Snarls, Squeaks, Stammers

I am haunted by a rather strange paragraph in What Is Philosophy?, which I find to be the most beautiful passage in the book, but also the most cryptic and mysterious. It is towards the beginning of  “The Plane of Immanence”, and seems to interrupt the continuity of the chapter. At the risk of straying from our seminar’s focus on the Image, I would like to take this chance to meditate on the distinctiveness of this passage, and if not wrest from it any useful meanings, at least marvel at its  crystalline abundance. It follows:

Thinking provokes general indifference. It is a dangerous exercise nevertheless. Indeed, it is only when the dangers become obvious that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden and barely perceptible, inherent in the enterprise. Precisely because the plane of immanence is prephilosophical and does not immediately take effect with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess. We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, yet they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow the witch’s flight. Take Michaux’s plane if immanence, for example, with its infinite, wild movements and speeds. Usually these measures do not appear in the result, which must be grasped solely in itself and calmly. But the “danger” takes on another meaning: it becomes a case of obvious consequences when pure immanence provokes a strong instinctive disapproval in public opinion, and the nature of the created concepts strengthens this disapproval. This is because one does not think without becoming something else, something that does not think—an animal, a molecule, a particle—and that comes back to thought and revives it. (WIP, 41-42)

The first sentence is the most ambiguous: in whom is indifference provoked, and towards what? In the preceding paragraph, Deleuze and Guattari posit the plane of immanence as pre- or nonphilosophical, which proves to be one of the most important passages in regards to their answer to the title question. As they put it:

Prephilophical does not mean something preexistent but rather something that does not exist outside of philosophy, although philosophy presupposes it. These are its internal conditions. The nonphilosphical is perhaps closer to the heart of philosophy than philosophy itself, and this means that philosophy cannot be content to be understood only philosophically or conceptually, but is addressed essentially to nonphilosophers as well. (ibid., 41)

This introduces to their definition an element which is not reducible to identity (which could thus far be summarized positively as the creation of concepts and the institution of a plane of immanence, and negatively as not contemplation, not reflexion, and not communication). It locates in philosophy an internal difference, a differenciation that leaves it obscure despite having a distinct shape and frontier. Philosophy has an “essential relationship” (ibid., 218) with the chaos through which it cuts.

So what then does it mean to be indifferent, and why is this provoked by thinking? It is interesting that D&G do not find it necessary to qualify ‘thinking” in this instance. I infer, however, that they mean something along the lines of thinking under a dogmatic Image, a thinking that invests itself in finding a refuge from the imposing instability of a world in flux. “We require just a little order to protect us from chaos. Nothing is more distressing than a thought that escapes itself, than ideas that fly off, that disappear hardly formed, already eroded by forgetfulness or precipitated into others that we no longer master” (ibid., 201). Such refuges D&G call “fixed opinions”, attempts to fashion “a little ‘umbrella,’ which protects us from the chaos” (ibid., 202).

Avoiding this indifference can be thought of as the another articulation of project Deleuze laid out in Difference and Repetition: the embrace of difference in itself and repetition for itself, the act of thinking without image. This risks exposure to the aforementioned distress: “It is as if the struggle against chaos does not take place without an affinity with the enemy, because another struggle develops and takes on more importance—the struggle against opinion, which claims to protect us from chaos itself” (ibid., 203).

This brings us to the “groping experimentation” of thinking. D&G go for the grotesque when they try to describe it: “measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable” which “belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess.” This corresponds to a description later in the chapter of the modern, Nietzchean image of thought. They speak of its “Incapacity…If thought searches, it is less in the manner of someone who searches than a dog that seems to be making uncoordinated leaps” (ibid., 55). Here they reference Artaud and Kleist, for whom “thought begins to exhibit screams, snarls, stammers; it talks in tongues and screams, which leads it to create, or try to” (ibid.).

