Gilles Deleuze & Sublime Cinema: Painting Time with Light D.C.

Ambrose In his philosophical work on cinema Deleuze provides a startlingly original and suggestive examination of cinematic form. He shows how cinematic form is still at a germinal stage in terms of its investigation of its own resources for capturing and rendering visible certain relationships of time in a moving image. There are, Deleuze suggests, new and yet unexplored powers for capturing the ‘invisible forces of time’, together with considerable resources which already exist in the form of cinema’s historical experiments with new ways of configuring moving images. In this chapter I will examine his often overlooked account of two forms of historical montage, French Impressionism and German expressionism, which he argues produce two distinct and new forms of sublime cinema. I will argue that these early forms of sublime cinema offer considerable compositional and affective resources for contemporary art filmmakers, and will conclude with a brief analysis of one contemporary exponent of sublime painterly lightwork, Anthony McCall. Bergson, Duration and the Production of the New Deleuze conceives the cinema as an experimental mechanism for producing new sensory forms that affect the body in new and unforeseen ways and elaborate new images of thought. His two books on cinema (Cinema 1: The Movement-Image & Cinema 2: The Time-Image) systematically examine the historical production of this new body-brain through a highly innovative taxonomy that articulates an entirely new account of cinema, together with an original account of its historical evolution. As is well-know and much discussed Deleuze situates his philosophy of cinema in relation to key elements contained within the work of Bergson (Matter and Memory and Creative Evolution), in particular the notions of temporality and movement. So, for example, Bergson argued that ‘real’ movement cannot be adequately thought through representation, which becomes one of the key notions explored by Deleuze in relation to its contemporaneous instantiation, the cinema. Has the cinema not, Deleuze asks, developed subtle, nuanced and complex ways of successfully representing the real movement of time? Bergson argued that previous philosophical attempts to represent movement through abstract categories of thought have all failed, and are condemned to continue to fail. Thus, the normative categories of space and time merely translate movement into abstract and reified coordinates, and think movement as a sequential numerical passage appearing as a continuous line drawn through space and time. Movement is thereby reduced to a line connecting different instantiated points. Reason produces such a representation by attempting to define movement as simply a difference of degree between abstract points that in themselves remain the same. Movement thus becomes equated with measure. However, for Bergson Zeno’s ancient paradoxes had already shown the impossibility of thinking movement adequately in this way, and in doing so had revealed its fundamental difference from numerated and represented movement. The error of thought vis-à-vis movement rests on its failure to understand the difference between two sorts of time, a determinate and measurable present that is continually and repetitively coming to pass, and the duration (duree) of all time co-existing with the present. The very condition of all our normative experience of movement, Bergson argued, is to be found in the virtual co-existing dimension of duration (duree). The virtual dimension of duree, despite not being

actualised, is nevertheless real, and produces the movements we normally perceive and subsequently represent. Insofar as duree is the past, it is a past that can no longer be understood as a numerated line leading backwards from the present instantiated moment. It is an immanent totality, the open-whole of time in its continual interaction that constructs the repetitive becoming of the present. Duree is the immanent, virtual and ontogenetic life of becoming, of which the present moment is its actual and realised expression. Bergson writes: ‘Duree means invention, the creation of forms, the continual elaboration of the absolutely new.’1 Duree is neither contained nor represented in space or time, simply because it is the vital becoming of space and time. Deleuze, in the first part of his ongoing commentary on Bergson’s philosophy undertaken within the Cinema books2, argues that duree is perhaps best understood as an open set or an open whole, where the virtual dimension is both expressed and constructed anew in each actual manifest movement. This is contrasted by Deleuze with the idea of the closed set of abstract represented movement, or what he terms ‘immobile sections’: ‘Immobile sections + abstract time refers to closed sets whose parts are in fact immobile sections, and whose successive states are calculated on an abstract time; while real movement + concrete duration refers to the opening up of a whole which endures, and whose movements are so many mobile sections crossing the closed systems.’3 As Deleuze shows, for Bergson the infinite movement of duree and the finite movements of represented images were not different in kind, since the latter are actual expressions of the former once they have passed through the brain. Crucially for Deleuze the cinema functions in precisely this way – like a type of brain which constructs actual moving-images as representational becomings capable of dynamically expressing their real and immanent conditions in duree. For Deleuze the history of cinema is, in a certain sense, the history of the attempt to express, through moving-images, manifest changes in duree or in the whole. However, this is precisely where Deleuze departs from Bergson, since for Bergson when images are understood as representations of objects moving in space and time they are only capable of providing ‘a snapshot view of a transition’4. These snapshots cancel the genetic movement of duree, and only give a frozen image of what ultimately escapes them. As Bergson insisted, ‘what is real is the continual change of form’5. The snapshot depends on the abstract mechanism that produces it, i.e. the slow machinery of reason, which only produces representations of movement by freezing it. According to Deleuze, despite Bergson’s apparent antipathy towards cinema as merely an artificial means for replicating reason’s own frozen mechanics of representation, there is within his work an implicit philosophical elaboration of cinema’s great discovery – the real moving image of duree. Thus cinema, rather than being consigned to replicating reason’s limitations, has shown itself more than capable of carving out an essentially
1 2

