Film-Philosophy

Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Deleuze Special Issue

Vol. 5 No. 31, November 2001

 

 

Tom Conley

Film Theory 'After' Deleuze

 

 

 

_Apres Deleuze: Philosophie et esthetique du cinema_

Edited by Dominique Chateau and Jacinto Lageira

Paris: Dis Voir, 1996

ISBN: 2-912-308-003

152 pp.

 

When Gilles Deleuze published _L'Image-mouvement_ in 1983 and _L'Image-temps_ in 1985 many theorists of cinema in France were taken by surprise. At that moment some of the longstanding lines of divide in film studies were drawn in bold lines. In one camp semioticians felt that a new vocabulary of cinematic effects was in the making. Its terms would supplant the fuzzy and hazy vocabulary of former grammars of film and eventually show that the seventh art could indeed submit to the power of language. In another psychoanalysts shared the conviction that film opened the door to the unconscious, and that its own basis as a medium of fantasy offered original and compelling ways of defining symptoms and of working through neurosis and psychosis. A transitional object in the discourse of the analysand, a film could be used to open cracks in the defensive walls erected around a hidden memory. And in another still, for partisans of Jacques Derrida's style of reading, cinema offered a medium by which any and every discourse could be seen as divided, splintered, and always doubly bound.

 

Interpretations of cinema aimed at locating points of reversal or fissure in the mosaic of words and images comprising cinema. One track, entirely foreign to language, is used to convey the signifiers and the content of another. The image-track, that put forward language in written shapes in the field of the shot, is complemented by the sound-track, in which the aural signifers could never be entirely located at any point on the screen. But the twain would never meet, each track being self-present and autonomous in respect to the other. Difference and cinema became a theme: adepts of deconstruction found that the need to construct an omniscient grammar of cinematic motives was tantamount to aiming intellectual lances at antiquated windmills. Semioticians could not believe that language would ever fall short of its mission to describe and classify, while the psychoanalysts seemed content to let cinema do its work in the pragmatic context of consultation and curative procedures. After a surge of theory in the 1970s, film studies settled, became a discipline with an agenda and an archive, and developed curricula in directions away from abstraction and pure thought.

 

Deleuze's work came as a surprise, doubly, because of its staunch affiliation with the canon of western philosophy, and its blending of concepts with cinematic genres and structures. It left a greater part of the French public at a loss as to how to read it. In the first sentence of _L'Image-temps_ Deleuze begins in a mix of affirmation and negation: 'This study is not a history of cinema. It is a taxonomy, an essay of the classification of images and signs.' [1] The volumes are not a history, but they are organized around the aftermath of the Second World War, when the sight of what was seen in the Nazi concentration camps could not be imagined. The trauma of that moment in modern history begged the question about whether any expression -- be it a film, a poem, a writing of history, a page of statistics -- could follow what had been too much for living beings to countenance. On one side of a line of historical divide is a cinema that explores and refines *movement* in and as image, and on another, in light of what no system of signs can register in any stable fashion, is a cinema beholden to images constructed under the cruel blade of Chronos. Time -- that which is at once succession, simultaneity, and permanence -- imbues the inner state of the image after the trauma of the Holocaust. After 1945 cinema avows that it can no longer make images adequate to what it records. A condition of pure sight and sound cannot be prolonged in action or movement. 'It is supposed to cause us to grasp something intolerable, something unbearable . . . In every event something has become too strong in the image'. [2]

 

Thus the taxonomy is built upon the history that, in its inaugural sentence, the book says is of no immediate concern. The panoply of types of image, a virtually Linnean project of cinematic phylogeny, [3] is seen in the multiplication of species of images. In the regime of movement are: the perception-image, that replaces the long shot; the action-image, that supplants the medium shot; the affect-image, that shows how much the close-up is related to the faciality of all things. There follows 'drive-images' [4] that seem unvarnished expressions of brutal and originary force in cineastes such as Bunuel, but these are related to 'mental images' in the often psychotic realm of Hitchcock. These variants of the movement-image give way to others, based on a criterion of time suffusing the image, that know no reliable idiolect. There is time actual and virtual, but also crystalline in the sense of optical and musical forms. Flashbacks and catastrophes of memory lost, regained, and revamped show how the modern power of cinema resides in its mendacity.

