Film-Philosophy

(ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 4 No. 15, June 2000

 

 

Garnet Creighton Butchart

Thinking Through Cinema

 

 

 

D. N. Rodowick

_Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine_

Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1997

ISBN: 0822319705

280 pp.

 

Over the past decade the writings of Gilles Deleuze have substantially

impacted Anglo-American cultural theory scholarship. Available in English

translation, many of Deleuze's writings (sole authored and in

collaboration) have been brought to bear on a multiplicity of questions

underpinning currents of inquiry within philosophy, history, politics,

literary studies, gender studies, geography, and communications. While

having yet to attain the volume of other streams of contemporary cultural

criticism theorizing with Deleuze, film studies has more recently turned to

this style of philosophy in an attempt to locate, develop, and deploy new

theoretical concepts. For example, Anglo-American film scholars have found

in Deleuze alternative approaches for analysis of third cinema and

experimental diasporan film, the nature of embodiment and sexual

specificity, as well as cinematic techniques and perception, [1] and

critical investigations of Deleuze's philosophy of the cinema populate many

recent edited collections. [2] Book length essays have also recently

emerged where theorists have extended Deleuze to their ongoing interest and

theoretical approaches to the study of film, including Shaviro's _The

Cinematic Body_ and, most notably, Rodowick's _Gilles Deleuze's Time

Machine_.

 

What sets Rodowick apart from other film theorists contributing to the

growing Anglo-American dialogue with Deleuze is his direct engagement with

what may well be two of Deleuze's most challenging works: _Cinema 1: The

Movement-Image_ and _Cinema 2: The Time-Image_. As a detour in the history

of Deleuze's philosophical meditation on the question of time, in these

texts Deleuze turns to a historical investigation of the narrative

structures of film in order to imagine the ways in which time may be

rendered spatially. Through each volume, Deleuze constructs a 'cinematic

philosophy' to locate within film possibilities for the creation of new

philosophical concepts with a view to new images and practices of thought.

The project for Rodowick, as well as for those interested in accepting the

challenge posed by _Cinema_, is to put Deleuze's philosophical machinery to

work in order to animate and experiment with its utility for contemporary

film studies. In this sense, the question for readers of _Gilles Deleuze's

Time Machine_ is Rodowick's ability to illuminate, rather than further

complicate, this philosophical adventure.

 

A professor of English and Visual/Cultural Studies at the University of

Rochester, Rodowick's contribution to contemporary film studies has been

motivated by a concern to engage, reproblematize, and challenge the

theories and perspectives that situate film studies in Anglo-American

contexts. In his earlier works Rodowick commits to questions that, for him,

remain unresolved in film theory -- specifically, the question of sexual

identification, as well as the methods and objectives of ideological

criticism in cultural theory. [3] Re-examining such debates, for Rodowick,

'makes some very familiar territory once again unfamiliar and

thought-provoking'. [4] In his more recent writings Rodowick poses a

different sort of challenge for visual and cultural studies, namely a

philosophical approach for 'both a genealogical critique of the aesthetic

and a positive investigation of the concepts invented or suggested by the

historical emergence of new media'. [5] In characterizing the cinema as the

medium through which cultural thought and memory have historically been

defined and documented, Rodowick takes a turn through Deleuze to challenge

and reveal (both for film theory and philosophy) alternative possibilities

for reflection on the forms and practices of contemporary 'audiovisual'

culture.

 

According to Rodowick, within Anglo-American film studies, as well as

within studies of Continental philosophy, engagement with Deleuze's

_Cinema_ has been marginal at best. In each of these contexts Rodowick

suggests that the apparent lack of exploration and subsequent

misconceptions of Deleuze's investigation of the cinema may be attributed

not only to the inherent 'difficulty in reading Deleuze', but, more

critically, to a lack of disciplinary reference to the concepts developed

throughout the two volumes (x). On the one hand, Rodowick attributes the

limited impact of _Cinema_ on the philosophy community to an incomplete

knowledge of film history and the study of film language and spectatorship.

On the other hand, he argues that, within Anglo-American film studies, the

absence of time for examination and serious critique of Deleuze's

philosophical arguments combine with the Saussurean and Lacanian

foundations of contemporary English-language film theory to produce a

*contextual incompatibility* between the two approaches (xi). According to

Rodowick, the tension between these perspectives on culture 'has produced

consternation among reviewers who have insisted on judging Deleuze's books

in the context of contemporary Anglo-American film theory' (xi).

