Friday, 25 September 2009

Thesis work #5

Deleuze's understanding of philosophy, art and science along with his emphasis upon difference and becoming rather than sameness and being give him a distinctive view of truth. As James Williams explains in The Delueze Dictionary:

Deleuze's work is opposed to the coherence theory of truth and to the correspondence theory of truth. The first claims that the truth of a proposition depends on its coherence with some other propositions. The second claims that the truth of a proposition depends on its correspondence to some objective facts. So a proposition is either true due to certain logical relations or due to a relation to things in the world.
For Deleuze, both theories are wrong-headed from their very premises. That is, propositions are false simplifications of reality and cannot be bearers of truth in any significant sense. Objective facts do not exist and cannot be identified or shown, because real things are limitless and always caught in endless processes of becoming. To abstract from these processes is to give a false image of reality.
So, in contrast to the two traditional and dominant theories of truth, Deleuze defines truth in terms of creativity and construction. We create truth in complex constructions of propositions and sensations that express the conditions for the genesis and development of events. [...]
Thus to say something is true is not to say something verifiable in some way, but to say something that vivifies and alters a situation. A poem about World War I that makes us sense it and live through and with it in a different way is truthful. A statistic about the war that is not accompanied by sensations and transformations is not truthful. (2005: 289-290)

This notion of truth, a Nietzschean one, appears in the Cinema books in both general and specific terms. The books as a whole present concepts which Deleuze hopes will "vivify and alter" our understandings of cinema. In the preface to the English Edition of Cinema 1, Deleuze explains that:

This book does not set out to produce a history of the cinema but to isolate certain cinematographic concepts. These concepts are not technical (such as the various kinds of shot or the different camera movements) or critical (for example, the great genres, the Western, the detective film, the historical film, etc.) Neither are they linguistic, in the sense that it has been said that the cinema was the universal language, or the sense in which it has been said that the cinema is a language. [...] What we call cinematicographic concepts are [...] the types of images and the signs which correspond to each type. (2005a: xi)

Within Cinema 2 Deleuze discusses issues of truth in relation to what he ironically terms the "powers of the false," or of creativity, in relation to various directors and figures within the cinema of the time-image. I will return to these figures later, highlighting their relevance to the work of my directors.

Besides being about the creation of concepts, another way in which the Cinema books are distinctive is in their post-structuralist opposition to phenomenological and structuralist interpretations of cinema, such as those advanced by Andre Bazin in the 1940s and 1950s and Christian Metz in the 1960s and 1970s. Deleuze is however less critical of Bazin than he is of Metz. While declaring phenomenology to have less to offer us than Henri Bergson's vitalism, Deleuze also makes use of Bazin's work, along with implicitly using phenomenological concepts in some places (Sobchack, ??; ??, ??). In contrast, Deleuze asserts that the semiological and psychoanalytic theories of Ferdinand De Saussure and Jacques Lacan that inspired Metz have little to offer. Besides questioning approaching cinema as a language in the passage above, he elsewhere remarks that psychoanalysis has given cinema just one image, or concept, namely the primal scene (2005b: 36).
Crucially, however, Deleuze does not reject C S Peirce's semiotics. As Bogue explains, the key distinction here between Peirce and Saussure's general theories of signs is where they place their respective emphases, a distinction which also explains Deleuze's orientation here:

Saussure's semiology has its basis in the linguistic opposition of signifier and signified, whereas Peirce's semiotics is founded on a non-linguistic triad of representamen-object-interpretant. Many French cinema theorists adopt a Saussurean approach to the sign, and Deleuze's effort is to propose an alternative that maintains the autonomy of the visual sign from the linguistic sign. (2003: 66)

The issue here, according to Bogue, is that approaching cinema through semiology and its emphasis upon language means emphasising the narrative aspects of cinema over its treatments of space and time. I would agree with this assessment to a degree. But it must also be acknowledged that the Cinema books are themselves concerned with exploring the way cinema treats space and time principally through examples drawn from fictional feature-length narrative films. Though Deleuze does refer to documentary cinema, such as Flaherty's Nanook of the North (2005a: 148); experimental cinema, such as Michael Snow's Wavelength (2005a: 125); and the ethnographic cinema of Jean Rouch (2005B: 145-59) on occasions, these are the exceptions which prove the rule. Indeed, these cinemas may requiring the creation of new concepts of their own. While John Grierson's famous definition of documentary films like Nanook as "the creative treatment of actuality" allows scope for the genre to be art, it also arguably has a more scientific or functional aspect than fictional cinemas. Traditionally documentary been more about finding and expressing 'the truth' of a situation than exploring the creative powers of the false.

One thing that makes Deleuze's semiotic rather than semiological approach particularly valuable in relation to my film-makers is the nature of their work. Leone's spaghetti westerns, for example, are famous for their pared down dialogue ("If you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk," as Tuco remarks in The Good the Bad and the Ugly) and unusual emphasis upon music, natural sounds and their visuals. Likewise, mainstream criticism of Argento's films, most obviously, Suspiria and Inferno, frequently comments upon the slightness and/or incoherence of the narratives as much as upon the affective qualities of their visual and sonic excesses. While comparable commentary upon Questi's work is lacking, this is again because he is less well known.