The reference to Kleist is apposite; a very Deleuzian account of such thinking is given in his two wonderful short texts, “On the Gradual Formation of Thoughts While Speaking” and “On the Theater of the Marionettes”. They crystalize the junction between Deleuze, Bergson, and Kant, seeking to intuit the fractured self. The former begins, “If you want to know something and can’t find it out through meditation, then I advise you, my dear, quick-witted friend, to talk it over with the next acquaintance you happen to meet” (Kleist, Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist, 255). Such stimulation provides the necessary start to the process of thought (perception, affection, impulse, action, reflection…), and Kleist describes it so:

…because I have some kind of an obscure inkling that harbors a distant relation to that which I am seeking, if I only utter a first bold beginning, as the words tumble out, the mind will, of necessity, strain to find the fitting ending, to prod that muddled inkling into absolute clarity, such that, to my surprise, before I know it the process of cognition is complete. (ibid., 257)

Kleist concludes, “…it is not we who know, but rather a certain state of mind in us that knows” (ibid., 262).

As an illustration, he recites an anecdote from the French revolution, in which the orator and statesman Mirabeau defied the King’s order for the Estates General to disperse. Kleist comments:

I am convinced that in uttering [his] ordinary opening words, he had not yet conceived of the verbal bayonet thrust…we can see that he does not yet rightly know what he means to say…he went on, and then, suddenly, a rush of heretofore inconceivable concepts rolls off his tongue…and only now does he find the words to express the act of resistance to which his soul stands ready: ‘You can tell your king that we will not leave our seats , save at the point of a bayonet.’ (ibid., 258)

Here we come to what makes thinking dangerous. If we take Kleist’s story at its word, even such an unscrupulous, opinionated politician as the infamous Mirabeau is capable of uncovering from beneath the sheltering Urdoxa the hidden chaos, that is, the virtual potentialities for difference. The “obvious consequences when pure immanence provokes a strong instinctive disapproval in public opinion” becomes something of an understatement.

The last sentence of our paragraph is, in my opinion, the most poetic formulation of Deleuze’s fundamental metaphysical principle of the I fractured by the form of time. It took me quite a long time to appreciate just what Deleuze was getting at, and I found help through an encounter with the latter of the above-mentioned Kleist texts. This essay recounts a dialogue with a famed dancer who enthuses over a makeshift marionette theater. The dancer envies the extraordinarily graceful movements of the puppets, which to him seem to have an advantage over the living.

‘The advantage? First of all, a negative one, my friend, namely that it never strikes an attitude. For attitude, as you well know, arises when the soul (vis motrix) finds itself twisted in a motion other than the one prescribed by its center of gravity. Since, wielding the wire or thread, the machinist simply has no other point at his disposal than this one, all the other bodily articulations are as they should be, dead, pure pendulums, and merely follow the law of gravity; an admirable quality that one may seek in vain among the vast majority of our dancers.

‘…missteps,’ he added as an aside, ‘are unavoidable ever since we ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. But Paradise is bolted shut and the cherub is on our tail; we are obliged to circle the globe and go around to the other side to see if there’s a way back in.’

I laughed—Indeed, I thought to myself, the spirit can’t go wrong if there’s no spirit to begin with. (ibid., 268-269)

We can see in this again the fractured I: a desire of the passive Ego to maintain contact with the I which affects it, the “entire machine of determination and the indeterminate” (Difference and Repetition, 276). To think, I must be an Other, an unthinking other. I will give the last word to Kleist, who writes with the bloodshot eyes of the mind:

‘…just as two lines intersect at one point, and after passing through infinity, suddenly come together again on the other side; or the image on a concave mirror suddenly reappears before us after drawing away into the infinite distance, so, too, does grace return once perception, as it were, has traversed the infinite—such that it simultaneously appears purest in human bodily structures that are either devoid of consciousness or which possess an infinite consciousness, such as the jointed manikin or the god.’ (Kleist, 273)


That there is, ultimately, nothing but images of time for Deleuze necessitates closer attention to the varieties the time-image comes in. If the cinema books seem to map an evolutionary trajectory from “indirect” to “direct” images of time, detailing the movement-image’s supersession by its more temporally-sensitive counterpart—any rubric for hierarchization crumbles once we recognize in movement-image the image of time all along. Insofar as directness and its obverse serve more as generic distinction than metrics for representational accuracy, how might we attend instead to “directness” without connotations of immediacy and privileged access? This is, more than anything, an opportunity for me to revisit the intricacies of D’s argument, to recount for myself what directness means for Deleuze, and to trace it through different aspects of his constellation of concepts.

