Deleuze and Cinema: The Political Significance of (Time) Images Part 3
So far I have been trying to keep to a certain trajectory. By following Deleuze’s tracing of the breakdown of the movement image, or images with meanings tied directly to sensory-motor perceptions, to the exposure of the true nature of time in the time image, we have hopefully now arrived at why this really matters. I ended my last post by saying that we must inhabit the radical “breaks” that the time image reveals (and I tried to describe) in order to choose, in Deleuze’s sense of eternal return, difference rather our normal mode of re-cognition and re-creation.
Ways in which we recognize the world, or see the world, might be a way of describing various “spiritual” groups. For example, mystics might be said to quite literally see the world in a way that highlights or brings forth the inherent mysteries that many of us miss or glaze over in our quotidian devotion to the status quo. William Connolly experiments with organizing people this way in his book Capitalism and Christianity, American Style (2008). Connolly observes that members of different creedal groups, whether they are straightforward capitalists and businessmen or conservative Christians, are drawn together despite creedal differences because they possess affinities of spirituality (40). For example, Connolly points out that an atheist who resents the world for containing no meaning or redemption shares a similar existential ethos of resentment and revenge with the conservative Christian who, even if unconsciously, resents God for making life unfair or making salvation difficult to attain, or generating so many rules that must be followed. These less than obvious groupings are what Connolly dubs a “resonance machine,” this particular machine Connolly calls the “evangelical-capitalist resonance machine” which is primarily operative in our current state of affairs. Connolly further elucidates:
Partners to the resonance machine in question have an existential orientation that encourages them to transfigure interest into greed, greed into anti-market ideology, anti-market ideology into market manipulation, market manipulation into state institutionalization of those operations, and the entire complex into policies that pull the security net away from ordinary workers, consumers, and retirees- some of whom are then set up to translate new intensities of resentment and cynicism into participation in the machine (43).
In regard to how this narrative continually plays out on our plane of immanence, one might say that we are living in the midst of a very long, bad movie (C2 115). The movie we live in, directed by global capitalism and neoliberalism, is repetitive and self-enclosed. This is precisely why Deleuze turns to film as a philosophical site of resistance. As a philosopher committed to being open to life, Deleuze shows that cinema, as one of the most important events of modern life, gives us mode of “seeing” that is outside of the human subject and opens up new ways of seeing and interrupts the dominant way seeing and receiving data that continually bombards us.
Unlike everyday life, where we see things from a particular position grounded in our own subjectivity, cinema has the potential to temporarily liberate us from our limited embodied perspective. The organizing structure of our own perceptive consciousness can disrupted by cinema which contains the unique ability, via its use of background, sound, light, movement, and time, to create its own novel perspective that liberates us from the normal sequence of everyday life. While our brains normally organize subsequent images into a coherent whole in what we assume is a shared world with others, films can present images apart from this normal ordering sequence, as well as disrupt our sense of a shared perspective. Ideally, cinema might corrupt the everyday viewpoint that we are used to, and how we synthesize sense data into abstract “time” is disrupted. Images become singularities, dislodged from logical sequences, so that we can achieve a glimpse at time itself not as a linear construction, but an outward and infinitely divergent movement of becoming (again, as I tried to articulate in my last post). The time-image allows us to see that common sense perception is not all there is, history as a series of images and movement is not closed but open, things can always be otherwise than they are if only we see differently.
