INVISIBLE CULTURE AN ELECTRONIC JOURNAL FOR VISUAL STUDIES
by Amy Herzog
How are we to account for Deleuze's or Bergson's theories of temporality, both based in philosophies of life, creation, and difference, when confronted with an aesthetic object such as film: a fixed, repeatable representation? Exploring the larger processes that drive Deleuze's work as a whole, one is faced with perhaps a more fundamental question: why can or should one use Deleuze to think about film? What potentials does Deleuzian theory offer to those who work on film, and what implications will his work have for the field of film theory?
To begin mapping these implications, I will first examine what might appear to be a contradiction in Deleuze's approach to film. He calls upon Bergson to address the cinema, while Bergson himself used the medium as a model for the forces of rationality that immobilize and fragment time. I will argue, however, that there is no contradiction between Deleuze's and Bergson's approaches when we view film not as a model for perception, nor a reflected image of reality, but as a unique image with its own duration. What this seeming conflict points to is at the heart of the problem of representation (as concept and in practice). At stake are not only all theories that address "the arts," but larger questions regarding the nature of the real. The key to unraveling this problem lies in the complex understanding of time that Bergson proposes. By using this theory to re-evaluate cinema, Deleuze does not misconstrue the mechanisms of film. Instead, following Bergson, Deleuze further expands our understanding of where the real lies, reinterpreting the way in which we understand the temporal nature of film. The result is a fundamental destabilization of the very idea of a representation, displacing notions of signification and association in favor of acts of creation and images of thought.
The greatest achievement of the Cinema books is that they suggest a means of looking at film that explodes static views of the work that the work of art does. Rather than "representing" something, film, for Deleuze, has the potential to create its own fluid movements and temporalities. These movements, while related to formal elements of rhythm and duration within the film itself, cannot be reduced to specific techniques or concrete images. Similarly, the temporality that Deleuze locates within the cinema cannot be pinned to a specific type of shot, nor a particular moment in the shooting, editing, projection, or reception of a film. By refusing to thus situate his theory, Deleuze completely sidesteps psychoanalytic and semiological film theories that would locate the "meaning" of film beneath the surface level of signs. The ramifications of Deleuze's project far exceed the scope of this paper. My goal, nevertheless, is to map several of its threads. The first is an interrogation of what varied meanings the term "representation" might have for Bergson or Deleuze with specific reference to cinema. The second involves the relationship between film and the realm that can be designated as the "real." Finally, the overarching question that motivates me is whether it is possible to maintain a commitment to the "art of living" that Bergson (and Deleuze) so convincingly promote while doing work on the "objects" of visual culture. These are lines of inquiry that I cannot exhaust, but at the same time, they are a movement toward understanding the creative potentials of thinking through and with the work of art.
The Cinema books map a rift in filmmaking which can be roughly situated at the end of World War II. This split, however, cannot be reduced to a historical shift, but exists instead in differing configurations of movement and time. The movement-image, according to Deleuze, is exemplified by classical Hollywood cinema. Time proceeds only as dictated by action (the action of narrative, of cause and effect, of rationality). Temporality in the movement-image, for Deleuze, is governed by the "sensory-motor schema." All movements are determined by linear causality, and the characters are bent toward actions which respond to the situations of the present. Even when temporal continuity is momentarily disrupted (e.g. in a flashback), these moments are reintegrated into the prescribed evolution of past, present, and future. The movement-image is structured, not only by narrative, but by rationality: closed framings, reasonable progressions, and continuous juxtapositions.
The time-image, however, breaks itself from sensory-motor links. The emphasis shifts from the logical progression of images to the experience of the image-in-itself. What we find here are pure optical and sound situations (opsigns and sonsigns), unfettered by narrative progression, and empty, disconnected any-space-whatevers. This move from "acting" to "perceiving" carries over to the characters in the film, who cease to be "agents" and become, instead, "seers." Though Deleuze is hesitant to identify any single film that embodies the time-image, moments in films by Pasolini, Ozu, and Godard, for example, gesture towards that ideal: moments of rupture, hesitation, irrational cutting, or prolonged duration. Movement that is aberrant (i.e. not rational or sensory-motor) can be seen, according to Deleuze, to be caused by time itself. Built through irrational movements and op/sonsigns, the time-image exists thus not as a chronology, but as a series of juxtaposed "presents." What is achieved is exceedingly rare: a direct image of time.