H. Bergson, Creative Evolution, (CE) p. 11 See G. Deleuze, ‘Theses on movement: First commentary on Bergson’ in Cinema1: The Movement Image, (C1) pp. 1- 11 3 Ibid, p. 11 4 H. Bergson, CE, p. 302 5 Ibid

successful series of means for both indirectly and directly representing and expressing duree and for developing Bergson’s philosophical insights in its own directions. By opposing the idea of cinema as a consisting of abstract photographic snapshots and concentrating on its capacity for representing and expressing movement, Deleuze embarks upon a search for the attainment of a real image of duree in the history of cinema. The attainment of such an image will requires an extraordinarily complex symbiosis between cinema’s moving-image and new perceptual and conceptual mechanisms. By providing such a detailed and rich philosophical treatment of that symbiosis, Deleuze effectively rehabilitates the form of cinematic movement-image within Bergson’s philosophy, and effectively shifts our perceptual mechanism from the film projector and its projection of mere abstract photographic snapshots to the screen. On the emergent ‘brain-screen’ of cinema a new series of images and new modes of perception and thought – a new form of cine-intuition – emerges. In response to Bergson Deleuze writes the following about this extraordinary cineintuition opposed to natural or normative modes of perception: ‘For Bergson the model cannot be natural perception…The model would be rather a state of things which would constantly change, a flowing-matter in which no point of anchorage nor centre of reference would be assignable. On the basis of this state of things it would be necessary to show how, at any point, centres can be formed which would impose fixed instantaneous views. It would therefore be a question of ‘deducing’ conscious, natural or cinematographic perception. But the cinema perhaps has a great advantage: just because it lacks a centre of anchorage and of horizon, the sections which it makes would not prevent it from going back up the path that natural perception comes down. Instead of going from the acentred state of things to centred perception, we could go back up towards the acentred state of things, and get closer to it.’6 This affirmation of a new form of cine-intuition as the mechanism of a new cinemabrain takes us beyond, through a process of countereffectuation, the human condition and its wholly inadequate and limited mode of rationality, in order to reveal ‘the inhuman and superhuman’ conditions of cinema and thought – real duration (duree). Deleuze goes on to refer to this acentred inhuman dimension of duree – following Bergson – as a ‘spiritual reality’7. For Deleuze, as indeed it had been for Bergson, the spiritual reality of duree is both ‘atheist and mystical’, since it exists as entirely material ‘cerebral vibrations’, but these vibrations keep everything ‘open somewhere by the finest thread which attaches it to the rest of the universe.’ 8 Echoing Bergson’s closing lines in Matter and Memory,9 Deleuze argues that this ‘spiritual’ movement is imparted through the perceptual process of intuitive thought – the process of the
6 7

G. Deleuze, C1, pp. 57-8 Ibid, p. 11. For a particularly useful discussion of the notion of ‘spirit’ derived from Bergson, and how it contributes to understanding Deleuze’s thought as mystic-atheism see S. Zepke’s Art as Abstract Machine: Ontology and Aesthetics in Deleuze & Guattari, esp. chapter 3. This work has been particularly important in developing my overall understanding of Deleuze’s relation to Bergson in the Cinema books provided in the first part of this chapter. For a more critically aggressive understanding of this theme in Deleuze’s philosophy see P. Hallward’s Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation. 8 G. Deleuze, C1, p. 10 9 Bergson writes - ‘Spirit borrows from matter the perceptions on which it feeds and restores them to matter in the form of movements which it has stamped with its own freedom.’, Matter and Memory, p. 249

