You are on page 1of 19

134 Temenuga Trifonova

A Nonhuman Eye:
Deleuze on Cinema
Temenuga Trifonova

Sartre’s Imagination and The Psychology of Imagination play an important

role in philosophy’s renewed attempts to go beyond the human, to annihilate
subjectivity, to return to pure perception in which objects vary for one another
rather than for one privileged image or center of reference (consciousness). Before
Sartre, Bergson was already interested in pure (inhuman) experience “above
that decisive turn, where, taking a bias in the direction of our utility, it becomes
properly human experience’” (Deleuze, Bergsonism 27). Deleuze confirms that
human intelligence is bound to reduce differences in kind to differences in degree
and that the former are rediscovered only “above the turn” in the examination
of the conditions of experience by intuition:
To open us up to the inhuman and the superhuman (durations which are
inferior or superior to our own), to go beyond the human condition: This is
the meaning of philosophy, in so far as our condition condemns us to live
among badly analyzed composites and to be badly analyzed composites
ourselves. (ibid., 28)

Deleuze’s task in the two volumes of Cinema is to demonstrate how modern

cinema in particular has made it possible to surpass the human condition by
abolishing subjectivity as a privileged image in what Bergson calls “the aggregate
of images” (the material world).
Bergson’s theory of duration, of the contemporaneousness of perception
and memory, is based on his analysis of the phenomenon of déjà vu, which he
considers the most authentic expression of the true nature of our mental life: the
automatic preservation of the past in the present. Similarly, in his two volumes
on cinema Deleuze advances the hypothesis that the appearance of the time-
image in cinema (more specifically, in Italian neo-realist cinema) has revealed
the true nature of time as a continuous forking into incompossible presents and
not necessarily true pasts. Time-images are experienced as past; however, they
belong to an impersonal rather than an individual past. In this sense, the time-
image is a form of déjà vu. In déjà vu we feel that we have experienced something
before, yet we cannot trace the experience to our own past, as if our own
recollections have been stolen from us or, alternatively, as if we are recollecting
someone else’s past. Both Bergson and Deleuze conceive the subject as a sort of

134 © Board of Regents, University of Wisconsin System, 2004

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004
Deleuze on Cinema 135

abridged and necessarily limited version of our entire mental life. To restore the
richness and complexity of that mental life, they believe, subjectivity has to be
suppressed or surpassed, which in turn calls for a redefinition of representation.
Deleuze’s Cinema I: The Movement-Image and Cinema II: The Time-Image1
exemplify the changes in our understanding of representation as they trace the
transition from a cinema dominated by movement-images to the modern cinema
of the time-image. In the regime of movement-images, time is subordinated to
movement: things and events determine psychological duration. The drawback
of the movement-image, according to Deleuze, is that it fails to present duration,
but subordinates it to movement or spatialized time. Deleuze’s contention is that
modern cinema has liberated itself from subjectivity or representation; however,
his theory of the time-image does not get rid of subjectivity, but only reformulates
the notion of the object. The object for Deleuze is a pure image, a “mental image”
purged of any materiality and no longer subordinated to sensory-motor
Deleuze believes that to restore its original nature as a being rather than an
object of knowledge, the subject must become even more subjective: it must
constitute itself “above” its own representations; it must create hyper-
representations. Deleuze privileges the time-image over the movement-image
because the former constitutes itself beyond representation, thus reaffirming the
subject’s autonomy. The subordination of movement to time achieves namely
this: when duration dictates what is happening, rather than events determining
time, the subject has restored its independence from the world. While the
representation of the world still presupposes an essential difference between things
and their descriptions, the time-image eliminates this difference, replacing things
with their descriptions.
The relationship Deleuze establishes between things and their descriptions
is similar to the one Baudrillard posits between objects and signs. Like Baudrillard,
Deleuze appears to believe that simply placing the description of a thing in the
“place” (this “place” is within the system of representation) usually occupied by
the thing itself renders the description pure, or thing-like. All referential material,
all objectivity is evacuated from the time-image, but precisely because of that,
Deleuze contends, the time-image is not a subjective representation, but a thing
in itself, a pure expression. This is so because the idea of an object always
presupposes the idea of a subject (representation is not only the presentation of
the world as a reflection of the subject but also, and to an equal degree, the self-
objectification of the subject) and the end of representation is the annihilation of
both subject and object. However, Deleuze fails to take into account the fact that
the act by which an end is put to representation cannot itself be bracketed out.

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

136 Temenuga Trifonova

Something of the subject always remains and it is namely (and only) from the
point of view of this remainder of subjectivity that the end of subjectivity is posited
and simultaneously proven impossible.2
The impossibility of eliminating point of view applies both to literature and
to cinema. In Novel and Film: Essays in Two Genres, Bruce Morrissette describes
an excellent example of this impossibility in the work of novelist/filmmaker Alain
Robbe-Grillet. Taking the case of Robbe-Grillet as an example of the attempt to
get rid of the specific, situated point of view and substitute it with a purely
“geometric and visual perspective”(45), Morrissette demonstrates how this project
eventually restores, though in a slightly modified form, the omniscient narrator:
Is it possible to separate point of view in itself, as localization of a camera
objective or of an authorial eye, from the reason or internal justification of
this same point of view? Does this “observer,” who for Robbe-Grillet…need
not be a “character” in the narrative, have the privilege of randomly
positioning himself almost anywhere? …Can he displace himself at will?
What will then prevent such an eye of the camera or of the novelist from
becoming, once again, an eye “everywhere at once,” if not an eye that is
perpetually omniscient and omnipresent like the eye of God? …Yet if we
grant the camera an absolute liberty of movement…an omni-optique
system is obviously created, the justification for which seems as difficult
or arbitrary as in the case of the omniscient author. (46)