Deleuze's reading of Bergson explodes all the basic assumptions of film theory to date (the separation of subject and object, the primacy of the apparatus, the psychological nature of perception, etc.). But to designate images "time-" or "movement-" related runs the risk of remaining merely descriptive if one does not fully grasp that the distinction between the two is neither a question of form nor content. For Bergson's writing resists being reduced to a structural model; the experience of life, he claims, exceeds the comprehension of the intellect. And the integrated relationship between subject and object, matter and memory, that Bergson proposes results in a shift in emphasis from the aesthetic object to the act of creation. Indeed, Bergson's contribution to thought rests not in a new analysis of art, but in rethinking the practice of "the art of living."
To understand the consequences of this shift for film theory, one must first turn to the distinction that Bergson draws between the methodologies of the intellect and intuition. The intellect, Bergson argues, is always bent on action. It is the component of consciousness which allows a being to comprehend its environment and survive within it. While its mode of perception is essential to life, however, the intellect does not have a privileged access to reality. Bergson writes:
Intuition, by contrast, is the mode through which one gains access to the undifferentiated flow of life, the real. All matter, for Bergson, exists as images defined by the range of their possible actions (real or virtual) upon other images. The human subject is an image/object like any other, with the distinction that, as a living being, it has both the potential to generate its own actions and to function as a perceptive center, organizing itself in relation to other images. While part of this organization involves the mechanisms of the intellect, there is a component that is opposed to spatialization and is inclined instead toward the temporal. Within each "living center" exists a potential delay between the moment of perception and the moment of action. The greater this delay or "zone of indeterminacy" becomes, the greater access the subject will have to an alternative axis of movement: that of intuition.
Bergson's intuition, unlike the popular usage of the term, involves a precise methodology. Rather than immobilizing and distilling from matter that which can be acted upon, intuition delves simultaneously inward to the depths of the self and outward, beyond the self, to grasp objects in their entirety, as they exist in duration. Duration here refers not to "time," which for Bergson is a concept already fractured into spatial components (minutes, seconds, years, etc.). Instead, each image contains its own unique duration, its own capacity for change. Intuition is a mode of unmediated access to the play of forces that comprise existence. Unlike the intellect, which is oriented toward the interest that a being has in the objects it can act upon, intuition is driven by the inward-motion of instinct, a form of sympathy "that has become disinterested, self-conscious, capable of reflecting upon its object and of enlarging it indefinitely." As Deleuze writes about the temporal nature of intuition: "Intuition is not duration itself. Intuition is rather the movement by which we emerge from our own duration, by which we make use of our own duration to affirm and immediately to recognize the existence of other durations, above or below us."
Cinema, for Bergson, or rather the cinematic apparatus, corresponds directly to the function of the intellect. He describes the phenomenon of film as a series of immobile snapshots of reality. The camera isolates fragments of reality, erasing the nuances of transformation occurring between frames. In order to achieve movement, the film must be unwound through the projector, thus restoring the illusion of continuous motion. But the motion we perceive is not the unique movement inherent to the object filmed. The camera/projector apparatus extracts from reality an "impersonal movement," a movement which can be generalized and regulated at a precise duration, a calculable frame rate. "Such is the contrivance of the cinematograph," Bergson writes, "[a]nd such is also that of our knowledge."
The first pages of The Movement-Image address Bergson's theory of "the cinematographic illusion." Deleuze suggests, however, that Bergson makes an oversight in locating cinema and natural perception along the same continuum. Deleuze argues that while the mechanisms of film might mask themselves as those of perception, in actuality the projector "corrects" the illusion from the outset through its regulated reanimation of the image: "cinema does not give us an image to which movement is added, it immediately gives us a movement-image. It does give us a section, but a section which is mobile, not an immobile section + abstract movement." Deleuze's argument is that Bergson's concept of the movement-image might have implications for the cinema that Bergson himself could not perceive at the time. He further asserts that the apparatus of the camera possesses temporal capabilities that complicate and supercede those of the projector.
