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Paola Marrati, Gilles Deleuze: Cinema and Philosophy (Trans. Alisa Hartz). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008; xix + 138 pages. ISBN: 978-0801888021.

Review by Rachel Loewen Walker, University of Alberta. Published in Symposium 16:2 (2012).

Paola Marrati has written and researched extensively on Derrida, Bergson, Deleuze and Cavell, and this foundation shows, as she is able to situate the text at hand within a rich field of Continental scholarship.  It is for this reason that, although it only just breaches one hundred pages, Gilles Deleuze: Cinema and Philosophy sacrifices nothing in terms of its breadth and depth, nor in terms of its value as an introductory text to Deleuze’s philosophy of film. Relying most on Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, but also drawing from Difference and Repetition, Bergsonism and The Logic of Sense, Marrati provides a discerning account of Deleuze’s contributions to both the study of film and to the function of cinema in a Western political context.

Marrati’s central argument is that it is within the Cinema books that we find the most developed politics of Deleuze’s work, a politics which refuses modernity’s obsession with agency as the freedom and action of the subject, and instead foregrounds movement and perception as contributors to the agency of thought. Hence cinema, as discussed through the movement-image and the time-image, becomes a primary frame of reference for the development of such a politics. As a secondary argument Marrati makes the case that the Cinema books contribute to a renewed understanding of time whereupon time is the frame “in which actions unfold.” (xii) Thus modern cinema is the means by which such a folding of agency and action into time is made possible.

The first and second chapters situate the profound impact of cinema on the 20th century as that medium through which we had become truly able to access the affective power of modern art. In contrast to a painting, a sculpture or even a photograph, the “putting-to-motion” of images on a static screen represents the shift from conceiving of movement as the distance between two points (the tortoise’s slow steps forward on a linear path) to conceiving it as qualitative duration (the tortoise’s methodic movements are understood to have a different quality and intensity than the erratic speeds of the hare).

Marrati then makes otherwise unlikely connections between Heidegger, Husserl and Bergson, noting that both Husserl and Bergson are concerned with bridging the gaps between consciousness and its images, the world and its things, and thus abandoning the debate between materialism and idealism in hopes of building an alternative, experiential philosophy. Their trajectories, however, do not follow parallel paths. For Husserl the analysis of consciousness leads to the intentionality thesis: consciousness is consciousness of something, it cannot exist apart of its relationship with the object toward which it is directed. (29) For Bergson, however, consciousness itself is something. The division between the sign and its object is null as the sign is itself a meaningful materiality. From this conception of consciousness, Marrati moves us to the movement-image as “a movement freed from any framework or anchoring in bodies.” (32) The movement-image includes a wide range of imaging activities such as the perception-image, the affection-image, or the relation-image, all of which enact, at base, particular imagings of (and hence, creations of) movement. The value of cinema, then, is its role in constructing and creating real social and political effects.

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 address particular modes of cinema by focussing on their affective roles within political and historical systems. The first of these is the montage, one of the primary means of expressing time within cinema. Deleuze analyzes the montage extensively through the films of D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein. While Griffith uses the montage to set up binary relations (men and women, the rich and the poor), and in so doing names identity via difference, Eisenstein’s montage relies on comparisons of quantity (one ship, many ships), quality (land, sea), or dynamics (forward movement, backward movement), effectively putting things in time and space. Together, both Eisenstein and Griffith mobilize a particular reliance on agency, the image that “history is made through humans’ actions,” or what Deleuze calls the action-image. (51)

Again, like the movement-image’s critique of representation, the action-image (Chapter 4) runs counter to psychoanalytic and linguistic practices of looking “behind” images in order to find their underlying structure. Eisenstein’s dynamic montage as action-image serves as the making of a human temporality; it does not merely refer to an exterior mode of understanding. In fact, there is nothing behind the images; everything is in the images. (49) Nevertheless, as much as the action-image worked to make the time of history, postwar cinema meant a crisis of the action-image. As Marrati writes “The war…tore apart confidence in human action: we no longer believe that an action can have bearing on a global situation…we no longer believe in a human becoming of the world.” (63) This crisis of human agency gave way to enactments of the becoming of the world and the event, both of which indicated expressions of temporality that were not bound to human action. For Deleuze, this crisis meant that the concept of a universal history was no longer available and consequently that the time-image, or a cinema of time, was able to emerge from history’s demise.

The time-image (Chapter 5) indicates that an image is never in the present: “it is possessed by a past and a future that haunt it and that in no way coincide with the actual images that precede and follow it.” (68) In this way, Marrati wants us to think time directly, without being forced to ground it in a perception of the moving body. It is in relation to the time-image that Marrati works through the intricacies of Deleuze and Bergson’s philosophies of time, including Bergson’s infamous “cone” as the durational time in which the present, past, and future are contractions of one another. Within cinema, the time-image is enacted through cinematic “leaps” into the past, such as those dynamic movements through time that Orson Welles creates in the film Citizen Kane. Modern cinema’s direct thinking of time, thus creates a new ways of connecting images (68) and compels us to think non-chronological time. (76)

In the final chapters, Marrati draws the many threads together in response to the question of cinema’s revolutionary capacity, as she recognizes the value that prewar cinema held as a site of transformation. With the a-historical time-image, Deleuze shows that the teleological narrative of transformation is no longer possible, and yet, Marrati does not want to leave the world without hope. It is here, therefore, that she returns to her thesis that the Cinema books offer the clearest incarnation of Deleuze’s political philosophy, a thesis which is bound to cinema’s rethinking of time. She writes that the “greatness of the filmmakers of time is that they were able to create other livable configurations of thought in images themselves.” (79) This means that cinema itself is able to image an alternative to the action-image, an alternative to Hollywood’s dream of “a transformation of the world and the creation of a new nation.” (79) By thinking a cinema of time, Marrati enacts a move from the belief in human agency to the possibilities of believing in the world, that is, of believing in an immanent, dynamic and changing world, rather than relying on a transcendent historical narrative. A Deleuzian politics, as expressed through the cinema books, then becomes a politics of immanence which believes in cinema’s temporal ability to create new forms of life.

Paradoxically, Gilles Deleuze: Cinema and Philosophy’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Throughout the text, Marrati makes clear use of many of the most difficult terms within Deleuze’s lexicon. Generous explanations of new technical language are paired with sophisticated engagement with the concepts, ensuring that the book will have value to the introductory reader of Deleuze and cinema, while still appealing to an audience that is well-versed in Deleuzian/Bergsonian concepts. However, such attention to detail ends up reading as though Marrati spreads herself too thin, particularly in the last pages where rather than strengthening what is a very compelling argument, she gets somewhat lost in the definitions. The result, therefore, is that as the book closes, its thesis seems to slip through one’s fingers, even though Marrati has added great depth to the temporality of Deleuzian cinema studies.