Jean-Pierre Léaud and Anne Wiazemsky, La Chinoise (1967)
The aim of this essay is to interrogate the relationship between Idea-problems, creativity, and the society of control as undertaken by Deleuze (within philosophy), Godard (within cinema), and Paul Patton (philosophy and cinema). It will be shown how Deleuze’s understanding of the relation between Ideas, creativity, and control differs in important ways from Patton’s interpretation of Deleuze’s thought on cinema. On Patton’s reading, the pessimism Godard expresses regarding gender roles in Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie) is merely a pretext for a redemptive reading of a becoming-woman, which prescribes an ethico-aesthetics of an “affective optimism and affirmation of life. (additionally – it is because Patton applies Deleuzean concepts to Sauve Qui Peut, that I term this an ‘affirmationist’ interpretation). Thus, what is essential according to Patton’s reading of Deleuze’s thinking regarding cinema is the following assertion:
“Deleuze and Guattari accord an ethical and ontological priority to those modes of existence which allow the maximum degree of movement, for example, forms of nomadism or rhizomes. In this sense, their philosophy embodies a vital ethic which affirms the creative power of life, even if this is something a non-organic life tracing the kind of abstract line we find in art or music.” (Patton, ‘Godard/Deleuze: Sauve Qui Peut‘)
As we will see, Patton’s interpretation of Godard, and use of Deleuze, simply reintroduces Platonism back into the heart of Deleuze’s thoroughly anti-Platonist commitments – whether considered within the domain of philosophy, art, science, or politics. By grounding Deleuze’s vitalism on the principle of life’s inherent creativity, Patton proposes a “Deleuzean” ethics and politics whose fundamental aim is the application of these metaphysical, social, and aesthetic principles (becoming-x, lines of flight, and so on) within the domains of art and politics. And it is precisely this idea of taking what is metaphysically True as the means and application what is aesthetically and politically Good, that is the trademark of Platonism. It is for this reason that we will claim that Patton reintroduces Platonism back into Deleuze’s strict anti-Platonism.
-THE AFFIRMATIONIST INTERPRETATION-
So what are we to make of Patton’s claim that Deleuze and Guattari give ethical and ontological priority to modes of maximizing one’s degrees of movement (rhizomes, nomads), such that this priority is tantamount to an affirmation of the creative powers of life as such? On Patton’s reading, what is key for understanding Deleuze’s relationship to cinema is his lasting commitment to the priority of a maximization of joyful encounters over and against the secondary fact of what is created in the process itself. The affirmationist interpretation categorizes the ‘creative powers of life’ as the principle of revolutionary aesthetic and political praxis and relegates life’s products as the consequence of what exists as ontologically, artistically, and politically prior. Thus Godard’s Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie), which Patton reads as emblematic of Deleuze’s aesthetic theory, is presented as a meditation on the ambiguities at the heart of masculine and feminine social roles; or, better still, as a presentation of gender as a zone of indistinction where the norms that underpin the gender binary are called into question. For Patton, it is precisely the unresolved dilemma regarding masculine social norms that gives one the impression of Godard’s pessimism regarding young men in post war France. However, this pessimistic impression of masculinity is only a pretext for the optimism that lies in the potential of a becoming-woman. As Patton writes,
“this pessimism about the male condition is not only circumscribed but contrasted with an optimism about life, albeit a life which has become feminine…The result is an affective optimism and affirmation of life which attaches itself above all to images of women engaged in an active becoming of their own.”
Thus, what first appears as Godard’s pessimism is simply indicative of a more fundamental optimism; an optimism that requires an affirmation of the becoming-woman at the heart of the dilemma of masculinity as such. Moreover, this becoming-woman isn’t simply taken as the becoming-minor at the heart of the molar identities of masculine/feminine. By invoking the Godardardian principle, ‘not just ideas, just ideas’, Patton reads this becoming-minor as being privileged by Deleuze and Guattari since lines of flight and becomings are creative in themselves and harbor the potential for transformation and novelty. For Patton, a cinema or politics that operates by way of correct ideas (just ideas), as opposed to just having ideas, tends toward the ossification of power and the repetition of all the pitfalls already exhibited by historical communism. That is, Deleuze and Guattari view correct ideas as privileging “conformism and dogmatism.” Thus, according to Patton, they maintain “a rejection of any subordination to intellectual authority which inhibits creativity.”