1. Directness and sensation: “directness” as a way of talking about the sensational in Deleuze

If “what is specific to the image…is to make perceptible, to make visible, relationships of time which cannot be seen in the represented object,” the “pure optical and sound situation” characteristic of the direct time-image intensifies this perceptibility into sensation. Once the motor falls away in the sensory-motor circuit, it is the sensory that remains, an uncoupling that radically changes the nature of perception. No longer, in Bergsonian sense, inseparable from its extension into action, perception is given over to the sensory, the interface with intensity and pure difference that does not congeal into action.

This altered mode of perception (lingering in the excitative, vibrative and energetic—interminable, unceasing excitation) precipitates a “new dimension of subjectivity.” In place of a perceiving living image, we are given a sensing one, a subjectivity that “takes on a new sense, which is no longer motor or material, but temporal and spiritual: that which ‘is added’ to matter, not what distends it.” No longer is the interface between the two systems of images (living image vs universal variation) that of mutual distortion and accomodation, at least in the sense of a curvature in universal variation to accommodate the perspectivalism of living image. Instead, sensing subjectivity, the new “living image,” is both overpresent—added to matter (without diminishing?)—and markedly absent—no longer capable of distending the fabric of universal variation or leaving its previous material mark.

Directness, then, becomes a way of characterizing the tension between these two systems of images, brought into closer but irreconcilable proximity under the regime of the time-image. With the loss of the action-image, the living image is made even more to resemble one image among others, receiving and executing movement in all directions (movement unrecognizable as “action”). (Could the sense of miredness and immobilization in the time-image might be traced back to the fundamental incompatibility between this “double regime of reference of images”? Rendering the tension between Bergson’s two regimes of images sensible, such that those who encounter the time-image are made to inhabit this incompatibility, might account for collapse of sensory-motor.) Yet, as I will argue later, there is also an insistence in second cinema book on this amorphousness being narrated from within——a radical empiricism that seeks an experience of time/distended duration from inside (an opsign, for instance). Deleuze’s radical empiricism becomes an answer to, or complication of, phenomenology’s , an experiment in how to talk about the sense experience of a subject after the dissolution of these subjective contours (“subject” as merely one image among others—operating in a receptive rather than animating capacity). This is the experience of discovering “self” as little more than an accident of position, an epiphenomenon of “the phenomenon of the gap, or interval between a received and an executed movement.”

I haven’t quite figured out how to read sensation across the cinema books and Deleuze’s other works, though I think I can say his preoccupation with the intersection of art and philosophy (and the imagistic?) takes direction from a curiosity in the shape philosophical projects take when they use sensation as a departure point. Deleuze’s preoccupation with thought’s origination in sensation seems to take an empiricist turn, retracing the origination of thought to sense-experience. If thought’s genesis in a chain of transmission of violence between faculties otherwise uncoordinated, the ripple of intensity passes from sensibility (brought to its limit) onwards, to imagination to memory and then to understanding. “The privilege of sensibility as origin (of thought) appears in the fact that, in an encounter, what forces sensation and that which can only be sensed are one and the same thing, whereas in the other two cases (imagination and memory) the two instances are distinct. In effect, the intensive or difference in intensity is at once both the object of the encounter and the object to which the encounter raises sensibility.” (D&R, 145) Whereas imagination and memory, each carried to their constitutive limit, must ultimately take recourse to consolidated forms (the “forgotten thing appears in person,” for instance, to the memorandum), such that the object that precipitates the break/encounter and the object that intervenes on the faculty’s behalf are never one and the same, sensation’s empirical and transcendent functions are much closer in kind. Sensation becomes an exceptional case of a faculty’s transcendental exercise, “which insists that what can only be (recalled, imagined) should also be empirically impossible to (recall, imagine).” (D&R, 140) The [opposition] of the transcendental to the empirical—transcendent exercise of faculties intervenes where the empirical encounters its own limit—begins to break down when everything feels like a limit case.

Perhaps a reckless but potentially useful overstatement of this: any sensation bears the potential for disruption (and thus transcendent exercise) of faculties because sensation itself is always a limit case, an encounter with intensity as pure difference. Whereas the model of subtractive perception/translation of sensory into motor makes certain assumptions about the cooperation of faculties responsible for apprehending an object—such that there will be consensus regarding the utility of certain bits of sensory data as opposed to others—sensibility at its most transcendent thwarts recognition, representation.

