What do filmgoers want? A girl and a gun.
– Jean-Luc Godard
[ What follows is the completed version of a series of earlier posts on Deleuze and cinema ]
The aim of this essay is to interrogate the relationship between Deleuze’s concepts of Idea, creativity, and control societies, alongside its interpretation by Paul Patton and Godard’s efficacy at giving these concepts their proper audio-visual form in cinema. By means of Godard’s Alphaville, we will demonstrate how Deleuze’s understanding of the relation between Ideas, creativity, and control differs in important ways from the interpretation offered by Patton. Using Alphaville as the means to distinguish between Patton’s and Deleuze’s own thought on cinema will be useful for two main reasons. First and foremost it is with Alphaville that Godard would achieve in cinema what Deleuze only put to paper late in his life: the presentation and analysis of a society of control with its specific power dynamics and affective determination of the mass individual. Second, highlighting this point of convergence between artist and philosopher will serve as the grounds for our engagement with the widely accepted ‘affirmationist’ interpretation of Deleuze’s thought; an interpretation that treats the ‘intensification of differences’ as ontologically correct and the proper socio-political guideposts for any kind of intentional resistance to the advances made by capital.
This interpretation is clearest seen in Paul Patton’s, ‘Godard/Deleuze: Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie).’ For Patton, 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 Deleuzian concepts to Sauve Qui Peut, that I term this an ‘affirmationist’ interpretation). For Patton, what is essential for Deleuze’s thinking regarding cinema is succinctly stated as follows: 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. As we will see in what follows, 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 “Deleuzian” 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. As is well known, it is precisely this idea of taking what is metaphysically True as the means for executing what is aesthetically and politically Good that is the trademark of Platonism.
In order to understand the discrepancy between the Platonism of Patton and anti-Platonism of Deleuze, Godard’s Alphaville will serve as a link between the two. Alphaville serves as the aesthetico-political test to which we must subject Deleuze’s and Patton’s thoughts regarding cinema since it not only represents a society of (cybernetic) control, thereby posing the problem of how one escapes, evades, or subverts such social conditions. Additionally, by viewing Godard, Patton, and Deleuze through the lens of the aesthetico-political determination of the ideas of control, creativity, resistance, we will get a better sense of how our interpretation of Deleuze draws the portrait of a thinker better suited for analyzing societies of control and constructing various means of true resistance, while Patton’s interpretation reads into the works of Deleuze a kind of willful collapse of metaphysics into politics, where by the truths of the former become the ends to be realized in the latter.