Thursday, 24 September 2009

Thesis work #4

Neo-realism occupies an important position for Deleuze in his Cinema books. It represents the break-point between the classical cinema of the movement-image, the subject of Cinema 1 (2005a [1983]), and the modern cinema of the time-image, the subject of Cinema 2 (2005b [1986]). Prior to engaging with these works, which will form the core of my Deleuzean reading of Leone, Argento and Questi's key films, I would argue that it is necessary to discuss Deleuze's thought in general and the place of the Cinema books within it.

The first reason for this is that Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 present an encounter between the "industrial art" of cinema and philosophy, an encounter that leads Deleuze to develop a number of "concepts" around the cinematic "image". As such, we need to first see how Deleuze understands art and philosophy, along with what he means when he talks about a concept. The second reason is that while beginning by repeating Andre Bazin's question "What is Cinema?" Deleuze concludes the Cinema books, having provided his answers, by asking his own question: "What is Philosophy?" (2005b: 269). This would serve as the subject and title of his next work, co-authored with his frequent collaborator Felix Guattari. In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari present their understanding of philosophy and how it differs from art and science, along with explaining the concept. The third reason is that, besides the likes of art, philosophy and the concept, the Cinema books are replete with references and allusions to Deleuze's earlier works, both his own and those co-authored with Guattari: For example, Dziga Vertov's films present the "molecular" woman and child (2005a: 41) thereby implying that other filmmakers must have presented their "molar" counterparts. Likewise, if "the infinite set of all images constitutes a kind of plane [plan] of immanence." and "The image exists in itself, on this plane" (2005a: 61) then we are talking about a distinction between the planes of "immanence", as explictly mentioned, and "consistency", as its implied other. On the same page and elsewhere (81) Deleuze also refers to the "machine assemblage" of movement-images, later further referring to the "always deterritorialised" quality of cinematic images (98) and thus their inherently "rhizomatic" quality of being able to be connected in "an infinite number of ways" (113). In the same volume Deleuze also refers to Kafka (102-104). Kafka is mentioned again in Cinema 2 in relation to the work of Third World and minority filmmakers as instances of a "minor cinema", comparable to Deleuze and Guattari's discussion of the German-Jewish-Czech author's position as a writer of a "minor literature" (2005b: 209-211). Not all of these concepts are relevant for the purposes of my discussion of Leone, Argento and Questi's films and their relationship to postmodernism. Deterritorialisation and the minor, for example, are more useful than the molecular.

The most important concepts in Deleuze's work, the ones which appear and and reconfigured time and again within it, are arguably difference and becoming/immanence. These are ideas which have been marginalised within the wider tradition of western thought, in favour of sameness, being, identity and transcendence. In earlier works such as Difference and Repetition (19??), Deleuze understood immanence as a minor tendency in philosophy, represented solely by figures like Duns Scotus, Spinoza and Nietzsche. Contrastively within What is Philosophy? immanence is conceptualised as something present in most philosophy, but which has been repeatedly been subordinated to transcendence on most occasions. Paolo Marrati (2008) contends that this new understanding of immanence derives in large part from the Cinema books' analysis of "forms of action and agency and their transformations" (x) within the time-image in particular; a point I will return to later once Deleuze's concepts around the cinema image have been elucidated.

The centrality of difference and becoming to Deleuze's thought marks him out as a post-structuralist philosopher. While Deleuze and other French post-structuralists, such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, were not self-consciously a group, they do have certain characteristics in common. Each responded in his own way to two previous schools in French and Continental European thought, phenomenology and structuralism. Phenomenologists looked for a more secure foundation for knowledge in experience itself. Structuralists then questioned this foundation, arguing that experience was meaningless in itself. Consequently they looked to the systematic structures that made experience possible. For example, we can only understand man by reference to related terms such as animal, woman and child. Post-structuralists then questioned both these groundings for knowledge. For example, the term man can only be understood by reference to what it is not. But then it follows that animal, woman and child can in turn only be understood by reference to what they are not, namely man. There is nothing that exists outside the system which can be used to securely anchor the meanings of the structures within it. For Deleuze this was not something to be lamented, but rather celebrated. It gives us the chance to create and transform life.

Behind the post-structuralists' critique of phenomenology and structuralism, that no grounding could be found for knowledge, lay a challenge to the longer history of western thought. A key figure here was Hegel, and the particular interpretation of his thought within French thought in the 1940s and 50s through Kojeve. Hegel argued that Enlightenment philosophy represented the end-point of history, becoming and difference, where everything could be understood in relation to the "spirit".

Returning to What is Philosophy? and Deleuze and Guattari's formulations of philosophy, art and science, they suggest that the three "powers of thinking" can be understood as follows: Art is about the creation of percepts and affects. A percept is what we perceive, while an affect is what affects us. What art does is free affects and percepts from the particular individuals that experience them. For instance, within Argento's Deep Red, we experience fear, even though we are not in the position of the characters within its diegesis. As such, the power of art is its ability to make us experience things in a new way. Philosophy is about the creation of concepts, or ways of thinking about things in a new way. Science, finally, is about the creation of functions, or ways of thinking about things in a consistent way. As such, the three realms of thought cannot be placed in a hierarchy, subsume one another, or have their specific terms of reference used with regard to the others. That which is good for science, namely consistency or sameness, is bad for philosophy, and vice versa. I would argue that one issue here with regard to Deleuze's Cinema books and more generally is that science is marginalised: As a philosopher of difference, Deleuze is inevitably more interested in difference than sameness, or the inconsistent over the consistent. In the cinema books this manifests in various ways. First, his emphasis upon the differences between the movement-image and the time-image over their similarities. Second, his emphasis upon a small number of apparently distinctive filmmakers and films (the different) over the apparently larger numbers that are not so distinctive (the similar). Third, in his emphasis upon cinema as art and philosophy to the detriment of industry, or its functional role. Deleuze looks at film texts for their percepts, affects and concepts, but not at their functional values: Whether a film was efficiently produced, reached an audience, or was well received by this audience are not things he really considers. Rather, the history of cinema is a "martyrology" of film artists and philosophers against its scientists.

In relation to my filmmakers, I will argue that Leone and Argento are notable in being film-makers whose work (like that of Ford and Hitchcock) succeeds in each regard, albeit with their successes qualified by neither being 'respectable' European art cinema directors nor 'popular' US directors. Questi is someone whose successes in artistic and philosophical terms, that he went further than Leone or Argento, must be qualified by his relative failure in scientific terms, that his work did not reach their audiences. His films were too different from what audiences and critics, here assuming the two are incommensurable, had being primed to accept and acknowledge.

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