The Girl With the Bomb, The Guardian of Dynamite: Notes on the politics of becoming-woman

poetical licence

Excerpt from a piece on D&G, gender, struggle, and communism as the real movement that abolishes itself and the present state of things

 

1. Identifying the Girl of Russian Terrorism

In the tenth chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, ‘1730: Becoming-intense, becoming-animal…’, one is presented with a sequence of memories and drawn from such a diversity of individuals and conceptual-personae that the sequence itself appears to make very little sense if read as one single extended argument for Deleuze and Guattari’s particular understanding of becoming. Rather, what we encounter are the memories of a Spinozist, a theologian, a sorcerer, and a plan(e) maker, among others. However, buried near the middle of the chapter, in the section entitled ‘Memories of a Molecule‘, where we encounter a discussion on the role of becoming-woman and the figure of the (universal) girl as they relate to both becoming in general and becomings within the domain of politics and history. Thus they write: “The special role of the girl in Russian terrorism: the girl with the bomb, the guardian of dynamite?[1]

While it is clear that, at least for Deleuze and Guattari, the girl of Russian terrorism played the role of the guardian of the bomb and of dynamite, what is not at all clear is the reason for why they attribute this special role to the girl in the first place. Is it simply a case of elevating what is particular (in this case to Russian history) in order to treat it as a general principle or maxim? And should it not strike us as strange that Deleuze and Guattari give any example at all–let alone that of the girl of Russian terrorism–since it would present what is tempting in the error of conflating becoming with imitation or role-play, and instead of employing the girl as the means of instituting a break with one’s present material conditions (and which one of us hasn’t encountered a situation where they start to desire, whether from desperation or insomniac exhaustion, a revival of the Red Army Faction or Red Brigades? Or succumb to the hallucination that abolishing capital can be achieved simply through replicating the structure and organization created by the Zapatistas or even the YPG?).

Now, one possible interpretation would be to try and locate the reasons and causes that lead Deleuze and Guattari to attribute speciality to this ‘role of the girl in Russian terrorism’ wholly within the political movements and traditions of Russia itself. The temptation of this reading is that it’s method leads one directly to a rich and largely forgotten dimension of the individuals and organizations that helped pave the way for the atmosphere of the 1917 revolution. Proceeding in this manner, one immediately encounters lives women such as the one of Maria Spiridonova:

On 16 January 1906 at the Borisoglebsk railroad station in Tambov province, 21-year-old Mariya Aleksandrovna Spiridonova, daughter of a non-hereditary noble and member of the Socialist-Revolutionary (SR) Party, shot and fatally wounded provincial government councilor Gavriil Nikolaevich Luzhenovskiy, the security chief of the Borisoglebsk district as well as a leader of the Tambov branch of the right-wing Union of the Russian People. The Tambov SR committee had sentenced Luzhenovskiy to die “for his criminal flogging to death and excessive torturing of peasants during the agrarian and political dis- orders” of the autumn of 1905, as Spiridonova afterward explained in her deposition to Tambov court authorities. “In full agreement with this sentence and in full consciousness of my action,” she stated, “I took it on myself to carry out this sentence.”[2]

However, as an unintended consequence of this view is the very discovery of what was special about the girl of Russian terrorism is at the same time the qualities neutralization. For if this quality only belongs to Russian terrorism between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, what are we to understand when Deleuze and Guattari write that they are “certain that molecular politics proceeds via the girl and the child.”[3]

Conversely, one could read ‘the girl of Russian terrorism,’ with her special function as a function relative to the war-machine to which it belongs. That is, the part played by this girl of Russian terrorism can also be found in struggles outside of the Russian context; the special role, then, would simply arise from the requirements of any struggle undertaken against the State. On this view, what is special about the girl exceeds the historical cases one may find in Russia at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century of armed struggle and direct action against a Tsarist state. What is special to the girl in Russian terrorism is only what allows her to institute becomings in the midst of overall capture by the State and its generalized stratification in accord with the universal axiom of capital (produce for the market). As Deleuze and Guattari put it, “The girl is like the block of becoming that remains contemporaneous to each opposable term, man, woman, child, adult. It is not the girl who becomes a woman; it is becoming-woman that produces the universal girl.”[4] 

