Pre-Figuring Deleuze in Figural Analysis
Before I proceed any further to this blog project, I would like to take time in introducing my strange ‘friendship’ with Gilles Deleuze: a friendship which involves “competitive distrust of the rival as much as amorous striving toward the object of desire… claimant and rival.’ My admiration for Deleuze traverses between an amorous cohabitation and a rivalry. His philosophy, for the past two years, provided me enough space for thinking. His philosophy became my place of residence, my living abode, my overgrown garden where I could sit every afternoon drinking tea. It is as if each of his concept is meaningfully placed in a space before me, like objects in a toolshed – a network of ideas sliding on top of each other, ceaselessly transforming in each step of the way. Each concept is a friend, a tool, a strange outgrowth. Deleuze easily became a confidant, a keeper of my secrets, a giver of pathways. Yet, one can never be too close to a friend. A right amount of ‘rivalry’ or critical reading and admiration sets the friendship in motion. And for two years we have been in conversation, in continuous debate, which would often amount to a transformative becoming of each other. Am I talking sense here? Is it possible to be in ‘conversation’ with a dead philosopher for two years? Or am I talking about my undisclosed invisible friend named Gilles Deleuze? Well, my encounter with Gilles Deleuze is real. The inscription of his philosophical ideas in my mind did not happen in thin air. I read him. I read his books and wrote marginal notes on it. I also read him through the books written by Deleuzian scholars. The encounter more or less is real.
Deleuze’s Wake: Tributes and Tributaries, part of SUNY’s Contemporary Continental Philosophy Series, was the first book I bought about Deleuze. It was written by Ronald Bogue, one of the early scholars of Deleuze. I bought it when I was still an undergraduate student in Chemical Engineering (2008-2009) from a Booksale Bookstore at North Avenue. Like many other books at home, it laid on my bookshelf for years. I did not know what to do with it. It is a philosophy book with a strange and unfamiliar language. I remember reading it six years ago confused with the words deterritorialization, asubjectification, refrains, affect, time-image, as if underneath each word lays a secret world: a dense vegetation waiting to be explored and uncovered. My nineteen-year-old self is not enthusiastic enough to partake on a Deleuzian journey. So I left it on my bookshelf for years to gather dust .
When I was finishing my undergraduate degree (latter part of 2011), the same time when I was preparing for my professional licensure exam, I was helplessly drawn to figural analysis conceived by Nicole Brenez, Adrian Martin and several contemporary film scholars. I was in crisis back then. I was resolving within myself the most difficult question: what is the importance of theory in cinema?
My relationship with theory at that time was very shaky. I often contrasted it with criticism, favoring film criticism as the only legitimate practice of appreciating a film over theory, which, at the time, I considered an obstructive and anti-productive practice of going around, instead of going directly into, a film. The whole notion of undergoing scholarly education in order to appreciate film itself felt discomforting. I resolved that watching and writing simple criticism about films was the most legitimate act one can do for cinema.
My encounter with figural analysis in the middle of this speculative wandering on the importance of film theory was a test to me. I was a test because Nicole Brenez and Adrian Martin, two critics I greatly admired, was part of the group who introduced the ‘hermeneutic practice’ of figural analysis.
Critical works of Brenez and Martin greatly influenced my way of thinking about cinema. I was an avid follower of Martin’s De Filmkrant World Wide Angle column when it was launched in July 2010. I was more attracted to Brenez’s eclectic taste and colossal knowledge on experimental cinema than her critical writings. Her lists on Sight and Sound and Senses of Cinema often includes films from outside the canon which fueled my cinephilic curiosity. Brenez and Martin influenced my cinephilia more than my theoretical interests. Martin’s article Light My Fire: the Geology and Geography of Film Canons was greatly instructive when I was watching a lot of movies.
