We Head for The Horizon and Return With Bloodshot Eyes (Brief Comments on the Plane of Immanence)

the great mosque of samarra

The question of the status of the plane of immanence has often been interpreted in a positive light. Namely, it is evident to the reader that ‘reaching the plane of immanence’ is portrayed as a virtue of the philosopher insofar as philosophy, understood as the creation of concepts, necessarily relies upon the plane on which philosophy’s concepts are brought into relation. As if to corroborate this interpretation, Deleuze and Guattari themselves write

“…Spinoza is the Christ of philosophers, and the greatest philosophers are hardly more than apostles who distance themselves from or draw near to this mystery. Spinoza, the infinite becoming-philosopher: he showed, drew up, and thought the “best” plane of immanence–that is, the purest, the one that does not hand itself over to the transcendent or restore any transcendent, the one that inspires the fewest illusions, bad feelings, and erroneous perceptions” (What is Philosophy? 60).

Thus the virtue of a thought adequate to its plane of immanence appears as self-evident, as something axiomatic; the inherent virtue of the plane of immanence seems to function as an analytic truth that is simply reiterated across the work of Deleuze, and his joint works with Guattari.

However, and against this view of the plane of immanence as both epistemic and ethico-political virtue, it is important to remind ourselves that while constructing the plane of immanence is a necessary condition for the creation of concepts (as philosophy’s presupposed non-conceptual, or pre-philosophical, correlate), this task carried out by thought cannot be the site of both epistemic virtue and ethico-political praxis. Why? For the very reason that, for Deleuze and Guattari, the importance of constructing a plane of immanence is not justified in terms of the ethical or political potential opened up by immanence as such. Rather, we must construct a plane of immanence since it is only in relation to the plane of immanence that concepts themselves take on significance and value for the thinker: “All concepts are connected to problems without which they would have no meaning and which can themselves only be isolated or understood as their solution emerges” (WP, 16).

The plane of immanence orients Thought in a way that allows the thinker to distinguish between true and false problems and thereby allows the thinker to formulate true as opposed to false problems. Unlike the portrait of Spinoza as the apex of the philosopher par excellence, Deleuze and Guattari’s contention is that while we all must strive toward the plane’s construction in our own thought, the plane of immanence itself appears as something wholly devoid of virtue and is not a model to guide collective praxis but a necessary condition for the creation of concepts. It is for this reason that Deleuze and Guattari do not hesitate to praise Spinoza’s fidelity to immanence while simultaneously laboring against the plane of immanence established by capitalism despite its necessary construction by someone such as Marx. Capital, as our specifically contemporary plane of immanence takes up certain tendencies from previous social forms in order to effect a world wide expansion. It is for this reason that we require a new construction of a place of immanence, since it is Capital that serves as the historical condition and futural horizon that determines the totality of planetary social life:

“A world market extends to the ends of the earth before passing into the galaxy: even the skies become horizontal. This is not a result of the Greek endeavor but a resumption, in another form and with other means, on a scale hitherto unknown, which nonetheless relaunches the combination for which the Greeks took the initiative–democratic imperialism, colonizing democracy. The European can, therefore, regard himself, as the Greek did, as not one psychosocial type among others but Man par excellence, and with much more expansive force and missionary zeal than the Greek” (WP, 97).

If the plane of immanence was simply the fusion of an epistemic requirement and political goal, there would be no way to understand their following assertion: “Concepts and plane are strictly correlative, but nevertheless the two should not be confused. The plane of immanence is neither a concept nor the concept of all concepts” (WP, 35-6). The plane is the nexus of problems that give significance and meaning to the concepts that come to populate it. In other words, and as Deleuze already noted as early as Difference and Repetition, the plane of immanence is the dialectic between Idea-Problems, on the one hand, and their possible solutions as incarnated by concepts, on the other. Once we understand that Deleuze and Guattari emphasize the need to discriminate the plane of immanence from its concepts, that we can no longer satisfy ourselves with the conflation between immanence and concept, problems and their solutions, the task of the philosopher and the task of politics:

“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” (DR, 186).

Thus, against the idea that a philosopher’s innocence or moral virtue is proportionate to the adequacy of their concepts and their construction of a plane of immanence, Deleuze and Guattari write,

“The plane of immanence is not a concept that is or can be thought but rather the image of thought, the image thought gives itself of what it means to think, to make use of thought, to find one’s bearings in thought…The image of thought implies a strict division between fact and right: what pertains to thought as such must be distinguished from contingent features of the brain or historical opinions….The image of thought retains only what thought can claim by right” (WP, 37).

The task, then, is to construct the image of thought adequate to our historical present since it is the plane itself that determines what Thought (and philosophy) can rightfully call it’s own, or properly understand its broader socio-political function in the present. However, if the plane of immanence is the Image of Thought, it is clear that a plane is only constructed in order to be overcome. It is for this reason that while Deleuze and Guattari emphasize the necessity of the plane of immanence, they ultimately assert that it is in light of the concepts philosophy can create (or the percepts and affects of art, or the functions of science) that we can overturn the image of thought itself. As Deleuze already understood, the “… ‘solvability’ [of a Problem] must depend upon an internal characteristic: it must be determined by the conditions of the problem, engendered in and by the problem along with the real solutions” (DR, 162).

Planes of immanence may be necessary, and we can acknowledge someone like Spinoza’s fidelity in his thoroughgoing construction as seen in his Ethics, while also acknowledging that it is only in the solutions within the plane that a philosophical/political praxis can emerge; whereby the emergence of a solution spells the overcoming of the plane/image of thought itself. In this way we should hear Marx in background of Deleuze; as Marx himself already understood “communism is not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself…but the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence” (German Ideology). Our fidelity to the construction a plane of immanence (taken as epistemic virtue), only gains in political utility insofar as the plane is constructed to its logical conclusion and the concepts created by the thinker within this plane is a solution that abolishes the present state of things…whose conditions (i.e. nexus of problems, plane of immanence established by capital) are already now in existence.

For what else did Deleuze mean when he praised the free reign of simulacra as the crowned anarchy at the end of his overturning of Platonism? The idea that the solutions to a problem; the instantiations of an Idea; neither resemble nor share in the essence of the problem-Idea to which they are indexed? Any position to the contrary and which posits solutions as sharing in the essence and remaining fundamentally identical to an Idea-problem, implicitly or explicitly commits one to a fatalism in the face of capital’s plane of immanence: There is no longer any available alternative solution to the problem posed by capital’s plane of immanence (neoliberalism). There is no longer such a thing as society (Thatcher). We have reached the end of history (Fukuyama), and the cause célèbre is this best of all possible worlds with the correct and justifiable amount of global suffering (Habermas).

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.