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.


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.’

Bergsonian Science-Fiction: Deleuze, Eshun, and Thinking the Reality of Time


“To be more precise, science fiction is neither forward-looking nor utopian. Rather, in William Gibson’s phrase, science fiction is a means through which to preprogram the present […] Science fiction operates through the power of falsification, the drive to rewrite reality, and the will to deny plausibility, while the scenario operates through the control and prediction of plausible alternative tomorrows.”

– Kodwo Eshun, ‘Further Considerations on Afrofuturism’

“A book of philosophy should be in part a very particular species of detective novel, in part a kind of science fiction…What this book should therefore have made apparent is the advent of a coherence which is no more our own, that of mankind, than that of God or the world. In this sense, it should have been an apocalyptic book (the third time in the series of times).”

– Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition

This short essay aims to draw a single connection, along the theme of time, between Kodwo Eshun, Gilles Deleuze, via their shared Bergsonian premises. To do this, we will begin with Bergson’s account of the correct and misguided ways of understanding the structure and nature of Time in and of itself. Additionally, we’ll see how there is an implicit connection between Deleuze’s remarks in Difference and Repetition regarding the ‘powers of the false,’ simulacra, and the constitution of time as being ‘out of joint’ in Deleuze’s Third Synthesis, with Eshun’s description of Afrofuturism and its relationship to dramatization, the exaggeration of features of the present to contest the present, and so forth.

Thus, we begin with their shared Bergsonian premises regarding the individual, historical, and metaphysical aspects of temporality in order illustrate that the primary illusion, which we must disabuse ourselves of in order to grasp the philosophical and political import of the reality of Time, is the assumption that Kodwo Eshun’s Afrofuturism and Deleuze’s philosophy of Difference remain preoccupied with the future as such; with novelty and the accelerated proliferation of differences for their own sake.

I). Bergson – Geometrical vs. Vital Time

For Bergson the problem that we face in understanding Life, duration, etc., is imposing what he called the ‘geometric’ order onto the ‘vital’ order of Life (cf. Creative Evolution). Bergson maintains that the intelligibility of Life-itself is never grasped, as Aristotle thought, through the assumption that time is the measure of movement in space, and thus asserting that the nature and existence of Time depends on the nature and existence of Space for its own reality. If Time is not ontologically dependent on space; and if time is not reducible to the linear progression of the measure of movement; then this conception of Time-itself requires us to reconceptualize 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. Here, Bergson offers the means for a transvaluation of our temporal lexicon. On the ‘Finalist’ account, 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 (as it is for Deleuze and Eshun, as we will see), the future is precisely that which does not depend on the linear progression of time for its own reality.

From the ‘vitalist’ perspective (contra the finalists), Bergson writes, “we see…that which subsists of the direct movement in the inverted movement, a reality which is making itself in a reality which is unmaking itself…” (CE, 248). Just as the epigraph of Eshun’s notes that Afrofuturism was never concerned with the future as such but with the relation between the alternate futures the present world makes possible; and just as Deleuze notes that the science fiction aspects of a ‘good’ book mirror his reading of Nietzsche’s untimeliness as wresting from the present a future which does not repeat the violence of the past and present; Bergson could be seen here as giving this vital theorization of Time in its most ‘pure’ or theoretical way. The vital, as opposed to geometric, comprehension of the reality and structure of time supplants its linear definition (that renders the future as pre-determined and existentially dependent upon the iron laws of the past) with an understanding of the mutual conditioning of the ‘is not/no longer’ of the past and the ‘immediate past/immediate future’ of the present as the means by which multiple (and virtual) futures are prized from the reality of Time by the nature and structure of Time-as-such. 

II). Deleuze’s Third Synthesis of Time & Eshun’s Afrofuturism

Thus, when Deleuze offers his Third and final Synthesis of Time; the ‘static and ordinal’ synthesis where time exists ‘out of joint’ and thus gives a new order/meaning to how we understand time cosmologically, historically, cultural, and individually; what constitutes Time’s ‘out-of-jointness’ is precisely this revaluation of the past, present, and future understood on the finalist/linear/geometrical conception of time (as measure of movement) where what is understood is that time’s ontological existence; time as it exists independent of human agency; has no concern for the future.