The reason that Deleuze favours Bergsonism over phenomenology as a means of understanding what cinema does is based upon their different implications as far as cinematic perception is concerned. Bergson and the founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, were both critical of the cinema as they encountered it in the 1900s. Deleuze explains that Husserl's phenomenological critique was that cinema could not replicate natural (human) perception. Seen from another perspective, this is of cinema's greatest strength, its unique, singular aspect. As such, Deleuze argues that cinematic concepts cannot be based primarily upon phenomenological philosophy. Bergson's vitalist critique in contrast was directed more at the early or "primitive" cinema and did not anticipate what cinema subsequently became: Bergson ironically failed to see that cinema could and would evolve, becoming movement-image and then time-image.

Prior to exploring Deleuze's analysis of these central concepts, it is however necessary to say a bit more about the early cinema. This is first and foremost because it is a subject which has a perhaps surprising relevance to my filmmakers work, and second because it is an area where Deleuze's discussion needs some supplementing. The issue here, as D N Rodowicz (2003: xiv) notes, is the distinction between Deleuze's analyses of his chosen philosophical texts compared to his film ones: Whereas Deleuze's reading of Bergson in relation to cinema is innovative and subtle, his readings of cinema itself are relatively traditional and less nuanced.

The issue here is that Deleuze's discussion does not engage with the new film history of 1890s and 1900s cinema, associated with the likes of Tom Gunning and Thomas Elsaesser. This is ironic inasmuch as these authors present this cinema in a more rhizomatic, less arborescent manner than the traditional history Deleuze draws upon. In traditional film histories, the early cinema is seen as leading to the emergence of forms of cinema that have continued largely unchanged until today: The Lumiere brothers actualities provided the basis for realist and documentary filmmaking, while Melies trick films provided the basis for formalist and fiction filmmaking. To Gunning this straightforward teleological model downplayed the early cinema's distinctive features whilst overplaying its apparent similarities. In particular, early films were about spectacle rather than narrative and were exhibitionist rather than voyeuristic in their mode of spectator address. They worked as a "cinema of attractions," where the attraction was that of the new technology and what it could do in themselves, not as a "cinema of narrative integration," where the emphasis is upon the use of cinema as a narrative medium. They were not so much a "primitive" or underdeveloped narrative cinema, as a non-narrative cinema of spectacle.

Deleuze only mention the cinema as an attraction in relation to Eisenstein (2005a: 37). He correctly identifies the affinities between Eisenstein's attractions and circus attractions, but fails to relate these to their common point of connection in the cinema of attractions. If his own approach is less straightforwardly evolutionary than traditional film histories such as that of Bazin, with his relentless progression towards the (near) convergence of cinematic and real perception, he nevertheless characterises the early cinema for what it is not. Specifically, the early cinema did not present the movement-image, or the first of Deleuze's two great overarching concepts of the cinema image. Deleuze's remarks here are, however, somewhat contradictory. Initially he remarks that "cinema does not give us an image to which movement is added, it immediately gives us a movement-image." (2005a; 2) Shortly thereafter he remarks that "We can [...] define primitive state of the cinema where the image is in movement rather than being movement-image." (2005a; 26). Taking the latter statement as the conceptually correct one, what Deleuze is getting at here is the difference between a early cinema where the frame was fixed, and a movement-image cinema where the frame was mobile: One defining characteristic of the early cinema was its tableaux style presentation. The camera was static, fixed in front of the scene, which was presented as if it were taking place on a theatre stage. Figures, human or otherwise, or images were present in this scene and moved. But they were the only source of movement. There were no cuts to another scene, or to close-up details within this scene. The frame and the set, to introduce two more key concepts, were thereby equivalent. In contrast, within the movement-image the camera may panning or tracking or there may be a cut to another scene or a close up. Additionally, there is also an out of frame, that someone or something can also move from off-screen space into the screen space or vice-versa.

This notions of movement as being in the images or things on screen but not elsewhere within the early cinema is, however, less important for my purposes than the notion of the spectacular attraction. As I will demonstrate, one of the defining characteristics of Leone, Argento and Questi's films, or the images they present us with within them, is their frequently spectacular quality. This may be in itself, in the form of the attraction style set-piece or effect, or more significantly as a (poetic) fusion of spectacle and narrative. Again, these are concepts to which I will return later.

2 comments:

James said...

It would be beneficial if would cite in which works Bergson and Husserl discuss film -- I'm not too familiar with the former, although I have it on good authority that he discusses film in several works, at least in passing.

With regard to the latter: I'm not aware of any work in which Husserl discusses film at any great length (though he may have in the Phantasy and image consciousness lecture), and if he did, the position that you have assigned to him (that film cannot reproduce "natural" perception -- for Husserl, perception's pretense is that it is always in a position to accomplish something that, by it own nature, cannot -- namely, the full, unbridled disclosedness of the object) is one that is so far divorced from Husserl's own that I cannot help but think that you are either misreading Husserl or simply taking Deleuze's own interpretation of Husserl for granted.

K H Brown said...

Bergson did discuss film, but, at least according to Deleuze, didn't attribute them much importance. Deleuze reads this as being on account of Bergson encountering the early or primitive cinema, or what other commentators call the cinema of attractions.

It's entirely possible I'm just taking Deleuze's reading of Husserl as is.

I'm more familiar with Merleau-Ponty and I have some reservations about the way Deleuze uses him. In his discussion of the flesh, for instance, Merleau-Ponty seems to overcome dualism with an insistence that consciousness is of something and is something.

Thanks for your comments - gives me something else to think (worry) about.