cinema-brain – that returns to things their living becoming in duree. As a ‘mystical’ movement Bergson’s ‘spirit’ is immanent to life, as what provides vitalism to life. It is a type of thought which is materialist, but that takes us beyond the rational limits of the human. This vital life, Deleuze believes, is the spirit that cinema has consistently displayed itself capable of discovering as the vital principle and movement that animates its moving images. Spirit is the immanent and non-organic life of duree, which is expressed in the perceptive mechanism of the brain as it constructs and produces the new. The challenge for Deleuze is to show precisely how the cinemabrain countereffects natural perception and ‘ascends’ to the immanent and virtual plane of duration duree without transcending or subordinating its actual moving images, to show, in other words, how the cinema-brain constructs moving images in such a way as to express their vital spiritual dimension. He begins the difficult task of explaining how the cinema renders the invisible and spiritual dimension of duree as something visible by outlining two broad yet distinct historical manifestations which he terms Movement-Image and Time-Image. The Movement-Image of early 20th century cinema expresses the open-whole of duree as its immanent cause, but indirectly, through already given conditions of possibility of moving images. Modern post-second world-war cinema, by contrast, breaks with these established conditions and establishes an entirely new set of compositional techniques for linking images into a moving series, in order that such images become capable of directly expressing duree in a Time-Image. Much critical attention has been focussed on his treatment of the direct presentation of time in the modern Time-Image form of cinema, and rather less time has been spent examining in detail his remarks on much earlier cinematic manifestations of the indirect presentation of time. In Cinema 1 Deleuze develops a fascinating account of the power that the early movement-image cinema developed to produce a sublime shock to thought. Writing of this early cinematic power in the later second volume he says: ‘It is as if cinema were telling us: with me, with the movement image, you can’t escape the shock which arouses the thinker in you.’10 For Deleuze there is a shock and a form of violence to thought associated with the evolution of the movement-image. Deleuze identifies this power of the movementimage as ‘a sublime conception of cinema’, and develops the Kantian insight that what constitutes the sublime is the shock undergone by the imagination when it is pushed to its limit, but a shock produced by the new art of cinema as opposed to nature. We are confronted in these early forms by fundamental challenges to our normative perceptual apparatus – our natural powers of recognition, association, knowledge and habits of thought. In the next section I propose to turn my attention to briefly examining the formal innovations instantiated as a challenge to normative perception by the early forms of cinematic sublimity. The Cinematic Sublime in Early French and German Montage: The Abstract Spiritual Form of the Future Each of the early forms of montage discussed by Deleuze in Cinema 1 presents a different expression of duree as a whole that changes. Each form expresses change by giving us an image of real time whether indirectly or directly. He provides a detailed account of four different historical ideas of montage, or four different ways of

Ibid, p. 156

organising the whole of duree in movement-images in the history of cinema. These are the organic montage of American cinema, the dialectical montage of Soviet cinema, the quantitative or extensive montage of French Impressionist cinema, and the intensive montage of German Expressionistic cinema. The four ideas of montage each present different compositional strategies for formulating the whole of duree as changing and becoming, both in itself and as it appears in any discreet part of the movement-image. Each presents unique conceptualisations of the essential openness of the whole of duree, and I propose to focus on developing an understanding of the latter two forms of historical montage, which managed to express two distinct forms of sublimity. French Impressionist Cinema: The Sublimity of Quantitative Montage The early French approach to montage, evident in filmmakers such as Abel Gance, Jean Epstein, Rene Clair, Jean Renoir, Germaine Deluc and Jean Vigo, is described by Deleuze as a break from organic modes of composition towards ‘a kind of Cartesianism’ characterised by a controlling interest in ‘the quantity of movement, and in the metrical relations that allow one to define it.’ 11 Such an approach manifests ‘a vast mechanical composition of movement-images’.12 There is in the French cinema of the 1920’s and 1930’s an evident obsession with mechanism and automata (e.g. the presence of mechanical automata in La Regle de Jeu (1939)), which Deleuze argues it utilises in two ways to attain a certain mechanical mode of movement-image composition: ‘A first type of machine is the automaton, a simple machine or clock mechanism, a geometrical configuration of parts which combine, superimpose or transform movements in homogenous space, according to the relationships through which they pass. The automaton…illustrates a clear mechanical movement as law of the maximum for a set of images which brings together things and living beings, the inanimate and the animate, by making them the same. The puppets, the passers-by, the reflections of puppets, the shadows of passers-by, enter into very subtle relationships of reduplication, alternation, periodical return and chain reaction, which constitute the set to which the mechanical movement must be attributed…The other type of machine is the engine which runs on steam and fire, the powerful energy machine which produces movement out of something else, the inside and the outside, the engineer and the force – in a process of internal resonance or amplifying communication.’13 From this machinic compositional strategy emerged an entirely abstract art in which pure forms of movement were extracted, and a new form of cinematic kinetics is subsequently produced. The fascination with machines and the emergent machinic kinetics leads eventually, Deleuze claims, to a fascination with water. This fascination with water is to be understood, however, as a continuation of mechanical composition and mechanical kinetics. It is, he writes, simply ‘a passage from a mechanics of solids to a mechanics of fluids which, from a concrete point of view, was to find in the liquid image a new extension of the quantity of movement as a whole. It provided better conditions to pass from the concrete to the abstract, a greater possibility of
11 12