The special role of the girl in Russian terrorism, then, is the fact that she functions as that which maintains or initiates processes of destratification, deterritorialization, molecular becomings, and searches for what is potentially liberatory in lines of flight. Thus, it is true that the quality proper to this girl of Russian terrorism is a general feature of the kind of subjectivity defined as a war-machine; it is seen in every action taken by the war-machine and confront the (actual or virtual) State by means of what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘the three virtues’: the impersonal, imperceptible, and indiscernible. To further emphasize the irreducibility of the girl’s significance with respect to the historical and material conditions at the turn of the century Russia, we turn our attention to another example where we encounter, once more, this special role of the girl (i.e. her function as transport and guardian of explosives): the anti-colonial struggle undertaken by the National Liberation Front (F.L.N.).

2. When becoming-woman transforms into our collective imperceptibility

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With the F.L.N., we encounter once again the phenomena of how girls with bombs act as partisans of an anti-colonial war-machine. In other words, if the girl of Russian terrorism effectuates a becoming-woman that is also at work in the context of the F.L.N.’s struggle against Algeria’s colonial occupation by France it is because becoming-woman is fundamentally an attribute belonging, not to any particular historico-political movement, but to the deterritorializing function of the war-machine wherever it takes hold. It is only by understanding how it is only in the presence of a war-machine that we may speak of becoming-woman as one of its constituent parts. It is in this way that we get a better sense as to why Deleuze and Guattari claim that the becomings that constitute political struggles against the State find ‘their necessary condition [in] the becoming-woman of the warrior, or his alliance with the girl, his contagion with her’; to understand why it is that ‘the man of war is inseparable from the Amazons.’[5] 

In scenes such as the one above, taken from Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, Pontecorvo shows his audience how F.L.N. women succeed in infiltrating the French quartiers of Algiers–a task made especially difficult since these areas of the city were surveilled and protected by French police checks. Thus, this scene’s significance is due to its depiction of the necessary relationship between the girl-as-guardian-of-the-bomb and the war machine in itself. And regarding such scenes, Peter Matthews formulates the function of the FLN women as follows:

The acid test of this comes in the unforgettable sequence where three Algerian women plant bombs at various crowded hangouts in the French quarter. Masquerading as loose-living Europeans, carrying mortality in a shopping basket, they would be sinister femmes fatales in another context…If we can accept the grievous necessity of these deaths, then we consent to everything. Pontecorvo has penetrated our Western self-absorption and let in the harsh light of reality.[6]

Now, aside from the fact that Matthews’ sentimentalism regarding the actions of the three Algerian women, his is a reaction that is of no use for understanding the relationship between gender, sex, and revolutionary struggle. It must be said, however, that what we find misleading in Matthews’ account of the FLN’s very own ‘femme fatales’ is the claim that affirming the violence enacted by the FLN means that we affirm a politics that ‘consents to everything’ by necessity. Allying with the FLN isn’t to consent to a situation where anything is permissible. Rather, the logic of the FLN war machine is precisely the logical steps colonized subjects must take for their collective emancipation.

The horror that ‘we consent to everything’ simply masks the fact that it is only by going to war that the colonized has any chance at liberation. Thus, more than some fear regarding the loss of morality in colonial contexts we are obliged to underscore the reappearance of that ‘special role of the girl’ Deleuze and Guattari found in Russian terrorism. Now, however, this girl finds herself far from Russia and on African shores; here she runs and hides in the alleyways of the casbah in order to evade capture and continue the anti-colonial struggle. And what of becoming-woman in all this? And the ‘special role’ of the girl related to the aims of the war machine? If it is the case, as D&G claim, that waging war is the best means of warding off state, then the function of becoming-woman is to aid the war machine in ensuring the non-existence, or abolition of, the State:

just as Hobbes saw clearly that the State was against war, so war is against the State, and makes it impossible. It is should not be concluded that war is a state of nature [an error that grounds Matthews’ fear], but rather that it is the mode of a social state that wards off and prevents the State.[7]