For Deleuze, the temporal development of life taken in its broadest sense does not care about the preservation of species or even the preservation of its own natural processes. Time, as it is constituted by Life itself, must be understood as continuously producing various possible futures that are left up to the contingency of the other evolutionary, biological, chemical, etc., processes of Life itself. We might say that Time understood in this (vitalist) manner means that Life is the continual superabundance of an excess that Life can neither control nor wants to control (here, we should note that it is Deleuze who gets furthest from anthropomorphizing Life, the will to power, etc., and understands life in terms of the impersonal conditions of human existence as such, in contrast to the key thinkers he draws on for this synthesis-namely, Nietzsche and Bergson). It is the vitalist, according to Deleuze, who gives us access to Differences-themselves in their free and untamed state.

Thus, the Third Synthesis of Time as engendering time as out-of-joint and constitutes the ‘dissolved Self’ as one who acts against one’s time, can be seen through Eshun’s idea of science fiction’s activity as one of capitalizing on the ‘powers of falsification, the drive to rewrite reality, and the will to deny plausibility;’ against one’s time and, in the hope of a time to-come. Now, this future ‘to-come’ cannot be understood as utopian (in the pejorative sense) or an appeal to some variation of Messianic-time. Here, Eshun’s clarity is useful:

“it would be naïve to understand science fiction, located within the expanded field of the futures industry, as merely prediction into the far future, or as a utopian project for imagining alternative social realities. Science fiction might better be understood, in Samuel R. Delany’s statement, as offering “a significant distortion of the present.” To be more precise, science fiction is neither forward-looking nor utopian. Rather, in William Gibson’s phrase, science fiction is a means through which to preprogram the present. Looking back at the genre, it becomes apparent that science fiction was never concerned with the future, but rather with engineering feedback between its preferred future and its becoming present” (‘Further Considerations,’ 290).

The future as conceived by Deleuze and Eshun is incommensurable with, and the exact opposite of, either Utopian or Messianic time; these latter two conceptions of a future-to-come locate the determining temporal factor in the future while Deleuze and Eshun, following Bergson, locate the element that determines and actualizes a future as the relationship between the past and the present.

III). Possible Conclusions//Possible Futures

In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari define philosophy as the creation of concepts; an activity that requires the engendering of Thought in a subject, in order for that thinking-subject to fabricate a concept that is adequate to the Idea-Problem of their time. It is this tripartite criteria – Thinking; (posing) Problems; and (creating) Concepts – given by Deleuze (and Guattari) for the genesis and constitution of the praxis of philosophy that was already formulated in Difference and Repetition:

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 involved 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).

What is significant regarding the equation ‘philosophy = concept creation,’ and the subsequent annihilation of any guarantee that the thinking-subject will be rewarded with optimism in their search for truth, is that these three elements that constitute the practice of Philosophy do not operate according to the linear/finalist conception of temporality.

That is, the thinker cannot hope for any optimism insofar as they are thinking precisely because what is given in a thought that adequately poses problems and creates concepts are the multiple solutions, or futures, that are harbored within every problem posed and concept created. Thus, philosophy properly understood according to Deleuze stands against the linear conception of time, where the reality of the future is fixed and furnished by the internal and originary principles of the past. And among his generation (though it perhaps needs no emphasis) it is Deleuze who takes the Bergsonian injunction with the most seriousness and gravity; the assertion that we must do violence to our habituated forms of cognition (Identity, Recognition, Reflection, Analogy) in order to sinew the order of philosophical practice to an actualized overcoming of the all-too-human qualities of our present.  As Bergson writes,

The duty of philosophy should be to intervene here actively, to examine the living without any reservation as to practical utility, by freeing itself from forms and habits that are strictly intellectual. Its own special project is to speculate, that is to say, to see; its attitude toward the living should not be that of science, which aims only at action, and which, being able to act only by means of inert matter, presents itself to the rest of reality in this single respect” (CE, 196).