My image of Deleuze emerged as a prefiguration rather than a direct manifestation from a collection of writings on figural analysis. In 2011, Catherine Grant collected a group of writings under a blog post entitled On Figural Analysis on Film Studies. It featured several articles of contemporary film scholars circumscribing and dispensing the idea of the figure and its relationship with cinema. Martin and Brenez’s texts were prominent among the roster of film scholars which includes D.N. Rodowick, Raymond Bellour and the eponymous film blogger (also an early influence to me) Girish Shambu. Catherine Grant provided two explanatory passages on top of a list of articles: one from Martin’s essay and the other from Warwick Mules’ review of D.N. Rodowick’s book. The passage from Adrian Martin’s essay prefigures the appearance of Deleuze’s name. It goes:
‘For [Nicole] Brenez as for [Gilles] Deleuze, a critical and theoretical approach of this sort marks a significant departure from classical mise en scène analysis. The venerable tool of découpage – shot-by-shot breakdown – depends upon the theatrical and dramatic unity of the filmic scene, which in turn rests upon the most cherished principle of mise en scène analysis: “bodies in space”, the pro-filmic reality of bodies dwelling and moving within a space defined by a set or a landscape. Deleuze asserts, to the contrary, that “the cinema is not a theatre”, and that its bodies are composed “from granules, which are granules of time”. This is, in a sense, analysis in two dimensions rather than the usual three; and if there is still “depth” to a movie, it will need to be a new, differently defined kind of depth.’ – (quoted from C. Grant, from Martin’s ‘The body has no head: corporeal figuration in Aldrich’, Screening the Past, June 30, 2000)
In my mind, while I was reading Martin’s passage, I was asking the question: who is Deleuze and what are ‘granules of time’? A brush of nostalgia hit me. I remember encountering the idea of time in Bogue’s book a few years back. Mules’ review article of Rodowick’s book Reading the Figural also discussed Deleuze’s idea of the time-image. In one of his notes, he mentioned:
‘The figural bears a strong resemblance to Deleuze’s concept of the time-image. Deleuze’s theory of the time-image suffers somewhat from an over-specification of its historical emergence. Deleuze pinpoints the first sighting of the time-image with Italian neorealism just after the Second World War. However, it can be argued that the time-image is implicit in all film, from its early actuality stage to the present. In a curious oversight, Deleuze hardly mentions silent film and does not deal at all with pre-narrative silent film, which, one might have thought, would constitute the first emergence of the time-image before film became waylaid first by narrative structure, and then by voiced sound.’ – (from Film-Philosophy, Vol. 7 No. 56, December 2003)
After reading Mules’ intriguing review of the book, I proceeded to read Rodowick’s book Reading the Figural, after being enticed by the idea of the figural, albeit harboring doubts on the importance/non-importance of film theory in cinema. Surprisingly, all my doubts came to a resolved upon reading Rodowick’s book.
Rodowick’s book was a path-breaking work for me. It completely overhauled my idea of cinema, theory and criticism. It opened the trajectory of my ‘present’ thinking and writing on film. Rodowick returned me to Bogue’s book Deleuze’s Wake: Tributes and Tributaries. Hence, from 2011 to 2013, while I was reading Rodowick’s work, I also read Bogue’s book on Deleuze. In a parallel movement, the image of Deleuze’s thought became a visual event.
In 2012, within the period of intense reading of Rodowick and Bogue, I also published my first attempt on a long evaluative piece of a filmmaker: Raya Martin and His Visions of Postcolonial Realities. It took me another two years to publish another essay on cinema. My article for Sinekultura Film Journal entitled Without a Name, Without a Face, a critical piece on my encounter with Jon Lazam’s cinema, was somewhat a hybrid of my intensive readings of two works: D.N. Rodowick’s other book The Virtual Life of Film (2007) and Nadine Boljkovac’s Untimely Affects: Gilles Deleuze and an Ethics of Cinema, both of which influenced its manner of writing.
Transforming the Cinematic World through a Song: Ruptures in Boljkovac’s Untimely Affects
Boljkovac’s work led me straight to the Deleuzian world. Its feverish textual constitution destroyed my preconceived notions of cinema, film theory and criticism. In my travail across Boljkovac’s text, I encountered disruptive movements of paradoxical ideas from different regions of thought: philosophy, cinema and art. Each domain intersperses with each other in a dizzying play of Deleuze’s texts, Boljkovac’s melodic descriptions of the images from Marker’s and Resnais’ cinema, passages from other works of contemporary theorists, ‘striv[ing] to experience the virtual real events intensities, sensations, affects and becomings that coexist alongside the actual.’
Boljkovac’s book is a ‘cine-philosophical interrogations of war, suffering, affliction and, significantly, humanity’s complicity and shame in these means of its own ruin from which it must yet become and survive…’ The book explores the relationship of select films of Chris Marker and Alain Resnais and the texts of Gilles Deleuze.
