A Moment Of Innocence by Mohsen Makhmalbaf - 015

A Moment of Innocence (Moshen Makhmalbaf / Iran / 1996)

Q: What is it like to move between cinema and philosophy?

By relation, they are not opposites. Nor can we define this movement as absence or presence of one another, as in the closer it is to cinema, the more it becomes an absence of philosophy or the closer it is to philosophy, the more obscure cinema becomes.  Instead, the movement must be conceived as a violent movement of thinking between the two disciplines. Thought bridges the two disciplines. It forms a plane where two disciplines co-exist, where the film image and its affects co-exists with concepts, where Orson Welles is adjacent to Baruch Spinoza, where a cinematographic cut can be thought off alongside with the concept of the panopticon.

Is this plane possible? Cine-philosophical plane is not separate from the real world. Well, it is real because, as we speak, it is being constructed in this text. This hypertext participates and collaborates in the signification of its unstable and fleeting existence in this world. It exists not because we believe in it, but because its expressible intensities, the words ‘cinephilosophical plane’ and its expressivity emitted by several LED components of your screen is within – and this is where philosophy kicks in – the order of the visible, the sensible, the perceptible, the expressible. Its visibility, its signifying movement in the digital plane, its inscription in the global network of information called the internet as pixilated bits grants its mobility and existence in the world.

The question: is the ‘cine-philosophical plane’ fiction or real? is no longer important. Because as we speak, the movement of the fictive layer of our world: God, the Virgin Mary, the Terminator, Neo of the Matrix, String theory, Harry Potter is already at work more than ever. Each is deployed at various intensities, each affects us in an incorporeal manner – in other words, we are moved even by fiction. It is very hard to think of the real world divorced from fictions. Social scientist Bruno Latour theorized that the effect of incorporeal and corporeal events are very much alike but differ in their intensities of affectation. As Levi Bryant puts it ‘the incorporeal and corporeal realms are equally capable of having effects on the world.’[1] Cinema and literature, and even music, are not divorced from these fictions. In fact, they feed from it. They are industries of fictions and incorporeal intensities, which move us beyond the ordinary banal world we experience. They create new worlds, new modes of thinking, new sensations, most of which cannot be captured by the vapidity and simplicity of the real world. And this is where the ‘cine-philosophical plane’ reside, as a between-plane between two plateaus of discourse: the first one, cinema, a plateau of affects, percepts, sensations and the second one, philosophy, a plateau of concepts and relations.

For cinephiles, filmmakers and even film scholars, the common misconception of cinephilosophy is that it is field where cinema can be conceived as a philosophy, or in other variants, in order to conceive a film, one must consult philosophy: “I must apply Marxism in this film. I must apply Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. I must show the idea of Baudrillard’s simulacra.” Miguel de Beistegui, reiterating Deleuze’s famous talk on philosophy and art in 1987 entitled ‘What is the Creative Act?’, that artists and scientists ‘do not need the help of philosophers to reflect on their respective field: the only ones who can adequately reflect on mathematics are the mathematicians themselves, on film the filmmakers, etc.’ [2]

Cinema is not a practice of applying or appropriating philosophical concepts. The main raw materials of cinema are blocs of movement that generate nonsubjective affects. Filmmaking deploys various logics of arranging these blocs of movement into ordered series of events to create moving image effects. Philosophy, on the other hand, specializes in the creation of concepts. And this is what Deleuze and Guattari (D&G) insists: that philosophy must retain its autonomy as the only field concerned with the art of creating concepts. ‘The concept belongs to philosophy and only to philosophy’[3] whereas ‘science needs only propositions or functions.’ D&G further insists that:

‘philosophy… does not need to invoke a lived that would give only a ghostly and extrinsic life to secondary, bloodless concepts. The philosophical concept does not refer to the lived, by way of compensation, but consists, through its own creation, in setting up an event that surveys the whole of the lived no less than every state of affairs… The greatness of a philosophy is measured by the nature of the events to which its concepts summon us or that it enables us to release in concepts.’[4]

This distinction between functions associated with science and concepts associated with philosophy is very important because it reinforces the autonomy of science and philosophy as productive and practical disciplines. D&G also describes the strand of similarity between the two: concepts and functions are contiguous to problems. The functional and conceptual are functions of problems, which may concern either or both the corporeal or incorporeal worlds:

‘All concepts are connected to problems without which they would have no meaning and which can themselves only be isolated or understood as their solution emerges… concepts are only created as a function of problems which are thought to be badly understood or badly posed’[5]

Concepts must be functions of a problems. Therefore, ‘cinema’ is not a concept, but rather it is the ‘being of cinema’ or the ‘cinema-ness of cinema’ that achieves the qualities of the concept primarily because they are contiguous to several ontological and epistemological problems that ‘cinema-ness of cinema’ faces now in the digital era. In asking ‘what is cinema?’, the concept being invoked is ontological but this does not mean that answering the question would amount to an absolute answer. The concept of ‘what is’ in cinema during the time of Andre Bazin is quite different in when asks the same question today. The ontology of cinema is under various differential transformations, complicit to the changes of its circumstances for emergence and becoming.

The distinction between the fields of philosophy and cinema also establishes the autonomy of philosophy from the lived, the organic life, especially the human world and its state of affairs. Deleuze and Guattari made it clear that the concept sets up ‘an event that surveys the whole of the lived…  [and its] every state of affairs’. When one thinks of the concepts ‘digmaang bayan,’ ‘sexual difference’, ‘masa,’ ‘hegemony,’ ‘ideology,’ ‘anthropocene,’ ‘territory,’ ‘nation-state,’ a perceptual impression or an image of thought appears in our minds at its most mobile form. This image of thought, which gives a concept a face, is a fragmentary whole that cannot easily be thought of as a One but rather, when invoking the word ‘digmaang bayan,’ a multiplicity of connections and multidirectional movements appear – this is the event that Deleuze and Guattari refers to. This event is independent of representations we ascribe to any type of natural movement that organic life channels to organize itself, or the representations we ascribe to the sociality that organizes individuals into societies.

It might be misconstrued to think of concepts as separate to life. Concepts are always connected to life, but they do not act as representations of objects or subjects in life. Concepts are nonrepresentational because they are independent of any individuation. Instead, we can think of them as events. For Deleuze and Guattari, ‘the task of philosophy when it creates concepts, entities, is always to extract an event from things and beings, to set up the new event from things and beings, always to give them a new event: space, time, matter, thought, the possible as events.[6] An ‘extractions of events,’ a ‘setting up of the new… from things and beings,’ a ‘giving of a new event to things and beings’ – these are the three stages of philosophical creation: extraction, disjunction, and re-integration. Extract an event from things and beings. Then, disjunctively synthesize the event apart from preexisting things and beings. It must attain newness and it must insist on its difference. It must render its before-ness as no longer recognizable to usher in the new. Then, after its disjunctive synthesis, it must be re-integrated again to the preexisting things and being, to give these things and beings a new event, new movements, new relations, new spaces and times to assure their movement through life.

Like every creative output of any artistic practice, a concept is a form of resistance against the repetition of the same, the representational world, the sedentary and striated structures – the status quo. The concept, in its most creative and uncanny form, seeks to introduce a new horizon of events to pre-established or sedentary things and beings. By creating new events, a concept must seek to re-energize and mobilize old, sedentary aspects of life and nonlife towards a radical transformation. It is a metamorphic machine, a transformative machine that assures us a life that is no longer concerned only with the living, but beyond it, which includes death, absence, anomalies, and the imaginative plane of aswang, Professor X, Harry Potter, Jon Snow, the Dodo bird, Frodo Baggins and Jesus. This flat world where all corporeal and incorporeal things sit side-by-side is what Deleuze called pure immanence, an empiricist concept. Pure immanece for him is ‘a life and nothing else,’ and in its most beautiful form he described it as such:

‘A life is the immanence of immanence, absolute immanence: it is complete power, complete bliss… no longer dependent on a Being or submitted to an Act – it is an absolute immediate consciousness whose very activity no longer refers to a being but is ceaselessly posed in a life.’[7]

Why Cine-Philosophy Now?

In the order of the last quotation on ‘a life’ from the previous section, we return to the vestiges of cinema: cinema, ‘a life,’ ‘immanence.’ Why cine-philosophy? Why the urgency? Why now? The answer would be this: ‘in order to return cinema to life, we need philosophy. In order for philosophy to return to life, we need cinema.’ It is a dual performance of both, a joint movement between cinema and philosophy to return to life, to reintroduce life, a breath of fresh air, to both disciplines against the suffocating conditions of the academe.