A distinction needs to be made between the objectification of point of view and

the alleged “dehumanization” resulting from it. The suppression or the disguise
of the subjective point of view in cinema or in the novel never attains the total
elimination of subjectivity. Robbe-Grillet’s apparent objectification of the point
of view does not necessarily deprive his novels of humanism. His descriptions of
objects and events create only the appearance of an impersonal work for they
“do not in any way have a ‘photographic’ or naively realistic purpose; they
are…rather supports or objective correlatives of a tacit psychology”(93). The
most “objective” descriptions and manipulations of the point of view are bound
to remain “pseudo-objective”(106).3
Most of Deleuze’s ideas in Cinema II: The Time-Image repeat and occasionally
elaborate on Robbe-Grillet’s analysis of the New Novel in a series of essays written
in the fifties and sixties and collected in For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction (1965).
For example, while Robbe-Grillet draws attention to the role of “description”—
as distinguished from signification—in the modern novel and film, Deleuze
characterizes the cinema of the time-image as “pure expression”; while for Robbe-
Grillet “the false” is that which does not appear “natural,” that which is cut off
from signification and thus from verisimilitude (163), Deleuze argues that the
very nature of time in contemporary cinema is falsification. Robbe-Grillet
proposes that precisely by refusing to signify and by instead drawing attention

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

Deleuze on Cinema 137

to the sheer presence of things and human beings (by avoiding the humanization
of the world), the modern novel and film do not get rid of man but rather achieve
the opposite effect: they make man aware of the very real distance between him
and the rest of the world. The less anthropocentric the novel/film, the more
realistic. Robbe-Grillet explains that it is not a question of getting rid of subjectivity,
but rather of eliminating the inside/outside opposition that has always determined
the idea of subjectivity. The objectification of mental content—for example, the
treatment of imagination and memory as physical reality4—is the ultimate form
of realism, since it finally acknowledges the reality of what has always been
dismissed as a merely “subjective point of view.” Unlike Deleuze, Robbe-Grillet
is very much aware of the impossibility of a “total impersonality of
observation”(18), despite the fact that the most common critique of his novels
has been their allegedly “dehumanized” or “neutral” nature:
Even if many objects are presented and are described with great care,
there is always, and especially, the eye which sees them, the thought which
reexamines them, the passion which distorts them. The objects in our
novels never have a presence outside human perception, real or imaginary.
(Robbe-Grillet 137)

Contrary to what critics of the New Novel argue, “the New Novel [and, I add,
the cinema of the time-image Deleuze discusses in Cinema II] aims only at a
total subjectivity” (138).
Toward the end of the second volume of Cinema, Deleuze argues that cinema
can and should be seen as the condition of possibility for signification in general,
that cinema provides us with access to being, that it reconstitutes the dawn of
the world before the birth of human perception or consciousness. Cinema is not
a language. Deleuze insists that the best analogue for the frame in cinema “is to
be found in an information system rather than a linguistic one. The elements
[within the frame] are the data…which are sometimes very numerous, sometimes
of limited number. The frame is therefore inseparable from two tendencies:
towards saturation or towards rarefaction”(Cinema I 12). An information system
is pre-human, neutral, pre-linguistic, inasmuch as information or data is
ontologically older than signification or signs. There is an interesting reversal
here: although information systems are empirically “younger” than signification
or language (we started talking about “information systems” considerably
recently), they appear to have already surpassed a certain limit of “humanism”
or “subjectivity” and are now projected retrospectively as preceding signification
or are characterized as “inhuman.” Such a gesture is necessary from a humanist
point of view: since we cannot comprehend how the human has evolved into
something so foreign to humanity as pure information, the only response we

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

138 Temenuga Trifonova

can conceive to this phenomenon is to posit the inhuman as pre-human, from

which the human has evolved. This allows us to continue believing that we still
exist in a human universe. Deleuze’s argument that cinema reveals a pre-human
state of the world originates in this desire to preserve the belief in a human world.
He asserts that unlike natural perception, which is grounded in a fixed and
privileged point of view (that of the subject) and which is thus limited by our
practical interests, cinematographic perception is essentially acentered. The
question is whether Deleuze convincingly demonstrates the subject’s capacity to
“get rid” of itself and whether the cinema of the time-image attains the desired
self-abolition of subjectivity.
In Cinema I Deleuze treats the camera as a kind of consciousness, more
inclusive and disinterested than mere perceptual consciousness as it presents us
with pure images rather than with selections from the flow of images. Whereas
Bergson thought it necessary to “deduce” natural as well as cinematographic
perception from pure perception, Deleuze believes cinematographic perception
to have a great advantage over natural perception insofar as the former “lacks a
centre of anchorage and of horizon”(Cinema I 58). But is it true that the camera
is never a centre of anchorage, even if we grant that with the perfection of the
camera it stops being a fixed point of view but moves around, assuming different
points of view? Obviously, just as human perception takes time to “go around”
an object, so the camera moves around its objects rather than situating the point
of view ‘within’ them. Deleuze wants to argue that the human eye can be
eliminated from cinematographic perception in order “to rediscover the matrix
or the movement-image as it is in itself, in its acentered purity, in its primary
regime of variation, in its heat and its light, while it is still untroubled by any
centre of indetermination”(Cinema I 66). However, he is forced to recognize that
it cannot really be a matter of “reconstituting” pure perception but of
“constructing” it and, although he does not put it in these words, simulating it:

[The human eye’s] relative immobility as a receptive organ means that all
images vary for a single one, in relation to a privileged image. And, if the
camera is considered as apparatus for shooting film, it is subject to the
same conditioning limitation. But the cinema is not simply the camera: it
is montage. And if from the point of view of the human eye, montage is
undoubtedly a construction, from the point of view of another eye, it ceases
to be one; it is the pure vision of a non-human eye, of an eye which would
be in things. Universal variation, universal interaction (modulation) is
what Cezanne had already called the world before man, “dawn of
ourselves,” “iridescent chaos,” “virginity of the world.” It is not surprising
that we have to construct it since it is given only to the eye which we do not have.
(Cinema I 81, my italics)5

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

Deleuze on Cinema 139

Although montage is a technical procedure, it is still controlled by the subject,

by the human eye. To argue that from the point of view of “another eye” (the
camera) montage is not subjective or human, not constructed, does not solve the
problem because “the other eye” is indeed another eye and we can never see the
world through it except indirectly (the human eye looks through the non-human
eye—the camera—but is not identical with it). This holds true both for the
filmmaker and for the film audience. However, what is most striking about this
passage is the suggestion that the camera—a piece of technology developed by
the subject—is a more “natural” or “material” form of perception than human
perception. Deleuze claims that matter as an aggregate of movement-images is
nothing other than “camera consciousness;” that the world is a film even before
the human eye appears.
If matter is made up of movement-images, consisting of light vibrations,
which do not need to be perceived in order to be and which lie somewhere in-
between a thing and a representation, then a cinematographic image, insofar as
it is exactly such an intermediary image—neither a thing nor a representation—
[Deleuze notes that cinema does not give us the photogramme as such but only
an intermediary image which is already movement (Cinema I 2)] resembles most
closely what Bergson calls pure perception (perception before the birth of
consciousness). Deleuze distinguishes three variations of the movement-image—
perception-images, affection-images, and action-images—which he arranges
according to their degree of objectivity. Perception-images are most objective or
material since, as Bergson has shown, perception is “in” matter. Affection is our
response to images, but this response is not yet prolonged into action on the
images. Action-images are the most subjective of the three, since they involve a
motor response to images.6 Finally, the time-image goes beyond these three kinds
of images and returns us to pure perception. The difference between the
movement-image and the time-image can be overcome through a systematic
process of substraction (by analogy with the phenomenological epoche) or a
bracketing out of the constitutive elements of the movement-image. To produce
the time-image, one does not add something to the movement-image, but actually
deconstructs or purifies it of its three constitutive variations (perception, affection,
One of the problems with Deleuze’s account of the different kinds of images
is that when he speaks of perception-images, affection-images, action-images
and time-images he does not mean specifically cinematographic images. He
borrows Bergson’s terms transposing them, without any explanation, from the
discourse of natural perception to that of cinematographic perception. His attempt
to explicate the difference between the movement-image and the time-image

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

140 Temenuga Trifonova

makes this clear. We encounter the former in the habitual recognition of images
(Bergson’s habit memory) and the latter in spontaneous recollection (Bergson’s
pure memory). The movement-image prolongs a perception-image into a
sensory-motor response: instead of perceiving for the sake of perceiving, we utilize
our perception for some practical purpose at hand, extending the image into a
certain action upon the image. However, in the case of the time-image we perceive
purely for the sake of perceiving: we do not respond to the image by acting
upon it, but, rather, we stop at the perception or—what amounts to the same—
we are returned to a kind of perception purged of any sensory-motor necessity.
Now, in a movie there are obviously no such distinctions among the images we
see on the screen: it is not that some of the images are real things while others we
perceive as images. All images on the screen are images. A spectator perceiving
an image on the screen obviously does not attempt to act upon it as he would act
on a real thing. What Deleuze actually wants to argue is that certain images are
perceived as if they were real things, whereas others are perceived for their own
sake. Although such a distinction can certainly be posited, Deleuze fails to explain
what is unique in the movement-image and the time-image in cinema, as opposed
to these two types of images in everyday perception.
A movement-image is impure, by which Deleuze means that we perceive it
with an ulterior motive (the intention to act on it). In the movement-image, a
thing on the screen appears only as a thing, creating the illusion that we can
respond to it in the same way we respond to real, external stimulation. There is
an odd reversal here: the thing as such (the movement-image) is a representation
or a signification, since it refers to some real object that we recognize in it
automatically. Only when we substitute a description of the thing for the thing
itself, Deleuze argues, does the image become pure expression. The material
world as such is already a signification, whereas the pure mental image we have
of it (the description with which we replace it) is pure expression. For Deleuze,
the movement-image belongs to the regime of signification because it provokes
a sensory-motor response from us—i.e., the body is the ultimate source of
signification. Common sense, however, has always treated signification as
something “mental.” Taking over Bergson’s idea of the body as a special image,
Deleuze contends that natural perception is already signification: merely by
reflecting images back upon themselves and thus making them appear to us,
we are representing them. This is a radical shift in the understanding of the
nature of signification or representation, for Deleuze implies that representation
is not a manifestation of a reflective consciousness; instead, representation marks
the birth of perception. Representation is not produced by an act of addition but by
an act of dissociation.

