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Deleuze and Cinema: The Political Significance of (Time) Images (Part 2 of 3, and this is a bit dry)

In my last post, I tried to explore the significance of what Deleuze calls “the movement image.” Sidestepping or questioning the way in which semiotic (Derrida) and psychoanalytic (Lacan/Freud) interpretations function, Deleuze insists that we pay attention to images in themselves as signs, looking for ways in which juxtapositions of images affect our habits of thought, perception of movement (as well as time), and therefore our (political) imagination. If, as Deleuze claims in Difference and Repetition, that “We live with a particular image of thought, that is to say, before we think, we have a vague idea of what it means to think, its means and its ends,” (4) then we must take quite seriously the circularity of the mode in which modern philosophy has functioned since its inception. Deleuze goes on to argue that classical philosophy often identified the image of thought with “common sense,” or what everyone is supposed to know, or proposing a natural representation of what it means to think. Eventually, Deleuze argues, in Hume philosophy realizes its own groundlessness, and thinking becomes nothing more than a higher form of Habit far from being grounded in Reason. Finally in Kant philosophy becomes “critical” of its own image and in Hegel images of thought are arranged “in a dialectical progression that leads up to the contemporary moment where the circular nature of the relationship between idea and image is grounded in the movement of Ideology” (Lambert 2). Deleuze, however, sets out to attain a “new image of thought and act, its functioning, its genesis in thought itself” (D&R xvii) Though I jumped the gun a bit at the end of my last post lapsing into the time image a bit toward the end, it is this concept I wish to explore now. Cinema, as I have hoped to begin to show, contains immeasurable depth in creating new images of thought through breaking established habits of perception and thought (though Deleuze explores this project of creating new images of thought in virtually all of his work).

I say that I jumped the gun in my last post bringing in the link Deleuze draws between cinema or the screen and the brain because this point is directly tied to the time image itself. To understand the significance of the “brain” for Deleuze, we might start by contrasting it with the understanding of the psyche put forward by Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis. A psychoanalytic image of thought concerned the brain, like the movement or action image, remains deterministic. For Freud, for example, there is absolute causality even if it is often un or subconscious, there are not accidents. For every slip of the tongue, to take the most obvious example, there is a causal link to some repressed element of consciousness and it is the analyst’s job to make this causal linkages apparent. For Lacan, the relationship between signifier and signified might be open to metonymic displacement that appear to be irrational, but the analyst again interprets them thought a “grid of semiotic determinations” (Lambert 168).

These semiotic images of the brains are still fundamentally based on (metaphysical) Reason, Deleuze says. In Cinema 2 Deleuze insists that “the discovery of the synapse was enough in itself to shatter the idea of a continuous cerebral system, i.e. the brain as a whole…since it laid down irreducible points or cuts… Hence the greater importance of a factor of uncertainty, or half uncertainty, in the neuronal transmission” (318n). Deleuze has no problem acknowledging how psychology and analysis help grant insight into our relationship with our brain, but little of the lived brain itself (212). We must, for Deleuze, move away from thinking of the structure of a brain in terms  terms of a separation between subject and object, causally related.

If we recall, this problemitizing of causality is also party the problem of the movement image in postwar cinema leading to the advent of the time image- the faith humanity once had in the onward march and success of history, in organization, in straightforward progress is deteriorated. Organic unity is no longer assumed in history after the movement image, and here we now speak of the non-unity of a brain, which correlates to that which the movement image gives way to, the time image… “time presents itself when history fades away” (Marrati 65). The way in which time begins to present itself in cinema has to do with a transformation of cinematic subjectivity, Deleuze write “Subjectivity, then, takes on a new sense, which is no longer motor or material, but temporal and spiritual: that which ‘is added’ to matter, not what distends it” (C2 47). The memories and thoughts that compose our subjectivity are not only “in” our brains, but they exist in time. It is not time that is in us but we who are in time (Marrati 72). All of this points to the presenting or imaging of time itself as an expression of a change in cinema from the movement to the time image. To reiterate, when a causal, motor-sensory model falls apart (movement image or deterministic psychology), we begin to think time itself.

The time image is not a negation of the movement image, and Deleuze does not simply wish to malign its existence, but rather the problem is that it has broken down (much like, we might say, deterministic psychology based on the Whole or structure). This way of thinking has to do with the aforementioned “cuts” that Deleuze finds exhibited in synapses, but are actually part of time itself. So what is this thing Deleuze describes as “time itself, ‘a little time in its pure state'”? When the actual and the virtual are compressed into the tiniest possible form. The actual and virtual images form a “crystal” that represents the diffraction of time (rather than its full unveiling, which is the time image, which is more than the crystal of time). A classic example of such a crystal of time  (or “crystal image”) wherein the actual and virtual become indiscernible from one another is in the classic Orson Welles film The Lady from Shanghai in a palace of mirrors. In this famous scene, the virtual images produced by the seemingly endless mirrors subsume the actual image (the actual actor/actress) into a sea of the virtual. The actor becomes one “virtuality” among others (Marrati 73).  The only course of action for the characters becomes smashing all of the images until they can “win back” their actuality and find each other (Marrati 73/C2 70). One way of rephrasing this is thinking of the characters un-defracting time and winning back the present, because the only form of the actual image is the present, while it is the contemporaneous past which makes up the virtual.