The book’s effort of grasping the visual and aural events in the films, alongside with Boljkovac’s syntactic reading of Deleuze’s texts, transforms the textual experience into a song of ethical destruction – a destruction of precoded ideas of the cinematic world. What remain are ruinous forces, unthinkable nomadic forces, rupturing the very idea of representation. This is only a metaphorical account of Boljkovac’s book, which deserves another post in this blog. The musical movement of Boljkovac’s book syncopates Deleuze’s works, particularly the style of Deleuze’s texts written with Guattari – the wildstyle. Wildstyle seems to emerge from the disjunctive synthesis of two converging and diverging points of view of the two authors. Boljkovac is only ‘one’ in writing Untimely Affects, but what comprises the resonating beauty and also the difficulty of the text is the multiplicity that Boljkovac taps into.
Boljkovac introduced me to the fiery, anti-academic Deleuze who insists that we must grasp events head on, and as quoted by Boljkovac: ‘[i]f we want to grasp an event we must not show it, we must not pass along the event, but plunge into it, go through all the geological layers that are its internal history.’ (Cinema 2: 254-5)
Gilles Deleuze As I Knew Him
A great introductory video to Deleuze’s idea of philosphy
It is difficult to introduce Deleuze without resorting to the question of identity or being. His philosophy runs towards the opposite direction: the dissolution of identity and being. (So forgive me for writing this mediocre non-Deleuzian introduction.) He created many pathways for contemporary continental philosophy. He also reinvigorated the inquiry on materialism, even realism according to Manuel DeLanda, relation of cinema & perception, neuroscience & cognition, and science studies. He is also a cinephile and a lover of French literature and avant-garde art. And, of all the animals, bird is his favorite. Together with Felix Guattari, he wrote a whole plateau or chapter in A Thousand Plateaus exploring the musicality of birdsongs. He is also Marxist, albeit his unorthodox reading of Marx overhauling and extending the critique of capitalism in their book Anti-Oedipus. In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari incorporated a radical reading of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud to develop a radical theory of desire as the force of life changing the way one looks at capitalism today.
His interest in philosophy started when he was in senior high school. During those years, his friend Michel Tournier would take him to public talks of famous philosophers in France. Jean-Paul Sartre, then the most famous French public intellectual, was their philosophical guru, but not until Sartre’s famous talk on October 1945 announcing that ‘Existentialism Is Humanism’. Francois Dosse described this turning point in Deleuze’s (and also Tournier’s) thinking in his book Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: Intersecting Lives: “[t]hey never forgave him for trying to rehabilitate the old notion of humanism. ‘We were floored. So our master had had to dig through the trash to unearth this worn- out mixture reeking of sweat and of the inner life of humanism.’”
Deleuze died twenty years ago. In 1995, with only one lung in his body, he fell from his Parisian balcony of his apartment. Many suspected it was suicide, others speculated that Deleuze leaned too far on his balcony and lost balance. Deleuze suffered from tuberculosis all his life.
He was not a very active writer either. He had a period of latency when he was in his 30s. For eight years, from 1953 (29 years old), when he published his book on David Hume, to 1962 (38 years old), when he published his monumental work on Friedrich Nietzsche, he was busy teaching philosophy in high schools and in universities in France. During the same period, he was also reading the books of Nietzsche, Spinoza, Kant and Bergson, a few of major philosophers that influenced him greatly in the years to come.
Through Sylvère Lotringer, he and Felix Guattari traveled to United States in the 1970s to introduce developments in French philosophical thought in a series of conferences together with Michel Foucault and other French philosophers already teaching in America. Deleuze met several American poets and singers like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsburg, and Patti Smith. They also visited Kerouac’s birthplace.