Unlike Matthews, D&G understand it as imperative, in the confrontation between the FLN and the colonial violence of France, to differentiate the actions of each from the other in order not to confuse or conflate both. Consequently, for D&G, this means that we lack any right/legitimacy in saying that only a state of nature exists (as implied by Matthews) between the war machine and the State since it’s a confrontation the nature of which ‘consents to everything’; a confrontation wherein the actions of both the FLN and France can only be treated as having equal ethico-political value. If the FLN constructed its own war-machine and correlating becoming-woman, it means, then, that the actions of the FLN and France are not only unequal; more importantly, they are incommensurable with each other. As seen in the passage above, it is the State that seeks to prevent war while it is the war machine that seeks to prevent the existence of States. If the actions of the FLN and the State cannot be treated as equal, it is because their respective political projects involve the mutual exclusion of their opposite. While it may be the case, objectively speaking, that the colonial context held open a number of possible resolutions to anti-colonial struggles (liberation, neo-colonialism, genocide), for the FLN liberation was always the only legitimate option.

 

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 277
[2] Boniece, ‘The “Shesterka” of 1905-06’
[3] ATP, p. 277

[4] Ibid.
[5] ATP, p. 278
[6] Matthews, ‘Bombs and Boomerangs’
[7] ATP, p. 357

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Deleuze, Patton, and Godard go to the Cinema

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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.

1. Vitalism

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.

2. Novelty/Creativity

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.

3. Indeterminacy/Falsity

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.’

Between Cinema & Philosophy

alphaville-1
“There are ideas in cinema that can only be cinematographic. These ideas are engaged in a cinematographic process and are consecrated to that process in advance” – Deleuze, What is a creative act?

[…an excerpt from an essay on Deleuze, Godard, and control societies…]

In 1987 Deleuze delivered a talk on the topic of the creative production of works of art; specifically regarding creative acts as engendered in cinema and their difference from other creative endeavors such as philosophy and science. In this lecture, Deleuze develops a framework around the question of creative acts and their instantiation in different domains of activity through the language of “having ideas in” cinema, philosophy, etc., as opposed to having ideas about the works produced in each discipline. It will be clear from what follows that having an idea in cinema and philosophy amounts to combatting a set of habituated expectations (audience) and produced art objects (artist). If it is already well known that regarding philosophy Deleuze attributes the creative element of Thought to its antagonism against dogmatic Images of Thought (all those bad habits of cognition that treats reflection and recognition as synonymous with Thought and a thinking of difference-itself); regarding film, and aesthetics more generally, the creative element of artistic production combats ready-made images, the narrative presentation of images insofar as it is communicative and informative, and the celebration of the rote and banal development of the narrative structure at the expense of using cinema as a medium to present, interrogate, and pose questions that contain the force of necessity for both filmmaker and audience alike.

However, insofar as having an idea “in” cinema is not the same as having an idea “in” philosophy, for example, Deleuze intends to signal that cinematic ideas are necessarily bound up with the cinematographic process. However having an idea “in” cinema isn’t simply a solution to questions such as: How does one go about filming a society of control? What does this world look like? How best to present the lived reality of the citizens of Alphaville and the stranger who visits this city? Simply put, the having of ideas “in” cinema is irreducible to, and cannot be confused with, the solutions to technical problems regarding the cinematographic process.

In addition, says Deleuze, to have an idea “in” cinema is not the same thing as communication or the transmission of messages between screen and audience: “to have an idea is not of the order of communication” (p. 104). For Deleuze, the communication and transmission of information is the circulation of order-words; the circulation of the fundamental elements of certain discursive regimes of power, which polices and/or attempts to render us normalized subjects vís-a-vís the process of Faciality. How does this relate to the ideas specific to film? Precisely because there is a difference between, on the one hand, a movie that produces its audience by means of positing what is most necessary and profound in the film. And on the other hand, a film that produces its audience by communicating information regarding plot and character development while jettisoning the opportunity to address the problems that the films characters encounter as the most profound and urgent questions that act as their raison d’etre. That is, by formulating the problem of necessity in film, filmmakers create the sufficient reason and significance that pertains to a specific set of  problems encountered in both cinema and the everyday aspects of social life as such.  

