we will claim that Patton reintroduces Platonism back into Deleuze’s strict anti-Platonism.
-THE AFFIRMATIONIST INTERPRETATION-
So what are we to make of Patton’s claim that Deleuze and Guattari give ethical and ontological priority to modes of maximizing one’s degrees of movement (rhizomes, nomads), such that this priority is tantamount to an affirmation of the creative powers of life as such? On Patton’s reading, what is key for understanding Deleuze’s relationship to cinema is his lasting commitment to the priority of a maximization of joyful encounters over and against the secondary fact of what is created in the process itself. The affirmationist interpretation categorizes the ‘creative powers of life’ as the principle of revolutionary aesthetic and political praxis and relegates life’s products as the consequence of what exists as ontologically, artistically, and politically prior. Thus Godard’s Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie), which Patton reads as emblematic of Deleuze’s aesthetic theory, is presented as a meditation on the ambiguities at the heart of masculine and feminine social roles; or, better still, as a presentation of gender as a zone of indistinction where the norms that underpin the gender binary are called into question. For Patton, it is precisely the unresolved dilemma regarding masculine social norms that gives one the impression of Godard’s pessimism regarding young men in post war France. However, this pessimistic impression of masculinity is only a pretext for the optimism that lies in the potential of a becoming-woman. As Patton writes,
“this pessimism about the male condition is not only circumscribed but contrasted with an optimism about life, albeit a life which has become feminine…The result is an affective optimism and affirmation of life which attaches itself above all to images of women engaged in an active becoming of their own.”
Thus, what first appears as Godard’s pessimism is simply indicative of a more fundamental optimism; an optimism that requires an affirmation of the becoming-woman at the heart of the dilemma of masculinity as such. Moreover, this becoming-woman isn’t simply taken as the becoming-minor at the heart of the molar identities of masculine/feminine. By invoking the Godardardian principle, ‘not just ideas, just ideas’, Patton reads this becoming-minor as being privileged by Deleuze and Guattari since lines of flight and becomings are creative in themselves and harbor the potential for transformation and novelty. For Patton, a cinema or politics that operates by way of correct ideas (just ideas), as opposed to just having ideas, tends toward the ossification of power and the repetition of all the pitfalls already exhibited by historical communism. That is, Deleuze and Guattari view correct ideas as privileging “conformism and dogmatism.” Thus, according to Patton, they maintain “a rejection of any subordination to intellectual authority which inhibits creativity.”
This is the crux of the affirmationist interpretation: lines of flight, becoming-minor, rhizome-books, and so forth, are taken to be axiomatic to Deleuze (and Guattari’s) understanding of aesthetics, ethics, and politics. For Patton, anything that inhibits the creative potential of these lines of flight is seen as reactionary pure and simple. While Patton’s interpretation contains some kernel of textual truth, errors arise insofar as Deleuze and Guattari are interpreted as valorizing becoming and transformation for its own sake and on the basis of the idea that the creative powers of life are the ethico-political guideposts for aesthetic and political practices.
The affirmationist interpretation correctly highlights Deleuze’s emphasis on ambiguity, lines of flight, and the inherent quality of resistance in artistic production. However, this interpretation misconstrues how Deleuze views the emancipatory potential of each of these categories within cinema itself. That is, and against the affirmationist interpretation, not only does Patton commit himself to an approach to cinema that Deleuze explicitly rejects (applying concepts from outside cinema, and in this case from the Deleuzean corpus, to bear on cinema itself); Patton misunderstands Deleuze’s vitalism, which is in fact a theory of time and not a theory of some universal life force, and thereby conflates a faith in life’s inherent creativity with an aesthetico-political concept of resistance, change, and liberation. Regarding this discrepancy between vitalism as a theory of life or a theory of time, John Mullarkey’s genealogy of the vitalism Deleuze inherits from Bergson is crucial. As he writes,
“It takes only a little first-hand knowledge of Bergson’s texts to enable oneself to move beyond the stereotypical interpretation of Bergsonian vitalism as a notion regarding some mysterious substance or force animating all living matter. His theory of the élan vital has little of the anima sensitiva, archeus, entelechy, or vital fluid of classical vitalisms. This is a critical vitalism focused on life as a thesis concerning time (life is continual change and innovation) as well as an explanatory principle in general for all the life sciences” (‘Life, Movement and the Fabulation of the Event,’p. 53).