G. Deleuze, C1, p. 41 Ibid 13 Ibid, p. 42

communicating an irreversible duration to movements, independently of their figurative characters, a more certain power of extracting movement from the thing moved.’14 The emergent non-organic fluid mechanics provided a much more effective strategy for filmmakers to countereffect the actual or the concrete and elaborate a new abstract cinematic art where duree could be more effectively communicated to movements in images. It provided, Deleuze maintains, ‘a more certain power of extracting movement from the thing moved.’15 This innovation led them to an entirely new conception of the interval of the variable present in movement as ‘a numerical unity that produces in the image a maximum quantity of movement in relation to other determinate factors, and that varies from one image to another according to the variation of the factors themselves.’16 The interval in this form of montage functions as a unit of measure for constructing a new type of movement-machine, with each emergent movement-machine having its own units of motion and standards of measure. There is also, Deleuze claims, an absolute maximum quantity of movement at the level of the open whole of duree. The movement-image always has two sides, one facing the relative movement of the set, the other the open-ended and hence infinite movement of duree. Deleuze argues that the quantitative numerical units of the French school, the intervals of the variable present, express an infinite whole that is similar to the Kantian notion of the mathematical sublime. Indeed for Deleuze the early French montage creates a cinema of the sublime: ‘Kant said that as long as the numerical unit of measurement is homogenous, one can easily go on to infinity, but only abstractly. On the other hand, when the unit of measurement is variable, the imagination quickly runs up against a limit: beyond a short sequence it is no longer capable of comprehending the set of magnitudes or movements that it successively apprehends. Nevertheless, Thought, the Soul, by virtue of a demand proper to it, must understand the set of movements in Nature or the Universe as a whole. This latter is what Kant calls the mathematical sublime: the imagination devotes itself to apprehending relative movements, and in doing so quickly exhausts its forces in converting the units of measurement. But thought must attain that which surpasses all imagination, that is, the set of movements as whole, absolute maximum of movement, absolute movement which is in itself identical to the incommensurable or the measureless, the gigantic, the immense: canopy of the heavens or limitless sea. This is the second aspect of time: it is no longer the interval as variable present, but the fundamentally open whole as the immensity of future and past. It is no longer time as succession of movement, and of their units, but time as simultaneism and simultaneity (for simultaneity, no less than succession, belongs to time; it is time as whole).’17 There exists a dualism of matter and spirit in early French montage, hence its apparent Cartesianism, which consists of the relative mechanical movements of material elements co-existing with the absolute movement of a conceptual, mental whole. The ideal toward which relative quantitative movement tends is that of a simultaneous co-

14 15

Ibid, p. 43 Ibid 16 Ibid, p. 44 17 Ibid, p. 46

presence of temporal movements, an infinite comprised of superimposed successive moments grasped simultaneously as a whole: ‘The interval has become the variable and successive numerical unit, which enters into metrical relationships with the other factors, in each case defining the greatest relative quantity of movement in the content and for the imagination; the whole has become the simultaneous, the measureless, the immense, which reduces imagination to the impotence and confronts it with its own limit, giving birth in the spirit to the pure thought of a quantity of absolute movement which expresses its whole history or change, its universe. This is exactly Kant’s mathematical sublime.’18 Deleuze sees in Gance’s use of superimpressions and the triple screen in Napolean the logical end point toward which early French montage’s quantitative tendency aspires. Something is presented here that goes beyond the senses, ‘an image as absolute movement of the whole that changes’.19 The open whole is conceived as a ‘great spiritual helix’, a geometric figure of multiple movements grasped as simultaneously co-present to one another in a single mental reality. ‘It is no longer the relative domain of the variable interval, of kinetic acceleration or deceleration in the content, but the absolute domain of luminous simultaneity, of light in extension, of the whole which changes and is Spirit.’20 There is here the production of a new cinematic presentation of time through the dualism of material numerical units and spiritual simultaneities. German Expressionist Cinema: The Sublimity of Intensive Montage Having established the mathematical sublime being expressed by early French montage techniques Deleuze attempts to elaborate a different form of montage produced within German Expressionism which expresses a Kantian principle of dynamic sublime. He establishes the fundamental difference between the two forms of montage by focussing upon their respective understandings of the relationship between movement and light. By acknowledging the now familiar characteristics of German Expressionist cinema – sharp contrasts of light and shadow, dramatic chiaroscuro, unstable and improbable compositions of diagonals, oblique angles, and contorted surfaces, as well as themes of madness, hallucination, violence, possession, the supernatural, and the diabolic - he attempts to show that the themes, the atmosphere, and the formal elements of German Expressionism all arise from a single conception of movement and light, one that brings together Worringer’s notion of the