Deleuze potentially misrepresents the breadth of his theory in this attempt to recuperate the cinematic apparatus. If one considers film to be an attempt to reproduce physical reality, there is no doubt that the image on the screen cannot encompass the complex existence of the matter before the lens of the camera. Clearly Deleuze is writing against such a simplistic reading. At the same time, to argue that the mechanisms of film somehow ameliorate the visual "illusions" that the film audience necessarily undergoes is to leave such an assumption unchallenged. This is not a criticism that I would levy against the Cinema books as a whole. Indeed, Deleuze deftly avoids easy associations between physical "images" and Bergson's more complex use of the term, let alone any confusion between notions of "the real" and the objects that the camera represents. While I have reservations about Deleuze's argument in this instance, the goal of his investigation is, in fact, consistent with Bergson's larger project. The apparent discrepancy between Bergson and Deleuze's approaches to film is a reflection not of contradiction nor oversight, but of a fundamental shift in their understandings of the function of cinema. I see this shift between the way in which Bergson discusses film (as a metaphoric model for a mode of thought) and the way in which Deleuze uses Bergson to discuss film (where film is no longer a "model," but contains its own potential image of thought) as an entryway for exploring the question of representation that lies at the heart of the Cinema books.
When Bergson compares cinema to the processes of the intellect, he describes it as a model of representation. Just as the intellect selects from the swirling movements of surrounding matter only those images upon which the body can act, the cinematic apparatus immobilizes instances, slicing them from the undifferentiated flow of life and reanimating them through the uniformity of the machine. Bergson's discussion of the cinematic apparatus perfectly describes his theory of the intellect (one might even pursue another line of inquiry: how do technological developments enable or influence the evolution of concepts?). But the analogy he makes is not sufficient for describing (or dismissing) the cinematic experience as a whole.
The mechanism of thought that functions "cinematically" creates a "theoretical illusion" for Bergson, obscuring our perception of "the true evolution, the radical becoming." But one would be mistaken to deduce from this that the "reality" which the "cinematographical mechanism of thought" prevents access to would in fact be representable given a more fluid apparatus or model. Or further that Bergson's critique of the mode of thought can be interpreted as or extended to a critique of the medium. What his "cinematographical" model does provide, however, is a powerful critique of the very mechanisms of representation. Representation operates through immobilization, spatialization. The representation becomes a "sign" through which we interpret the always implied referent. It asserts correspondences, analogies, and associations between elements at the expense of their differences, their dynamisms, their movements and changes.
The problem of representation is one that extends almost limitlessly. It is a question that permeates nearly all aspects of human existence: perception, language, and thought. How is it possible to move beyond the realm of representation? And if it is indeed a mechanism that can be overcome, what alternative methodologies might be left in its wake?
Deleuze and Guattari, in their discussion of the rhizome, make a distinction between a map and a tracing. The trace is described in terms strikingly similar to Bergson's model of "cinematographic thought": The trace is "like a photograph or X ray that begins by selecting or isolating, by artificial means such as colorations or other restrictive procedures, what it intends to reproduce." The strength of the map, by contrast, is that it never operates by means of resemblance. While a map functions always in relation to something beyond itself, it engages in those relations as a tool-box, a set of potentialities that are never predetermined and that can in turn effect changes upon the images and objects they come up against:
As such, I would agree with Deleuze that it is inaccurate to describe cinema based on a model of perception. At the same time, both cinematic and perceptive modalities exist in relation to a "real" that is, for Bergson (and Deleuze), more complex than has been indicated thus far. In Matter and Memory, Bergson proposes a definition of matter:
Deleuze's formulation of the film-image as a mobile assemblage (sometimes a frame, sometimes a shot, a sound, or the film as a whole) lends itself to this reading, refusing to reduce the physical image on the screen to a mere reproduction of an assumed "real" object it represents. Such a formulation similarly reevaluates the relationship between the concrete optical and sonic images that comprise the film. Rather than conceiving of each component as a concrete "building block," it allows for the shifting and multiple conglomerations of elements which are themselves dynamic and mobile. A film cannot be distilled to an analyzable structure that originates from outside itself. Instead, each film-image is contingent, particular, and evolving.
The potential affective force of film is not that it more closely resembles the objects that it represents (having a more direct relationship to those objects via the photographic method than more abstract systems of representation such as language or painting). Rather, this potential lies in film's ability to key into durations which would defy the limitations of the intellect, working not toward action, but toward the zone of indeterminacy which lies between perception and action. Bergson writes:
It is this provocation that I see as the true potential of film. The act of creation, for Bergson, is a solution to a challenge from the outside, from life. The question of cinema is not a question of representing or perceiving movement, but of thinking through movement, of creating new movements and new images of thought. Dorothea Olkowski, in her work on representation, returns to Bergson's assertion that the most elemental function of philosophy is to ask whether a problem has been properly stated. One cannot propose to solve a problem in which the terms are falsely established. In such cases, one will be bound up in an illusion, unable to see the qualitative and quantitative differences between the elements in question. Olkowski writes:
These forces are tapped into when perception, rather than isolating an image for the purposes of action, orients itself toward memory, the virtual potential of the past. "When perception is attentive," Olkowski writes, "every perception becomes an act of creation in which the perception opens as many circuits as there are memory images attracted by this new perception, making of every perception a qualitative multiplicity." The act of creation occurs with the introduction of the new. In the case of the body, the new exists as these perceptions and affections, what it creates from impulses and images it perceives.
