Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Deleuze Special Issue

Vol. 5 No. 32, November 2001



Stephen Arnott

Deleuze's Idea of Cinema




_Deleuze and Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy and Culture_

Edited by Eleanor Kaufman and Kevin Jon Heller

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998

ISBN 0-8166-30283

320 pp.


We all recognise, at least intuitively, that the creative disciplines, namely art and science in very broad terms, differ profoundly from each other, both in the miscellaneous practices they employ in their day-to-day activities and in the objects, etc., which they produce. How to articulate this difference precisely is a task to which Deleuze and Guattari devoted themselves in what was to be their last co-authored work, _What is Philosophy?_, published in 1991. Here they seek to differentiate explicitly the distinctive creative activity of philosophy, science, and art.


Many of the theses developed in this work are evident in the brief essay by Deleuze which opens Kaufman and Heller's important collection, and which concerns, directly, the creative activity and artistic achievements of cinema. The essay, appearing here for the first time in English translation, should be read, then, as a compliment to the larger work of _What is Philosophy?_, and also to Deleuze's two-volume _Cinema_. Entitled 'Having an Idea in Cinema' it is expressly concerned to answer the question: 'What is cinema?' The answer Deleuze provides is brief and enigmatic. Cinema, he says, is the creation of blocks of movements/duration: 'If one puts together a block of movements/duration, perhaps one does cinema' (15). For those uninitiated into the conceptual proliferation that is 'Deleuzism' (to use the term coined and defined by Eric Alliez), the sense of this proposition will be far from apparent. An attempt to give a definition here of the concept 'movements/duration' would, I fear, be doomed to failure and would do injustice to Deleuze's complex and original analysis of the methods, techniques, and achievements of cinema's greatest innovators. I direct the interested reader to _Cinema 1_ and especially to the opening chapters of _Cinema 2_.


So what might we say without seeking to explain what Deleuze's definition means, which I leave to the reader. Well, in the first instance, we might say something of the spirit in which such a definition should be taken. We are mistaken if we understand Deleuze to be writing out a prescription for what cinema should be, as if the philosopher, the sovereign of thought, is an authority on the matter. Deleuze is quick to head off such a misapprehension, and is explicit about how he conceives the relationship between cinema and philosophy. He begins by explaining: 'Philosophy is not made for reflecting on anything at all. In treating philosophy as a power of 'reflecting on', much would seem to be accorded to it when in fact everything is taken from it. This is because no one needs philosophy for reflecting' (14). If not reflecting, then what role does cinema play in and for philosophy, and what role might philosophy play, perhaps, in and for cinema? The essay, I suggest, is devoted to answering precisely this question and will therefore be of the utmost relevance to an understanding of the relationship, interaction, and differences between cinema and philosophy.


There can be no doubt that what enables this relationship is that philosophy, cinema, art, and science all share in the activity of creation. Creativity serves as the basis of their potential interaction. Deleuze asks then 'what is it to have an idea in something?' (14), an idea in cinema, an idea in philosophy, an idea in science. It is, of course, to think of something new, something original, to create, and it is in name of this creation that we speak. This speech, Deleuze is quick to insist, is not simple communication, which he views with suspicion and distrust. To communicate is to convey information, and information is defined as a set of order-words, of words which code some vested interest, and which perform an act of repression. 'When you are informed, you are told what you are supposed to believe.' (17) Information, on Deleuze's account, is the mechanism by means of which repressive power is exercised in societies of control. Instead of the spaces of confinement of disciplinary societies, we are now bombarded with information which enacts an even more insidious control over the way we lead our lives.


Deleuze is interested to discover how such control might be resisted, how we might overcome the stifling stratification of received information. He finds that the creative act can function as just such an act of resistance. He insists that 'having an idea is not on the order of communication' (17), it cannot be reduced to the transmission of information because it surpasses or goes beyond that information. Having an idea is to introduce the non-stratified into the strata which contain us. For Deleuze, what is interesting and remarkable in the work of those he calls 'the great filmmakers' (16) is that once in a while we see an act of resistance take shape, a uniquely cinematic idea which casts asunder the order which seeks to control and stratify it. In this essay Deleuze gives the example of a particular cinematographic technique which we can describe as the dislocation of sight and sound, which occurs when the sounds we hear unexpectedly fail to cohere with the images we see. Deleuze explains the effect of this as follows: 'It is extraordinary in that it provides a veritable transformation of elements at the level of cinema, a cycle that in one stroke makes cinema resonate with a qualitative physics of elements' (16). The unexpected, the extraordinary, the remarkable, these are the characteristics of the idea, and their effect is to loosen the grip of the system of control, even if only for a time.


I hope these remarks have gone some way to impress upon the reader what I take to be the immense import of this brief essay by Deleuze. I should also mention that the translation by Eleanor Kaufman is excellent and retains a consistency with the translations of crucially related texts such as _Cinema_, _What is Philosophy?_, and the essays on control in _Negotiations_. The editors are also to be congratulated for the ordering of essays which follow -- all of which, I think, contain and try to develop themes and ideas raised in the essay by Deleuze. We should note that this essay is used to complement the editors' introduction and thus to raise the major themes upon which the collection is focused. I shall run through the essays briefly with a brief comment on each.