18 19

Ibid, p. 47 Ibid, p. 48 20 Ibid

Gothic line of non-organic life21 and Goethe’s theory of colour22. Movement and light are understood as forms of intensity, affective quantities that extend into space to varying degrees and that ultimately generate a dynamic cinematic sublime of apocalyptic power. He argues that in German expressionism too there is a fundamental break from organic modes of composition, but that it is achieved through the introduction of a Gothic non-organic vitalism as outlined by Worringer, ‘a pre-organic germinality, common to the animate and the inanimate, to a matter that raises itself to the point of life and to a life that spreads itself throughout all matter.’ 23 Deleuze perceives throughout German expressionist cinema this conception of aberrant and autonomous movement as vital non-organic force. In contrast to the French configuration of montage which operates through a mechanical geometry of measure and metrical quantity, German expressionist montage shapes its images through a geometry of ‘prolongation and accumulation’,24 of kinetic lines, surfaces, and volumes that prolong movements beyond their fixed limits and bring vectors together in intersecting junctures of accumulation. In German expressionism a wild and dynamic geometry of intensive forces serves to connect elements in a network of changing and developing relations: ‘Expressionism can claim kinship with a pure kinetics; it is a violent movement which respects neither the organic contour nor the mechanical determinations of the horizontal and the vertical; its course is that of a perpetually broken line, where each change of direction simultaneously marks the force of an obstacle and the power of a new impulse; in short, the subordination of the extensive to intensity.’25 Of particular interest to Deleuze here is the expressionistic handling of light which signals the overwhelming and sublime presence of a vital non-organic force. In early French cinema light was handled in a fundamentally different way from that of German expressionist film insofar as light was conceived as a function of movement. According to Deleuze light ‘ceaselessly circulates in homogenous space and creates

Wilhelm Worringer, in Abstraction and Empathy: A Contribution to the Psychology of Style, Trans. M. Bullock, New York: International Universities Press [1953] and Form in Gothic, Trans. H. Read, London: Alec Tiranti [1994] posits an aesthetic category that he called the Gothic or Northern Line. This was, according to Worringer the product of a fundamentally “nomadic” existence among Northern or Barbarian people. The “nomadic” tendency robbed them of any stable referents within the external world, so in a sense the world was doubly chaotic. There was within them, Worringer claims, a fundamental discord. Within the Northern form we encounter abstract, geometric forms but without any of the corresponding equilibrium and tranquillity associated with the Egyptian form. This abstract geometrical form is an aberrant, questioning and vital movement, but which is also a movement utterly divorced from organic life. It is, Worringer claims, best understood as a “super-organic mode of expression”. We are confronted here by a vitality which appears to be independent of us, which challenges us – it appears to have an expression of its own, which is stronger than our own life. It seems to give us the impression that we are being assailed by some type of alien will. Worringer claims that we ascribe to this line the sensation of the process of its chaotic execution and as such it appears to impose its own expression upon us. We perceive this line as something absolute, independent of us, and we therefore speak of a specific type of expression of non-organic life associated with the Gothic Line. 22 Deleze bases his understanding of Goethe’s colour theory on Eliane Escoubas’s essay ‘L’oeil (du) teinturier’, Critique 418 (March 1982): pp. 231-42 23 Ibid, p. 51 24 Ibid 25 Ibid

luminous forms through its own mobility rather than through its encounter with moving objects.’26 Light and shadow were merely rhythmic alternations of a luminous matter. Light was ‘pure mobility’ that created its luminous forms. In German expressionism, by contrast, light was treated as ‘a potent movement of intensity, intensive movement par excellence.’27 Here a Goethean conception of light prevails, according to which light and shadows are separate, infinite forces in perpetual conflict. Goethe had argued that light is invisible, and that the visible exists only through light’s encounter with the realm of shadows. Here all colours are varying degrees of opacity, ‘degrees of shadows in light’, according to a relation of more and less. Such a view prevails in German expressionism film where light and shadow are treated like two separate conflicting entities. Every shade of light is a degree of intensity in relation to shadow, an intensive quantity that takes its value in relation to a certain degree zero of black: ‘The confrontation of two infinite forces determines a zero-point, in relation to which all light is a finite degree. Light’s role, effectively, is to develop a relationship with black as negation = 0, as a function of which it is defined as intensity, as intensive quantity. Here the instant appeared as that which apprehends the luminous magnitude or degree in relation to black.’28 Each temporal unit of configuration, the moment of the variable present, is an intensive degree of the relation between light and shadow. But as Deleuze notes each specific configuration also expresses the whole of duree, the whole is the intensive degree raised to a higher power, a qualitatively distinct duree of infinite intensification. Intimations of duree are discovered in certain effects of light. Again, Goethe’s colour theory argues that black and white represent the minimum and the maximum of opacity through which invisible light becomes visible. The colours yellow and blue are movements of intensification, with yellow resulting from a progressive addition of shadow to white, and with blue arising from a gradual subtraction of shadow from black. If white and black are the extreme left and right end points of a continuum, the colour yellow is created in a left-to-right movement toward black, and blue in a right-to-left movement toward white; and if the two movements of intensification are continued, they meet in the centre at a point of maximum intensity – which Goethe says is a reddish-purple. White Yellow Reddish-Purple Blue Black (Addition of shadow) (Subtraction of shadow)