This is the crux of the affirmationist interpretation: lines of flight, becoming-minor, rhizome-books, and so forth, are taken to be axiomatic to Deleuze (and Guattari’s) understanding of aesthetics, ethics, and politics. For Patton, anything that inhibits the creative potential of these lines of flight is seen as reactionary pure and simple. While Patton’s interpretation contains some kernel of textual truth, errors arise insofar as Deleuze and Guattari are interpreted as valorizing becoming and transformation for its own sake and on the basis of the idea that the creative powers of life are the ethico-political guideposts for aesthetic and political practices.
The affirmationist interpretation correctly highlights Deleuze’s emphasis on ambiguity, lines of flight, and the inherent quality of resistance in artistic production. However, this interpretation misconstrues how Deleuze views the emancipatory potential of each of these categories within cinema itself. That is, and against the affirmationist interpretation, not only does Patton commit himself to an approach to cinema that Deleuze explicitly rejects (applying concepts from outside cinema, and in this case from the Deleuzean corpus, to bear on cinema itself); Patton misunderstands Deleuze’s vitalism, which is in fact a theory of time and not a theory of some universal life force, and thereby conflates a faith in life’s inherent creativity with an aesthetico-political concept of resistance, change, and liberation. Regarding this discrepancy between vitalism as a theory of life or a theory of time, John Mullarkey’s genealogy of the vitalism Deleuze inherits from Bergson is crucial. As he writes,
“It takes only a little first-hand knowledge of Bergson’s texts to enable oneself to move beyond the stereotypical interpretation of Bergsonian vitalism as a notion regarding some mysterious substance or force animating all living matter. His theory of the élan vital has little of the anima sensitiva, archeus, entelechy, or vital fluid of classical vitalisms. This is a critical vitalism focused on life as a thesis concerning time (life is continual change and innovation) as well as an explanatory principle in general for all the life sciences” (‘Life, Movement and the Fabulation of the Event,’p. 53).
Thus, since Patton maintains that vitalism is a theory of life as opposed to time, his affirmationist interpretation simply perpetuates the idea that Deleuze satisfied himself with following whatever is the most deviant, the most subversive, and the most minor in philosophy, art, and politics on the basis that deviancy, subversiveness, and minority are desirable-in-themselves precisely because they are metaphysically guaranteed features of reality. On this view one affirms their becoming-minor and the subversiveness it entails simply because it accords to the higher metaphysical claim of life’s inherent creativity. That is to say, insofar as our aesthetic and political engagements exist as perfect copies of the metaphysical and vitalist principle of creativity, we can safely judge actions as aesthetically, ethically, and politically virtuous, or revolutionary. At this point we should pause to highlight at least 3 themes that are equivocated, which allow the affirmationist interpretation to function: vitalism, the affirmation of life as tantamount to the production of novelty, and the status of indeterminacy/indistinction as effected by cinema itself.
Deleuze’s ‘vitalism’ is not reducible to a theory about the inherent capacities of life as creative. Rather, it is a theory of the nature of time and time’s foundational relation to space. It is the problem posed by the nature of time, moreover, that is precisely what motivates Deleuze’s voyage into cinema. As he writes,
“Time is out of joint: Hamlet’s words signify that time is no longer subordinated to movement, but rather movement to time. It could be said that, in its own sphere, cinema has repeated the same experience, the same reversal, in more fast-moving circumstances…the post-war period has greatly increased the situation which we no longer know how to react to, in spaces which we no longer know how to describe…Even the body is no longer exactly what moves; subject of movement or the instrument of action, it becomes rather the developer of time, it shows time through its tiredness and waitings” (Cinema 2, p. xi).
The interpretation that sees a vitalism at work within Deleuze’s analysis of cinema is correct insofar as what is meant by vitalism is the problem posed by the nature of time to philosophy, art, politics, and science. It is for this reason that Bergson becomes an instructive thinker for Deleuze’s turn to cinema since what preoccupied Bergson, and what Deleuze finds at work in post-war cinema, is precisely the attempt to reverse the classical idea which thinks the reality of time as subordinate to, and dependent upon, the nature of space.
As Deleuze (following Bergson) makes clear the intelligibility of Life-in-itself is never grasped, as Aristotle thought, through the definition of time as the measure of movement in space; a definition which posits the essence and actuality of time as dependent upon space for its own existence. Thus, if time is not ontologically dependent on space as Bergson maintains; and if time is not reducible to the linear progression of the measure of movement; then this conception of time-itself requires a reconceptualization of the very lexicon of temporality: the past, present, and future. In Creative Evolution, Bergson gives his refutation of interpreting Life in terms of finality/final causes, and it is here where Bergson offers the means for a transvaluation of our temporal lexicon. On the ‘Finalist’ or teleological account of the reality of Time, the future finds its reality in the past and present, follows a certain order, and is guaranteed due to first principles. Thus, for the finalists, the future remains fixed and dependent upon the linear progression of time. For Bergson, the future is precisely that which does not depend on the linear progression of time for its own reality. In this way we can understand that for both Bergson and post-war cinema, the nature of time can no longer be understood as derivative of space as such.