And it is precisely through this Bergsonian theoretico-practical operation we apprehend a Deleuzean and Eshunian transvaluation of the time proper to the human. For the former, the overcoming of humanity means freeing oneself from the bad habits of cognition that we have been socialized into taking as synonymous with Thinking as such. For the latter, the overcoming of humanity means freeing oneself from the ongoing effects of the determination and construction of a global future that continues to exclude ever growing swaths of humanity; a logic already present the past of human history. To free oneself from what we have been acculturated to identify as philosophy (thought as commensurate with the aims of either the Church, the State, or Capitalist Democracy) and from the repetition of a Future than is the exacerbation of the past; this would be sufficient to throw time out of joint and to construct a ground from which a new ordering of time becomes possible.

Thus, philosophical activity (Deleuze) and Afrofuturism (Eshun) aren’t simply against their own socio-historical situatedness, or concerned with the future for its own sake. As we saw with Bergson in terms of Life, and as we apprehend implicitly in Eshun, we are not concerned with the theorization and determination of time because time (Life, History) has a concern for itself and its future. To the contrary: it is precisely because the past and the present, taken in themselves, have neither a concern for their own future nor the future of human existence that a thought and politics of the future is not one that is infatuated and enamored with the blind and intensifying processes of our present.

The Third Synthesis of Time is the science-fiction moment in Difference and Repetition, the books ‘apocalyptic’ moment when the I and Self are both fractured and dissolved in the reordering of Time; it’s what Eshun talks about when he says that sci-fi was never really about the future in the first place. To merely be ‘about the future’… such an interpretation is only possible if we take the reality of time to be founded upon the reality of space; a perspectival-position that revokes any philosophical and/or political potential for the existence of multiple futures within a single future-time from the current present of terrestrial life defined by its terrestrially instantiated death-drive.

Correlationism and Vitalism: Comments on Henri Bergson

Immanuel Critique

(Section from an article on Bergson)


At this initial juncture it is important to underscore how Bergson’s philosophy cannot be equated with the phenomenological tradition, at least in any straightforward sense, despite his profound influence on many of those thinkers; at least starting from Heidegger and up through Levinas, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty. The reason for classifying Bergsonian philosophy as distinctly non-phenomenological has to do, primarily, with his own understanding of the relationship between subject and object; between thought and being; between what is given in my experience of the world and the world itself. That is to say, unlike Kant who has provided a systematic argument for why it is the case that our experience of the world is barred access from the thing-itself (noumena), it is important to see that Bergson’s own characterization of the relationship between thought and being is one which posits not a difference in kind between phenomenal experience and the noumena. Rather, for Bergson, there is only a difference in degree between my experience of reality and reality as it is in-itself. Now, this is not to say that Bergson cannot be said to share a lot of arguments with the phenomenological tradition. Rather, this section aims to show how, even if we want to include Bergson’s arguments and method within the tradition of phenomenology, the conclusions and aims of his project place him squarely outside of any phenomenology that perpetuates and/or modifies the initial assertion made by Kant regarding phenomenal experience. That is to say, any version of phenomenology that perpetuates the relationship of the transcendental subject and the world as one where the former is barred access from the fundamental nature of the latter cannot be attributed to Bergson, nor to legacy of Bergson’s influence on the history of philosophy.

Now, Heideggerian phenomenology stands in here as the chief example of such a contrast to Bergsonism. Whereas for someone like Heidegger, and Derrida after him, the inquiry into the meaning of Being; whether approached against the backdrop of western metaphysics or from within language itself;  only shows us that our access to Being is always stymied by the ineluctable nature of these conditions of doing philosophy. Now, the reason why Bergson cannot be said to belong to this lineage, or any other lineage which asserts a difference-in-kind between phenomenal experience and the noumena is due to one of the main tasks Bergson gives himself: namely, to show how these approaches to the nature of Being – whether through science, metaphysics, mathematics, or language – are in fact doomed at the outset but are not ineluctable features of human consciousness. Rather, what gives each of these schemas the appearance of being absolutely intractable features of experience is their adaptive, evolutionary, and biological history. Thus, for Bergson, and Deleuze after him, the obstacles which present themselves to our understanding of the structure of reality are no longer rendered as absolute limits of human consciousness. Rather, the obstacles which stand between consciousness and the world itself are merely the bad habits of thought which have served useful and important functions in the evolution of the human species but come back to haunt, and plague, how we approach the question of determining Being itself. So, here we see how the Heideggerian problems that arise from Heideggerian phenomenology are not so much absolute problems from the Bergsonian perspective: we can give an account as to why those mechanisms of consciousness, language, etc., have been useful in giving us the world as it accords to our specific interest, while not having to sacrifice the initial aspiration of determining fundamental features of the world-itself. From the Bergsonian perspective, one could say, the ineluctable features of our pursuit for the meaning of Being are not so much a priori inevitable, as they are merely the bad habits of thought that we have evolutionarily acquired.