Goethe observes that as yellow and blue become more intense they are imbued with a reddish reflection or shimmer. The ultimate result of red-purple is ‘the incandescent’ – ‘flash, brilliance, the turbulence of fire, which is the very excess of the visible’.29 There is a brilliant, blinding and burning light at the very periphery of the visible, an excess of visual sensation that can scintillate but also burn, and hence a possible source of pleasure and pain. The effects of fiery brilliance – scintillation, glistening, sparkling, fluorescence, phosphorescence, shimmers, auras, halos – are manifestations
26 27

Ibid, p. 44 Ibid, p. 49 28 Ibid 29 E. Escoubas, ‘L’oeil (du) teinturier’, Critique 418 (March 1982): p. 241

of the terrible, burning fire of red-purple light, and Deleuze finds such effects manifest throughout German expressionist film. The burning light appears directly in such images as the circle of flames in The Golem and in Faust, the phosphorescent demon’s head in The Golem, the blazing head of Mabuse and of Mephisto, the silhouetted figure of Nosferatu as he emerges from a depthless luminous space. What one sees in such images, says Deleuze, is a ‘pure incandescence or flaming of a terrible light that burns the world and its creatures. It is as if finite intensity had now, at the summit of its own intensification, regained a flash of the infinite from which it had parted.’30 Such effects intimate the presence of an infinite non-organic force animating the natural world, and the images of burning incandescence directly present the light of infinite intensification as ‘the spirit of evil that burns Nature in its entirety.’31 Such a terrible, burning light Deleuze regards as an instance of Kant’s ‘dynamic sublime’, a sublime generated not through mathematical number but through overwhelming force: ‘In the dynamic sublime, it is intensity which is raised to such a power that it dazzles or annihilates our organic being, strikes terror into it, but arouses a thinking faculty by which we feel superior to that which annihilates us, to discover in us a supra-organic spirit which dominates the whole inorganic life of things: then we lose our fear, knowing that our spiritual ‘destination’ is truly invincible.’32 The brilliant, fiery light of expressionist cinema is an infinite, apocalyptic force in which ‘the non-organic life of things culminates in a fire that burns all of Nature, functioning as the spirit of evil or of darkness’,33 but Deleuze argues that at rare moments this terrible, burning light is shown to be of a different order, it is the light of a ‘non-psychological life of the spirit which belongs neither to nature nor to our organic individuality, which is the divine part in us, the spiritual relation in which we are alone with God as light.’34 This is the essence of the expressionist dynamic sublime, ‘it ‘keeps on painting the world red on red, the one harking back to the frightful non-organic life of things, the other to the sublime, non-psychological life of the spirit…Expressionism attains the cry…which marks the horror of non-organic life as much as the opening up of a spiritual universe which may be illusory’.35 The forces of shadow and light, when raised to an infinite degree of intensity, become apocalyptic burning fire and supernatural spiritual light, and it is in this infinity of intensive fire/light we find German expression’s configuration of the open whole of duree – ‘the blazing has become the supernatural and the supra-sensible.’36 In the open whole of French montage all the mechanistic movements of individual configurations of elements are subsumed within a single, infinite dimension of simultaneous co-present movements. In German expressionism’s open whole,
30 31

G. Deleuze, C1, p. 53 Ibid 32 Ibid 33 Ibid, p.54 34 Ibid As Deleuze notes, for Goethe ‘blazing red is not merely the frightful colour in which we burn, but the noblest colour, which contains all the others, and engenders a superior harmony as the whole chromatic circle’. (Ibid pp. 53-4) 35 Ibid 36 Ibid