Thus, since Patton maintains that vitalism is a theory of life as opposed to time, his affirmationist interpretation simply perpetuates the idea that Deleuze satisfied himself with following whatever is the most deviant, the most subversive, and the most minor in philosophy, art, and politics on the basis that deviancy, subversiveness, and minority are desirable-in-themselves precisely because they are metaphysically guaranteed features of reality. On this view one affirms their becoming-minor and the subversiveness it entails simply because it accords to the higher metaphysical claim of life’s inherent creativity. That is to say, insofar as our aesthetic and political engagements exist as perfect copies of the metaphysical and vitalist principle of creativity, we can safely judge actions as aesthetically, ethically, and politically virtuous, or revolutionary. At this point we should pause to highlight at least 3 themes that are equivocated, which allow the affirmationist interpretation to function: vitalism, the affirmation of life as tantamount to the production of novelty, and the status of indeterminacy/indistinction as effected by cinema itself.
Deleuze’s ‘vitalism’ is not reducible to a theory about the inherent capacities of life as creative. Rather, it is a theory of the nature of time and time’s foundational relation to space. It is the problem posed by the nature of time, moreover, that is precisely what motivates Deleuze’s voyage into cinema. As he writes,
“Time is out of joint: Hamlet’s words signify that time is no longer subordinated to movement, but rather movement to time. It could be said that, in its own sphere, cinema has repeated the same experience, the same reversal, in more fast-moving circumstances…the post-war period has greatly increased the situation which we no longer know how to react to, in spaces which we no longer know how to describe…Even the body is no longer exactly what moves; subject of movement or the instrument of action, it becomes rather the developer of time, it shows time through its tiredness and waitings” (Cinema 2, p. xi).
The interpretation that sees a vitalism at work within Deleuze’s analysis of cinema is correct insofar as what is meant by vitalism is the problem posed by the nature of time to philosophy, art, politics, and science. It is for this reason that Bergson becomes an instructive thinker for Deleuze’s turn to cinema since what preoccupied Bergson, and what Deleuze finds at work in post-war cinema, is precisely the attempt to reverse the classical idea which thinks the reality of time as subordinate to, and dependent upon, the nature of space.
As Deleuze (following Bergson) makes clear the intelligibility of Life-in-itself is never grasped, as Aristotle thought, through the definition of time as the measure of movement in space; a definition which posits the essence and actuality of time as dependent upon space for its own existence. Thus, if time is not ontologically dependent on space as Bergson maintains; and if time is not reducible to the linear progression of the measure of movement; then this conception of time-itself requires a reconceptualization of the very lexicon of temporality: the past, present, and future. In Creative Evolution, Bergson gives his refutation of interpreting Life in terms of finality/final causes, and it is here where Bergson offers the means for a transvaluation of our temporal lexicon. On the ‘Finalist’ or teleological account of the reality of Time, the future finds its reality in the past and present, follows a certain order, and is guaranteed due to first principles. Thus, for the finalists, the future remains fixed and dependent upon the linear progression of time. For Bergson, the future is precisely that which does not depend on the linear progression of time for its own reality. In this way we can understand that for both Bergson and post-war cinema, the nature of time can no longer be understood as derivative of space as such.
Rather, time must now be thought as that which conditions the reality of movement and space. And this can be achieved in cinema, says Deleuze, precisely by doing something only cinema can do. That is, by film’s capacity to produce a disjunct between the visual and the audible aspects of film: “The relations…between what is seen and what is said, revitalize the problem [of time] and endow cinema with new powers for capturing time in the image” (C2, p. xiii). If the ‘vital’ creativity of cinema is fundamental for Deleuze’s understanding of cinema, it is the case only insofar as cinema provides us with the means to no longer think of time as subordinate to space but as the problem that motivates and determines space itself. It for this reason that Deleuze will mark the shift from the movement-image to the time-image at the precise moment when cinema reformulated the problem posed to its filmic characters:
“if the major break comes at the end of the war, with neorealism, it’s precisely because neorealism registers the collapse of sensory-motor schemes: characters no longer “know” how to react to situations that are beyond them, too awful, or too beautiful, or insoluble…So a new type of character appears. But, more important, the possibility appears of temporalizing the cinematic image: pure time, a little bit of time in its pure form, rather than motion” (Negotiations, p. 59).