However, before getting into the crucial aspects of Bergson’s argument, it is important to note certain historical relations between Bergson’s project and Hegel – if only to show how the Bergsonian project shares certain commitments to Hegel’s objective idealism and yet attempts to find other means of moving beyond any reliance on a transcendental subject as the guarantor of objective truth. That is, bringing Bergson and Hegel into conversation with one another will help us clarify how Bergson approaches the problems addressed by Kant and how Bergson himself differs from the traditional of German Idealism itself. Here it is useful to quote Ray Brassier’s commentary on this shift at length since it gets right to the heart of the dispute: “So…famously, in Hegel’s objective idealism, the relational synthesis which Kant takes to be constitutive of objectivity is simply transplanted from its localization in the subject and construed rather as the relation between subject and object, which Hegel recodes as the ‘self-relating negativity’ that yields the structure of reality” (Brassier, et. al., ‘Speculative Realism’). Now, the following question arises from the Hegelian transformation of Kant’s insight: “if you refuse to say that synthesis…is anchored in a subject, does this mean that you have to idealize the real by attributing to it this capacity for self-relation? A capacity for self-synthesis whereby a continuum of relation itself yields the type of discontinuity that gives rise to discrete objects? In other words, is there a principle of intelligibility encoded in physical reality?” (Brassier, Speculative Realism).

It is precisely this question – of a continuum of relation (Duration) that yields discontinuity as the condition for discrete objects (Matter) – that lies at the heart of Bergson’s project. That is, what brings Bergson into close proximity to Hegel is their shared commitment to the idea that it is not the subject which provides the transcendental guarantee between representation and the world. Rather, it is the world itself which is constituted by continuity and discontinuity; that is, it is because Nature is structured in this way, and because Nature produces Thought itself, that we can subsequently articulate why it is the case that we can posit the idea that human consciousness has something fundamental in common with the reality of Nature. The important addition here being that consciousness mirrors Nature in such a way that what guarantees the objectivity of our experience isn’t so much space, time, and the categories; rather, it is the common structure of  ‘self relating negativity’ in Hegel, or ‘real duration’ in Bergson, which Nature engenders within human consciousness that now replaces the guarantee of objectivity via the transcendental subject. This is something that we see explicitly in Bergson: “Evolution implies a real persistence of the past in the present, a duration which is, as it were, a hyphen, a connecting link. In other words, to know a living being or natural system is to get at the very interval of duration, while the knowledge of an artificial or mathematical system applies only to the extremity. Continuity of change, preservation of the past in the present, real duration – the living being seems, then, to share these attributes with consciousness. Can we go further and say that life, like conscious activity, is invention, is unceasing creation?” (CE, 22-23).

Here we see Bergson asserting a few important points that will allow us to see how he conceives of the claim that there is only a difference in degree between my lived experience of the world and the world in-itself. First, Bergson is clearly stating what he takes to be the proper object of philosophical inquiry. No longer is philosophy concerned with discrete objects as things-in-themselves. The task of philosophy, for Bergson, isn’t to come to a clear understanding of what my experience of certain objects in the world are in reality. Rather, philosophy’s task is to concern itself with how the past continuously manifests itself in the present, as the present, and influences the future. That is to say, the proper object of philosophy is duration. It is only by understanding duration as the object of philosophy that we will be able to move beyond the gridlock of any residual mathematical, and idealist, assumptions within thought.