Thus, to have an idea “in” cinema means the fabrication, creation, or formulation of that which is most urgent and therefore most necessary regarding the film itself. For Deleuze, it is the fabrication and formulation of what is most necessary and profound that guarantees films designation as a creative activity: “A creator is not a being that works for pleasure; a creator does nothing but that which he has need to do” (p. 102). In order to see how it is possible to have an idea “in” cinema and not simply about cinema (opinion), Deleuze provides two examples of what it means to formulate and engaged with the question of necessity, or what presents itself as the most urgent problem in the world.

A). The Seven Samurai

Deleuze offers us the example of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai as it relates to themes taken up, in novel form, by Dostoyevsky. For both the filmmaker and the novelist; and what brings them into relation; their main characters live in a world where they constantly find themselves assailed by urgent situations. Whether it is the urgency of Dostoyevsky’s character who is called to tend to his dying beloved or it is Kurosawa’s samurai who find themselves torn between fulfilling their duty of defending a village or devoting their attention to the discovering the meaning of the samurai-in-itself, we find character’s in a world of necessity and urgency who are being weighed down by another, and more prior, preoccupation. This is a preoccupation  with what is merely urgent and important, but with what is the most urgent, and the most necessary. As Deleuze writes  

“The characters of the The Seven Samurai are taken by urgent situations. They have agreed to defend a village yet they are taken by a more profound question… “What is a Samurai? What is a Samurai, not in general, but what is a Samurai during this epoch?”…and throughout the film, despite the urgency of this question that is deserving of the Idiot – which is in fact the Idiot’s question: We Samurai, what are we? Here it is – I would call it an idea in cinema, it is a question of this type” (p. 103, my emphasis).

Here we see the idea proper to Kurosawa’s film: ‘What is a Samurai, today, in this historical context?’ Deleuze continues:“If Kurosawa can adapt Dostoyevsky, surely it is because he can say, “I have a common cause with him; we have a common problem; that exact problem.” Kurosawa’s characters are exactly in the same situation. They are taken by impossible situations. “Yes, there is a more urgent problem, but I have to know what problem is more urgent” (p. 103). Thus, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai confirms our earlier distinction between a film that produces its audience by means of necessity and a film that produces itself and its audience through the communication of information as the story develops along a plot line. Unlike The Seven Samurai that poses the existential and social question of the socio-historical function that is satisfied by the Samurai as social category, in films that operate by way of transmission follow a different logic:

“One communicates information, which is to say that we…are held from believing or not from believing, but to make believe that we are believing. Be careful: we are not being asked to believe. We are just being asked to behave as if we believe. This is information that is communication. And at the same time…there is in fact no communication. There is no information; this is exactly the system of control” (p. 105, emphasis added).

B). Between Speech from Image

Another instance of a cinematographic idea, can be found in the films of Sylberberg, Straub, or Marguerite Duras. What is common to these filmmakers is the following: each filmmaker creates “a disjunct between the visual and sound” (p. 104). It is through this incongruous relation of the audio and visual elements of film where we have, says Deleuze, “a purely cinematographic idea” (p. 104). This disjunction is a properly cinematographic idea insofar as it is something only cinema can accomplish. For example, Marguerite Duras’ Agatha and The Limitless Readings confronts its viewers with a dialogue between a woman and her brother on the one hand, and the images of beaches, avenues, and so forth, where the two characters in dialogue are completely absent from the screen. Unlike The Seven Samurai that makes explcit the gravity of the question ‘what is a samurai?’ Duras’ film engenders an idea ‘in’ cinema by doing something only cinema itself can accomplish – posing the problem of necessity, or presenting that which is of the utmost urgent/important matter for the characters, implicitly and without having to present the audience with the characters themselves. Regarding Duras’ work, Deleuze remarks:

“Simply stated, a voice speaks of one thing and we show something else…That which one is speaking about is actually underneath that which one is showing…To be able to speak simultaneously and to then put it underneath that which we see is necessary…The great filmmakers had this idea…That is a cinematographic idea” (p. 104).