The first section following the introduction is entitled 'Global Politics' and is concerned with developing the theme of control just raised by Deleuze. Michael Hardt's excellent 'The Withering of Civil Society' attempts to offer a political solution to the state of control in which we find ourselves. Hardt gives a lucid account of the transition from the disciplinary society diagnosed so expertly by Foucault, to the societies of control which have now become dominant. Our society is no longer characterised by vast sites of confinement, but instead by the careful control and transmission of information. This theme is then taken up brilliantly by Brian Massumi in his 'Requiem for our Prospective Dead'. Here he analyses the activities of the mass media within the context of two recent crises in which America has seen fit to involve itself: the Gulf War and the unrest in Somalia. Massumi draws our attention to the way in which political decision- making and the presidential face given to that activity was portrayed by the media. During the course of his discussion, Massumi utilizes many ideas and concepts unique to a Deleuzian political analysis to brilliant effect. An essential read for anyone interested in the mediatization of our world and the types of control it performs and licences. The section ends with a rather short but nonetheless highly relevant essay by Eugene Holland entitled 'From Schizophrenia to Social Control'. Holland also gives an account of where he locates the essential differences between disciplinary and control societies, drawing principally on the two volumes of Deleuze and Guattari's _Capitalism and Schizophrenia_. Like Deleuze he locates the site of resistance to control in the work of art, and recalls John Coltrane's revolutionary approach to music as an exemplary instance of such resistance. This section in toto provides the most comprehensive analysis and discussion of control societies available anywhere.


In the next section, 'Cinema, Perception and Space', we find the critical essay by Jonathon Beller, simply entitled 'Cinema/Capital', which seeks to understand why it is that Deleuze almost completely ignores cinema's relation to capital. It is an important essay which expands on Deleuze's notion of cinema to include its unavoidable ties to money, and shows how cinema and television are complicit in the mechanisms of control which have become ubiquitous in our society: 'Technologies such as cinema and television are machines that take the assembly line out of the space of the factory and put it into the home and the theater and the brain itself, mining the body of the productive value of its time, occupying it on location' (92). Deleuze conspicuously neglects to discuss this aspect of the cinema of mass appeal, and focuses instead on the cinematic work of art. It is as well that we remember that the dominant role of cinema in our times is as a conduit for mass media opinion and dogma. We should recall the warnings of Artaud who viewed cinema as repressive of the revolutionary events he sought to enact in the theatre. Nonetheless, we should not think that this critique of popular cinema takes anything away from its potential as a site of resistance and creativity.


The remainder of the essays of this section are chiefly concerned with the revolutionary potential of the politics of both Deleuze and Guattari in the context of the far-reaching mechanisms of control in the midst of which we find ourselves. They each deserve attention which we unfortunately do not have space to give them here.


The first two essays of the fourth section are devoted to developing an understanding of Guattari's highly original semiotics. Their authors are to be credited as being the pioneers of this area in the English-speaking world. Their observations and clarifications will prove invaluable to anyone seeking to understand the singular approach to language and meaning which Guattari, and Deleuze and Guattari in concert, develop. The final essay by Brian Reynolds gives an interesting account of Deleuze and Guattari's enigmatic use of Artaud's phrase 'body without organs'. Reynolds employs Rousseau's detailed account of his own masochistic and hypochondriac characteristics as an enactment of the activity Deleuze and Guattari suggest as a means to escape the stratification of society, to make oneself a body without organs.


And so to the final section, 'Philosophy and Ethics'. This begins with an essay which at first may seem somewhat out of place here, but which functions to describe Deleuze's unique metaphysics, a philosophy we need to understand if we are to appreciate the ethical challenges which then need to be faced. Timothy Murphy's essay 'Quantum Ontology' performs a fascinating comparison of Deleuze's ontology of becoming with the quantum ontology of physicist David Bohm. The achievement of Murphy's arguments is to show that Deleuzian ontology is to be taken seriously in the light of its close similarity to the most current and revolutionary theories in quantum physics. Once we have taken onboard the physical appeal of this ontology of becoming, of a world and a universe in perpetual change, eternally throwing up new challenges and new problems, we are confronted with developing an ethics which leaves behind the old dogmas and transcendent and indisputable principles of morality, in favour of a practice which complements rather than resists the Protean nature of our world and lives. To this task Deleuze and Guattari devote considerable energy, and their achievements are expertly highlighted and conveyed by Daniel Smith in his essay 'The Place of Ethics in Deleuze's Philosophy'. Smith, it must be said, gives a remarkably comprehensive overview in the limited space afforded him, and I cannot think of a better introduction to Deleuze's ethical philosophy in English.


I shall conclude my review here with the addendum that there are other worthy essays in the collection which I have been unable to mention here but which remain to be discovered by the reader. I unreservedly recommend this collection both to those already familiar with Deleuze and Guattari's conceptual creation and to the newcomer who is yet to discover its richness and diversity. The inclusion of Deleuze's essay on cinema is a real bonus and will be of particular interest to those concerned to articulate the relationship and potential points of interaction between cinema and philosophy.


University of New England

Armidale, New South Wales, Australia



Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 2001


Stephen Arnott, 'Deleuze's Idea of Cinema', _Film-Philosophy_, Deleuze Special Issue, vol. 5 no. 32, November 2001 <>.




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