Movement=Image, Virtuality, The Plane of Immanence

As has probably become clear in class, I’m a tad obsessed with chapter four of Cinema 1. It seems to me that there’s so much of Deleuze’s philosophical project contained within these fourteen pages, and it’s elucidated in a strikingly clear but incredibly intense way. In reading around about Deleuze, I’ve come across a variety of references to what is referred to as the “performative” aspect of Deleuze’s thought. That is, the idea that the actual experience of reading his work is inseparably tied to the ideas, concepts and work that may arise out of that experience. I will admit to having this feeling a number of times already – reading the Image of Thought chapter from D&R and this chapter from Cinema 1 not least among them. Although I could riff on this experience for a while, I can also sum it up rather easily as positive pole of the experience of becoming lost.

Reading these chapters, I had the sensation of not quite being sure what I was understanding, and feeling frequently as though I had lost the grip of Deleuze’s argument. Although I was underlining, starring, and circling rather furiously, I was drifting in and out the experience of comprehension, lacking entirely the kind of epiphany that arises out feeling like you’re fully understanding a line of argument or web of concepts (the experience that reading “Critical Theory” has for me, at its best). However, now that I’ve had that initial, very pleasurable and intense reading experience, I’ve become aware of two facts: the first is that I “understood” a lot more than I thought I did at the time—I feel comfortable with many of the ideas and can connect them to other, integrate them into my own thinking, to a degree I continue to find surprising. On the other hand, the second is that I also feel as though the ground continues to shift beneath my feet, producing new problems with their own tentative solutions and webs of connectivity. This is all a long preamble to the point that although I constantly refer back to this chapter from Cinema 1 as a focal point, every time I open the book I find something rather different. I want to use this journal as the beginning of an exploration into a few related concepts from this chapter that are particularly adept at worming their way through my thought.

They all revolve around what I’m tempted to call Deleuze’s “cosmology of images.” This occurs throughout the chapter, but Deleuze establishes the broad strokes rather quickly in section one, glossing on Bergson and then launching himself into space. “Everything,” Deleuze writes, “that is to say every image, is indistinguishable from its actions and reactions: this is universal variation (60).” In establishing his plane of immanence, Deleuze takes particular care to make clear that this is particularly true of the human subject: “My body is an image…how could my brain contain images since it is one image among others?” and, even better, “External images act on me, transmit movement to me, and I return movement: how could images be in my consciousness since I am myself image, that is, movement?” At this point in his argument, Deleuze is eager to banish the kinds of differentiation that he will later introduce in the movement-image types, and instead is attempting to establish the terms of universal variation that, for the moment, prevent any kind of distinguishing capacity between images. He provides two reasons for why this is possible. The first, negative, reason is that a conception of bodies prevents us from experiencing everything as movement-image; Deleuze wants us to consider what this plane of immanence would be like if we do away with the body and replace it with movement, pointing out that this will necessarily erase the boundaries between action, quality, and body itself. The second, positive, reason is “that the plane of immanence is entirely made up of Light…propagated ‘without resistance and without loss (62).’” The brightness of the Light that composes the plane of immanence forms everything not as body but simply as figures of light and non-rigid lines. As opposed to the light-beam of consciousness that illuminates things for phenomenology, this Bergsonian conception claims everything in the plane of immanence as luminous for itself, immanent to a consciousness that is equally diffused through all images on the plane.

This sets up Deleuze’s radical complication of this schema, in which he introduces the workings of our interactions on the plane of immanence, our ability to reflect and block the light, so as to shape the plane into what we experience as consciousness, vision, perception. Not as body or as subject, but simply as “living images” or “centers of determination,” in which the light runs up against “an obstacle, that is an opacity which will reflect it (64).” I won’t go into too much detail about the way in which Deleuze defines this, but his centers of determination are the vector through which movement-images writ large become shaped into action-images, perception-images, and affection-images, a tripartite but seemingly only temporarily limited schema of images that form in the interval between action and reaction, and which begins to differentiate the plan of immanence. In all his talk of privileged facets and the opacity of living images that allows them to form responses in the interval, Deleuze is careful to emphasize that this is a description of our experience of the plane, and does not hierarchize this capacity as being especially human—or especially anything, really. He attempts to explain how we can understand our role in the plane, but doesn’t detail if this is an experience that is shared with other living images, or what those might be.

This strikes me as being particularly interesting on a number of facets, but in particular seems to illuminate some of what we’ve been struggling with in class about the plane of immanence. Notably, it’s the attempt to comprehend the cosmology that he’s sketching out for itself, as opposed to for us, that led me down the path in class of describing it as being like the veil of ignorance. The other image of thought that I came up with to describe the plane of immanence as he sketches it out here is in early descriptions of cyberspace—I’m thinking in particular of the way that William Gibson describes it in Neuromancer. I don’t have the text in front of me, but the principle is that entities in Gibson’s cyberspace form blocks of color of varying shapes and sizes that don’t have any consistent or telling connection with their real-world counterparts. A massive block of color could be a corporation’s firewall, but it could also simply be a disguise for something else, a massively powerful supercomputer or A.I. The point being, that while things are differentiated, that are differentiated infinitely so—no one object looks like another, and there are no “types” that allow users to distinguish between themselves and others. Hence the particular skill of the hackers that populate such a world, who are, through a combination of incredible amphetamine powered reflexes, practice, and luck, able to navigate such a space.

This ability to navigate is what differentiates this cyberspatial metaphor from Deleuze’s cosmology, particularly as it exists prior to distinguishing between types of movement-images. Without the particular capacities of the living images to slide into the interval between action and reaction, there is no orientation, only universal variation. However, the comparison does illuminate something for me that seems useful for thinking through Deleuze’s schemas and his thought in general. The limited similarity between cyberspace and the plane of immanence seems like it might be conditioned through the concept of virtuality, writ large.