For Deleuze, one can have an idea ‘in’ cinema in (at least) two ways. Either, by means of explicating the problem of necessity as we saw with Kurosawa, or by creating a disjunction between speech and image; by disrupting what we habitually expect in terms of a film’s audiovisual synchronization; disrupting our expectation of a one to one correspondence between speech and image (as seen with Duras).

Thus, if it is through cinema’s acts of creation; acts that are said to be acts of resistance according to Deleuze; when can we say the ideas created by filmmakers are also acts of resistance against the image of cinema as communicating information to an audience? It is clear that having an idea in cinema resists the cases where cinema falls back on the transmission of order-words; a situation where we are asked to behave like something other than the command to normalize and obey those commands is being communicated. This is the paradox of societies of control that Deleuze highlighted: it is a society based on the communication and transmission of information, where what is passed on is without content and simply an order, a command, or opportunity for the normalization of deviant subjectivities. If cinema can reasonably aspire to be an act of resistance against control society, it is because, following Deleuze’s remarks on Straub’s Not Reconciled,

“Her [the old schizophrenic woman] trace makes me realize the two sides of the act of resistance: it is human, and it is all an act of art. This is the only kind of resistance that resists death and order words, control, either under the guise of the work of art, or in the form of man’s struggles” (p. 107).

C). Two Kinds of Resistance: Political & Aesthetic

While it may be intuitive for our all-too Western sensibility to identify an act of resistance as something that appeals to, and defends, some set of inviolable characteristics that constitute a humanist emancipatory politics, it still appears odd (on first glance) that acts of resistance can qualify as resistant to control societies in terms of their simply being a ‘work of art.’ That is, as it appears in his talk, acts of resistance have at least two poles: the political and the aesthetic. The former aligns itself with the various forms of ‘man’s struggles’ against violence and subjugation while the latter aligns itself with the presentation of necessity through different mediums. Thus, and to briefly end on this question of the aesthetic category of resistance, it is instructive to turn to what Deleuze says regarding the paintings of Bacon and the painters tension with clichés:

“Clichés, clichés! The situation has hardly improved since Cézanne. Not only has there been a multiplication of images of every kind, around us and in our heads, but even the reactions against clichés are creating clichés” (The Logic of Sensation, 89).

What Deleuze identified as one more obstacle for Bacon to overcome (the cliché) is already at work in his distinction between a film that poses the problem of necessity for an audience and a film that simply communicates and transmits information to its viewers. The cliché for painters are the order-words for filmmakers. In either case, works of art qualify as aesthetic acts of resistance insofar as they produce their audience in a way that obstructs their reliance on habituated expectations and sensibilities regarding aesthetic experience as such.

The work of art as an act of resistance means the production of aesthetic experience, or an appeal to immediacy of the audible, visual, and sensible, in a manner that forecloses an individuals possibility to simply rely upon and perpetuate habituated ways of encountering a work of art. Thus, whether we consider Bacon’s paintings or the various filmmakers Deleuze makes reference to, what is always at stake is this fight against clichés; a fight against those ready-made, socio-culturally overcoded images, in order to afford us the possibility of thinking, feeling, and ultimately being in the world in a manner other than that encouraged and perpetuated by our present state of affairs. Aesthetic, as well as political, acts of resistance are thus revealed for what they are: a veritable re-education of our affects away from those moments of overcoding, capture, and/or our perpetuation of the violence inherent to norm of Faciality in the name of a collective refashioning of our affects that produces the powers (affect/be affected) of subjectivity in a way that does not require the subjugation of others in advance.