however, the time of individual movements is not so much subsumed within an infinite totality as it is destroyed entirely. Light and shadow become dynamic forces, which when raised to the infinite, becomes an absolutely explosive dynamic power - a destructive fire or creative light that ceases to have normative temporal coordinates. The open whole of duree becomes an infinite intensification of force, a concentrated power that draws time into a single shrinking point, and if there is time at all in this infinitely contracting and rising point, it is that which ‘passes through the fire’ and emerges when the whole is able ‘to break its sensible attachments to the material, the organic, and the human, to detach itself from all states of the past and thus discover the abstract spiritual Form of the future.’37 For Deleuze montage is always guided by a conception of the open whole of duree. The whole contracts into a minimum moment of the variable present and dilates into a corresponding form of the infinite. In the French form a numerical unity is the minimum, and its corresponding maximum is an ideal infinity of all mechanical movements simultaneously co-present to one another. In the German, an intensive degree is the minimum, and its maximum is an ideal infinity of all intensive forces contracted into a single contraction of force. For Deleuze both of these forms, together with the empiricist montage of American cinema and the dialectical montage of Soviet cinema, puts the cinematographic image into relationship with the whole; that is, with time as duree conceived as the Open. In this way it gives an indirect image of duree, simultaneously in the individual movement-image and in the whole of the film. On the one hand, it is the variable present; on the other the immensity of future and past. The Sublime Filmwork of Anthony McCall Anthony McCall’s contemporary art filmwork is concerned with realising an implicit cinematic logic of the sublime which to date remain relatively unexplored. I believe his work to be producing important new developments upon the different configurations of the sublime, quantitative and intensive, which Deleuze identifies with French Impressionist film and German Expressionism. McCall’s work consists of composed solid-light films where there is a concentration upon what he calls ‘the projected light beam itself, rather than treating the light beam as a mere carrier of coded information’38. In his early filmwork ‘Line Describing a Circle’ (‘the first film to exist in real, three dimensional space’) projected light (shone through an opaque atmosphere) itself becomes remarkably tactile and textural, and involves varying degrees of complex modulation, permutation and repetition. McCall’s subsequent filmwork has continued to develop these ideas in increasingly sophisticated and complex ways (e.g. multiple permutated film projections, increasingly complex geometrical forms unfolded in time and space). McCall’s filmwork presents us with a profound aesthetic meditation upon the complex nature of duree, change and becoming, forcing us to become engaged with continuous, overlapping and multiple durations that have the capacity to affect and alter us physiologically and articulate the instantiate a new form of spiritual cine-intuition.

37 38

Ibid, pp. 54-5 See McCall’s remarks in G. Baker, ‘Film Beyond its Limits’, Anthony McCall: Film Installations (Warwick: Mead Art Gallery, 2004)

There is an implicit critique of certain notions of temporality within much of McCall’s work that seemingly displays an implicit affinity with Bergson and Deleuze’s philosophy of time. Time, duration, movement and becoming are very important aspects in all of McCall’s work. Much of his work, for example, contains an implicit critique of the hierarchical distinction between so-called atemporal artforms such as painting and sculpture and time-based artforms such as film and video. McCall embraces the disruptive insights of Performance, Happening or Event based artworks, (i.e. the insight that everything that occurs, including the process of looking and thinking, always occurs within time and that many conventional distinctions which operate in the artworld are patently ‘absurd’). At the heart of McCall’s filmwork is a profound disruption of conventional notions of time together with a radical attempt to expand our notions of temporality and duration. In effecting his work It appears that McCall is drawing upon the countereffecting capacity of cinematic intuition vis-a-vos natural perception. His work struggles against the illusion of time generated by conventional normative representations by attempting to rethink the aesthetics of movement and the complexities of ‘real’ temporality and duration. For him, as for Bergson and Deleuze, the illusory nature of temporality emerges from a certain thinking of time subordinated to spatial concepts., i.e. the seemingly pre-given understanding of static and homogenous spatiality from which we often derive our normal interpretation of time. The problem addressed very profoundly by his work is how to rethink temporality on the basis of movement, qualitative change, modulated becoming and coexisting qualitative durations. For all three our bodies, our nervous systems, are open to a succession of qualitative changes that are not mapped out as mechanical intervals but as a flow of time, each instant permeating each other. In conventional thought we tend to think of time as an abstract, homogenous element, which we measure through the discreet intervals of clock time. However, these discreet intervals are merely artificial and ultimately interchangeable static points. For Bergson, Deleuze & McCall the passage of time is more than the mere succession of states inscribed within discrete and even intervals. Our experience of time is that of duree, of a dynamic continuation of a past into a present and toward a future. Each present moment interpenetrates the next present moment, with each new present functioning as a qualitatively different moment, each moment pushing into the next in a single movement of becoming. With each present moment something new comes into existence, something unpredictable emerges which then forms with the subsequent moments of becoming a qualitatively distinct ensemble or assemblage of time. Duree is fundamentally indeterminate; the future is truly open and unforeseeable. Time is creation, time is invention, time is becoming. Time makes a difference in that each moment brings forth something qualitatively new. It is this aspect which accounts for the radically different qualitative experience of time (e.g. in some circumstances 5 minutes can seem like an hour, and in others an hour speeds by and feels like barely a few minutes). Time is not homogenous but is heterogeneous, and McCall’s filmwork precisely evokes this heterogeneous aspect of time. McCall’s movement-images of solid light display the co-existence of distinct durations, levels or strata of duration whereby a single ‘event’ can belong to several qualitatively different temporal levels. His work precisely encompasses this temporal multiplicity through its presentation of permutated and modulated temporal rhythms in the projected work itself (e.g. ‘Long Film for Four Projectors’, the undulating