 

Yet, as Deleuze works toward his conclusion, the time of cinema becomes the time of reflection, both in the medium itself and in its spectators. Cinematic time calls into question the status of the thinking body and how it can discern what Deleuze calls the 'components' of cinematic images from the beginnings of the medium until now. They include the mix of things read and seen at once, the visual dimension of speech in sound films, voice-over as doubled or bifurcating reflection, and the image as a 'stratigraphy' in the way that a landscape gives to the eye the longer time of its geology, in which layers and rifts, hills and valleys point to the greater rhythms of inorganic creation. Included, too, is the autonomy of the 'image' and 'sound' tracks of film that cause synchrony to be an illusion granting most effects of communication. Finally, in a jeweled formulation, Deleuze puts to sleep our doubts about what might have been the opacities and blind alleys of his taxonomy insofar as it was a platform for theory:

 

'For theory, too, is something that is practiced no less than its object [cinema]. For many philosophy is something that is 'not practiced' but pre-exists and is readymade on a prefabricated horizon. Yet philosophical theory is itself a practice as much as its object [implied is the creation of events]. It is a practice of concepts, and it must be judged in relation to other practices with which it interferes. A theory of cinema is not 'on' cinema, but on the concepts that cinema brings forward, and that are themselves in relation with other concepts corresponding to other practices, the practice of concepts in general having no privilege over any others, no more than one object has any privilege over any others as well. It is at the level of the interference of many practices that things are made, including beings, images, concepts, and all kinds of events. Film theory does not bear on cinema, but on the concepts of cinema, that are no less practical, effective, or existing than cinema itself . . . Cinema itself is a new practice of images and signs, whose philosophy has to turn theory into a conceptual practice. For neither a technical, nor an applied (in psychoanalysis, in linguistics), nor a reflexive determination suffices to constitute the concepts of cinema itself.' [5]

 

In a word, Deleuze is telling us that the study of cinema engages active reflection about the relation of images to concepts, and of concepts to their practice in a material accessible to a public, he implies, as no medium had ever been.

 

It is a pity that the majority of the authors of _Apres Deleuze: Philosophie et esthetique du cinema_ did not care to read or live with the tensions and the 'interferences' of Deleuze's work on philosophy and cinema. Even worse, the elegant aspect of the book betrays a unity more than a conflict of visions and programs. The squarish cadre of the page is given to broad white margins and ample space between the titles and the essays. Designed as a miniature art book that floats its printed reflections on a bookish screen, a modest table of contents in the beginning is the only page (p. 6 in fact, but for ostensive reasons of aesthetics pagination is omitted to favor unblemished whiteness) where the names of the eight authors are linked to the titles of the chapters. Each contribution seems to dissolve into the next in an authorless murmur. That the language of each essay tends to be of the same style and temper implies that each says the same thing. As the title suggests, all of them are analysts of film who would like to be philosophers 'after' Deleuze. They publish their work in 1996, a year following his death in early November 1995. If they follow Deleuze in a chronological sense, they are also 'after' him, hot on his heels, in pursuit of a dialogue and dialectic that forever eludes them, in quest of a position that will square them away with a thinker whom they never expected would ever trespass on their intellectual territories.

 

Because of the typographical design close inspection is required to discern the pertinent conceptual traits of each essay. The authors of the preface (Dominique Chateau and Jacinto Lageira) state that their aim is to mark a first step forward 'in testing different manners of conceiving and of putting to work the convergence of cinema with philosophy and/or aesthetics', either by taking the convergence as a topic of 'historical or theoretical reflection', or in obtaining, through a labor of 'analysis or theory about a specific aspect of cinema', an approach or a problematic issue appealing to philosophical 'and/or' aesthetic perspectives (9). (For that reason Jacinto Lageira opens the debate by posing the question 'Is there a life of aesthetics after theories of film?' (11).) The authors feel that once a *linguistic turn* has been made en route to an aesthetic appreciation strong value-judgments about film as art can be put forward. He ends this discussion by standing at the threshold of an *aesthetic turn*.