Thus, what motivates Deleuze to bring Bergson’s theorization of time to bear on cinema is precisely because what we discover (whether in Bergson or in cinema) is that time is both the object of Thought and cinema and the productive principle of any actualized and lived reality. Thus, the vitalist tendencies of Deleuze’s remarks on cinema should not be seen as a theorization of the creative powers of life. If vitalism is somehow a theory regarding what is principally creative within the world, it is not ‘Life’ but time-as-such that is creative. Moreover, what is produced by time-itself and cinema’s time-image is problematic in nature. Thus, not only is vitalism a theory about time (and not life); time-as-such does not produce something that can easily be judged as good or bad; virtuous or vicious. Rather, time produces problems for us; problems whose solutions can only be determined insofar as Thought and cinema pose the problem truthfully as opposed to preoccupying itself with false problems.
If Deleuze’s vitalism is a theory of time and the problem posed by Time for Thought and cinema, then the ‘creative powers’ attributed to this vitalism must also undergo redefinition. The interpretation of Deleuze’s aesthetic and political theory as one that seeks to adequate, in thought and praxis, Life’s inherent creativity and novelty fails to account for Deleuze’s anti-Platonism, where the relationship between models and copies is jettisoned for the relationship between simulacra and the Idea-problems to which they are indexed. As Deleuze writes in Difference and Repetition regarding the relationship between optimism and the relationship between Thought and its Ideas/problems:
“The famous phrase of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, ‘mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve’, does not mean that the problems are only apparent or that they are already solved, but, on the contrary, that the economic conditions of a problem determine or give rise to the manner in which it finds a solution within the framework of the real relations of the society. Not that the observer can draw the least optimism from this, for these ‘solutions’ may involve stupidity or cruelty, the horror of war or ‘the solution of the Jewish problem’. More precisely, the solution is always that which a society deserves or gives rise to as a consequence of the manner in which, given its real relations, it is able to pose the problems set within it and to it by the differential relations it incarnates” (Difference and Repetition, p. 186).
Thus, the idea of simply pursuing various lines of actualization vis-á-vis a specific set of Ideas/problems, thereby embodying the perfect copy of the creative potential of the problems posed to us by life itself, is seen as suspect by Deleuze himself if for no other reason than what is given to Thought in the Idea-Problem is every possible solution. Every possible solution includes, as seen in the passage above, both the horrors of fascism and the aspiration of social and political liberation.
If, as Patton encourages us to believe, Deleuze’s aesthetic/political theory simply amounts to affirming the novelty of life, we would commit ourselves to the position of accepting every solution to social and political problems. While it is true for Deleuze that Idea-problems pose every possible solution from the outset it is also the case that each possible solution to an Idea-problem can be actualized only on the condition that one solutions unfolding (explication) maintains an incompossible relation to all other solutions. Solutions to a problem, thus, are actualized according to their exclusive disjunction with an Idea-problems other possibilities. This thesis of incompossibility in regards to the relation between problems and their resolution is what is at stake when Deleuze writes:
“The I and the Self…are immediately characterised by functions of development or explication: not only do they experience qualities in general as already developed in the extensity of their system, but they tend to explicate or develop the world expressed by the other, either in order to participate in it or to deny it (I unravel the frightened face of the other, I either develop it into a frightening world the reality of which seizes me, or I denounce its unreality)” (DR, p. 260).