Rather, time must now be thought as that which conditions the reality of movement and space. And this can be achieved in cinema, says Deleuze, precisely by doing something only cinema can do. That is, by film’s capacity to produce a disjunct between the visual and the audible aspects of film: “The relations…between what is seen and what is said, revitalize the problem [of time] and endow cinema with new powers for capturing time in the image” (C2, p. xiii). If the ‘vital’ creativity of cinema is fundamental for Deleuze’s understanding of cinema, it is the case only insofar as cinema provides us with the means to no longer think of time as subordinate to space but as the problem that motivates and determines space itself. It for this reason that Deleuze will mark the shift from the movement-image to the time-image at the precise moment when cinema reformulated the problem posed to its filmic characters:
“if the major break comes at the end of the war, with neorealism, it’s precisely because neorealism registers the collapse of sensory-motor schemes: characters no longer “know” how to react to situations that are beyond them, too awful, or too beautiful, or insoluble…So a new type of character appears. But, more important, the possibility appears of temporalizing the cinematic image: pure time, a little bit of time in its pure form, rather than motion” (Negotiations, p. 59).
Thus, what motivates Deleuze to bring Bergson’s theorization of time to bear on cinema is precisely because what we discover (whether in Bergson or in cinema) is that time is both the object of Thought and cinema and the productive principle of any actualized and lived reality. Thus, the vitalist tendencies of Deleuze’s remarks on cinema should not be seen as a theorization of the creative powers of life. If vitalism is somehow a theory regarding what is principally creative within the world, it is not ‘Life’ but time-as-such that is creative. Moreover, what is produced by time-itself and cinema’s time-image is problematic in nature. Thus, not only is vitalism a theory about time (and not life); time-as-such does not produce something that can easily be judged as good or bad; virtuous or vicious. Rather, time produces problems for us; problems whose solutions can only be determined insofar as Thought and cinema pose the problem truthfully as opposed to preoccupying itself with false problems.
If Deleuze’s vitalism is a theory of time and the problem posed by Time for Thought and cinema, then the ‘creative powers’ attributed to this vitalism must also undergo redefinition. The interpretation of Deleuze’s aesthetic and political theory as one that seeks to adequate, in thought and praxis, Life’s inherent creativity and novelty fails to account for Deleuze’s anti-Platonism, where the relationship between models and copies is jettisoned for the relationship between simulacra and the Idea-problems to which they are indexed. As Deleuze writes in Difference and Repetition regarding the relationship between optimism and the relationship between Thought and its Ideas/problems:
“The famous phrase of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, ‘mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve’, does not mean that the problems are only apparent or that they are already solved, but, on the contrary, that the economic conditions of a problem determine or give rise to the manner in which it finds a solution within the framework of the real relations of the society. Not that the observer can draw the least optimism from this, for these ‘solutions’ may involve stupidity or cruelty, the horror of war or ‘the solution of the Jewish problem’. More precisely, the solution is always that which a society deserves or gives rise to as a consequence of the manner in which, given its real relations, it is able to pose the problems set within it and to it by the differential relations it incarnates” (Difference and Repetition, p. 186).
Thus, the idea of simply pursuing various lines of actualization vis-á-vis a specific set of Ideas/problems, thereby embodying the perfect copy of the creative potential of the problems posed to us by life itself, is seen as suspect by Deleuze himself if for no other reason than what is given to Thought in the Idea-Problem is every possible solution. Every possible solution includes, as seen in the passage above, both the horrors of fascism and the aspiration of social and political liberation.
If, as Patton encourages us to believe, Deleuze’s aesthetic/political theory simply amounts to affirming the novelty of life, we would commit ourselves to the position of accepting every solution to social and political problems. While it is true for Deleuze that Idea-problems pose every possible solution from the outset it is also the case that each possible solution to an Idea-problem can be actualized only on the condition that one solutions unfolding (explication) maintains an incompossible relation to all other solutions. Solutions to a problem, thus, are actualized according to their exclusive disjunction with an Idea-problems other possibilities. This thesis of incompossibility in regards to the relation between problems and their resolution is what is at stake when Deleuze writes:
“The I and the Self…are immediately characterised by functions of development or explication: not only do they experience qualities in general as already developed in the extensity of their system, but they tend to explicate or develop the world expressed by the other, either in order to participate in it or to deny it (I unravel the frightened face of the other, I either develop it into a frightening world the reality of which seizes me, or I denounce its unreality)” (DR, p. 260).