 

The following essay by Veronique Campan does not furnish an answer. Deleuze's thinking 'is inscribed at the intersection of different systems of thought' (27), she notes, and it arches back to phenomenology if we are to believe what he says, not in the books on cinema, but in _What is Philosophy?_ (co-authored with Felix Guattari, first published in 1991), insofar as the science of phenomena ought to pertain to the arts. She discerns sound, and the way the spectator *hears* a film, to be a rich area of perception. Sound, 'a moving and disruptive element par excellence, is what disturbs the regime of the visible: it is smooth, opaque, infinitely modulating, and subject to multiple reflections that belong to dream, diurnal reason, and the vagaries of viewing' (36). Her project recoups a good deal of work already accomplished by writers including Rick Altman, Michel Chion, Claudia Gorbman, and Michel Marie, but remains fresh and productive through the way it compares Merleau-Ponty to Deleuze in general.

 

Marie-Francois Grange's 'Derridean Philosophy and Textual Analysis' rehearses much of the work Marie-Claire Ropars has accomplished in _Le Texte divise_ (1981), _Ecraniques_ (1990), and her many contributions to _Hors cadre_ (1983-93). Through a brief but elegant reading of Godard's _Histoire(s) du cinema_ she discovers how close Derrida's style of writing is to the very substance to cinema. It has multiple tracks and evinces 'mirrored flashes' that make clear:

 

'an effective depersonalization of speech-acts that cannot be detached from the play of writing, that cannot thus be unified into a self-present meaning while, too, there are personal effects, surely illusory but nonetheless effective, of discourse that could be discerned in terms of thought, intention, and plenitude, a discourse in which we would read a harmony between intention and expression' (56).

 

By underscoring the differences that are evinced between sound and image, or acts of viewing and writing, she arrives at hypotheses that call into question the reductive and self-contained conclusions of most of the other essays.

 

Her work is a good preface to Dominique Chateau's contribution, 'The Project of a Philosophy of Cinema as Art: Art, Medium, and Ontology' (65-84), an essay that ties Bazin's notions of film in its own being as pure reality to Deleuze's concept of being. The author did not avail himself of Alain Badiou's remarkable study, _Deleuze: La Clameur de l'etre_ (recently translated in English at the University of Minnesota Press), in which it is argued that ontology is what enables Deleuze to move from treatment of continental philosophy to Proust and, especially, to film. Aesthetics, argues Badiou, are fraught with questions of being. Chateau moves toward a similar conclusion, with the productive difference that, in his view, when Sartre and Bazin define the 'real' of cinema as its 'being' they also imply that 'the real that the film reveals is indivisibly tied to filmic material' (82), in other words, to its matter and conditions of production. He argues that the repressed dimension of Bazin's theory is representation, and that the unknown dimension of the same theory is ideology, at least in its Althusserian definition as the imaginary relation that a spectator or a subject holds with real modes of production. Chateau would have done well to locate the points (such as the first page of _L'Image-temps_) where Deleuze uses and reformulates Bazin. But he marks a step forward toward what needs to be written on Bazin and the author of _L'Image-mouvement_ and _L'Image-temps_.

 

The most philosophically rigorous and rewarding essay of _Apres Deleuze_ is Jean-Pierre Esquenazi's 'Elements for a Pragmatic Semiotics: The Event as the Site of Meaning' (85-114). He determines that, as of his earliest writings, Deleuze was haunted by what produces signs. Esquenazi quotes from _Proust et les signes_: 'What forces thinking is the sign' [7] -- hence from the beginning Deleuze is anchored in a semiotic project. It evolves from a treatment of language and space obtained through readings of Peirce and Bergson toward a crucial encounter with Alfred North Whitehead, the philosopher for whom the perception of a sign was tantamount to an *event*. *Prehension* is what produces events; it is understood in a biological and a phenomenological sense, and its process is one that relates the perception of space to consciousness. 'The event is the place of meaning and, inevitably, the genetic movement of reality' (101).

 

Without buttressing his arguments on Deleuze's terse and elegant chapter of _The Fold_, entitled 'What is An Event?' (in which Whitehead's open system of event-production is compared to Leibniz's closed system), nor moving through the pages of _L'Image-mouvement_ (that take up events as the juncture of movement and time, especially in the fourth chapter) Esquenazi breaks significant ground.