Second, we see Bergson asserting an alliance between biology, the study of evolution, and the study of philosophy. Why? Not only is it due to their shared interest in understanding how matter, how species, individuals, etc., are the particular realizations of a historical process (evolution/duration). In addition, these three disciplines are concerned with providing us a very strong critique of what we take to be the nature of thinking and human consciousness. That is to say, and this is a theme that is heavily emphasized in someone like Deleuze, it is the nature of human intellectual activity to consider the world in accord with our biological, evolutionary, and social interests. This idea of the adaptive nature of human consciousness, then, undercuts any attempt to treat intellectual activity as being defined, in essence, as a mechanism that is predisposed to truth. In other words, it is the nature of human reason to approach the world through the lens of its interest. Or again, rational inquiry, perception, the intellect, and so forth, are not tools for acquiring eternal truths about the world but rather are evolutionary mechanisms that serve as the practical function of locating points of interest, points of indetermination where human freedom is capable of intervening, for the organism to further its own existence.

Thus, it is through this alliance of biology, evolutionary theory, and philosophy, that Bergson builds his argument that thought is not predisposed and naturally suited for a search for truth – whether this idea is guaranteed by some divine naturalism or transcendental subject. It is for this reason that Bergson will find in mathematics and in geometry, not only the highest expression of the human intellect as it functions according to its natural, instinctual, and evolutionary impulse; it is because of this image of mathematical/geometrical reasoning as the most natural habit of thought that Bergson takes it upon himself to underscore the error of equating certain scientific determinations of the world (mathematics and geometry, as well as older kinds of physics and chemistry) as being representative of the world in-itself. Thus, as Bergson writes, “The essential function of our intellect, as the evolution of life has fashioned it, is to be a light for our conduct, to make ready for our action on things, to foresee, for a given situation, the events, favorable or unfavorable, which may follow thereupon. Intellect therefore instinctively selects in a given situation whatever is like something already known; it seeks out, in order that it may apply its principle that ‘like produces like.’ In just this does the prevision of the future by common sense consist…Like ordinary knowledge, in dealing with things science is concerned only with the aspect of repetition.” (CE, 29).

Now, if the error of human consciousness is to be found in equating practical intellection with objective truth, this signals Bergson’s underlying premise regarding human consciousness and the task of philosophy: It is not the case that we are barred access from the world as it exists in-itself and for-itself; rather, it is simply the case that we will never approach the world as it exists in itself without correcting the fundamental error of equating consciousness in its natural attitude of determining what is objectively true. As Bergson writes in the opening pages of Creative Evolution regarding the relationship between my impatience at the dissolution of a sugar cube in water and the time it takes for the sugar itself to dissolve, “If I want to mix a glass of sugar and water, I must, willy nilly, wait until to the sugar melts. This little fact is big with meaning… It [the sugar cube] coincides with my impatience, that is to say, with a certain portion of my own duration, which I cannot protract or contract as I like. It is no longer something thought, it is something lived. It is no longer a relation, it is an absolute” (CE, 9-10).

That is to say, the relationship between subject and object, between Thought and Being, is not to be done away with but must be conceived under the proper schema; a schema that begins with Duration as being the true object of both philosophy, biology, evolutionary theory, and the World itself (and ultimately, Bergson hopes to show, it is actually Duration which is Being-itself and in our lived experience of Duration – of Being – we are no longer barred access from the Absolute, but are able to experience a limited portion of it. That is also to say that Bergson’s conception of the Absolute, of Duration, of Life, is one which says that the structure of reality is pure quality. In other words, any portion of the absolute expresses the absolute in its entirety. Or, if we subtract a portion of the absolute in our experience of it, we do not alter the essence of Absolute Duration – only insofar as we understand that the essence of Absolute Duration is nothing but pure difference and because every potential realization of the absolute must be qualitatively different from all other potential realizations of the Absolute, that we can be guaranteed in our limited relation of lived duration as being one of an absolute and not relative relation).

Now the third important point will be Bergson’s question regarding creativity. If thinking and the world partake in duration; are constituted, in essence, by real duration; then is it possible to attribute certain features that we find in conscious life to Duration itself? That is to say, because there is the common structure of duration (evolution, history, etc.) in both Thought and Being, can we then determine certain features about the structure of reality on the basis of certain findings we make about human consciousness? For Bergson, it appears that we can. For instance, what was once thought to merely be psychological memory – the mental process by which past events persist, and come to bear, on our present experience – has a natural correlate in the world itself. In other words, what gives us the conditions for never having the same experience twice (psychological memory) has a natural correlate in the very individuation of species and its members (ontological memory). This latter case, of ontological memory, is what gives some clarity to Bergson’s idea that the past preserves itself automatically. As he writes, “In reality, the past is preserved by itself, automatically. In its entirety, probably, it follows us at every instant; all that we have felt, thought and willed from our earliest infancy is there, leaning over the present…” (CE, 5).