Immersive sensation makes available a conception and experience of temporality different from the one that inheres in movement/action executed in space. Insofar as each temporal trajectory is traced out by extension of perception into an action-version of time subordinated to movement, sensation is remains gravid with the possibilities prior to perception’s diminishment of sensory data. Herein lies the potentiality of sensation: its condensation of multiple and infinitely proliferating temporalities, its cultivation of mutually exclusive timelines/realities (fracturing of causality into incompossible)

As both counterpoint and complement to the proliferative temporality of sensation, Deleuze also deploys th elanguage of return and preservation when talking about sensation. Post-action-image, we find ourselves in the realm of protracted intervals and recursive beginnings—sensory data that cannot be pared down into blueprints for movement, energy that can no longer be efficiently displaced onto/rerouted into action. “Sensation contracts the vibrations of the stimulant on a nervous system or in a cerebral volume: what comes before has not yet disappeared when what follows appears.” (WIP 211) The syncopated rhythm of sensation, which elicits a response that is always overtaking/rebounding onto the excitation that occasions it, forms a feedback loop that the sensory-motor schema’s orderly extension of perception into action precludes. The language of preservation, of retention and persistence, running throughout the treatment of sensation as contraction (in WIP) frames sensibility as an endless return to an originary(?) impulse, each time with a different outcome. The interminable cycle of contractive “enjoyment” and “self-enjoyment,” then, necessarily brings into conjunction multiple temporal layers. “Contraction is not an action, but a pure passion, a contemplation that preserves the before in the after.” (WIP 212) If perception>action might be considered fundamentally entropic (the taming and dissipation of energy into discrete actions), sensation’s perdurability and preservative power(?) lasts by turning inward, “contracting that which matter dissipates, or radiates, furthers, reflects, refracts, or converts.”

2. Directness and identification: “directness” as a way of talking about the identificatory? in Deleuze

In the movement-image regime, subjecthood at its most attenuated—centers of indetermination, in which “living images” become distinct from other images—surface in the fleeting interval between received movement and its execution. The movement-image leaves little room for even this watered down “subject”: when montage is accelerated (the efficiency of the sensory-motor schema to produce linkages is dialed up), the first thing to go is the “interval between actions.” In this sense, centers of indetermination are always already under erasure in the universe of movement-images.

I would argue that there is a return of sorts to the living image, the intermediary between received and executed movement, in the wake of the sensory motor schema’s collapse. Insofar as the time-image might be analogized to an expansion of the interval, such that there is nothing left but affection-image and the hesitation between perception and action, [subjectivity] becomes all there is. The paradox, of course, is that it is precisely this re-privileging of the living image that [sets up the] conditions for the “fractured I” and that makes impossible the image’s relation to an encompassing “whole.” If the subject under the regime of movement-image, as “center of indetermination in an acentered universe of movement-images,” could still have some semblance of internal consistency spatially understood in relation to other acting/reacting bodies around it (and as part of an all-encompassing, if constantly evolving, whole), the turn to sensation in the opsign precludes this sense of belonging to a set. Sensation cannot be deduced from outside or between images the way totality though montage can—must be encountered (position in whole relinquished to immersive interiority—no extensity).

Insofar as Deleuze’s treatment of the time-image inherits a set of empiricist concerns, the unit of analysis remains experience as filtered through subject, however attenuated. Deleuze identifies a new paradigm of identification in his turn to the time-image. In the cinema of movement-images, “the characters themselves reacted to situations…what the viewer perceived therefore was a sensory-motor image in which he took a greater or lesser part by identification with the characters. But now that the identification is actually inverted: the character has become a kind of viewer.” (A few pages later: “The important thing is always that the character or the viewer, and the two together, become visionaries.”) The conceit of actants become voyeurs, characters unable to act or immersed im situations that have suddenly become sensorially overwhelming and unbearable, strangely translates the time-image and Deleuze’s metaphysics of time into a lived experience within the diegetic fabric of films. The distintegration of the sensory-motor schema not only [informs] the film’s formal aesthetics, but becomes literalized/thematized, as though this “new dimension of subjectivity”—the fractured I—were somehow being modeled on screen. If the movement image’s capacity for extracting movement from its constituent elements (“the movement of movement”) depended on identification with the camera’s movement (the filmic mechanism), here identification with the human, the embodied onscreen seems strangely foregrounded.