To this effect, I quote Deleuze at length from Cinema 2:
We see, and we more or less experience, a powerful organization of poverty and oppression. And we are precisely not without sensory-motor schemata for recognizing such things, for putting up with and approving of them and for behaving ourselves subsequently, taking into account our situation, our capabilities,and our taste. We have schemata for turning away when it is too unpleasant, for prompting resignation when it is terrible and for assimilating when it is too beautiful. It should be pointed out here that even metaphors are sensory-motor evasions, and furnish us with something to say when we no longer know what to do: they are specific specific schemata of an affective nature. Now this is what a cliche is. A cliche is a sensory-motor image of a thing. As Bergson says, we do not perceive the image or the thing in its entirety, we always perceive less of it, we perceive only what we are interested in perceiving, or rather what is in our interest to perceive, by virtue of economic interests, ideological beliefs and psychological demands. We therefore normally only perceive cliches. But, if our sensory-motor schemata jam or break, then a different type of image can appear: a pure optical-sound image, the whole image without metaphor, brings out the thing in itself, literally, in its excess of horror or beauty, in its radical or unjustifiable character, because it no longer has to be ‘justified,’ for better or worse… The factory creature gets up, and we can no longer say ‘Well, people have to work…’ I thought I was seeing convicts: the factory is a prison, the school is a prison, literally, not metaphorically… On the contrary, it is necessary to discover the seperate elements and realtions that elude us at the heart of the unclear image: to show how and in what sense a school is a prison, housing estates are examples of prostitution, bankers are killers, photographs tricks- literally, without metaphor. (C2 20-21)
In some sense, as Deleuze argues, the less we recognize the more we see…. “there is no knowing how far a real image may lead” (21). One might think about the Wal Mart shopper, enticed by “Always Low Prices. Always,” who only chooses to see the surface level images presented to them, accepting that they flow from the narrative presented to them via the media and advertisements which praise the benefits of exploitative capitalism by hiding its true nature, the images of its underside. In the marketplace we always find buffers that serve to keep many aspects of the world, or the image, apart from our consciousness (lest we question our habits and sensory-motor schemata that allow the system to function). We cannot see the factory as a prison because it acts as nothing more than an abstract image in our minds or it is simply a piece of scenery we see on our way to our various destinations. In the film Europe 51, the wealthy protagonist only comes to see the factory, to reinhabit the image of the factory anew, by working within the factory which unlocks the images behind the images that we willfully accept in our desire to continue to not be disturbed.
For those who take part in the conservative resonance machines, what is shared is a tragic view of reality wherein time and movement are viewed as linear and there are no singularities, only products or commodities. In this way, conservative politics often seem to be grounded in a resentment that grows out of profound disappointment in the world. Time as serial and located within the subject is taken for granted, and I suggest the corollary of this acceptance is in fact a passivity in the face of exploitation and the resentment and revenge impulse that living in the midst of an unchallenged system of domination, i.e. capitalism, is created. Hence, as Connolly pointed out, victims often “translate new intensities of resentment and cynicism into participation in the machine.” Traditional theology, according to Deleuze, views God’s plan as the constitutive of the virtual and we, humanity, are here enacting the virtual “plan” in actuality. The script is written and we, as actors in God’s movie, are here to play it out. This is the conservative fallacy, and the fallacy that ideologically undergirds our inability to envision difference qua difference and being qua becoming. One Deleuze scholar Ronald Bogue, puts it thusly;
One mode of life, for example, is that of the ideologue, or the true believer, for whom the answers are already given and there is nothing to choose. Another is that of the indifferent or uncertain, those who lack the capacity to choose or who never know enough to be able to choose. A third is that of the fatalists and devotees of evil, those who make a single choice that commits them to an inevitable and unavoidable sequence of actions that afford no further choice. And finally, there is the mode of existence of those who choose to choose., those who affirm a life of continual choosing. The choice in this last mode of existence, in short, “has no other object than itself: I choose to choose, and that means I exclude every choice made according to the mode of having no choice (Deleuze on Cinema 121)
We must choose to reject the bad movie we are stuck within. Traditional theology, according to Deleuze, views God’s plan as the constitutive of the virtual and we, humanity, are here enacting the virtual “plan” in actuality. The script is written and we, as actors in God’s movie, are here to play it out (and not simply those with supreme confidence in the sovereignty of God, that is more of a narrative faith in determinism, what Deleuze is getting at is a sensory-motor implicit fatalism, we associate certain A’s with their effect B, over and over, “e.g. ‘it’s just the way it is’). This is the conservative fallacy, and the fallacy that ideologically undergirds our inability to envision difference qua difference and being qua becoming. In choosing to choose, what we are doing is choosing multiplicity, choosing difference, and choosing becoming. The second “choose” in choosing to choose represents a multiplicity and contingency that opposes the fatalism of market capitalism and theologies of divine providence alike (which, we have seen, resonate together).