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

Deleuze on Cinema 141

Given that Deleuze fully embraces this essentially Bergsonian idea, it is

difficult to make sense of Deleuze’s critique of the subject as a “master” of
representation. Even if we want to continue using the word “master,” the
preceding ought to have made it clear that the subject is not consciously
representing the world; rather, merely by appearing to the subject, the world is
“representing” itself because of the limited, finite nature of human perception.
Conversely, when a barrier is erected between the image and the body, when we
form a mental image, we are returned to pure perception, to matter in its original
luminosity. But it would be wrong to equate the mental, pure image (the time-
image) with matter as such, even though the mental image restores us to pure
perception—i.e., to matter. Matter is devoid of any virtuality—it cannot consist
of time-images. A time-image is possible only after (or on top of) a movement-
image, as its negation or interruption. We can be restored to pure perception
only if we have first “deviated” from it, only after it has degraded into natural
perception. On one hand, then, the time-image resembles Sartre’s image-
consciousness: it is the evacuation of referential material, consciousness collapsing
back upon itself, absolutely transparent to itself. Yet Deleuze claims that the
time-image returns us to the materiality of the world. Paradoxically, the material
world is restored to us (at least in cinematographic perception) only by being
evacuated first.
Clearly, Deleuze wants to claim an ontological significance for the
cinematographic image. However, his concept of the time-image as a direct
presentation of time rests on a historical or empirical analysis. Although in the
introduction to Cinema I he warns his readers that what he is offering them is
not a history of cinema, the central argument of the two volumes—that the
cinema of the movement-image has been replaced by a cinema of the time-
image—is based on the analysis of a particular historical moment: World War II
and man’s inability to comprehend or respond adequately to the terror of
annihilation. Accordingly, the concept of the time-image is imbued with ethical
significance. The purely optical and sound cinematographic image

... is supposed to make us grasp something intolerable and unbearable.

…It is a matter of something too powerful, or too unjust, but sometimes
also too beautiful, and which henceforth outstrips our sensory-motor
capacities. …In any event something has become too strong in the image.
(Cinema II 18)

Using Bergson’s account of the birth of perception, Deleuze argues that

movement-images characterize a clichéd—i.e., metaphorical or representational

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

142 Temenuga Trifonova

A cliché is a sensory-motor image of the thing. As Bergson says, we do not

perceive the thing or the image in its entirety, we always perceive less of it,
we perceive only what we are interested in perceiving. …We therefore
normally perceive only clichés. 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 or horror or beauty… (Cinema II 20)

On one side, the time-image has a strictly historical origin—it would not
have been possible without the war, whose effect was the shattering of sensory-
motor schemata—but on the other side, the time-image is said to be ontologically
superior to the movement-image, which is only a cliché. Yet this superiority of
the time-image is the result of a failure—the jamming of sensory-motor linkages—
that is both a historically specific phenomenon and one that benefits us
immensely since it allows us a more “authentic” or direct access to material
reality. Since Deleuze considers the time-image aesthetically and ontologically
superior to the movement-image, he seems to suggest that the failure of sensory-
motor linkages, which happened at a particular point in history, has to be
encouraged, fostered—that it was a serendipitous failure. Only something that
traumatic and unspeakable could have changed our idea of what an image is
and made us understand that the material world is made of images. Thus, a
particular historical event is credited with the utmost ontological significance,
just as a particular film “school”—Italian neo-realism—is supposed to reveal the
inherently cinematic nature of the material world.
And yet, Deleuze insists that we cannot experience time directly in everyday
perception: the “I” who perceives cannot experience nonchronological time
because the “I” cannot get rid of itself in normal perception, cannot bracket
itself out and become as impersonal and anonymous as the camera. Natural
perception is necessarily subjective or substractive, whereas cinematographic
perception is anonymous or “crystalline.” The pure optical or sound image—
the time-image—is a de-serialized image that cannot link up with other images.
In addition, it is de-serialized from no one’s point of view, whereas a natural
perception-image is de-serialized (insofar as perception is a kind of framing or
de-serialization) from the point of view of the subject. However, can an image be
de-serialized from a non-existent point of view? Can the failure of a pure optical
image to link up with other images be established not from a subject’s point of
view but from a no-place or from an any-point-of-view-whatever? The answers
to these questions hinge upon what Deleuze means by “point of view.” Point of
view generally signifies interest. The time-image, on the other hand, is perceived
in a disinterested manner, as if it were not perceived by us, but, rather, by other

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

Deleuze on Cinema 143

The notion of disinterestedness is an essential characteristic of the Kantian

aesthetic judgment. The Deleuzian time-image is subtilized into a pure, self-
sufficient mental content. The paradox is that while this new subjectivity takes
us back into the heart of things,7 it is also “no longer motor or material, but
temporal and spiritual”(Cinema II 47). The time-image strips perception of its
natural, subjective character (eliminating the subject/object split) but it also reveals
the spiritual character of the object. The time-image then fulfills the mediating
role Kant attributes to aesthetic judgement: it is a bridge between mind and
matter. The Kantian undercurrent in Deleuze’s discourse becomes even more
obvious when Deleuze specifies that only pure recollection, but not memory-
images as such, constitutes this new subjectivity. Memory-images are only its
bastardized form since they actualize it. The new subjectivity—manifested in an
expansion of consciousness—results only from the failure of attentive recognition.
When we fail to remember, the image we perceive does not link up with other
images and we perceive it for its own sake. We are reminded of another grand
failure, the failure of imagination in the Kantian account of the sublime. In the
Kantian scenario, the imagination cannot apprehend the sheer enormity of the
sublime object (neither Kant nor Deleuze differentiate between perception and
imagination, both of which signify the faculty of empirical understanding), but
we are nevertheless capable of comprehending the object as a totality, which
Kant interprets as an indirect sign that we are in possession of a much greater
power than imagination, namely Reason. Similarly, pure recollection is the failure
of memory-images to exhaust the virtual. Just as the idea of totality is infinitely
greater than what the imagination can apprehend, virtual or pure recollection is
infinitely greater than the memory-images in which it actualizes itself. The pure
image is the residue left behind by the failure of recognition: the virtual or the
sublime cannot be found in a specific image but only in what is still left over or
apart from the image. The pure image provokes a sense of uneasiness,
indetermination and incompleteness.
Deleuze’s Kantianism manifests itself also in Deleuze’s surprisingly un-
Bergsonian interpretation of duration. Since he thinks Bergson’s pure memory
as an ontological realm, Deleuze substitutes a non-chronological time for
Bergsonian duration. The virtual, in Deleuze’s reading of Bergson, does not express
duration, but time as an a priori intuition. In fact, Deleuze argues, “Bergson is
much closer to Kant than he himself thinks: Kant defined time as the form of
interiority, in the sense that we are internal to time”(Cinema II 82). Deleuze
identifies time with being, eliminates change (chronology) from it, and draws a
rather counterintuitive conclusion: “Subjectivity is never ours, it is time, that is,
the soul or the spirit, the virtual. The actual is always objective, but the virtual is