 

For this reason the reader who tackles Francois Jost's 'The Cinema in its Works' (115-30) after Esquenazi will feel he or she has taken a step backward. With allusion to Deleuze cursory at best, Jost argues for applying the principles of Paul Goodman and Gerard Genette to the analysis of specific films. He uses a distinction of allography versus autography to recover the spectator as a defining element of cinema, the concept of which Deleuze had called into question throughout his treatments of movement and time. Like Walter Benjamin in the first sentence of his 'Task of the Translator' (in _Illuminations_), Deleuze holds that where aesthetics are concerned consideration of the reader or spectator is of no interest. Works in themselves are of an autonomy that does not require a spectator to make them acquire meaning. Jacques Gersternkom, in 'Contribution to a Semio-Rhetoric of Film: The Field of the Ellipse in Film' (131-40), also moves backward. Recourse to classical figures of rhetoric in the analysis of film reminds readers of Jost's earlier work. He had applied to cinema many of Gerard Genette's concepts found in three volumes of _Figures_. Jost's distinctions are thus tied to an applied analysis of forms that had emerged with work on metaphor that had dominated semiological studies in France in the 1970s. The author offers a typology of ellipses without reference to Deleuze, who in fact works on the concept in his remarks pertaining to Pasolini and free indirect discourse in film. [8]

 

Nor does Gerard Leblanc offer much insight about Deleuze in rounding out the volume with reflections on poetry and cinema in his 'Almost a Conception of the World . . .'. It would be wished that Leblanc had studied how Deleuze uses 'wholes' and 'worlds' and our detachment from them to inaugurate the two volumes on cinema. [9] Some common ground is reached where the critic observes that poetry is born of a refusal to take the world as it is, 'such that it is stated' (143), and where the cinematic image 'recomposes' the world much as free verse might. Some intuitions that Deleuze might share with the author are found where the latter notes that 'cinema participates in the global experience of the individual who no longer knows when and if they have been 'spectators'' (151).

 

At the beginning of this review article it was noted that Deleuze's work on film is both taxonomy and history. So too is _Apres Deleuze_. On the one hand, it is taxonomy to the degree that most of the authors harbor a desire to locate film studies in a closed world of applied semiotics. On the other, it is history in its condition as object and, in fact, as reflection and representation of the reception of Deleuze in times past. Published in 1996, it stands as one of the first cohering attempts to recognize Deleuze's work on philosophy as cinema in French. Since 1996 a good deal of writing has appeared -- in French, English, and German -- on the film books, and for reason of its date this volume is not up to speed. It betrays points of resistance and of attraction to the project of _L'Image-mouvement_ and _L'Image-temps_ among semioticians in the middle 1990s. It does, nonetheless, confirm that in Deleuze's early work the production of signs inaugurated many of the greater reflections on philosophy and the media. Surely the central remarks on the 'site' or 'event' in and of cinema and philosophy are worth the price of the volume, and so too are the reflections on ontology and difference in cinema. The volume will stand as a significant moment in France, where the resistance to and reception of Deleuze's work on cinema and philosophy needs more extensive study.

 

Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

 

 

Footnotes

 

1. Deleuze, _Cinema 1: L'Image-mouvement_ (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1983), p. 7; all translations mine.

 

2. Deleuze, _Cinema 2: L'Image-temps_ (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1985), p. 29.

 

3. Carolous Linnaeus was an 18th century Swedish botanist who devised a classification system for flowering plants; phylogenesis refers to the evolutionary development and diversification of organisms.

 

4. My translation of the 'image-pulsion' classification; see Deleuze, _Cinema 1: L'Image-mouvement_, pp. 173-9, and, especially for Bunuel, pp. 185-87.

 

5. Deleuze, _Cinema 2: L'Image-temps_, pp. 365-66.

 

6. See Deleuze, _Cinema 1: L'Image-mouvement_, pp. 279-80.

 

7. Deleuze, _Proust et les signes_ (Paris: Presses Universitaire de France, 1986), p. 118.

 

8. Deleuze, _Cinema 1: L'Image-mouvement_, pp. 106-11.

 

9. Ibid., pp. 20-21.

 

 

Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 2001

 

Tom Conley, 'Film Theory 'After' Deleuze', _Film-Philosophy_, Deleuze Special Issue, vol. 5 no. 31, November 2001 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol5-2001/n31conley>.

 

  

 

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