The disease of images (1).
Colebrook opens with an attack on the vitalist interpretation, mentioning Badiou in particular, in which some metaphysical entity is said to pre-exist life's actual and virtual reality as the power to differ and produce itself as difference. It is this differing power that Deleuze discovered in Bergson's concept of duration, in which the collapse of the Aristotelian division of a body's proprioceptive image of movement and the physical distance covered led to a diagnosis of a psychological crisis. While Bergson himself considered the cinematographic illusion as the very essence of this crisis, Deleuze sees cinema as the discovery of types of potentiality in life, the invention of different styles of duration through the inhuman apparatus of the camera. Hence, Eisenstein can be said to have opened life up to a negative presentation of time through the revolutionary duration of the montage, while postwar French cinema amounted to a direct presentation of time as the "fissure" between the virtual and the actual through an opposition of what Deleuze calls the affection image and the action image. It is at this latter point in history that thought can be said to confront its own power via cinema in that it grasps the fissure or crack that separates thought from unthought and which prevents life from being that metaphysical unity postulated by vitalism. Thus, the eye freed from the limitations of the central nervous system and the Aristotelian space thereby imposed on it allows the image itself to become an agent of philosophy.
The most interesting aspect of these chapters, which cover the first two thirds of the book, is the idea that Deleuze's cinema studies could constitute a radical, materialist historicism. Modern cinema, by thinking the genesis of relations, gives a presentation of what Massumi has called the autonomy of affect. The eye-brain-body is decoupled from the narrative or temporal order of relations involved in acting. There is, then, a primacy of affection within the experience of time beyond the order of temporal successions. Affect, like the concept, travels at infinite speed. This autonomy of affect prior to any temporal or sociolinguistic order of succession is, as Colebrook rightly points out, the central political idea in Deleuze. Relations are thought in terms of their potential to relate, and therefore are external to the empirical terms of their actualization. Colebrook indicates that this is how we might consider Deleuze as a historicist. The past is the virtuality of a present it is coeval with. Art, by releasing the power of the virtual, is how history is given. But history in this sense is indistinguishable from an ethics of reading, which Colebrook demonstrates on Wordsworth's "The Prelude" (82). Reading here must be seen in terms of a historicism not usually associated with Deleuze. It is to Colebrook's credit then that she foregrounds the concept of counter-actualization, the means through which aesthetic experience both renders the actuality of some object--a pair of peasant's shoes--while relating it to the virtualities of which it is composed and which has "the value of what could have happened" as Deleuze puts it. Counter-actualization liberates the virtual from the actual which imprisoned it while at the same time doubling the actual and constructing, as an active process of reading or watching, the virtual, incorporeal body of the real. Colebrook's argument vitiates any notion that Deleuze is a historicist--a charge leveled by some postcolonial critics--while also distinguishing him from the dialectical view. The latter would maintain that the percepts of art--the striking oranges, reds, and browns in which the peasant's shoes are painted--offer a compensation for the reification or lack effected by labor within the social world. The Deleuzean view would be radically different, seeing in every aesthetic contemplation the very material process of history it counter-actualizes through an immersion in the virtual.
This is how art can be the power to think. The time-crystal, the concept whereby Deleuze sees cinema as an agent of thought, leads to a consideration of "non-chronological time" at the heart of time, of the ahistorical kernel of history. Duration here, Colebrook suggests, can function as a criticism of the late capitalist axiomatic:
Deleuze sees the confrontation with money, or the taming of time that would reduce all movements to one system of relations, as the moment in cinema when time appears for itself. In the film within the film, where the film does not get made because of the lack of money, we directly confront the halting of image production through the fixation on one moving image, the movement of money. (91)
Along with the French avant-garde, the contemporary Hollywood movie can be said to present a direct image of time through the technical machines of its own production which, more often than not, work by breaking down. Colebrook links money with time, quoting Anti-Oedipus (1972) to the effect that money is what equalizes, measures, and orders time. Money is a type of time travel, and as such becomes the infernal limit of cinema. In this way, time itself can be presented as the materiality that confronts thought. The Deleuzean movie-goer counter-actualizes capitalist time by following the capitalist tendency inherent in philosophy and going beyond it, seeing in the standard Hollywood production or the big-budget flop the film that didn't get made, the film of infinite resources, the film whose extravagances go beyond any axiomatic of profit or market appeal.
Colebrook possibly goes too far in order to distinguish such a Deleuzean aesthetic theory from more familiar dialectical approaches. Taking the example of modernism, the author maintains that Deleuze's approach is opposed fundamentally to the Marxist idea that modernism's aesthetico-ideological edifice was a replacement for, or inverted image of, a political agency lost to reification. Divested of the "act," of aesthetic self-actualization as a substitute for political agency, Deleuzean aesthetics must content itself with impassive contemplation. It is unclear where the politically transformative power, the "reconfiguration of relations, or the capacity to open a new world" Colebrook attributes to Deleuze's aesthetic modernism could come from if this really were the case. Indeed, her emphasis on the contemplativism of Deleuze's approach seems to leave her analysis within the terms of the narrow vitalism she was determined to avoid.
In these passages on modernism, Colebrook reproduces a recurring problem within Deleuze studies in that, having distinguished Deleuze's method from dialectics and historical materialism proper, there is nothing left to do but figure his approach in terms of apolitical contemplation or passive aestheticism. The fact is, however, that affectivity is already activity, and political activity at that. The virtual is not the inactive, but the incipience of the act; it is the genesis of politics, the experience, beyond any representation, of the autonomy of relations that grounds all politics. Colebrook describes this political dimension of Deleuze in chapter 5 where she presents an excellent gloss on schizoanalysis and Deleuze's collaboration with Guattari, beginning with Deleuze's earlier work The Logic of Sense (1969) and the influence of Husserl and Lacan. The collaborative works are thus framed within post-phenomenology, a factor too often missed by other analyses. It is a shame, though, that the literary-political theory in evidence in Anti-Oedipus, Kafka (1975), and A Thousand Plateaus (1980) is de-emphasized in this chapter which appears curiously disconnected from the prior discussions on art and history, although it will be admitted that the scope of this introductory book necessarily delimits the author's range.
Colebrook completes her study with an analysis of the concept of the "image of thought" as a recurring theme in Deleuze's work. We are asked to consider how thought not only operates in and through images, but comes to privilege some over others, such as Man and God. The quest of Deleuze's philosophy is to discover a thought without an image: "philosophy is not a discipline concerned with uncovering what the mind is, so much as an interrogation into the production of images" (138). The privileging of vision throughout Western thought here becomes an object of Deleuze's critique. Deleuze wants to free the eye from its addiction to images, to open up visual spaces which are tactile, non-optical zones of sensation. In this sense, his philosophy can be understood in terms of Wim Wenders's film Until the End of the World (1991) in which several characters become addicted to using a visual device, initially conceived as an aid for the blind, that can record and play back dreams. In Colebrook's often insightful though flawed book, it is this "disease of images" that Deleuze's philosophy diagnoses as the predicament of contemporary thought and culture.
(1) Review of Claire Colebrook, Deleuze: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Continuum, 2006). 192 pp.
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|Title Annotation:||Deleuze: A Guide for the Perplexed|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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