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

144 Temenuga Trifonova

subjective” (82-83). Being (time) now becomes coextensive with subjectivity, the
individual human being appearing “smaller” than subjectivity: the more absent
we are from the actual, from the present, or the more we lose ourselves in
recollection, the more we expand our original objectivity and become more and
more subjective. This reversal of the traditional understanding of the subject/
object relationship according to which the objective is ‘bigger’ than the subjective
liberates us from the bitter resentment or fear of never being objective enough. It
also frees us from postmodernism, which is a valid standpoint only as long as
the subject is conceived as a point of view, necessarily limited, among many
other relative points of view. However, if one starts from Deleuze’s assumption
that we are always already objective, subjectivity becomes a retreating horizon
toward which we are able to advance. The objective or the present is now
considered a point of view, whereas subjectivity becomes the most impersonal,
inhuman mode of consciousness.
To illustrate his notion of the time-image as an inhuman event, Deleuze
asks us to imagine
... an earthly event which is assumed to be transmitted to different planets,
one of which will receive it at the same time (at the speed of light), but the
second more quickly, and the third less quickly, hence before it happened
and after. The latter would not yet have received it, the second would
already have received it, the first would be receiving it, in three
simultaneous presents bound into the same universe. This would be a
sidereal time, a system of relativity, where the characters would be not so
much human as planetary. …It would be a pluralist cosmology, where one
and the same event is played out in these different worlds, in incompatible
versions. (Cinema II 102)

Deleuze’s description of the time-image as a planetary or cosmological image

recalls Baudrillard’s vision of the subject in hyperreality, an “ex-orbited,” planetary,
inhuman subject. In fact, Deleuze’s time-image as a direct presentation of time is
indistinguishable from Baudrillard’s simulated time. However, while Baudrillard
considers the hyperreal a threat to the reality of the world, to the extent that it
makes it possible for us to perceive something that has stopped existing a long
time ago but whose virtual image still persists, Deleuze views the increasing
virtualization of the world as liberating. Baudrillard laments the fact that we
have been “ejected from a position in space and time where we were able to
reflect our events back to ourselves with any endurance, and therefore
consequence” (Horrocks 10). Since all events and all our acts have been reduced
to information, we are no longer the source or origin of what we do or what
happens to us. Events and acts refer only to other events and acts, not to a subject
who produces them and who attributes to them their significance. The subject
has either vanished completely or has been inscribed in a network of events and

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

Deleuze on Cinema 145

acts, which no longer have particular causes and effects (the very notions of
“cause” and “effect” rest on the ascription of value to things; however, in a virtual
world the question of value can no longer arise). While Deleuze interprets the
humbling of the subject to the status of any-point-of-view-whatever as a liberation
of things (of other images) from the necessity to be true or consistent, Baudrillard
does not think such liberation possible, arguing instead that although the old
idea of truth has long disappeared, it has been replaced with the idea of credibility.
Credibility does not describe a state where all images are “equal” and none
subordinated to a central, privileged image; rather, credibility is the principle of
truth gone mad.
Deleuze describes the pure optical and sound image in terms of a spectacle.
In modern cinema the situation is not extended into action but remains a purely
optical or sound description or inventory of things and characters. This has the
effect of inflating the image or its significance, making it spectacular (self-
sufficient) even when it is everyday. The “spectacle,” however, has completely
different connotations for Baudrillard and Deleuze: the former identifies the
spectacular with the hyperreal, whereas for the latter the spectacular is the very
nature of the time-image. The spectacle oscillates between the simulacral image
and the time-image as the “direct presentation of time.” The pure image is
independent of subjectivity because subjectivity is possible only as a relation
between the subject and the world. Replacing a thing with its description does
not constitute the triumph of the subject, but its disappearance.
For Baudrillard, too, when a thing is replaced by its image, the image
becomes self-sufficient and independent from the subject. The subject exists only
as the difference between itself and something else (a world), but as soon as the
subject projects its images or descriptions of things on those things, the things
underneath disappear, the difference between subject and object disappears.
Everywhere it looks, the subject sees only itself, which means that it cannot see
itself any more because seeing is possible only as the positing of oneself as different
from what one sees. The appearance of the hyperreal signals the disappearance
of subjectivity. Thus, at the very moment when the subject’s power seems to
have reached the limit—things are replaced with their descriptions or images—
the subject annihilates itself: a pure optical image is independent of the subject.
Paradoxically, by derealizing the world, by making things as references vanish,
the subject constructs precisely what it was always lacking as long as it was
locked in the system of reference and representation: an absolutely sovereign
world, which is not subordinated to the subject, but includes it as merely one
virtuality among many. Only by making the world virtual can the subject ensure
that there is something different from itself, something over which it has no