 

With a view to illuminating the intersection of Deleuze's philosophy of

time with the history of cinema, Rodowick advocates careful reconsideration

of the compatibility of Deleuze's cinematic philosophy with Anglo-American

film theory. Consistent with the approach of his earlier writings, Rodowick

argues: 'Deleuze challenges contemporary film theory to confront its blind

spots and dead ends, as well as to question its resistance to other

philosophical perspectives on image, meaning, and spectatorship' (xi). As

with all good scholars deploying Deleuze to reinvigorate disciplinary

perspectives, debates, and theoretical oppositions, Rodowick undertakes to

'demonstrate both the originality and consistency of Deleuze's

philosophical concepts in ways that will provoke further work in

contemporary visual studies from these perspectives' (xv). In order to

encourage response to Deleuze's two-volume investigation of the cinema,

Rodowick seeks to respond to two main questions: first, why does Deleuze

turn to cinema to address questions of image, movement, and time raised

throughout his earlier works? Second, in what ways might Deleuze's

investigation of cinema shed new light on the history of this medium?

 

Demonstrating the extent to which the concepts in _Cinema_ provide

productive perspectives on contemporary audiovisual culture, Rodowick

dedicates the first half of his essay to the second question, examining

Deleuze's characterization of the historical shift in the narrative

organization of pre-war cinema's 'movement-image' to the 'time-image' of

post-war cinema. With erudition, Rodowick takes readers through Deleuze's

Bergsonian theory of the image and its movements (chapter 2), into

Deleuze's reading of Pierce for an alternative theory of signs and a

critique of film semiology (chapter 3), and concludes the section with an

extended account of the time-image and an introduction for the remainder of

the book to Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche and the powers of the false

(chapter 4). For Deleuze, the philosopher *and* the cinephile, merging

philosophical arguments (on time and movement) with the cinema (the

creation of images) must be understood as the *practice* of creating new

images of thought. For Rodowick, the value of the movement-image and the

time-image is their 'periodizing' function: whereas the 'image' marks the

historical borders of identifiably distinct cinematic logics and practices,

the concepts themselves render in philosophical form 'an era's strategies

of thinking-through, represented aesthetically in the nature of its images

and signs' (7). Anticipating criticism of Deleuze's historical image

categories, Rodowick cautions readers that Deleuze takes the history of

cinema itself as a history of philosophy, where 'defining cinema's concepts

is fundamental for understanding both the historical emergence of our

contemporary audiovisual culture and the fate of thinking within this

culture's image of thought' (172).

 

In the second section of his book, Rodowick questions why Deleuze turns to

the cinema in order to develop his philosophy of time pursued in earlier

writings. This question is key, not only for understanding the place of

cinema in Deleuze's intellectual history, but, more importantly, for an

appreciation of the utility of Rodowick's treatment for Anglo-American film

studies. With a view to developing the potential of Deleuze's Nietzschean

philosophy of the cinema, Rodowick examines how the philosophical questions

of movement and time are transformed in cinema's shift from the

movement-image to the time-image (chapter 5), the political utility of

cinema in Deleuze's discussion of fabulation and time as series (chapter

6), and finally, in the most valuable and complex section of the book, the

philosophical relation between image and thought, where cinematic concepts

have the power to affect the 'unthought in thought of news ways of

thinking' (chapter 7). In these chapters, Rodowick argues that by turning

to the cinema as a means to illuminate 'images of thought' (an era's

thinking-through thought itself), and to render these as philosophical

concepts, Deleuze sees in the time-image the potential for creating new

values and new activities of thinking with a view to new modes of existence.

 

Only those who are committed to reading through to the final chapters will

discover the contribution of _Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine_, namely, the

possibility for philosophy, film theory, and even film making itself to

open up new lines of thought. According to Rodowick, the key to theorizing

film with Deleuze is through his approach to the *interval*, the

irreducible space or autonomous division in the time-image between

photograms, shots, and sequences that arrest the logical passage from image

to image. The interval derives from Deleuze's earlier work on perception,

[6] where the visual field is understood to be produced through the

operation of differentiation. The self-production of the process of

differentiation enables the possibility of thinking itself, where thought,

in this sense, may be located by mapping the organization of intervals. In

terms of the cinema, Rodowick argues that, against 'the truthful regime' of

the movement-image, where 'belief in identity, unity, and totality' is

paramount, the organization of intervals in the time-image assures an

incommensurability of space and time in the flux of images and the

movements of thought, subverting their articulation to a determinate,

chronological, and 'truthful' origin (178-179). According to Rodowick, the

very organization of the interval opens a space of becoming, where the

effect of its own self-production, its own repetition, produces, both in

cinema as well as within philosophy, the very possibility for the creation

of new concepts for new modes of thinking. As such, the cinema is

understood as a critical medium for realizing new possibilities for

speaking and representing, a medium which reveals what is said and seen,

while offering the power to reveal what remains unsaid, unthought, and

unrepresented.

