Vol. 4 No. 15, June 2000
Garnet Creighton Butchart
Thinking Through Cinema
D. N. Rodowick
_Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine_
Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1997
Over the past decade the writings of Gilles Deleuze have substantially
impacted Anglo-American cultural theory scholarship. Available in English
translation, many of Deleuze's writings (sole authored and in
collaboration) have been brought to bear on a multiplicity of questions
underpinning currents of inquiry within philosophy, history, politics,
literary studies, gender studies, geography, and communications. While
having yet to attain the volume of other streams of contemporary cultural
criticism theorizing with Deleuze, film studies has more recently turned to
this style of philosophy in an attempt to locate, develop, and deploy new
theoretical concepts. For example, Anglo-American film scholars have found
in Deleuze alternative approaches for analysis of third cinema and
experimental diasporan film, the nature of embodiment and sexual
specificity, as well as cinematic techniques and perception,  and
critical investigations of Deleuze's philosophy of the cinema populate many
recent edited collections.  Book length essays have also recently
emerged where theorists have extended Deleuze to their ongoing interest and
theoretical approaches to the study of film, including Shaviro's _The
Cinematic Body_ and, most notably, Rodowick's _Gilles Deleuze's Time
What sets Rodowick apart from other film theorists contributing to the
growing Anglo-American dialogue with Deleuze is his direct engagement with
what may well be two of Deleuze's most challenging works: _Cinema 1: The
Movement-Image_ and _Cinema 2: The Time-Image_. As a detour in the history
of Deleuze's philosophical meditation on the question of time, in these
texts Deleuze turns to a historical investigation of the narrative
structures of film in order to imagine the ways in which time may be
rendered spatially. Through each volume, Deleuze constructs a 'cinematic
philosophy' to locate within film possibilities for the creation of new
philosophical concepts with a view to new images and practices of thought.
The project for Rodowick, as well as for those interested in accepting the
challenge posed by _Cinema_, is to put Deleuze's philosophical machinery to
work in order to animate and experiment with its utility for contemporary
film studies. In this sense, the question for readers of _Gilles Deleuze's
Time Machine_ is Rodowick's ability to illuminate, rather than further
complicate, this philosophical adventure.
A professor of English and Visual/Cultural Studies at the University of
Rochester, Rodowick's contribution to contemporary film studies has been
motivated by a concern to engage, reproblematize, and challenge the
theories and perspectives that situate film studies in Anglo-American
contexts. In his earlier works Rodowick commits to questions that, for him,
remain unresolved in film theory -- specifically, the question of sexual
identification, as well as the methods and objectives of ideological
criticism in cultural theory.  Re-examining such debates, for Rodowick,
'makes some very familiar territory once again unfamiliar and
thought-provoking'.  In his more recent writings Rodowick poses a
different sort of challenge for visual and cultural studies, namely a
philosophical approach for 'both a genealogical critique of the aesthetic
and a positive investigation of the concepts invented or suggested by the
historical emergence of new media'.  In characterizing the cinema as the
medium through which cultural thought and memory have historically been
defined and documented, Rodowick takes a turn through Deleuze to challenge
and reveal (both for film theory and philosophy) alternative possibilities
for reflection on the forms and practices of contemporary 'audiovisual'
According to Rodowick, within Anglo-American film studies, as well as
within studies of Continental philosophy, engagement with Deleuze's
_Cinema_ has been marginal at best. In each of these contexts Rodowick
suggests that the apparent lack of exploration and subsequent
misconceptions of Deleuze's investigation of the cinema may be attributed
not only to the inherent 'difficulty in reading Deleuze', but, more
critically, to a lack of disciplinary reference to the concepts developed
throughout the two volumes (x). On the one hand, Rodowick attributes the
limited impact of _Cinema_ on the philosophy community to an incomplete
knowledge of film history and the study of film language and spectatorship.
On the other hand, he argues that, within Anglo-American film studies, the
absence of time for examination and serious critique of Deleuze's
philosophical arguments combine with the Saussurean and Lacanian
foundations of contemporary English-language film theory to produce a
*contextual incompatibility* between the two approaches (xi). According to
Rodowick, the tension between these perspectives on culture 'has produced
consternation among reviewers who have insisted on judging Deleuze's books
in the context of contemporary Anglo-American film theory' (xi).