To unpack this, Clayton Crockett suggests we read the the crystal image – the diffraction of time – through the lens of the three syntheses of time from Difference and Repetition. If we recall the first synthesis of time is “habit, or the present, [which] corresponds to the sensory motor image, which is under the sing of the movement image” (Crockett 95). The second synthesis is that synthesis which grounds the present, it is the form of memory that grounds our perception of the present (a point Deleuze takes from Bergson in Matter and Memory). In Cinema 2, this is couched in terms of the “recollection image.” As Crockett explains, the recollection image in its smallest form is actually the crystal image, which “serves two functions: seed and mirror” (Crockett 95). As mirror, the crystal image subsumes the actual into the virtual, as we noted in the example taken from Lady from Shanghai. As seed, the crystal image acts as the cut or caesura that “breaks through to the time image proper, which is also a shattering of all images based on representation” (Crockett 95). The time image proper, then corresponds to the third synthesis of time we find in Difference and Repetition, the passage to the future. This passage to the future is where we get a “break” or caesura (keeping in mind the constitution of a brain for Deleuze is also made of of many cuts and caesuras, see above). This caesura is within the image as it is torn in two unequal parts, which Deleuze calls an “interstice.” This split is the seed of time generated by the crystal image (Crockett 96). It is the unequal exchange past and present (correspondence between the virtual and actual) that generates the break which “bursts forth” future . This break, if we harken back to Difference and Repetition, also exposes the fallacy of representation in general, as the actual continually shatters the virtual (much like in Lady from Shanghai), breaking open time itself and birthing the future, making representation, in any straightforward, common sense manner, impossible.

Time has to split at the same time as it sets itself our or unrolls itself: it splits in two dissymmetrical jets , one of which makes all the present pass on, while the other preserves all the past. Time consists of this split, and it is this, it is time, that we see in the crystal. (C2 81)

There is a kind of coexistence of past and present, virtual and actual, that disrupts our common sense notion of time as linear. The past does not “pass,” Paola Marrati explains, in a point Deleuze takes from Bergson, it “becomes endowed with its own virtual reality distant from any psychological existence” (Marrati 74). Subjectivity, then, is not something we have it is something we are in, not in the sense of a world spirit or something, but time itself.

Citizen Kane is a prime example of the way in which the “virtual sheets” of the past are explored: “The  succession of cross-cutting shot-reaction shots describe Kane’s habits, the ‘dead time’ of his life, while the depth shots mark moments in which Kane’s life changes dramatically.At these points, the image operates…as a true leap into the past” (Marrati 77). The way in which these “sheets” of the virtual past play into the narrative is an example of Deleuze’s argument for what he calls the “powers of the false.” Time, according to Deleuze, always puts truth “in crisis,” and cites an old Stotic argument to make his point. If it is true that a battle might take place tomorrow, then a paradox arises the next day. Today’s possibilities always become impossible tomorrow. Therefore, we might say that the past is not necessarily “true.” Rather than being a sophism, Deleuze argues that this paradox demonstrates the direction relationship of truth and time. Leibniz solved this paradox by famously positing multiple worlds, wherein both scenarios are possible, just not together, or so they are “incompossible.” Deleuze, however, does not separate incompossible scenarios into different worlds like Leibniz, but asks the question of their contemporaneous existence (C2 170).  In this sense, each “peak” of the present can be said to be “true” along with its possibilities, but each peak of the present cannot be true along with other peaks as they come into existence. The trouble is that peaks, or presents, cannot be fully sperated from one another by virtue of the present and past being folded into one another in the virtual and actual: “incompossible presentsrelated to not necessarily true pasts” (C2 171). Narrative, a method that tries to string together events into a coherent sequence, thus employs the “power of the false,” it is these “not necessarily true” pasts that bear on the present and give it semblance of meaning. We have the ability to decide which sheets of the past we might treat as true, however the consequence of this is making other sheets of the past (which are equally present in the ever passing present) false. In other words, time does not proceed A ->B->C, etc. Rather, present ‘A’ folds into present B, AB folds into C which becomes ABC, etc. as time progresses. This is a progression of time that renders fixed or “true” identities continually “false.”

Art, for Deleuze, and especially film, deals in the powers of the false, rather than being fraudulent for not dealing in “truth.” There is no longer opposition between truth and falsehood in a common sense manner, the false quite literally produces the true. The artist is “the creator of truth, for truth is not something to be attained, found, or reproduced- it must be created” (C2 191). Again, this is a riff on Deleuze’s major repetitive point- identity is not fixed and cannot be represented. As such, traditional notions of truth must be rethought, especially as the product of creativity working within and with myriad “false” representations.  The payoff, for me, after all of this [no one is reading, I don’t blame them] is the revelation of the radical choice we face- the matter is not representation or finding truth (instead setting out to create it), but also realizing the rich “virtual” realities of time itself which we perpetually inhabit. We must inhabit the radical “breaks” that the time image reveals in order to choose, in Deleuze’s sense of eternal return, difference rather our normal mode of re-cognition and re-creation. This seems crucial if we are to break the linear, cause and effect common sense that seems to peretuate our tolerance for a world that seems to be speeding toward cataclysmic collapse at the hands of neoliberal global capitalism. Cinema, in revealing the image of time itself, is the creation of a brain. That will be what I talk much more interestingly about in my next post.


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