 

For Rodowick, as for Deleuze, thinking through cinema is a matter of

philosophical experimentation en route to inspiring new concepts, new

images, and new techniques. While Rodowick maintains that his book does not

attempt a complete overview of Deleuze's approach to cinema, nor any

systematic fealty to Deleuze's thought, his appropriation and animation of

Deleuze's concepts do retain a great deal of their original complexity.

Neither the rigor nor the challenge of Deleuze's philosophical arguments

are lost within the essay. Rather, Rodowick adds to them, working alongside

Deleuze, where 'that thinker within me that is the unthought of my thought

is also a power of transformation, indeed the power to transform life by

revealing new lines of variation in our current ways of thinking and modes

of existence' (200-1). In this way, Rodowick's book offers a critical

intervention both in Anglo-American film studies, as well as in the ongoing

deployment of Deleuze's writings within contemporary cultural theory.

 

As a text of potential utility for readers interested in both film and

philosophy, _Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine_ itself reflects an 'interval'

that mediates, images, and animates the disciplinary gaps between thought

in contemporary Continental philosophy and what is thinkable in the context

of Anglo-American film studies. Having written himself into the genealogy

of Deleuze's cinematic philosophy, Rodowick stands to directly offer film

studies what various streams of cultural criticism since the 1980s have

broadly offered cultural studies, namely, the introduction of fresh

perspectives on theoretical debates that remain ongoing, open questions.

While for cultural studies in the United States, Deleuze's writings have

significantly impacted questions of identity and theories of articulation,

for the study of film, Rodowick's Deleuze offers an account of the very

place of philosophy within film as a practice of thinking and a matter of

change. In this sense, those who are willing to engage _Gilles Deleuze's

Time Machine_ will discover possibilities for new ways of seeing and

saying, of thinking through the 'having been and yet to come' of thought,

image, and cinema itself.

 

University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA

 

 

Footnotes

 

1. See, respectively, Marks's 'A Deleuzian Politics of Hybrid Cinema',

Pister's 'Cyborg Alice; or, Becoming-Women in an Audiovisual World', and

Johnston's 'Machinic Vision'.

 

2. Such as Boundas and Olkowski's _Gilles Deleuze and the Theater of

Philosophy_, Patton's _Deleuze: A Critical Reader_, Kaufman and Heller's

_Deleuze and Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy and Culture_,

Flaxman's _The Brain Is the Screen_, as well as special journal issues

focused exclusively on Deleuze, including _South Atlantic Quarterly_and

_Iris_.

 

3. See _The Difficulty of Difference_, and _The Crisis of Political

Modernism_ respectively.

 

4. Rodowick, _The Difficulty of Difference_, p. viii.

 

5. Rodowick, 'Paradoxes of the Visual', p. 61.

 

6. See _The Logic of Sense_ and _Difference and Repetition_.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Constantin Boundas and Dorthea Olkowski, eds, _Gilles Deleuze and the

Theater of Philosophy_ (New York and London: Routledge, 1994).

 

Gilles Deleuze, _Cinema 1: The Movement Image_, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and

Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).

---_Cinema 2: The Time Image_, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta

(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989).

--- _The Logic of Sense_ (Translated by Ann Smock. Lincoln: University of

Nebraska Press, 1990).

--- _Difference and Repetition_ (Translated by Paul Patton. New York:

Columbia University Press, 1995).

 

Gregory Flaxman ed., _The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy

of Cinema_ (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press,

forthcoming 2000).

 

John Johnston, 'Machinic Vision', _Critical Inquiry_, vol. 26, Autumn 1999.

 

Elanor Kaufman and Kevin John Heller, eds, _Deleuze and Guattari: New

Mappings in Politics, Philosophy and Culture_ (Minneapolis and London:

Minnesota Press, 1998)

 

Laura Marks, 'A Deleuzian Politics of Hybrid Cinema', _Screen_, vol. 35 no.

3. Autumn 1994.

 

Paul Patton, ed., _Deleuze: A Critical Reader_ (Oxford and Cambridge:

Blackwell, 1996).

 

Patricia Pister, 'Cyborg Alice; or, Becoming-Women in an Audiovisual

World', _Iris_, vol. 23. Spring 1997.

 

D. N. Rodowick, _The Crisis of Political Modernism: Criticism and Ideology

in Contemporary Film Theory_ (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois

Press, 1988).

--- _The Difficulty of Difference: Psychoanalysis, Sexual Difference, and

Film Theory_ (New York and London: Routledge, 1991).

--- 'Paradoxes of the Visual', _October_, vol. 77, Summer 1996.

 

Steven Shaviro, _The Cinematic Body_ (Minneapolis and London: Minnesota

Press, 1993).

 

 

Copyright © Garnet Creighton Butchart 2000

 

Garnet Creighton Butchart, 'Thinking Through Cinema', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 4 no. 15, June 2000 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol4-2000/n15butchart>.

 

  

 

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