modulation of two lines in ‘Doubling Back’ and ‘Turn’), and then also through the introduction of the qualitatively different concrete durations of different spectators into the complex assemblage of duration already present within the work. There is a kind of ongoing confrontation between the different concrete durations of work and spectator in the creation of a complex assemblage or co-existence of different durations. It is in this way that McCall film works begin to articulate a broadened and expanded conception of time. Drawing upon the machinic compositional strategies associated with the quantitative form of montage created by the early French cinema, McCall’s films explore the logic of repetition, permutation, virtual stasis, imperceptible modulation, which paradoxically succeed in rendering the strange qualitative nature of time as something sublimely sensible. Our imagination becomes overwhelmed by the quantitative simultaneism so carefully executed by these films, and we literally become ‘lost’ and ‘enveloped’ within these works (e.g. this is particularly evident with his ‘Long Film for Four Projectors’39) Homogenous clocktime becomes dissipates as we become subject to the complex co-existence of multiple rhythms of duration. As in the French quantitative sublime montage the open whole of duree is conceived within McCall’s work as a ‘great spiritual helix’, a geometric figure of multiple movements grasped as simultaneously co-present to one another in a single mental reality. As Deleuze notes: ‘It is no longer the relative domain of the variable interval, of kinetic acceleration or deceleration in the content, but the absolute domain of luminous simultaneity, of light in extension, of the whole which changes and is Spirit.’40 In addition to mobilising the quantitative logic of the cinematic sublime, McCall’s work often draws upon the strategies more associated with the intensive sublimity of expressionism. An intensive plane of immanence becomes manifested by these filmworks, whose movement-images become time itself as a real movement of genesis in space, or the form of time as change. Time is associated here with the perspective of universal variation, of an ever changing whole without horizons, centres or points of anchorage. Deleuze himself claims that the plane of immanence is made up entirely of light, where the luminosity of matter in movement is not that of the physical and human eye organised in relation to bodies human or otherwise, but rather that of the propagation of energy throughout the entire universe. An aberrant energetics of intense light emerges from McCall’s solid light experiments, whose frenetic movements through space seem to express the gothic dynamism Deleuze associates with the intensive cinematic sublime. Like the early form of gothic intensive sublimity McCall’s work demonstrates the ongoing capacity for experiments in film to detach itself from normative modes of perception and redundant presentations of temporality states thus discover the abstract spiritual form of the future which so energises the present, that returns to things their living becoming in duree. It might seem that the Cinema projector just operates in a manner similar to our ordinary discursive modes of perception, intellection and language; i.e. we attempt to

This filmwork from 1970 consists of a long permutated series of repeated and multiple planar solid light forms that describe the entire volume of a surrounding space. The film is run simultaneously through four different projectors, with each section of the film being built from repetitions of one movement of a tilted plane (line) travelling through the frame. 40 Ibid

comprehend process, becoming and movement by slicing time into an abstract sequence of static moments, or immobile cuts, and then somehow re-link them back together into a homogenous systematic and rational order. Rather than grasping each particular specific movement as an indivisible whole with its own concrete duration, in which there is no distinction between motion and that which moves (what McCall calls the atemporal and the temporal), we imagine a single, homogenous spacecontainer, within which we situate the moments of an object’s movement as so many static, co-present points, and from this spatial image we develop the concept of an abstract, mechanical time as a regular repetition of homogenous, interchangeable moments. Real movement and concrete duration give way to immobile cuts and abstract time. However, as we have seen, for Deleuze cinema from its earliest manifestations is in fact capable of going way beyond these discursive tendencies of thought and perception, in fact it is capable of fundamentally offering a challenge to them, of countereffecting them and instantiating an aberrant form on cine-intuition. Cinema has certain implicit resources for rendering real movement and concrete duration visible, which then subsequently emerge as ‘shocks to thought’. For Deleuze, as for McCall, the cinema (the cinematic form) is still at a germinal stage in terms of its investigation of its own resources for ‘capturing’ and rendering visible certain relationships of time in an image, of painting time with light. There are new and barely unexplored powers for capturing the ‘invisible forces of time’, and it is these barely explored powers of sublime cinema that McCall’s film works evoke, it is these powers that can once again serve to challenge our conventional modes of thought, that provide a ‘shock to thought’, and that demand the invention and production of new ways of looking, relation, and thought.

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