Returning to a life constitutes a return to the empirical grounding of film experience: affects, perceptions, sensations – intensities emitted by the image that have been overlooked by a numerous fields in film studies in favor of grand theories of subjectivity, psychoanalysis, gender, and some strands of Althusserian overreadings. What do I mean by this? ‘Returning to life’ is a return to the empirical gesture of reading, which professes a return to the singularities of events, whether cinematic, conceptual or social.

For example, let us say a hypothetical ‘you’, a humanities researcher who seeks to reinvigorate the idea of ‘masa’: in order to reconstruct the concept of ‘masa’ and map its singularities, you do not go by the book, and this is a very important methodical rupture in Deleuzian philosophy. You do not go to the library and consult the authors on ‘sociology’ in order to rework the concept of ‘masa’ but rather you trace its singularities by experiencing ‘masa’ in actuality. You immerse within the social class that is ascribed to the concept and experience this ‘concept’ at first hand. It is an empirical study but in an expanded form.[8] It is not a field work because one does not conduct interviews or ask people if they would fit the concept of masa as preconditioned and pre-established by sociology, but rather you live within a social class that embodies the concept for certain duration and from there you construct your renewed and reinvigorated idea of ‘masa.’ It is not ethnography, a practice in anthropology preconditioned by systematic methods and theories in anthropology, cultural studies, linguistic and social science. But rather, the Deleuzian approach is a following of singularities. Your goal as a researcher is to create a map of singularities from your fragmentary observations which involves disparate and conflicting materials, anomalies, and inconsistencies. This method, if one looks at it in today’s academic framework, is purely anti-academic. No systematic rule governs this procedure, no theories govern one’s findings. All elements came from the ground, from actuality. All elements, including the inconsistencies and erroneous data, comprise your renewed idea of the ‘masa.’

In the practice of cine-philosophy conceived as a Deleuzian praxis of ‘following the singularities,’ the primary goal is to create new concepts from the ‘ground,’ which is, in cinematic terms, from the experience of the image. This resonates with Nietzsche’s sonorous exclamation in Thus Spoke Zarathustra: ‘be true to the earth,’ which is reechoed in Deleuze and Guattari’s book What is Philosophy?: ‘thinking takes place in the relationship of territory and the earth.’[9]

Cine-philosophy is music

As an expanded empiricist, your goal is to generate new concepts from your own experience in cinema – by ‘being true to the earth’, by being true to the singularities of cinematic experience. You do not go to Bazin or Deleuze to confirm your own experience, but rather, you collaborate with them and put your experience side-by-side with their concepts. The concepts of Bazin and Deleuze have singularities themselves. Their philosophy of the film image can be mobilized to intersect with yours, but not to the point of ‘applying their theories’ to cut-out the richness of your own cinematic experience. Bazin, Deleuze, and all the theorists in film studies, including films and filmmakers, are there, surrounding one’s study, as entities in resonance.

As a study surrounded by entities of resonance, cine-philosophy is pure harmonics. All is music. Each experience, each concept, each persona is a string that, when plucked and strung, generates a melodic tone that resonates within a field called the text. The text is an interweaving of harmonies from different fields, from different sources. The text is a rhythmic event. A cine-philosophical text is an ‘orchestration’ of singularities from cinema and philosophy. The goal is to constitute a radical and transformative music that would resonate between cinema and philosophy, and hopefully, would return us all to ‘a life’, to that empirical field of pure immanence.

June 26, 2015


[1] Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman, “Towards a Speculative Philosophy,” in The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, ed. Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman (Melbourne, Australia: Re.Press, 2011), 5.

[2] Miguel de Beistegui, Immanence – Deleuze and Philosophy (Edinburg: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), 7.

[3] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 34.

[4] Ibid., 33-34.

[5] Ibid., 16.

[6] Ibid., 33.

[7] Gilles Deleuze, Pure Immanence: Essays on A Life, trans. Anne Boyman (New York: Zone Books, 2001), 27

[8] see Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002) for a full exposition on expanded empiricism.

[9] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 85.


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