Here, the example of our experience from infancy to the present isn’t simply a further articulation of psychological memory. Rather, what this shows is how Matter is the preservation of Memory automatically. In other words, the past preserves itself in the present through the creation, instantiation, and realization of a species with its individuals, and their habits and interests. It is in this way, by understanding that Matter is Memory preserved that we can understand how there is at once a psychological and ontological conception of memory – whereby ontological memory is the preservation of a historical evolution, or historical development, in the present via the individuation of species and this species’ self-reproduction (bare repetition) through individual beings. So, while our subjective memory is preserved by way of our interests and our habits, ontological memory is preserved at the historical, biological, and evolutionary register.

It is this discrepancy between psychological memory (subject/product) and ontological memory (object/process), when not understood, that gives rise to further errors of human cognition. As Bergson writes: “It is of no use to hold up before our eyes the dazzling prospect of a universal mathematic; we cannot sacrifice experience to the requirements of a system. That is why we reject radical mechanism” (CE, 39). Thus, one of the major pitfalls Bergson finds in the mathematical understanding of the structure of reality is its failure to account for what is precisely constitutive of lived experience – time, history, evolution, duration, the persistence of the past in the future, matter as the preservation via realization of memory, etc. That is to say, any conceptual framework that wants to determine the fundamental structure of reality and fails to account for the processual development of the world considered socio-psycho-biologically, cedes any capacity for accounting for reality itself.

Now we can see why Bergson privileges lived experience and why this may seem like a regression in the history of philosophy. For Bergson, lived experience is an adequate starting point for inquiries into the nature of reality because lived experience is the product (and repetition) of this natural process of evolution. That is to say, lived experience is the very instantiation of matter as memory preserved, of the past gnawing into the present, as the most recent individuation of the process of evolution, etc. In other words, lived experience is, in a certain sense, the experience of History itself only embodied in individuals. Now, the task then, is to reflect on lived experience as the embodiment of history in order to then move outside of any kind of subjectivism or psychologism, and into the terrain of the world (as another case of memory-history materialized in the present) itself.

It is for this reason that Bergson will have no problem beginning with the subject as the locus of philosophical inquiry. But it is also for this reason, in light of the various reasons that we have just mentioned, that Bergson’s emphasis on lived experience cannot be simply placed under the rubric of a certain brand of phenomenology, or even proto-phenomenology (where phenomenology here means the study of how the world appears to us in our experience of it) – since the Bergson’s task is to show how we have to move beyond lived experience in order to get to things themselves; to show how what appeared to be settled by Kant’s transcendental subject is in fact a perpetuation of certain errors in how we conceive of our relationship to the world itself. That is to say, when Bergson begins with lived experience it is not taken to mean the way in which I experience things in the world (though this is a crucial aspect of is, if not only for the critiques of the natural inclinations of intellection). Rather, to begin with lived experience is to take ourselves as the preservation of memory in the present. Or again, lived experience de-emphasizes individual subjectivity as the being which secures the objectivity of the world, in order to emphasize individuals as instantiations of the worlds objectivity itself – reality understood as process; reality understood as descent and ascent; as divergence and convergence; as Matter and Memory.

Now, in what sense can we talk about Bergson and Correlationism in the same breathe? If for no other reason, it is because Bergsonian philosophy represents one of the chief philosophical challenges to the task Kant assigned him self; namely, determining the nature and limits of human reason. Bergson remains a correlationist insofar as he continues to affirm that there is a necessary, ineluctable, relation between subject and object, between thought and being, where knowledge of either independent of the other is barred at the outset. However, the Bergsonian take on correlationism aims to show how the relation between thought and being is our very access to things-themselves. It is through the lived experience of my duration as it coincides with the duration of other beings that renders my relationship to the world an entry point into the Absolute itself. Thus we can see how Bergson at once remains close to Hegel while at the same time remaining distant from any phenomenological tradition that perpetuates the relationship between the transcendental subject and the world.