With a view to illuminating the intersection of Deleuze's philosophy of
time with the history of cinema, Rodowick advocates careful reconsideration
of the compatibility of Deleuze's cinematic philosophy with Anglo-American
film theory. Consistent with the approach of his earlier writings, Rodowick
argues: 'Deleuze challenges contemporary film theory to confront its blind
spots and dead ends, as well as to question its resistance to other
philosophical perspectives on image, meaning, and spectatorship' (xi). As
with all good scholars deploying Deleuze to reinvigorate disciplinary
perspectives, debates, and theoretical oppositions, Rodowick undertakes to
'demonstrate both the originality and consistency of Deleuze's
philosophical concepts in ways that will provoke further work in
contemporary visual studies from these perspectives' (xv). In order to
encourage response to Deleuze's two-volume investigation of the cinema,
Rodowick seeks to respond to two main questions: first, why does Deleuze
turn to cinema to address questions of image, movement, and time raised
throughout his earlier works? Second, in what ways might Deleuze's
investigation of cinema shed new light on the history of this medium?
Demonstrating the extent to which the concepts in _Cinema_ provide
productive perspectives on contemporary audiovisual culture, Rodowick
dedicates the first half of his essay to the second question, examining
Deleuze's characterization of the historical shift in the narrative
organization of pre-war cinema's 'movement-image' to the 'time-image' of
post-war cinema. With erudition, Rodowick takes readers through Deleuze's
Bergsonian theory of the image and its movements (chapter 2), into
Deleuze's reading of Pierce for an alternative theory of signs and a
critique of film semiology (chapter 3), and concludes the section with an
extended account of the time-image and an introduction for the remainder of
the book to Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche and the powers of the false
(chapter 4). For Deleuze, the philosopher *and* the cinephile, merging
philosophical arguments (on time and movement) with the cinema (the
creation of images) must be understood as the *practice* of creating new
images of thought. For Rodowick, the value of the movement-image and the
time-image is their 'periodizing' function: whereas the 'image' marks the
historical borders of identifiably distinct cinematic logics and practices,
the concepts themselves render in philosophical form 'an era's strategies
of thinking-through, represented aesthetically in the nature of its images
and signs' (7). Anticipating criticism of Deleuze's historical image
categories, Rodowick cautions readers that Deleuze takes the history of
cinema itself as a history of philosophy, where 'defining cinema's concepts
is fundamental for understanding both the historical emergence of our
contemporary audiovisual culture and the fate of thinking within this
culture's image of thought' (172).
In the second section of his book, Rodowick questions why Deleuze turns to
the cinema in order to develop his philosophy of time pursued in earlier
writings. This question is key, not only for understanding the place of
cinema in Deleuze's intellectual history, but, more importantly, for an
appreciation of the utility of Rodowick's treatment for Anglo-American film
studies. With a view to developing the potential of Deleuze's Nietzschean
philosophy of the cinema, Rodowick examines how the philosophical questions
of movement and time are transformed in cinema's shift from the
movement-image to the time-image (chapter 5), the political utility of
cinema in Deleuze's discussion of fabulation and time as series (chapter
6), and finally, in the most valuable and complex section of the book, the
philosophical relation between image and thought, where cinematic concepts
have the power to affect the 'unthought in thought of news ways of
thinking' (chapter 7). In these chapters, Rodowick argues that by turning
to the cinema as a means to illuminate 'images of thought' (an era's
thinking-through thought itself), and to render these as philosophical
concepts, Deleuze sees in the time-image the potential for creating new
values and new activities of thinking with a view to new modes of existence.
Only those who are committed to reading through to the final chapters will
discover the contribution of _Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine_, namely, the
possibility for philosophy, film theory, and even film making itself to
open up new lines of thought. According to Rodowick, the key to theorizing
film with Deleuze is through his approach to the *interval*, the
irreducible space or autonomous division in the time-image between
photograms, shots, and sequences that arrest the logical passage from image
to image. The interval derives from Deleuze's earlier work on perception,
 where the visual field is understood to be produced through the
operation of differentiation. The self-production of the process of
differentiation enables the possibility of thinking itself, where thought,
in this sense, may be located by mapping the organization of intervals. In
terms of the cinema, Rodowick argues that, against 'the truthful regime' of
the movement-image, where 'belief in identity, unity, and totality' is
paramount, the organization of intervals in the time-image assures an
incommensurability of space and time in the flux of images and the
movements of thought, subverting their articulation to a determinate,
chronological, and 'truthful' origin (178-179). According to Rodowick, the
very organization of the interval opens a space of becoming, where the
effect of its own self-production, its own repetition, produces, both in
cinema as well as within philosophy, the very possibility for the creation
of new concepts for new modes of thinking. As such, the cinema is
understood as a critical medium for realizing new possibilities for
speaking and representing, a medium which reveals what is said and seen,
while offering the power to reveal what remains unsaid, unthought, and
For Rodowick, as for Deleuze, thinking through cinema is a matter of
philosophical experimentation en route to inspiring new concepts, new
images, and new techniques. While Rodowick maintains that his book does not
attempt a complete overview of Deleuze's approach to cinema, nor any
systematic fealty to Deleuze's thought, his appropriation and animation of
Deleuze's concepts do retain a great deal of their original complexity.