We must choose to choose, choose to continually inhabit the rarified image, cease the suppression of the illusion that we are seeing everything when we are seeing almost nothing. Here, the revolutionary potential of cinema might be realized as truly Catholic in the sense new “resonance machines” might be formed with Catholic, or universal, aspirations for reestablsihing the link between humanity and the world itself, not the cheap representations of the world passed off to us in the interest of our own exploitation, or the exploitation of the many at the hands of the few (who, one might argue, do see it all). This link, Deleuze claims, is always at stake. Deleuze harps on the notion of belief as a choice, one that is more necessary and at the same time more difficult than before (that is, prior models of belief, i.e. religious belief, or even atheism). “The less the world is,” Deleuze teaches, “the more it is the artist’s duty to believe and produce belief in a relation between man and the world, because the world is made by men [sic, of course]” (C2 171). Now, however, especially after the revolutionary potential of Christian faith seems to have passed, as we are trapped in the jaws of capitalism and a failed Enlightenment, we no longer believe in the world, “we do not believe in the events which happen to us, love, death, as if they only half concerned us” (171). Whether we are atheists or Christian, we must not resonate together as Connolly sees the evangelical-capitalist resonance machine, but “in our universal schizophrenia, we need reasons to believe in this world.” I can only imagine the despair of Deleuze if he were here as I write this and millions still debate Miley Cirus “twerking” (don’t ask me) at the VMA’s as America is on the verge of bombing Syria.
Delueze urges us to go beyond mere ideological criticism. Ideology is certainly what significantly undergirds our sensory-motor schemata, but it is our perception of the world that, most fundamentally, determines our belief. Through theorizing time in this way, and pointing to media such as cinema that might help us see differently, see again, see differently, in order to realize the vast potential of this world so we might believe, that is the legacy of Deleuze’s corpus. Traditional forms of representation (which are rarely truly “art”) ally themselves with the conspiracy to hide this fact that inspires authentic belief, instead inducing an all too complicit ennui.
Cinema might help us regain the certain “Catholic” aspirations that we now seem to lack. Deleuze quite rightly observes that today, “the people are missing.” Cinema, and art in general, must not address a people that we presuppose are already there, but “contributing to the invention of a people” (C2 217). Clayton Crockett articulates the project as “The invention of a people today involves a construction of a time-image, a new way to think, to directly short-circuit the clichés, deceptions, and manipulations of the State” (Crockett 183) Whether or not we agree with Deleuze that Christianity and perhaps religion in general has lost its revolutionary character (though for better or worse, the events of the Arab Spring might give Deleuze pause), we need reasons and apparatuses that help us believe in this world, to create a people that can oppose neoliberal regimes that eviscerate the common human being. And again, it may not be a simple matter of giving peoples more information (the failure of Wikileaks and other organization to produce arguably any substantial change helps demonstrate this) or a more inspiring message to hear, but quite literally helping them to see differently in order to overcome. The creation of the time-image, for Deleuze, was the cinematic attempt to create images that could not be so easily hijacked for sinister political purposes due to their ambivalent nature. We would do well to think again about how to create new time images that due not fit the current aesthetic model of politics as usual. Art for art’s sake is not impervious to subversion, so it must continually renew itself to stay ahead of a kind of sterilizing aestheticization.
The hope is to begin to cultivate positive “resonance machines” that can operate across creedal differences not on the frequency of resentment and greed but genuine belief in the world and a commitment to seeing again the cliches of our world in order to break them apart and begin anew. Connolly shows us how such resonances are possible, that indeed respect difference to the point of radical plurality, yet Connolly and Deleuze both help us rehabilitate a kind of “spirituality” that can be identified that is open to be shared which does not so much transcend particularity but work within it. Religion may or may not be a source of this spirituality in the future, but it has never been more important to seek it, or better yet create it.