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

146 Temenuga Trifonova

control. Once the real is no longer sufficient (no longer different enough from
the subject), but appears as a mere construct of the subject, the only way to save
the real is to make it hyperreal, to posit it as the absolutely sovereign being that
the subject has always wanted to be but never was/is. True sovereignty is not
possible as long as the subject identifies itself as an interiority separate (and thus
dependent upon) something outside it. Subjectivity cannot be abolished
completely, but there always remains a “place” from which the suppression of
subjectivity is announced, a “place” where subjectivity retreats to preserve itself.
What Baudrillard calls “the fatal object” is not an object that exists independently
of subjectivity. Rather, the fatal object is the subject having finally attained
sovereignty, the subject as absolute exteriority.
The transition from the movement-image to the time-image in cinema reveals
the decreasing role of the subject as an agent of representation. The movement-
image still belongs to a system of representation, whereas in modern cinema the
story or plot is replaced by pure (nonreferential) time-images or pure
(nonreferential) language:
For the time-image to be born…the actual image must enter into relation
with its own virtual image as such; from the outset pure description must
divide into two, “repeat itself, take itself up again, fork, contradict itself.”
An image which is double–sided, both actual and virtual, must be
constituted. We are no longer in the situation of a relationship between the
actual image and other virtual images, recollections, or dreams, which
thus become actual in turn: this is still a mode of linkage. We are in the
situation of an actual image and its own virtual image, to the extent that
there is no longer any linkage of the real with the imaginary, but
indiscernibility of the two, a perpetual exchange. (Cinema II 273-275)

By opposing the virtual to representation, Deleuze suggests that the imaginary

(or the virtual) extends beyond the subject. In addition to Bergson’s influence on
Deleuze’s idea of time as falsification (through the concept of false memory or
déjà vu) we need to note Sartre’s significance with respect to this idea. The
imaginary life, argues Sartre, is possible because “it is not only the material of
the object that is unreal but all the spatial and temporal determinations to which
it is subjected participate in this unreality” (PI 180). Whereas in perception the
spatial determinations of an object depend on those of other objects and are,
therefore, variable, the spatial determinations of the image are “interiorized,”
turned into absolute, invariable qualities of the object (182). The unreal is self-
referential, absolute, falsifying. The self-referentiality of the image consists in the
indistinguishability of the true and the imaginary within the image. Time (but
not spatialized time, which is always referential and thus measurable) is self-
referential in nature: the time-image does not describe a certain state of things
but is itself that state of things. Falsification is synonymous with pure expression:

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

Deleuze on Cinema 147

to falsify means not to signify/represent. Falsifying narration is, Deleuze believes,

beyond metaphysics and beyond postmodernism, whose relativism still rests on
the idea of truth. This kind of narration is supposed to restore the original neutrality
and meaninglessness of a world without truth. Falsifying narration is meta-
narration and its self-referentiality, Deleuze claims, restores to us the pre-signifying
regime of pure images. Surprisingly, over-signification (self-referentiality being
the highest degree of signification) restores us to a pre-signifying state of things.
One would assume that the more we suppress referential material and replace it
with our description of it, the further away we move from reference, reality,
matter, but Deleuze argues that the opposite is true: since natural perception is
already signification, we need to go beyond that to meta-perception (the time-
image is meta-perception, perception for its own sake) or meta-narration, in
order to undo what natural perception has done. We must, in other words,
denaturalize perception, make it as artificial as possible, in order to restore
perception in its original purity.
If postmodernism can be generally defined as a kind of thinking about the
world that reduces everything to language, Deleuze’s refusal to view the time-
image as a certain kind of sign reflects his general distaste for postmodernism.
Rather than representing, the time-image
... expresses the “typical,” but expresses it in a pure singularity, something
unique. This is the sign, it is the very function of the sign. But, as long as
signs find their material in the movement-image, as long as they form the
singular expressional features, from a material in movement, they are in
danger of evoking another generality which would lead to their being
confused with a language. The representation of time can be extracted
from this only by association and generalization, or as concept….Such is
the ambiguity of the sensory-motor schema, agent of abstraction. It is
only when the sign opens directly on to time, when time provides the
signaletic material itself, that the type, which has become temporal,
coincides with the feature of singularity separated from its motor
associations. (Cinema II 42-43)

This recalls the paradox we encountered in Bergson’s account of memory and

the body: the body (in Deleuze, the sensory-motor schema) expresses what is
most typical, abstract, general about us, whereas memory individualizes our
mental life. In The Creative Mind Bergson explains the origin of general ideas in
terms of the body’s similar responses to certain external stimuli. Following
Bergson, Deleuze declares the movement-image actually poorer than the time-
image, because “it associates with the thing many different things that resemble
it on the same plane, in so far as they provoke the same movements” (Cinema II
45). Deleuze’s conception of the time-image as the subordination of movement
to time seems strangely out of place in the general context of his thought about
time. Having argued so passionately that movement is not added to matter since
SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004
148 Temenuga Trifonova