Deleuze’s philosophy is inseparable to his life. His varied interests on art, literature and cinema, as well as politics and science influenced his philosophical thought. To describe Deleuze’s philosophy as a ‘multiplicity’ is an understatement. Deleuze’s philosophy moves towards the dissolution of being into difference and being-as–temporality to temporality-as-repetition-of-difference. This stems from Deleuze’s insistence that the unconscious and the unthinkable are always at work in any process. Deleuze insists on putting primacy on process over being i.e. all objects are products of processes but remains incomplete for objects are processes themselves. Objects are always in-process; they are immanent: neither defined by their subjectivity or objectivity, nor their absence or presence. The synthesis of the notion of difference that displaces being and the notion of repetition that displaces time culminates in his book Difference and Repetition, which is, to me, a radical critique of Martin Heidegger’s seminal work Being and Time. His work Difference and Repetition is a critique of representation in favor of immanence. In this sense, Deleuze can be considered as a philosopher of difference than a philosopher of being. It is not surprising for Francois Zourabichvili to insist that Gilles Deleuze is not an ontologist:
‘There is no “ontology of Deleuze.” Neither in the vulgar sense of a metaphysical discourse which could inform us, in the last instance, what there is of reality (which would be fluxes rather than substances, or lines rather than persons) . . . Nor in the deeper sense of a primacy of being over knowledge (as is the case with Heidegger or Merleau-Ponty, where the subject appears to itself already preceded by an instance that opens the possibility of such an appearing)…. If there is an orientation of the philosophy of Deleuze, this is it: the extinction of the term “being” and therefore of ontology.‘
Encountering Deleuze in early 2014 was a gift. It is a gift because Deleuze introduced me to philosophy as a practical and productive activity. His five books, two of which written together with Guattari, Difference and Repetition, A Thousand Plateaus, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, and What is Philosophy? provided the groundwork for my politico-philosophical inquiry on time & cinema. But altogether, the Deleuzian field of study feels cramped. It also feels too late for a celebration. Amidst the vast sea of secondary Deleuzian literature engaged in finding the applicability of Deleuzian ideas to daily life, Deleuze’s philosophy is under critical attack and radical appropriation. A pack of wolves under the banner of the Speculative Realist movement informally headed by Quentin Meillassoux provides a staunch critique of the plane of immanence, Deleuze’s (anti)metaphysics which he associates with ‘a life.’ Meillassoux criticizes Deleuze’s idea of the plane of immanence as an absolutist correlationism. Ray Brassier, a prominent philosopher of the Speculative Realist movement, also attacks the ‘ontological’ stakes of Difference and Repetition, both Meillassoux and Brassier’s account of Deleuze’s will be explored in separate posts.
More or less, Deleuze’s idea is under appropriation in today’s philosophical milieu. The thing is Deleuze’s ideas are still marginal in the academe, or at least in the Media Studies program of the University of the Philippines – Diliman, where I am currently enrolled. Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Noam Chomsky, Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan and Stuart Hall, together with a string of Marxist philosophers, are still the most popular names in critical media studies. Some of the popular frameworks include:
- Gramscian hegemony
- Barthes’ Mythologism
- Althusserian ideology (ISA/RSA)
- Spivak-Said Postcolonialism
- Saussure-Pierce Semiotics
- Lacanian psychoanalysis
- Baudrillard’s Simulacra & Hyperrealism
- Chomsky&Herman’s Political Economy of Media
- Foucauldian panopticon/discourse/power relations/genealogy
- Anderson’s nationalism
- Hall’s cultural model of communication
- Derrida’s Deconstruction
- Butler’s Theory of Performativity
The absence of Deleuze’s ideas in the curriculum is not surprising because most of these popular frameworks offer representational reading except, of course, for Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction, which also offers a critique of representation. Media studies in UP CMC leans towards the exploration of the political and historical framework responsible for (dis)orienting a particular subject/object of study. Institutional power relations often transpires as the primary lens of the study, while formal analysis of the subject/object comes in as secondary reading in support of the institutional relation conspired in the primary level.
Deleuze’s method departs from this institution-subject/object relation by conceiving a multi-plateau-ic reading of relations. In his work with Guattari A Thousand Plateaus, he conceives a different way of looking at a problem as a network of plateaus. Each plateau exists independent of each other. No whole idea or a complete picture exists in the whole book, no thesis statement provided the general relation explored, but what fleetingly exists in A Thousand Plateaus is a rhizomatic assemblage of plateaus. Each plateau is a rhizomatic network of concepts, which can freely interact with other concepts from other plateaus. In this sense, what Deleuze and Guattari attempted is a non-representational reading of a network of relations, which greatly extended Foucault’s notion of regimes of truth. It renders a more realistic way of reading multiplicitous relations, the one that I’m currently working on in my project on Lav Diaz: how do you account for the relation of Diaz’s cinema and time without resorting to a two-level analysis of institution-subject/object relation?
My relation with Deleuze is still a work-in-progress, a continuing conversation. I have yet to read his other works. I put out this blog to give space for exploring this conversation with Deleuze via reading, thinking and writing. Who knows what might transpire in this overgrowing connection? One can only hope for ontogenetic transformation of oneself – an affirmative ontogenesis of relations.
 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 4.
 Nadine Boljkovac, Untimely Affects: Gilles Deleuze and an Ethics of Cinema (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), 1.
 Ibid, 3.
 Francois Dosse, Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives, trans. by Deborah Glassman (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 95.
 Francois Zourabichvili, Deleuze: A Philosophy of the Event together with The Vocabulary of Deleuze, trans. by Kieran Aarons (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 36-37.