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.