matter is already movement and thus already image (the movement-image),

now he wants to argue that time is separate from movement, in fact that it is
anterior to it. While the conception of matter as image was a blow to metaphysics,
the idea of time as an a priori form, separate from matter (and thus from
movement, because matter is movement) seems like a return to metaphysics.
Is Deleuze successful in placing the time-image, along with the new kind of
subjectivity that appears with it, outside language? This new subjectivity “is no
longer motor or material but temporal and spiritual: that which ‘is added’ to
matter, not what distends it; recollection-image, not movement-image” (Cinema
II 47). The movement-image, on the other hand, distends matter which is
originally concentrated. Like Bergson and Baudrillard before him, Deleuze adopts
the idiom of “distension” and “concentration” to describe the relationship between
matter and mind. As Baudrillard explains in The Perfect Crime, originally the
universe is the absolute concentration of matter (heat), absolute self-identity with
no room for negation. At one point it gradually starts cooling off and this cooling
off is the birth of time as it creates gaps, spaces, intervals, lags within matter. The
real is not a mere construct of the subject, but emerges simultaneously with the
birth of the world. For Deleuze, the only difference between matter and mind is
that between the movement and the time-image: the former refers (i.e. extends
into movement) while the latter does not. In the final analysis then, Deleuze
remains a postmodernist since he reduces the difference between matter and
mind to a linguistic one (reference). Instead of asking “Is there an objective
reality?” he asks “How can images exist in two regimes at the same time, a
referential and a non-referential one?” Deleuze assumes that there are objects
(non-referential images) and subjects (referential images, whose reference is
always already self-reference) his only task being to distinguish between them.
He does not ask “How is knowledge possible?” but only “What kinds of
knowledge exist and how can we avoid confusing them?”
Deleuze remains more concerned with what the cinematographic image
does for thinking than with the specific qualities of the cinematographic image.
The image no longer belongs to the domain of aesthetic theory, but to that of
ontology. In Jean-François Lyotard’s The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, for
example, the image is already a limit constantly being crossed or de-limited, this
de-limitation being the sublime. The most noticeable difference between the
Kantian and the inhuman (postmodern) sublime is that the former can be
characterized as an expansion of consciousness, whereas the latter is best described
as an intensification of the sense of being. Expansion presupposes the subject’s
mastery of the material world, while intensification implies the “reduction” of
the subject to its own materiality or facticity.

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

Deleuze on Cinema 149

Is the time-image a sublime experience? There is a fundamental way in

which the Lyotardian sublime differs from the time-image despite the fact that
both are conceived as experiences of time. Lyotard draws a rather disturbing
analogy between the sensation of time characteristic of the sublime experience
and the mechanism puppets obey. What makes the sublime experience resemble
the mechanistic “life” of the automatic doll is the experience of time not as a
synthesis of separate moments, as a series of retentions and protentions, but as
the mere happening of time. The experience of the sublime is one of “divine
automatism” where the human being (or the puppet) is freed from all
intentionality—which Lyotard identifies with the “capacity for temporal
synthesis” (The Inhuman 163)—and from all diachrony. This “divine automatism”
Lyotard explicitly identifies with “the self-sufficiency of the Same”(163)
emphasizing the fact that the sublime experience is an experience of the being of
time rather than of the passing of time. The postmodern sublime presupposes
the suppression of subjectivity inasmuch as subjectivity is defined as intentionality
or the capacity for temporal synthesis. Only when the subject has been reduced
to a puppet, when it responds automatically to external stimuli, when it has
renounced itself completely, when its agency has been eliminated leaving behind
only sensory-motor schemata, can the subject feel time directly, without the
necessity of breaking it down into segments and then trying in vain to synthesize
Things stand quite differently with Deleuze’s time-image, however. Indeed,
the main distinction Deleuze draws between the movement-image and the time-
image involves the breaking down of sensory-motor schemata in the time-image
as a result of which the subject, no longer able or willing to respond automatically
to external stimuli, suspends all action and perceives images merely for the sake
of perceiving them. For both thinkers the direct experience of time depends on
the exclusion of agency or subjectivity: Lyotard’s puppet acts purely mechanically,
without any subjective intention, while Deleuze stresses the postmodern subject’s
inability to act. Because Lyotard’s notion of subjectivity is limited to agency or
intentionality, once that disappears the subject disappears too. On the other hand,
Deleuze argues that a new kind of subjectivity is born with the appearance of
the time-image. Nevertheless, there is still something automatic or puppet-like
about this new kind of subjectivity. As Deleuze observes, the cinema of the time-
image is a cinema of the seer, not of the doer. When the subject’s ability to act has
been suppressed, the subject’s attention to images is intensified, and now all it
can do is perceive images for the sake of perceiving them. It is almost as if the
subject becomes hypnotized by the images. A man in a state of hypnosis acts
automatically, mechanically, without intention or will.

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

150 Temenuga Trifonova

In the regime of time-images, the subject is no longer the privileged point of

view that organizes other images around itself, because now other images have
become points of view themselves. The time-image is no longer subjective since
it presents us with a direct experience of time rather than with a representation
of it. Since Deleuze identifies subjectivity with action, once the subject is deprived
of the power to act upon other images, Deleuze can argue that representation
has been surpassed and the time-image has become pure—i.e., objective. Deleuze
suggests that the subject erases itself and becomes an object among other objects
(or an image among other images) precisely by not objectifying itself i.e., by not
acting upon other objects/images. By withdrawing from the world, by failing to
respond to it, the subject purges itself. Bergson defines consciousness or freedom
precisely as the gap between a stimulus and response, the life of consciousness
growing richer when it fails to respond to external stimuli. In this sense, Deleuze’s
time-image signals an expansion of consciousness, an increase in human freedom.
Deleuze does not explain, however, how an increase in human freedom can be
interpreted as the growing objectivity of images and the suppression of the subject
as a privileged point of view on the world. There is another implicit assumption,
namely that the subject is a point of view, and a privileged one at that, only
insofar as it acts. However, even when the subject suspends action, it still remains
a point of view.
The breaking down of sensory-motor linkages in the time-image is not yet
the end of subjectivity as a point of view. In fact, the opposite is true: the less able
the subject is to act on other images, the further subjectivity is intensified or, as
Deleuze himself acknowledges, a new kind of subjectivity is born. This new subject
still interprets images and events but no longer judges them as true or false, real
or imaginary. The recognition of incompossible presents and not necessarily true
pasts is not the death verdict of the subject but simply its reformulation.
Subjectivity can no longer be limited by the idea of truth, because truth is a limit
constantly surpassed by the subject. All of this actually follows from what Deleuze
himself has said about truth. According to Deleuze, to be a point of view on the
world means that one is able to judge the truthfulness of the world. Such
judgments are rooted in action: the subject’s capacity to judge the truthfulness of
the world depends on its ability to act upon the world. The time-image has
demonstrated, however, that the notion of the subject has to be redefined—
broadened—because the subject is not exhausted by its ability to act upon the
world, by its ability to judge how true or real the world is. Thus, Deleuze’s answer
to his own question—”How can we abolish ourselves?”—should have been “We
cannot.” We cannot abolish ourselves; we can only enlarge ourselves.8
University of California, San Diego

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

Deleuze on Cinema 151

Works Cited

Caws, Peter. Sartre. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979.