"Style in philosophy," Deleuze writes, "strains toward three different poles: concepts, or new ways of thinking; percepts, or new ways of seeing and hearing; and affects, or new ways of feeling. They're the philosophical trinity, philosophy as opera: you need all three to get things moving." Cinema, I would argue, contains the potential to transect all three poles. While its relation to percepts and affects have been touched upon in terms of the act of perception, the concept draws cinema toward a new type of image, the image of thought.
D.N. Rodowick notes that the "image of thought" is not a representational image (i.e. the concept is not contained within a concrete, physical image). Rather, the image of thought is a movement, a process of continual differentiation. While this movement, in terms of film, takes its roots in what Deleuze calls the movement-image, Rodowick notes that an image of thought, for Deleuze, only becomes an active force when it takes a step further: "But in order to claim for philosophy what is its activity by right, the philosopher must invoke the more fundamental 'movement' of the impersonal form of time and eternal recurrence." This is what leads to the distinction between the movement-image and the time-image: a qualitative difference, where what is seen, what is conveyed becomes less significant than what is not revealed, what is unknown.
Deleuze's assertions in the Cinema books can be read as a call to action on two fronts. On the one hand, the distinction he draws between images that rely upon movement-images and time-images challenge artists to create works that transcend the representational, that explore the interstices between memory and perception, that approach what we might call a pure image of time, an image of thought. I would argue that Deleuze's work on cinema poses an equal challenge to those who think and write about/through film, a venture with perhaps even higher stakes. In opposing the movement- and time-images, Deleuze inadvertently constructs a structure of valuation that I find suspect (particularly when the images which he cites as most closely approaching the time-image-Godard, Passolini, etc.-coincide with those championed by elitist, modernist traditions). Yet the tools that he provides for conceiving of film beyond the confines of representation carry invaluable potential for theorists to manipulate toward their own ends. A great deal more work remains to be done on the particular configurations of time within popular works that may be driven by the sensory-motor schema, but that are never fully contained by that logic. Likewise, the evolution of digital technology and new networks of image circulation will give rise to new images of thought and new theoretical methodologies.
then, for both the filmmaker and the film theorist, is one posed by philosophy.
The challenge is to see film not as a means of representation, but as an
assemblage of images in flux with the world of images, to see the history
of film and the history of philosophy as convergent. The art of living
remains the becoming of true creation, but the image of thought introduces
the stutters and hesitations that give us access to this movement. "It's
the image of thought that guides the creation of concepts. It cries out,
so to speak, whereas concepts are like songs."
Bergson writes of the creative capacity in art, "[w]hen music cries, it
is humanity, it is the whole of nature which cries with it. Truly speaking,
it does not introduce these feelings in us; it introduces us rather into
them, like the passers-by that might be nudged in a dance"
It is somewhere between the crying out and the song that we can hope to
find the movement of becoming that will carry us thus, beyond ourselves.
2. Deleuze develops his concept of the sensory-motor schema to describe structures and transitions that are governed by a linear, cause-and-effect logic. It emerges from Bergson's discussion of the faculties of perception and the actualization of images into action. In order to act upon its environment, a body must isolate from the undifferentiated flow that it perceives only those images that interest it in particular, upon which it can choose to act. The complex correlations between objects and images are thus reduced to causal (and spatial) links. Deleuze finds that the associations made between elements in the movement-image progress along a similar trajectory.
9. Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 2. Also quoted in D.N. Rodowick, Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), 22.
10. Rodowick similarly notes, "Deleuze's reasoning is certainly weak here," for Deleuze, in his attempt to distinguish between film and natural perception, privileges the automated movements of the projector, eliding any involvement of "cognitive correction" in the perception of the filmic event and creating a "curious identity between movement and image." Rodowick, 22.
16. Bergson, Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, trans. F.L. Pogson (New York: Macmillan, 1959), 100, as quoted in Dorothea Olkowski, Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 121. Translation altered by Olkowski.
24. Bergson, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, trans. R. Ashley Audra and Cloudesley Brereton with the assistance of W. Horsfall Carter (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1935), 30-32 as quoted in Deleuze, Bergsonism, 110.