That viewer and character must inhabit the sensorial in the time-image in tandem is an aspect I find puzzling in Deleuze’s account of the time-image. I will say that it is properly Deleuzian in the sense that it does not so much [model] identification (retaining sense of distinctiveness of between self and other one is aligning oneself with) as a version of over-identification (self and character collapsed into one viewer, indiscernable from one another). This may be the closest we’ve come to an account of the viewer/film dynamic.

The Refracted and Fractal “I”


Between Cinema I: The Movement Image, Cinema 2: The Time Image, and What is Philosophy, Deleuze elaborates an image of time, which he articulates through a variety of spatial metaphors encompassing facets, holes, contours, peaks and planes that inevitably not only connect but flow fluidly through each other. Generally speaking, Deleuze arrives at a formulation by literally ascribing a multi-dimensional and processually evolving form to relationships of concepts across, or rather, through time. To perpetuate Deleuze’s spatializing metaphor of time, we can imagine the movement-image as an inclinator (a type of elevator that can move horizontally and diagonally) that travels along the ‘contours’ of a plane of immanence, opening its sensory-motor doors onto minute ‘shots’ of a virtual plane of related images that we perceive and actuate through perception-images and action-images. With the time-image, however, the sensory-motor inclinator operates more like Willy Wonka’s glass elevator, or “Wonkavator,” that can move “up and down, sidways, slantways, and any other way you can think of” across layered planes of immanence, along the infinitely variable shafts of time. Recollection-images are the buttons that mobilize our movements across planes, and each ‘floor’ is a layer of a concept that connects all past images of said concept with their present and parallel peaks. As Deleuze explains in his repeated critiques of the cogito’s “I think therefore I am” rendering of the self, an “I” is always a concept and as such, according to Deleuze’s own architecture of concepts penetrating across sheets of time, this “I” is always a multiplicity. Or, in cinematic terms, a conceptual “I” is always a montage of laminated shots and component images. His elaboration of an “I” that projects onto multiple sheets of time – like an image projected onto multiply layered diaphanous screens superimposed upon one another – can only be conceived as a whole that is open, and without end.

Why, then, when describing “the dissimilar in the pure form of time” that constitutes “transcendent memory” in Difference and Repetition, does Deleuze delineate “an I fractured by this form of time” (DR 144)? How does the “fractured I” gel with the conceptual “I” that spreads across the time-image, that undergoes “metamorphosis” across concepts, people and things in the movement of world? Does not the idea of an “I” that is capable of being “fractured” either presuppose or entail a whole “I” that was or will be discrete? How does this differ or repeat the post-lapsarian fantasy of a whole “I” much contemplated by his intellectual forbears, along other planes of immanence? Shouldn’t Deleuze describe a fractal ‘I’ not a fractured ‘I’?

The “fractured I” that Deleuze describes evokes what I would call a “post lapsarian fantasy” of a once coherent whole riven by a fall from purity. In the case of social theory and philosophy, particularly of Kant, Hegel (see footnote 1), Lukács, and Lacan (see footnote 2), the whole constitutes the conceptually cohesive conceptualized “I” that is fragmented, fractured and fissured as it becomes social. Desire – for a thing, for recognition, for illusory and impossible wholeness, for communicative commensuration, in other words, for belonging – is always ecstatic, both emotionally and in its external orientation towards that which is outside, or Other. Deleuze describes this Other “not as another subject but rather the subject who becomes an other” (WIP 32). This first gap between a subject-self and subject-other maps onto the gap of necessity and desire, our original ‘lack’ (in Hegel and Kant’s formulation), that provoked our earliest agency and, in retribution for our profane insurrection, the (spiritual and philosophical) gods responded to by reifying our acts of violating wholes into the shattering of the respective unified world-bodies. This is true of the Eden and Aristophanes parables the aforementioned theorists mobilize and metaphorize into their theories of sociality-as-whole-splitters. The postlapsarian worlds that ensue are fated to unfulfilled nostalgia writ in the discrepancy between total and partial, ideal and actual, necessity and desire, monad and dyad, subject and object, and are rectifiable only in the telos-myth of reintegration. How, whether and by what poignant means we put the pieces back together, how we manage the agony of ecstasy (in all senses of the words) comprises the theoretical genome pervading the aforementioned authors’ respective projects. Deleuze’s designation of his conceptual “I” as a “fractured” one runs the risk of imputing an original or teleogical closable one-ness: only something once whole can be fractured, and fracturing implies potential reintegration. Continue reading