However, why have we said that Patton’s affirmationist interpretation reintroduces Platonism into Deleuze’s thought? For the following reason: once we understand that Deleuze’s vitalism is a theory of time and not a theory of life; and once we grasp that what time produces are Idea-problems prior to their resolution; the priority given to Idea-Problems by Deleuze can only be a priority of metaphysical and epistemic inquiry and not moral in character. Patton’s affirmationist interpretation, which takes Idea’s as a legislative-model for ethical, political, or aesthetic action reintroduces Platonism in the heart of Deleuze’s thought since the equation of metaphysics (Idea/model) with politics (claimant/copy) necessarily entails the logic of the good and bad copy, the true and false claimant. Patton’s reading reintroduces what is inessential to Ideas (moral criteria of judgment) back into their essence (qualitatively different claimants to an Idea), and thereby reduces what is truly creative for Thought (Problems) to something to be subjected to ready-made criteria (Image of Thought):
“This Platonic wish to exorcise simulacra is what entails the subjection of difference. For the model can be defined only by a positing of identity as the essence of the Same…and the copy by an affection of internal resemblance, the quality of the Similar…Plato inaugurates and initiates because he evolves within a theory of Ideas which will allow the deployment of representation. In his case, however, a moral motivation in all its purity is avowed: the will to eliminate simulacra or phantasms has no motivation apart from the moral” (DR, p. 265).
Thus, it is only by the confusion of the ontological and epistemic with the aesthetic and political, that Patton’s affirmationist reading reintroduces Plato’s moralism back into Deleuze’s philosophy of Difference.
The third and final point regarding the status of indeterminacy/falsity in cinema as presented in the affirmationist approach can be seen in the following passage. For Patton, and regarding the status of normative gender roles in Sauve Qui Peut, Godard, “offers no solution to this dilemma of masculinity…Ultimately, this pessimism about the male condition is not only circumscribed but contrasted with an optimism about life, albeit a life which has become feminine…The result is an affective optimism and affirmation of life which attaches itself above all to images of women engaged in an active becoming of their own.” What is missing from Patton’s account, however, is the precise relationship between the indeterminacy of social norms as seen in Sauve Qui Peut as they relate to what cinema’s time-image achieves: namely, the power of falsity that reintroduces indeterminacy/indistinction (molecular) into that which remains determinate and distinct (molar). As Deleuze writes, “[T]he power of falsity is time itself, not because time has changing contents but because the form of time as becoming brings into question any formal model of truth” (N, p. 66).
Thus, if Godard resists resolving the dilemma of masculinity, it is not because there is no answer to the problem of hetero-patriarchy. Rather, it is because only by making the determinate/distinct into something indeterminate/indistinct that cinema moves beyond merely representing different solutions of a problem to the immediate presentation of the problem via the time-image. It is time (as the form of becoming) that creates the indistinct and undecidable character of the lived reality of hetero-patriarchy in Sauve Qui Peut; and Godard achieves this in cinema through a direct presentation of a problem over and against the presentation of its various solutions. Remarking upon this relationship between truth and falsity, indistinction and undecidability, Deleuze remarks,
“The real and the unreal are always distinct, but the distinction isn’t always discernible: you get falsity when the distinction between real and unreal becomes indiscernible. But, where there’s falsity, truth itself becomes undecidable. Falsity isn’t a mistake or confusion, but a power that makes truth undecidable” (N, p. 65-6).
The powers of the false; the immediate presentation of a problem; renders truth undecidable and the relation of the true and the false indiscernible precisely because this immediate presentation of a problem “brings into question any formal model of truth. This is what happens in the cinema of time” (N, p. 66). Just as the philosopher cannot hope for any optimism in their proper orientation toward Ideas, the filmmaker does not predict any certain or clear solution in their immediate presentation of a problem. For both philosopher and filmmaker, the true posing of Idea-problems troubles our ready-made models because, as Deleuze says of Godard in an interview, “the key thing is the questions Godard asks and the images he presents and a chance of the spectator feeling that notion of labor isn’t innocent, isn’t at all obvious.” Insofar as philosopher’s pose true problems and create concepts adequate to them; insofar as filmmakers present problems in their immediacy in terms of the time-image; each creates something which no longer allows others to treat ideas, concepts, or images as ready-made, neutral, and naturally given features of the world. The posing of true problems in thought and cinema is the genesis of a concept, or artwork, that disrupts our habituated modes of thinking, feeling, and approaching the world (i.e., the dogmatic image of thought). The power of falsification is cinema’s capacity to render what we take to be obvious, ready-made, or second nature as alien and no longer a fixed socio-political certainty. The powers of the false and a cinema of undecidability, then, are Godard’s means of effecting a becoming since he “brings into question any formal model of truth.”