However, why have we said that Patton’s affirmationist interpretation reintroduces Platonism into Deleuze’s thought? For the following reason: once we understand that Deleuze’s vitalism is a theory of time and not a theory of life; and once we grasp that what time produces are Idea-problems prior to their resolution; the priority given to Idea-Problems by Deleuze can only be a priority of metaphysical and epistemic inquiry and not moral in character. Patton’s affirmationist interpretation, which takes Idea’s as a legislative-model for ethical, political, or aesthetic action reintroduces Platonism in the heart of Deleuze’s thought since the equation of metaphysics (Idea/model) with politics (claimant/copy) necessarily entails the logic of the good and bad copy, the true and false claimant. Patton’s reading reintroduces what is inessential to Ideas (moral criteria of judgment) back into their essence (qualitatively different claimants to an Idea), and thereby reduces what is truly creative for Thought (Problems) to something to be subjected to ready-made criteria (Image of Thought):
“This Platonic wish to exorcise simulacra is what entails the subjection of difference. For the model can be defined only by a positing of identity as the essence of the Same…and the copy by an affection of internal resemblance, the quality of the Similar…Plato inaugurates and initiates because he evolves within a theory of Ideas which will allow the deployment of representation. In his case, however, a moral motivation in all its purity is avowed: the will to eliminate simulacra or phantasms has no motivation apart from the moral” (DR, p. 265).
Thus, it is only by the confusion of the ontological and epistemic with the aesthetic and political, that Patton’s affirmationist reading reintroduces Plato’s moralism back into Deleuze’s philosophy of Difference.
The third and final point regarding the status of indeterminacy/falsity in cinema as presented in the affirmationist approach can be seen in the following passage. For Patton, and regarding the status of normative gender roles in Sauve Qui Peut, Godard, “offers no solution to this dilemma of masculinity…Ultimately, this pessimism about the male condition is not only circumscribed but contrasted with an optimism about life, albeit a life which has become feminine…The result is an affective optimism and affirmation of life which attaches itself above all to images of women engaged in an active becoming of their own.” What is missing from Patton’s account, however, is the precise relationship between the indeterminacy of social norms as seen in Sauve Qui Peut as they relate to what cinema’s time-image achieves: namely, the power of falsity that reintroduces indeterminacy/indistinction (molecular) into that which remains determinate and distinct (molar). As Deleuze writes, “[T]he power of falsity is time itself, not because time has changing contents but because the form of time as becoming brings into question any formal model of truth” (N, p. 66).
Thus, if Godard resists resolving the dilemma of masculinity, it is not because there is no answer to the problem of hetero-patriarchy. Rather, it is because only by making the determinate/distinct into something indeterminate/indistinct that cinema moves beyond merely representing different solutions of a problem to the immediate presentation of the problem via the time-image. It is time (as the form of becoming) that creates the indistinct and undecidable character of the lived reality of hetero-patriarchy in Sauve Qui Peut; and Godard achieves this in cinema through a direct presentation of a problem over and against the presentation of its various solutions. Remarking upon this relationship between truth and falsity, indistinction and undecidability, Deleuze remarks,
“The real and the unreal are always distinct, but the distinction isn’t always discernible: you get falsity when the distinction between real and unreal becomes indiscernible. But, where there’s falsity, truth itself becomes undecidable. Falsity isn’t a mistake or confusion, but a power that makes truth undecidable” (N, p. 65-6).
The powers of the false; the immediate presentation of a problem; renders truth undecidable and the relation of the true and the false indiscernible precisely because this immediate presentation of a problem “brings into question any formal model of truth. This is what happens in the cinema of time” (N, p. 66). Just as the philosopher cannot hope for any optimism in their proper orientation toward Ideas, the filmmaker does not predict any certain or clear solution in their immediate presentation of a problem. For both philosopher and filmmaker, the true posing of Idea-problems troubles our ready-made models because, as Deleuze says of Godard in an interview, “the key thing is the questions Godard asks and the images he presents and a chance of the spectator feeling that notion of labor isn’t innocent, isn’t at all obvious.” Insofar as philosopher’s pose true problems and create concepts adequate to them; insofar as filmmakers present problems in their immediacy in terms of the time-image; each creates something which no longer allows others to treat ideas, concepts, or images as ready-made, neutral, and naturally given features of the world. The posing of true problems in thought and cinema is the genesis of a concept, or artwork, that disrupts our habituated modes of thinking, feeling, and approaching the world (i.e., the dogmatic image of thought). The power of falsification is cinema’s capacity to render what we take to be obvious, ready-made, or second nature as alien and no longer a fixed socio-political certainty. The powers of the false and a cinema of undecidability, then, are Godard’s means of effecting a becoming since he “brings into question any formal model of truth.”
