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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 europa2which 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.


Deleuze and Cinema: The Political Significance of Images (Part 1)

I’m a terrible and inconsistent blogger, why not try and try again! Anyway, I’ve been reading through Deleuze’s Cinema volumes (and some commentaries on them) and have had been experiencing another one of those cliche “wow, I can’t believe I’ve not thought about this in this way before” moments. In a way, I feel fortunate to have first read Derrida, then Lacan, and now finally Deleuze. For Derrida, of course, we are usually talking about semiotics, the play of signs, differance, the trace, etc. Lacan extends semiotic logic (of the Sausserian variety) to the unconscious, and hence we can crudely say each gives us a way to think about the world. Deleuze is fascinating to me because he does not so much build on either semiotics or psychoanalysis (though he certainly works through these modes of thought) but returns to a seemingly more obvious and basic way of understanding the world via the image of thought. Deleuze is suspicious of essentialistisms whether they be linguistic or psychoanalytic, and sets out to demonstrate that images themselves carry their own logic that cannot be subsumed into other categories of thought, hence a philosophy of cinema itself. If we are always looking “behind” images we miss the importance of the images themselves.

I’ve already been speaking very crudely, and so I’ll continue to be indefensibly cursory. What I want to talk about is the historical development of what Deleuze calls the “movement image” in pre-war cinema to the so called “time image.” D.W. Griffith, infamous racist and undeniably prolific innovator, for Deleuze, stands as emblematic of the movement image which employs techniques such as montage to an kind of organic unity previously unrepresented in film. One can think of Birth of a Nation and think not only of its propagandizing racism, but the way in which wide shots, close ups, and montage are used to represent the supposed onward march of history, the unity of a people as they confront their enemies in order to restore harmony to their world; the life of individual parts depicted in the film depend on the harmony of the whole. Black people, in this case, are the disturbance that throws of the unity of the United States, and intolerance is posited as organic unity (Marrati 99). A point Deleuze draws out is not that the images derive from a narrative, as we tend to think, but precisely the opposite: narrative forms from the composition and sequence of images. When the filmmaker invokes a montage, as directors like Griffith and Eisenstein often do, they present us with a depiction of an organic, living entity, a people, and from our internalization of the wholeness of that entity, when it is disturbed we naturally want to see the balance restored, almost the way in which gradients function in physics to restore equilibrium. A  video I found on YouTube demonstrates how this form of the “movement image” is in no way a bygone method of film making, with the narrator pointing out that Steven Spielberg is perhaps contemporary cinema’s greatest purveyor of these pre-war techniques (though not necessarily toward the same political ends, at least explicitly).

This video points out how we organize ourselves according to images, we use our senses to place ourselves within the images and flow with them. We always try to compare the way in which we see in film to how we see the world, by virtue of our expectations of how images flow from one another in our everyday experience, we want to see our experience reflected within the film, we play out visual narratives.  As the narrator here puts it, with film we “see outside of our bodies that which had previously been

The perfect organic harmony of "nature."

The perfect organic harmony of “nature.”

confined in our minds.” So with someone like Spielberg and his film Jurassic Park, we can start to see how this is the case. Spielberg presents the viewer with a miraculous discovery of nature, petrified DNA that unlocks wondrous scientific possibility. The first third of the film, both narratively and visually presents us with a beautiful, harmonious world even after dinosaurs have been created. We see them grazing in the fields, moving together peacefully and in diverse packs. From these images, we form a sense of normalcy, of equilibrium, which is only later disturbed. Never mind the fact that we never see images of creatures like Tyrannosaurus Rexs or Velociraptors, even if narratively we know of their existence, before the event that disturbs the balance of the world (this is a nod to how the images, not simply the narrative, are anterior to our understanding of the film). Hence we yearn for the return of the stability of the pre-disturbance world, the harmony that was stolen from our perception. So in Jurassic Park, it is

The natural organization of white society

The natural organization of white society

not just the narrative we are invested in, e.g. we want to see the children survive, we want to see Newman get eaten as punishment for his disruptive actions (like black people in Griffiths’ BOAN) etc, but our consciousness gets caught up in the motion itself and wants to complete the motions that have been presented to us (a harmonious world that reflects our understanding of how things should be) which means deleting whatever is a threat to our visual perception of organic unity. As Deleuze would say in his earlier work Difference and Repetition, we seek the return of the same, rather than the return of difference. We get caught up in bad “habits” of thought, always seeking to represent, categorize, expect one thing must always follow another thing, rather than fully realizing the rich virtuality and possibility of difference containing within immanent reality, without thinking difference. As historian Lewis Namier quips, the problem is that we are always “remembering the future.”

The "disturbance"

The original “disturbance,” although at this point ironically the T Rex is restoring balance

Film is not simply a matter of light projected on a screen, as Clayton Crockett argues, it is a kind of simulation of our brain itself, our brain is also a screen so it is not surprise that film is capable of affecting us in the profound, diverse ways that it does. Just as we said earlier that the key is to look at images themselves and not the hidden linguistic signs (images are signs, just not lingusitic)or psychology behind them, so too the brain itself is a screen because there is nothing behind it. Crockett defines a brain broadly following Deleuze when he says “we need just a little order to protect us from chaos” (WIP 201). A brain thus “names that minimal order… we use to represent the minimal degree of organization required for being (Religion, Politics, and the Earth

Well, here it's black people rather than giant lizards, but you get the point

Well, here it’s black people rather than giant lizards, but you get the point…. they must be driven away to restore the normalcy of intolerance

121). The complexity and self-organization of reality itself is a brain, following Hegel in a manner of spirit, or thought, returning to itself by “positing itself outside of itself and then affirming the identity in difference between spirit and what it is not, substance becomes subject, becomes conscious of itself” (RPE 118). Crucially, then the “screen,” or consciousness in the form of a brain, is what “distinguishes something from chaos, makes something be” (RPE 122). Accordingly, chaos does not exist without a “screen,” chaos, Crockett explains, is only possibility, determination comes only with a screen, with some kind of ordering principle. Nature then, and its physical laws, is something like a giant “screen.” Recall how the narrator in the youtube clip observes that with film we “see outside our bodies” what was previously confined to the inside of our minds- in this sense, cinema represents a kind of externalized brain, or location of perception and organization, that not only mimics the way we see, but can change the way we see by creating new ways of not only conceiving of movement, but also time.

If this is the case, we can see the importance of creating new kinds of film, and I’ll get to that in my next post regarding what Deleuze calls the “time-image.” With the shift from the movement image to the time image, coinciding with World War 2 and having much to do with it, faith in “history,” or the unimpeded progress of mankind (sic) is disabused. No longer, after such global trauma, is organic unity and decisive action assumed. The way in which the world was assumed to be a the height of modernity becomes unrecognizable, and it is exactly when these recognitions fail (and Deleuze is always troubling recognition) that the structure of the “natural” and social habits of perception break down (Maratti 59). Rather than perception being directly tied to individual or collective action or movement, i.e. faith in history, our illusions of representation and recognition fail us and we are left with a demand for “increased thought, even if thought begins by undoing the system of actions, perceptions, and affections on which the cinema had been fed up to that point” (C1 206). Time begins to present itself, that is to say the diffractive, nonlinear, virtual, preganant nature of time that allows us to reconsider all that is, when faith in history is lost. Old conceptions of history give way to concepts like the “event” and continual becoming and the eternal return of difference. We need new imaginations and new ways of seeing, which will have to do with recognizing (re-cognizing, thinking the same again and again) less so that we can see more, as Deleuze argues. These are concepts that the time image deals with, and I’ll write about soon.