Neither the rigor nor the challenge of Deleuze's philosophical arguments
are lost within the essay. Rather, Rodowick adds to them, working alongside
Deleuze, where 'that thinker within me that is the unthought of my thought
is also a power of transformation, indeed the power to transform life by
revealing new lines of variation in our current ways of thinking and modes
of existence' (200-1). In this way, Rodowick's book offers a critical
intervention both in Anglo-American film studies, as well as in the ongoing
deployment of Deleuze's writings within contemporary cultural theory.
As a text of potential utility for readers interested in both film and
philosophy, _Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine_ itself reflects an 'interval'
that mediates, images, and animates the disciplinary gaps between thought
in contemporary Continental philosophy and what is thinkable in the context
of Anglo-American film studies. Having written himself into the genealogy
of Deleuze's cinematic philosophy, Rodowick stands to directly offer film
studies what various streams of cultural criticism since the 1980s have
broadly offered cultural studies, namely, the introduction of fresh
perspectives on theoretical debates that remain ongoing, open questions.
While for cultural studies in the United States, Deleuze's writings have
significantly impacted questions of identity and theories of articulation,
for the study of film, Rodowick's Deleuze offers an account of the very
place of philosophy within film as a practice of thinking and a matter of
change. In this sense, those who are willing to engage _Gilles Deleuze's
Time Machine_ will discover possibilities for new ways of seeing and
saying, of thinking through the 'having been and yet to come' of thought,
image, and cinema itself.
University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA
1. See, respectively, Marks's 'A Deleuzian Politics of Hybrid Cinema',
Pister's 'Cyborg Alice; or, Becoming-Women in an Audiovisual World', and
Johnston's 'Machinic Vision'.
2. Such as Boundas and Olkowski's _Gilles Deleuze and the Theater of
Philosophy_, Patton's _Deleuze: A Critical Reader_, Kaufman and Heller's
_Deleuze and Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy and Culture_,
Flaxman's _The Brain Is the Screen_, as well as special journal issues
focused exclusively on Deleuze, including _South Atlantic Quarterly_and
3. See _The Difficulty of Difference_, and _The Crisis of Political
4. Rodowick, _The Difficulty of Difference_, p. viii.
5. Rodowick, 'Paradoxes of the Visual', p. 61.
6. See _The Logic of Sense_ and _Difference and Repetition_.
Constantin Boundas and Dorthea Olkowski, eds, _Gilles Deleuze and the
Theater of Philosophy_ (New York and London: Routledge, 1994).
Gilles Deleuze, _Cinema 1: The Movement Image_, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and
Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).
---_Cinema 2: The Time Image_, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989).
--- _The Logic of Sense_ (Translated by Ann Smock. Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1990).
--- _Difference and Repetition_ (Translated by Paul Patton. New York:
Columbia University Press, 1995).
Gregory Flaxman ed., _The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy
of Cinema_ (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press,
John Johnston, 'Machinic Vision', _Critical Inquiry_, vol. 26, Autumn 1999.
Elanor Kaufman and Kevin John Heller, eds, _Deleuze and Guattari: New
Mappings in Politics, Philosophy and Culture_ (Minneapolis and London:
Minnesota Press, 1998)
Laura Marks, 'A Deleuzian Politics of Hybrid Cinema', _Screen_, vol. 35 no.
3. Autumn 1994.
Paul Patton, ed., _Deleuze: A Critical Reader_ (Oxford and Cambridge:
Patricia Pister, 'Cyborg Alice; or, Becoming-Women in an Audiovisual
World', _Iris_, vol. 23. Spring 1997.
D. N. Rodowick, _The Crisis of Political Modernism: Criticism and Ideology
in Contemporary Film Theory_ (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois
--- _The Difficulty of Difference: Psychoanalysis, Sexual Difference, and
Film Theory_ (New York and London: Routledge, 1991).
--- 'Paradoxes of the Visual', _October_, vol. 77, Summer 1996.
Steven Shaviro, _The Cinematic Body_ (Minneapolis and London: Minnesota
Copyright © Garnet Creighton Butchart 2000
Garnet Creighton Butchart, 'Thinking Through Cinema', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 4 no. 15, June 2000 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol4-2000/n15butchart>.
Save as Plain Text Document...Print...Read...Recycle
Join the Film-Philosophy salon,
and receive the journal articles via email as they are published. here
Film-Philosophy (ISSN 1466-4615)
PO Box 26161, London SW8 4WD, England
Back to the Film-Philosophy homepage