So, if Sauve Qui Peut offers no solution to the problem posed by hetero-patriarchy and thus remains indeterminate; and if this problem reveals the condition of masculinity as being one that requires a becoming-woman; the indistinctness/undecidability of becoming-as-such is much more a counter-actualization rather than an actualization of a solution with respect to its problem. The main consequence of Patton’s equation between the (ontologically) True with the (ethically) Good or (politically) Just results in a case of misplaced concreteness; whereby Deleuze appears to valorize the simply extension/application of ontological truth into the realm of aesthetico-political activity. Here we find a Deleuze who would never have found troubling the moralism at the heart of Platonism; who never would have written that philosophers and filmmakers alike should follow the maxim that says “Don’t have just ideas, just have an idea (Godard).”
4. The Affirmationist Interpretation
Given what has been shown regarding the themes of vitalism, novelty/creativity, and ambiguity/falsity, we can summarize Patton’s affirmationist interpretation of Deleuze in the following manner: by treating vitalism as a theory of life and life’s inherent creative powers Patton proposes a Deleuzean ethics and politics whose fundamental aim is the application of metaphysical and epistemic principles (becoming-x, lines of flight, and so on) within the domains of art and politics. However, as we have seen, this interpretation reintroduces Platonism back into Deleuze’s strictly anti-Platonic thinking regarding the relationship between Ideas, the possible solutions they propose, and the thinkers relation to the two. It is for these reasons that he interprets ‘the creative powers life’ (Idea-problems) as ready-made criteria for the judgement between good and bad copies, between better or worse claimants to an Idea. Thus, on this reading of Deleuze, what is ‘True’ regarding the nature and structure of reality (inherent creativity of life) is also interpreted as what is ‘Good’ for individual and social life. And it is on this basis that Patton can claim that the essence of Deleuze’s political commitments can be summarized as a repudiation of anything that inhibits modes maximization of movement and creative powers.
Hence our nomination of Patton’s reading of Deleuze as Platonic by nature – when the True is also the Good we should know that we are not far from discovering a Plato in our midst. Additionally, even at the moment when Patton’s reading seems to gain most support from his analysis of gender roles within Godard’s film his proposal of a becoming-woman at the heart of a perceived pessimism regarding young men (while true) remains at the level of the most basic generality. In other words, lines-of-flight may give us insight into the available means for the subversion of power or the escape from control, but lines-of-flight are not inherently revolutionary. And it is this principle – that lines-of-flight, deterritorialization, smooth space are not inherently revolutionary – that Patton’s analysis leaves out. As Deleuze and Guattari constantly remind us, “smooth spaces are not in themselves liberatory” (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 500).
Thus, our suspicion of Patton’s interpretation stems from the claim that Deleuze’s preoccupation with Idea-problems is not simply a continuation of their Platonic ancestors. On this affirmationist/Platonist interpretation, Deleuze appears to locate the creativity and novelty of art (and Godard’s cinema in particular) at the register of the cinematic representation of specific concepts (lines of flight, becoming-woman, becoming-minor). It is in this way that Patton reads the pessimism which Godard expresses regarding gender roles as a mere pretext for the redemptive theme of becoming-woman. And it is precisely the cinematic representation of the redeeming theme of becoming-woman that Patton takes to be Deleuze’s own prescription of an ethico-politico-aesthetics that can be adequately summarized as an “affective optimism and affirmation of life.” However, if philosophy and cinema are creative insofar as they can pose a problem correctly (falsification), an optimism or affirmation of life does not follow necessarily since it is precisely the distinction and determination of truth and falsity, the real and the unreal, that is rendered undecidable by problems themselves. The activity of philosophy and filmmaking follows a different outcome, whereby each individual cannot draw the least amount of optimism from solutions of the problem, since as Deleuze continuously reminds us, the solutions of a problem may involve stupidity or cruelty, the horror of war or ‘the solution of the Jewish problem.’