So, if Sauve Qui Peut offers no solution to the problem posed by hetero-patriarchy and thus remains indeterminate; and if this problem reveals the condition of masculinity as being one that requires a becoming-woman; the indistinctness/undecidability of becoming-as-such is much more a counter-actualization rather than an actualization of a solution with respect to its problem. The main consequence of Patton’s equation between the (ontologically) True with the (ethically) Good or (politically) Just results in a case of misplaced concreteness; whereby Deleuze appears to valorize the simply extension/application of ontological truth into the realm of aesthetico-political activity. Here we find a Deleuze who would never have found troubling the moralism at the heart of Platonism; who never would have written that philosophers and filmmakers alike should follow the maxim that says “Don’t have just ideas, just have an idea (Godard).”
4. THE AFFIRMATIONIST INTERPRETATION
Given what has been shown regarding the themes of vitalism, novelty/creativity, and ambiguity/falsity, we can summarize Patton’s affirmationist interpretation of Deleuze in the following manner: by treating vitalism as a theory of life and life’s inherent creative powers Patton proposes a Deleuzean ethics and politics whose fundamental aim is the application of metaphysical and epistemic principles (becoming-x, lines of flight, and so on) within the domains of art and politics. However, as we have seen, this interpretation reintroduces Platonism back into Deleuze’s strictly anti-Platonic thinking regarding the relationship between Ideas, the possible solutions they propose, and the thinkers relation to the two. It is for these reasons that he interprets ‘the creative powers life’ (Idea-problems) as ready-made criteria for the judgement between good and bad copies, between better or worse claimants to an Idea. Thus, on this reading of Deleuze, what is ‘True’ regarding the nature and structure of reality (inherent creativity of life) is also interpreted as what is ‘Good’ for individual and social life. And it is on this basis that Patton can claim that the essence of Deleuze’s political commitments can be summarized as a repudiation of anything that inhibits modes maximization of movement and creative powers.
Hence our nomination of Patton’s reading of Deleuze as Platonic by nature – when the True is also the Good we should know that we are not far from discovering a Plato in our midst. Additionally, even at the moment when Patton’s reading seems to gain most support from his analysis of gender roles within Godard’s film his proposal of a becoming-woman at the heart of a perceived pessimism regarding young men (while true) remains at the level of the most basic generality. In other words, lines-of-flight may give us insight into the available means for the subversion of power or the escape from control, but lines-of-flight are not inherently revolutionary. And it is this principle – that lines-of-flight, deterritorialization, smooth space are not inherently revolutionary – that Patton’s analysis leaves out. As Deleuze and Guattari constantly remind us, “smooth spaces are not in themselves liberatory” (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 500).
Thus, our suspicion of Patton’s interpretation stems from the claim that Deleuze’s preoccupation with Idea-problems is not simply a continuation of their Platonic ancestors. On this affirmationist/Platonist interpretation, Deleuze appears to locate the creativity and novelty of art (and Godard’s cinema in particular) at the register of the cinematic representation of specific concepts (lines of flight, becoming-woman, becoming-minor). It is in this way that Patton reads the pessimism which Godard expresses regarding gender roles as a mere pretext for the redemptive theme of becoming-woman. And it is precisely the cinematic representation of the redeeming theme of becoming-woman that Patton takes to be Deleuze’s own prescription of an ethico-politico-aesthetics that can be adequately summarized as an “affective optimism and affirmation of life.” However, if philosophy and cinema are creative insofar as they can pose a problem correctly (falsification), an optimism or affirmation of life does not follow necessarily since it is precisely the distinction and determination of truth and falsity, the real and the unreal, that is rendered undecidable by problems themselves. The activity of philosophy and filmmaking follows a different outcome, whereby each individual cannot draw the least amount of optimism from solutions of the problem, since as Deleuze continuously reminds us, the solutions of a problem may involve stupidity or cruelty, the horror of war or ‘the solution of the Jewish problem.’
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