Virtuality, for Deleuze, seems most explicitly drawn out in D&R. When Deleuze is discussing the qualities of ideas in relation to the dual regimes of differenciation/differentiation, he offers a useful example of the way virtuality operates: “It is as though everything has two odd, dissymmetrical and dissimilar ‘halves,’ the two halves of the Symbol, each dividing itself in two: an ideal half submerged in the virtual and constituted on the one hand by differential relations and on the other by corresponding singularities; an actual half constituted on the one hand by the qualities actualizing those relations and on the other by the parts actualizing those singularities.” Differenciation is what brings the virtual into the actual. Defined this way, virtuality seems to have a lot in common with the two different approaches to the plane of immanence as I’ve tried to sketch it out here. The plane of immanence—before movement-image is separated out into action-image, perception-image, and affection-image—is purely virtual: everything within it is infinitely differentiated, as it exists within the realm of universal variation, but nothing is differenciated or actualized. Were we to exist within this plane, losing our capacity as centers of indetermination, we would be incapable of perceiving anything but Light, universally diffused and infinite. However, when the living image begins to play around in the interval between action and reaction, might we see some forms of differenciation? As movement-image goes from universal variation into specific forms of action-image, etc, does it become actualized? Or am I trying to put a square peg in a round hole?

Part of the puzzle here, for me, is trying to work out exactly what Deleuze means when he’s sketching out his cosmology here – as with the Image of Thought, or the Plane of Immanence itself, there’s a fluidity between Deleuze’s various works in relation to what these concepts are doing, or might mean. It seems foolhardy to try and integrate them into a systemic order, not because of any inconsistency, but simply because his supposed “overproduction of concepts” is a way of responding to the ever-shifting set of problems he’s trying to approach. The Plane of Immanence has to change in accordance with what it’s posing itself as the concept for. Having said that, I wonder about the universal variation as Deleuze sketches it out here. The world of movement=image, especially prior to the opacity provided by living images, does seem to have a special and, dare I say it, permanent role for Deleuze, in terms of what all of his concepts share. Whether it’s THE plane of immanence or the thought without image, there’s a mutually constitutive interest in this cosmology of infinite differentiation, immanent to consciousness and to itself, which is the universe.

This is why I find it curious that it’s so tempting for me to try and understand the plane of immanence in terms of metaphors or reference to other concepts. It seems like it’s tempting for others as well. I wonder if, undergirding this temptation, there’s a sort of will to power at work. Is my desire to understand the plane of immanence in terms particular to my experience or perceptual apparatus—to understand, almost literally, what it looks like—an attempt to rehumanize the non-human, to experience universal variation? Because it does seem as though Deleuze is arguing that this is constitutively precluded from our experience of the world due to our role as living images. We’re fundamentally incapable of not becoming blocs of opacity that allow us to perceive, act, etc. For us, the plane of immanence will never appear truly immanent—we only receive glimpses, back up the path towards the “acentered state of things.”

Final thought: where is time? Obviously, we’re still in the realm of the movement-image, but I’m interested in the way that time is somewhat occluded from this plane of immanence. Deleuze refers to the plane as being one of universal variation, but he describes this as being part of the always-moving images, not as images that are continually unfurling in a process of becoming. It would seem that the plane of immanence in this instance exists in the pure and empty form of time that we’ve seen scattered around Deleuze’s work. Time, in the most general sense, forms part of the structure of the plane of immanence here, but it seems undifferentiated as well as undifferenciated. I wonder if we’ll see this in the time-image? Does time lend itself to the same kind of differentiation as movement?

One thought on “Movement=Image, Virtuality, The Plane of Immanence

  1. Wow, okay. There’s a lot to grapple with here! ☺ I deeply appreciate your discussion of what it means to struggle with Deleuze’s “written thought” and overproduction of concepts. And indeed, there is a strange way in which his style always evokes moving thought or becoming thought. In this respect, reading sometimes becomes like surfing!

    The first connective thread that I find intriguing is your discussion of Deleuze’s characterization of differenciation/differentiation. I had somehow forgotten or neglected the line where Deleuze describes this figure as two dissymmetrical halves of the Symbol. You give a wonderfully clear account here, and it seems to me, after your discussion, that this could be the deepest genetic condition for how Deleuze derives sign types and their genesis from the plane of immanence as described in that wild chapter.

    I also like very much how you continue a discussion begun in class on where and how to locate the plane of immanence; or better, how planes shift or are redefined or redesigned according to the problems they are supposed to express and work through. In this respect, special images that we are, we can only try to “visualize” the plane, or characterize it in terms we can deal with as earthbound humanity. I like the comparison with Neuromancer because the language of WIP strangely resembles Gibson. D&G do not give us a picture of concepts, but the writing for me is intensely figural, and as much given to sensation as concepts.

    And then the problem of time. Despite the intensely mobile quality of Deleuze’s thought and writing, I have mentioned several times that there are some metaphysical principles in his philosophy that function less as a ground than as points of attraction to which the wildest ideas and concepts return, and which once reached, admit of little further analysis. One of these has to do with the universal action of THE plane of immanence, which seems to act in a complexly articulated eternal present. But with or on that plane of immanence, there is also the pure form of time as “the form of that which is not eternal, the immutable form of change and movement” (Kant’s Critical Philosophy viii).

    And from this principle, perhaps we can derive new understanding of the time-image from Deleuze’s characterization of differenciation/differentiation?

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