Deleuze, Gilles. Bergsonism. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York:
Zone Books, 1991.
— . Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. London:
The Athlone Press, 1986.
— . Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: The Athlone
Press, 1989.
Flaxman, Gregory, ed. The Brain is a Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema. Minneapolis:
U Minnesota P, 2000.
Horrocks, Christopher. Baudrillard and the Millennium. Cambridge: Icon Books: 1999.
Lyotard, Jean-François. The Inhuman: Reflections on Time. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington and
Rachel Bowlby. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988. 78-89.
Morrissette, Bruce. Novel and Film: Essays in Two Genres. Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 1985.
Robbe-Grillet, Alain. For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction. Trans. Richard Howard. New York:
Grove Press, 1965.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. The Psychology of Imagination. New York: Citadel Press, 1963 (1948).
Schwab, Martin. “Escape from the Image: Deleuze’s Image Ontology” in Flaxman, 109-139.
Zourabichvili, François. “The Eye of Montage: Dziga Vertov and Bergsonian Materialism”
in Flaxman, 141-149.

1. Readings of Deleuze’s two books on cinema tend to reduce the cinematographic image to
thought, disregarding the specificities of the cinematographic image and subordinating
it to an examination of Deleuze’s ontology in general. See The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and
the Philosophy of Cinema, ed. Gregory Flaxman (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000).
2. See Martin Schwab, “Escape from the Image: Deleuze’s Image Ontology” in The Brain Is the
Screen, 109-139. Schwab argues that Deleuze’s books on cinema develop an “image-
ontology [that] remains insensitive to the specificities of cinema”(109). More importantly,
however, Schwab shows that there is an irreconcilable gap between Deleuze’s idea of
subjectivity as a force of differentiation (the subject is a special sort of image dissociated
or substracted from the aggregate of movement-images) and, on the other hand, his
belief that it is necessary to restore the original undifferentiated flow of images. How,
asks Schwab, can the subject be both an agent of differentiation and de-differentiation,
or how can the subject willfully abolish itself and “dissolve” in pure perception? Schwab
rightfully notes that although Deleuze considers himself (and is considered by others) a
philosopher of difference, he still clings to the Romantic idea “that our world has fallen
and that subjectivity is an alienated condition” (133) and presents the subject as a sort
of impurity of which the world has to be cleansed.
3. The refusal to represent subjectivity does not result in the dissolution of the point of
view in the world of things, because it is always carried out with some ulterior
(subjective) purpose in mind. See the chapters “Modes of ‘Point of View’” and “The
Alienated ‘I’” in Novel and Film, where Morrissette analyzes the paradoxical effect of the
first-person point of view (in Robbe-Grillet’s novels it obstructs rather than fosters the
reader’s self-identification with the protagonist) and of the third-person point of view
(in Dostoevsky’s works, it has the opposite effect of ensuring self-identification with
morally objectionable characters).

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004

152 Temenuga Trifonova

4. For an illuminating discussion of the Bergsonian aspect of Robbe-Grillet’s objectification

of his characters’ psychology (characters reveal themselves not through introspection
but through the perception of physical objects, which, as Bergson argues, is always
selective, always imbued with memory), see John Ward, “L’Année dernière à Marienbad”
in Alain Resnais or the Theme of Time (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968).
5. See François Zourabichvili, “The Eye of Montage: Dziga Vertov and Bergsonian
Materialism” in Flaxman, ed., The Brain Is the Screen (141-149). According to Zourabichvili,
what Deleuze actually wants to argue is that the only nonhuman eye is montage, whereas
merely pointing the camera at objects “is still human, all too human”(146). Real
movement—movement that exists for itself—can be presented only through montage,
especially through false continuity which “has an objective effect: that of opening the
image onto a point of view that is not its own, and in so far as it is not its own. Each
image thus interacts with other images, instead of organizing itself according to the
conditions of the centering of ‘natural’—that is, subjective—perception”(147).
6. Neither Bergson nor Deleuze distinguish between image as perception or the thing
perceived, on one hand, and our response to it—i.e., the act of perception. Both the act of
perception and the object of perception are images.
7. For a critique of the belief that cinema can achieve a kind of fundamental realism or
objectivity, see Metz 194-201. Although Metz insists that cinema is not a language system,
he is nevertheless critical of the alleged “innocence” of the film image.
8. See Peter Caws, Sartre (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979). Ontology is unable to
dispense with the subject, as much as it wants to do so (59). The main thesis of Sartre’s
The Transcendence of the Ego—”transcendental consciousness is an impersonal
spontaneity”(TE 96)—is unacceptable, because a certain aspect of subjectivity is bound
to survive the epoche. If one tries to get rid of subjectivity and invokes a pre-personal
consciousness, an absolute kind of existence, one inevitably gets entangled in absurdity
after absurdity. Caws suggests a middle road—he admits that subjectivity is never
simply given, but he also rejects the idea of an impersonal consciousness in which there
is no trace of subjectivity, because there is no way to explain the transition from such an
absolute existence to an individual consciousness.

SubStance # 104, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2004